Tag Archives: autonomation

Illogical Progression

This post is a follow-up to one from September on policy deployment, sometimes called a ‘roadmap’ for improvement.’  It’s more than that in that it not only sets direction and targets, but also identifies the means to achieve them.  But ‘roadmap’ is a common descriptor.  And it seems logical that when beginning a journey, we should have a clear roadmap to guide us.

“Where do you want to go?” I ask a client.

The answers to that question are often expressed in a vague financial context: “We need to reduce costs” or “We want to increase sales.”   Other times there are major projects that must be completed: “We need to install a new computer system,” or “We need to complete an acquisition.”   In one regrettable instance, I watched as managers from a fairly large manufacturer turned to their top manager and asked, “What are our strategic objectives?”  After staring back at us for a moment like a deer in headlights, he blurted out, “More of what we did this year.”

At the beginning of a Lean journey, the leadership will choose a direction that is continuous with the past – more of the same. With limited understanding of Lean’s potential, it’s natural that they not stray too far from the beaten path.   This unfortunately may be a bad direction.  Many companies embarking on the Lean journey already have counterproductive hangovers in process, for example an investment in a larger warehouse or outsourcing of operations that would be better kept in-house.   On day one, with little understanding of Lean’s potential, it’s not so easy for management to right the course of a ship that’s heading in exactly the wrong direction.   Quotes from guru’s that “95% of the time between paying and getting paid is waste” are just platitudes, as yet unproven by practice.   So, while it may be logical to create a roadmap at the beginning of a Lean journey, I think it’s not realistic.

Likewise the rate of expected change will often be timid at the start of a Lean journey.  “We want to increase productivity by 4%,” one president of a small manufacturer declared as we toured his facility.  By my estimation this target was low by an order of magnitude.  At another company, when I proposed a target of 25% productivity improvement to the VP of Ops, she replied, “Oh, people would think I’m crazy if we did that.”   As these targets are often tied to personal reputation and compensation, many executives will favor less aggressive targets.  Unfortunately, modest targets may be achieved through brute force, heaping challenges onto the shoulders of a small number of workaholics.  Modest targets don’t create a need for significant Lean transformation or organizational development.

Illogical as it may seem, when blazing new trails, the roadmap must be created concurrent with the journey.  It’s not a mistake to begin to practice policy deployment early in a Lean journey but don’t expect miraculous outcomes.  Plan on some blind alleys, and wrong turns.  Like all aspects of Lean, plotting the course for improvement looks much easier at a glance than it really is.  If policy deployment falters at first, don’t blame the process.  We learn from making mistakes.  The Lean journey is more like an odyssey, a wandering quest for depth and breadth of understanding.  Perhaps, somewhere around three years into the Lean journey, the roadmap begins to lead the journey; before then it follows and learns from it.  The direction becomes clearer with each planning cycle, and the pace of improvement increases according to the number of active participants.

What is your experience with policy deployment?  Please share your thoughts.


Passing the Baton

There is an abundance of symbolism in the phrase “passing the baton”.

Taiichi Ohno used the analogy of passing the baton to explain the cooperation that should exist between employees, as in a relay race, each gauging the other’s need and self-adjusting to accommodate a smooth passing of the baton.  The baton in this case could be material, information or even equipment.   Anyone who has run a leg of a relay understands that the race is won or lost in the handoff, in the instant that both team members share the baton.

On another level, the baton is the symbol of leadership, as in the baton held by the drum major.   A different kind of baton symbolizes the leadership of the symphony conductor.  Team members, musicians in this case, trust that the wielder of the baton will create the right pace and direction, a trust that must be earned by the drum major or the conductor.   Great teams, be they orchestra, hospitals, offices or factories, need a great leader.

Passing the baton, in the case of leaders, connotes a change in leadership. Just as in the relay race, a fumble in this passing may trigger the demise of a great organization or the turnaround of a faltering one.  When Bill Ford passed the baton to Alan Mulally, for example, succession of leadership established a new era for Ford Motor Company.  The baton was passed cooperatively from incumbent to successor in an instant of shared leadership that itself instilled confidence.  More often, unfortunately, the baton is wrested away from the incumbent, as in the scene from Animal House (right).

Continuity is lost and change for changes sake rules.  Employees become accustomed to calamitous successions, and are justifiably skeptical.

In a still larger sense, the baton exchange connotes the passing forward of a legacy or tradition. In sports the legacy may relate to bringing home a trophy, in religion to sustaining a belief system from generation to generation.  The theme of the 2011 Northeast Shingo Conference, “Made Lean in America’, advocated that America maintain its legacy of productive and economic leadership through adoption of Lean philosophy and practice.    Our generation is the caretaker of a quality of living that should be passed to the next generation in good working order.

