Author Archives: GBMP

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GBMP Program Manager & Blog Administrator

Field of Daisies

A daisy rising from my brick walkway reminded me this morning, that even in the worst environment, there is a chance for growth.  But this kind of individual heroism does not portend success for Lean transformation.  As an organization with the slogan “Everybody Everyday,” GBMP places high value on Total Employee Involvement as an essential piece of continuous improvement.

I have a long-standing practice of asking managers “What percent of your employees come to work every day, excited about a potential solution to a problem or an idea for improvement?”   

After 20 years in Lean consulting, the answers I receive to that question have not changed much.  Here are a few:

  • “We had a good run for a few months when maybe a third of our workforce was engaged, but we’re probably at about 5% now.”
  • “The only serious work on improvement or problem solving comes from our dedicated Kaizen team.” 
  • “One company owner, call him John Smith, actually told me during a sales call, “Our employees are morons, so that wouldn’t work here,” a comment sufficiently offensive that I politely excused myself from the meeting: “If that’s how you feel, Mr. Smith, then you’re right, Lean is not an option for you.” 

Fortunately, most responses to my question are kinder than Smith’s, but the percentage estimate for employee involvement is still almost always less than 25%.  If less than one fourth of employees are participating in problem solving or improvement, no wonder so many organizations report lukewarm outcomes from Lean.  You can debate the exact percentages for employee involvement, but all of the estimates and expectations are resignedly low.  

So, what’s missing?  Do we need  better employees as Mr. Smith suggests?  Or are employees like the daisy in my walkway?    Even an awful environment will grow an occasional daisy.   We call those few, the “self-starters”, the “A-team”, persons who rise above every obstacle to achieve.  And how do we reward them?  We give more challenges to them until they are overwhelmed.  That’s the predominant system. 

So, how do some organizations break through to generate broad employee involvement?   A manager from one Shingo Prize-winning factory related:

 “When we first subscribed to the Shingo insight that systems drive behavior, we realized if employees were not engaged, then perhaps the means by which we encouraged involvement needed to be revised.  That was a humbling eye-opener.  For example, we discovered that our idea system was literally losing employee ideas in the evaluation process.  Employees took this as rejection and just stopped submitting ideas.  They felt disrespected.”

At a deeper level, the willingness of this factory’s managers to question the systems that they themselves had created exemplified a couple of fundamental Shingo Principles:

  • Lead with humility
  • Respect every individual  

According to the manager from that factory, “the biggest lesson for me personally was how much my behavior affected all of my employees.  These principles have been guideposts for us to create an army of problem solvers.”  Call it a field of daisies.

Are you relying on a few self-starters to create improvement or are you developing an army of involved employees?   Please share your thoughts.    


BTW – Want to learn more about creating a culture of Total Employee Involvement?  We’ve got a twofer for you. 

First, on October 21-22, we’ll be at Legrand (Wiremold) in Hartford teaching the Shingo Institute’s CULTURAL ENABLERS workshop that describes the fundamental principles of Lead with Humility and Respect Every Individual.  Read more about it here.

Then on October 23-24, the 15th Annual Northeast LEAN Conference will be held at  The Connecticut Convention Center, also in Hartford. The event features 50+ sessions to engage the hearts and minds of our most valuable asset, out employees. Learn about GBMP’s biggest event of the year here and register your team today! I sincerely hope to see you there.

Small Things

Last February I had the opportunity to observe healthcare providers up close and personal at one the world’s premier hospitals.  “Who Cares for the Caregivers?” was written from the perspective of a patient in a cardiac step-down unit, sympathetically surveilling caregivers’ as they grappled with many small problems in their workday.  Here is another story from the 8th-floor recovery area:

small things

At 3:00 a.m., except for the sound of occasional call bells, the floor was quiet.  Nurses and assistants quietly made rounds to dispense meds, check vitals and draw blood.  Patients were resting quietly when I was awakened suddenly by a bright light over my bed. “Oh, sorry,”  the CNA apologized as she turned off the light, “wrong bed.”   She then switched a second light on, hoping to hit the mark.    Again, “Oops, sorry.”   Because the order of the switches on the panel did not correspond to the order of the lights above the beds,  searching for bed lights had become routine.   I drifted back to sleep, amused at this particular guesswork problem.  Guesswork isn’t really work as the noun implies; it’s waste.   This was a defect, which caused frustration for the CNA and a little bit of discomfort for the patients.  Clinic staff was just expected to remember the order.  I smiled because I’d seen a similar problem many years before in a totally different setting.