A final baton analogy is the peer to peer sharing that must be present for long-term lean transformation:  sharing between employees and departments, between management and employees, between customer and supplier, across industries and through communities.   Native Americans facilitated this sharing by means of a “talking stick,” a baton passed between tribe members to enable each to speak with the full attention of others.  This sharing, like every baton pass, requires a two-part cooperation: willingness to give and willingness to receive.  When I ask clients, “What is your biggest problem?” the most frequent answer by far is “Communication.”  The 2012 Northeast Shingo Prize Conference theme, “Learning to Share” will stress the need for this kind of sharing,  and showcase means to achieving a broad network of sharing Lean thinking and practice.  Register now  for big conference savings.  Hope to see you September 25-26, 2012 in Worcester, Massachusetts.




I’m just returning from a brief sojourn that included:

  1. Marrying off my older daughter, Christine, in Disneyworld, followed by
  2. A short vacation for our younger kids, and then,
  3. A short illness and trip to the hospital for me.

No relationship between the third event and the former two is implied, but their sequence afforded me material for another post.

First came the wedding that by all accounts was well managed despite torrential rains that necessitated an on-the-spot change of venue.  This move would have been less impressive had there not been several dozen other weddings that were affected at about the same time.  The Disney organization is superior at moving and staging crowds, a skill without which the park would grind to a halt.  They manage the process, not just the operations.  And the outcome in our case was a “Magical Experience’ despite adverse conditions.

Arising a little late the morning after the wedding we began the vacation part of our trip at what is billed as the ‘best ride in the park’:  Soarin’ provides its riders the illusion of hang-gliding through striking panoramic video scenery.  As we entered the ride line, a digital timer indicated that there would be a wait of 60 minutes.  While the actual ride lasts only 5 minutes (see clip) we decided it was still worth the wait.

About halfway through the line however there was an announcement: “The wait for non-FastPass riders is now 85 minutes.”   Sometime later we discovered also that the 85-minute estimate was only for the big line.   At about the 85-minute mark, a small group (batch) from the big line was ushered to a smaller line, and shortly after that again to what might be considered “shipping lanes” just prior to loading onto the ride.  At the 96-minute mark, the ride doors flung open, and we climbed into our gliders.  It struck me that the ratio between the ride and total elapsed time was remarkably close to the typical ratio of value-added to non-value added often given by Shigeo Shingo:  95% waste. (When you’re standing in line for an hour and a half, there’s time to reflect on these things.)  In this process, the product (us) was moved and staged three times — four if you count loading to the ride.

If we’d been smarter, we would have opted for the “FastPass” lane, introduced at the park some years back presumably to levelize the flow into equal 15 minute batches of riders; not quite a “pull” since the actual departure time is determined by ride availability not customer need.  But, hey: the apparent lead time once you get to the ride is only the five minutes you stand in the final staging line just before the ride.  Seems like a good concept to me, approaching a 50% ratio of value-added to non-value-added.  This is the end of my Disney story.  Here’s how it relates to my less magical experience at the hospital:

As the vacation drew to a close, I developed an infection (I will spare you the details) that didn’t respond to home remedies.  It being the weekend at this point, and me having an aversion to emergency rooms (topic for another post), I opted to wait it out until Monday when I could see my regular doc.  His advice as he examined the problem: “I’m going to send you to the emergency room.”   He left me briefly, and then came back with a prescription for the ER.  “I’ve called ahead,” he said, “They’ll be waiting for you.”  “Oh!” I thought, “maybe this is like Disney’s FastPass.

Actually not.

When I arrived at the emergency department, except for urgent cases (the real emergencies) arriving by ambulance, the process was pretty standard for everyone:  register at reception, wait, visit with the triage nurse, wait, visit with someone who checks insurance, wait, and then finally move to the treatment area.  By this time 90 minutes had elapsed. “Hmm,” I thought as I walked out of the ER lobby, “about the same as the wait in the walk-up line for Soarin’.”

This was not to be, however.  I was actually moved into the work-in-process queue, one resembling the scene at right.  By my estimate there were two gurneys in the hall for every treatment area; crowded enough that the actual transport lane appeared narrower than a gurney.

After 20 minutes, a nurse greeted me cheerfully: “How you doin’ today?”

“I’ve felt better.” I said, “it looks like a busy day in here.”

“It get’s worse than this,” she replied.  She left me after setting up an IV.

About an hour went by before my next visitor, a doc.  Following a quick exam, less than a minute, he explained, “We’re going to have a surgeon take a look at you.”

“Fine, thank you,” I replied.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked.

“I’m a consultant,” I responded.

“What kind of consulting do you do?” he continued.

“I help docs like you manage patient queues like this,” I quipped.

He smiled and said, “I guess we’re not doing very well today.”

“I’m sure you’re doing the best you can,” I replied.

When nearly four hours time in the ER had passed, I was greeted by the surgeon, who explained the procedure, finished his work in about 15 minutes, and then prescribed a one-hour antibiotic drip.  Altogether, counting the drip time, I estimated the total value-added time to be about 80 minutes compared to a total elapsed time of 5 hours.  I thought to myself, “That’s a VA to NVA ratio of better than 25% — five times better than the walk-up line at Soarin’.”  But, maybe the FastPass concept for non-urgent cases like mine (which I’m told constitute the vast majority of ER visits) would be preferable.

How much of your work or personal life is spent in batch and queue?  Share a story.


Another Chicken Story

Before Shigeo Shingo’s chicken there was another well-known fowl by the name of “Chicken Little.”  Do you remember the story?  Struck on the head by a falling acorn, Chicken Little concludes that the sky is falling and so decides to warn the king as well as everyone else he meets on his way to the palace.  I recall that in the end a fox invites all the frightened parties to a safe haven in his den, and there eats them all. The moral to this story: Don’t believe everything you hear.  When someone tells you “The sky is falling,” go see for yourself.

While we often remember Chicken Little, really his only transgression was communicating what appeared to him to be a threat.   The great mistake lay with those who listened to Chicken L., and then followed blindly.   Today, there is even a societal malady named after our hero: “Chicken Little Syndrome”, defined as “a sense of despair or passivity which blocks the audience from actions.”

American business it seems to me had been locked in that sense of despair and passivity for a decade, making short-term cash decisions to bolster flagging quarterly earnings – in many cases paper profits fabricated from cursory cost assumptions.  Businesses are going to China, well . . . because other businesses are going to China.

Now come two separate studies from Accenture and Boston Consulting Group that “Chinese net manufacturing costs are rapidly converging on U.S. costs.”  When all cost and competitive factors are considered, it turns out, reshoring manufacturing to America makes good competitive sense.  And from Professors Gary Pisano and Willy Shih of Harvard Business School come a revelation that “U.S. innovation declines when manufacturing is offshored because the partnership of manufacturing and engineering is weakened.”

One week to go before the Made Lean in America Northeast Shingo Prize Conference.  Don’t be passive.  Come join the learning, networking and sharing on October 5-6 in Springfield, Massachusetts:   www.neshingoprize.org

See you there!



A thoughtful comment to my last post reminded me of one my favorite Shigeo Shingo stories.  The writer, who will be at our upcoming conference, expressed concern that only persons who have already bought into continuous improvement tools and philosophy will be at the conference.  If you haven’t already read my response to him, you might want to check that out before continuing this post. (http://oldleandude.com/2011/09/21/overcoming-tdd/ and scroll down to the bottom)

Regarding acceptance of lean thinking, Dr. Shingo used a parable to make his point.  This one he named the “Story of the Chimpanzee”, but I’ve taken to calling it the “Story of the Chicken” for reasons that will become apparent in a moment.

According to Shingo, a science experiment was conducted to determine the relative learning rates of different animals.  Each animal was placed in a cage, just out of reach of a plate of food set outside the cage.  At the end of the cage opposite from the food, the cage door was left slightly ajar.  A time measurement was taken for each animal to determine how long each would take to find the unlatched door and retrieve the food.

A chimpanzee was the fastest to find a way to the food, making a hasty exit to his lunch.  Behind the chimp was a pig, who checking the cage perimeter, soon found the unlatched door.  Next came a dog, not as fast as the pig but nevertheless clever enough to discover the way out.  Other animals followed, learning the solution to the problem at different rates, but ultimately prevailing.  “Then,” Doctor Shingo said, “a chicken was placed in the cage.”  The chicken proceeded to the end of the cage nearest to the food and proceeded to peck in the direction of the food.  It never moved from that spot.

The moral to Shigeo Shingo’s parable is that we need to be patient, that people learn at different rates.  But we also need to be aware that occasionally there is a chicken.  Shingo, of course, was not alluding to any particular nationality or occupation (although he frequently liked to take aim at engineers) as he presented his learning experiment.  My mind, however, quickly wandered to several individuals in my organization, who had not yet bought into lean concepts or practices.  There was no clear demographic delineation for those slow learners.  A couple were in management, a few in overhead functions like quality, and more from the office and shop floor.  Some persons were new employees and others had been employees forever. Some were vocally opposed, while others were silent doubters. I took each of these persons as a challenge and used whatever opportunities available to influence their thinking.  [More about that in a later post.]

What I discovered over time – perhaps two years time – was that most of these early dissenters became interested, and some heavily involved, once they had seen results or had been personally impacted by a continuous improvement effort within their own workplace.  Shingo was right, they just learned at different rates.  The best news for me was that there were very few “chickens,” a cause for optimism.  If I had written off the slower adopters early along, I would have lost some of my best long-term improvement people.

Another quote from Dr. Shingo reminds us “95% of objection is cautionary.”  In other words don’t be surprised if everyone doesn’t fall in love with a lean tool or concept immediately.  If you take time to understand and answer their objections they will be inclined to give it try.

To carry Dr. Shingo’s parable forward, I’m hoping to see lots of chimps, plenty of pigs, many dogs, and perhaps even a few chicken at our October 5-6 conference.

How many chickens are there in your organization?  Let me hear from you.