In 2003, I had been teaching a workshop at a local furniture manufacturer.  A small corner of the company’s showroom had been cordoned off to act as our classroom.  On the wall of our classroom was a light panel with eleven switches, each controlling a different area in the showroom and adjacent offices.  As class began, to darken the classroom for projection, I flipped the switch that my intuition told me should correspond to the spotlights over my projection screen.  “Hey, what’s going on?” came a question from the other side of the wall.  “Sorry,” I replied as I hit the next switch for an instant and then the next, trying to turn off my lights and nobody else’s.  After four tries, I finally got it right.   While my class that day had nothing to do with visual control, we took a few minutes to label the switch panel, a simple way to address the rare occasion that all lights were not turned on or off at the same time.  “It’s a small thing,” I told the class, “but you’ll never have that problem again.”

Back to February 2018, later in the morning as my nurse was leaving her shift, I asked her about the light panel.  “How long as it been this way?”  Apologetically, she replied, “Forever.  Sorry to wake you last night, I usually remember the order of the lights, but last night I forgot.”

“You shouldn’t have to deal with a broken process,” I said, “why don’t you just label the switches?”    She thought for a second and replied, “Good idea.”   Before her shift was over, the two errant switches had been marked to clarify the lighting sequence over the beds.  And, guess what?  The following night lights were switched on without annoyance to staff or patients.   When it was my turn for a visit from the CNA, I thanked her for fixing the problem.  “It was a small thing,” she humbly replied.   I thanked her again and responded, “Yes, but you’ll never have the problem again.”  

How many “small things” does it take to change a person’s outlook – or to change an organization?   What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts & experiences on the matter.

Save Dates


By the way, now is a great time to snag early bird pricing for GBMP’s annual Lean Conference. It’s our 15th year and we’ll be in Hartford, CT on October 23-24, 2019. Visit to learn more. It’s just another small thing you can do that will save you money and help to accelerate your Lean efforts in 2019. 


Sorta Systems ImageLast year I had a short stay at one of Boston’s best hospitals.  While I will be forever grateful for the excellent treatment I received while in their care, I wondered about a few systems that sat directly in front of my bed.  So, I took a picture to share later.  Here is what I saw:

  1. The storage bins at the left of the photo seemed a little messy and hard to reach, but they apparently served a useful function of putting bedside supplies near to the patient.  On two occasions, however, needed items were missing, requiring my caregivers to go in search elsewhere.   This raised a series of 5WIH questions for me. For example, who decided what and how much was needed in the room?  Why were bins sometimes empty?  Who was responsible to refill?  Where did the supplier go to fetch the needed items?  Also, was the cause of the missing parts traced?
  2. The whiteboard served only one purpose for me: it put a smile on my face. I wish I’d invested in the whiteboard market when I began my consulting career. They’ve multiplied exponentially since the advent of Lean.    My name, the date and the doc’s name (redacted) were up to date, but nothing else was filled in. Who designed the board?  Was all of the information needed?  Did anyone really know what my estimated discharge date was anyway?  If this visual system were essential to my care, then there would be cause for patient worry.  If the system was actually not impactful to either me or the caregivers that would also be cause for concern as it was wasting wall space and valuable caregiver time.
  3. The final sorta-system, a laminated visual aid that sat under the white board, was never used during my visit. It appeared to be related to patient safety, but neither the patient name nor the date was correct.  A checkbox on the visual aid indicated that I needed a walker.  I didn’t.

My question here is not whether or not any of these systems were potentially useful, nor am I questioning any of the actions or performance of my excellent caregivers and support staff.   My question is “How often do we audit systems that are supposed to be making us more productive?”

Recalling W. Edwards Deming’s 95/5 rule that 95% of the variation in the performance of a system is caused by the system itself and only 5% is caused by the people, if a system is not working as intended, what steps do we take to analyze and adjust?   And what are the consequences to the system if we just set it and forget it?  What impact to our employees and customers?

How often do you take stock of the systems that run your business?  When you do, what are your discoveries?   Please share a thought.



PS GBMP’s next public workshop – Problem Solving for Lean Teams in Healthcare – is a week from today at our new HQ in Boston’s Innovation/Seaport District. Seats remain. Visit our website to learn more/register your team.  Topic & workshop content is applicable to Lean teams from administrative and other functions of manufacturing organizations too! Hope to see you there!


December wasstuff a very busy month for everyone at GBMP.   In addition to all of the usual activities to close out the year, we were packing to relocate from Newton Massachusetts to our new office in Boston.   We were also tossing a whole lot of stuff, something we’d previously neglected to do.  As promoters of Lean, it seems we were a bit remiss ourselves in practicing what we preached.  Shigeo Shingo famously noted that “the worst waste is the waste we cannot see.”   Fact is, if you have enough space and your piles are neat, it looks like you’re organized.   While we were extolling the virtues of 5S to our clients, we were also getting our PhD (Pile it Higher and Deeper) in neatly arranging stagnant files, videos, flyers, posters, banners, displays, and unusable electronics.  It’s amazing how much stuff can hide in plain sight under a cloak of invisibility.  We were tidy, but not organized.    Better that we’d have been sloppy about it because then we might have seen it.

A couple of weeks before our move, we contracted with 1-800-JUNK to leave a three-yard dumpster bag in the center of our office as a repository for the stuff we were sluffing off before moving.   On day one we filled it, triggering a cycle of dump and regret. Employees (including me) began sifting for valuable stuff.  “Can’t we use these file folders?” I asked our office manager, Tracy.  “No! That’s a ten-year supply,” she fired back, “they’re not coming.”   Tracy tried fruitlessly to sell some stuff on Craigslist and finally was able to donate a couple of unneeded printers to charity.  Lela donated whatever office supplies she could fit into the trunk of her car to her daughter’s underfunded afterschool program. (The program coordinator nearly cried at the sight of 2 pristine reams of 11×17 paper.)

Altogether we filled three dumpster bags with the remainder.  The final dumpster load contained two cartons of one of my favorite DVD’s, “Downsizing Lot Sizes,” a final irony in that this video warns about the many problems caused by overproduction (producing too much or producing before need.)  No doubt we had gotten a ‘sweet deal’ at some point on the 200 copies of the DVD, but I had to admit that this might have become a lifetime supply.  (Today we produce all of our videos, one-by-one, or offer them as streaming content.)  I turned to Tracy as if to seek a reprieve for the trashed videos, but before I could ask, Tracy just said “Nope!”

By the time we had finished 5S’ing GBMP’s old office, we had probably discarded two-thirds of what might have continued to hide in our new home.  The experience gives new meaning to “out with the old and in with the new.”   In 2019 we’re starting afresh, Leaner and wiser in our new home, sharing space and ideas with the Lean Enterprise Institute at Tower Point in Boston.    Is it time for you to take a second look at your stuff?

Happy New Year to all of our colleagues and friends.


PS Speaking of our move to Boston, we are looking forward to hosting our first public workshop event here at Tower Point, a two-day Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification course, on April 29-30. I hope to see you there. Learn more about this and our other Lean training events – from webinars and workshops to plant tours, Shingo courses, and conferences – on our website here.

Customer First Santa

santaEvery December the man in the red suit delivers cheer and presents to millions of happy children around the world.  It seems like magic, but a closer observation of Santa’s behavior demonstrates that Santa actually employed critical elements of TPS philosophy long before Toyota itself did.  For example,  Shotaro Kamiya, Toyota’s first president of sales, hired away from Nippon GM in 1935, championed a new idea at Toyota:  “The customer comes first, the dealer second, and the manufacturer third.”  Kamiya’s “Customer First” philosophy was revolutionary for Toyota and bedrock in the philosophy.

Yet, as can be seen from this documentary footage of Mr. Claus,   Santa was abiding by this ideal many years earlier.   His chagrin, when asked to “push” toys that were slow movers, indicates St. Nick’s abhorrence for speculative production also known as overproduction.  After all, the Christmas list was the original Kanban.  Without this pull system, Santa’s elves would, like many manufacturers, always be very busy building the wrong things; and Santa would have to leave backorder notes under the tree on Christmas morning.  As for standardization, anyone familiar with Norad’s Santa tracker will attest to his standardized conveyance route.  And Oh!  What a Takt time for the jolly old elf!  I have to admit that despite my enduring admiration for Toyota’s Production System, none other than Santa Claus is the penultimate just-in-time provider.   Thank you, Santa.

To everyone else, ho ho ho.  Have a restful and happy holiday.  Gratitude.


P.S. I hope you will join me this upcoming Tuesday, December 18th, for my monthly free webinar “Tea Time with The Toast Dude”. I’ll be discussing how organizations sometimes struggle to gain traction with Hoshin planning. While substantial energy is put into the strategic planning process, too often the plan becomes a static document that fails to align and motivate the entire workforce. The deployment part of strategy deployment does not happen. Read more/Register here. Did I mention it’s free? Hope to “see” you there.