Tag Archives: bruce hamilton

Back To The Future

Here is an article I wrote ten years ago, recently resurrected from the lost letter file.  I can’t remember why I wrote it or for whom. Originally entitled, “What is Kaizen?” the article still resonates with me as I hope it will with you.


What is Kaizen?

Over the years my study of TPS has been guided by book learning, tacit learning and more good luck than bad.   One stroke of good luck occurred in February 1987 when I picked up a copy of Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success by Masaaki Imai.  At that time, most literature about TPS was focusing on its technical aspects so this book, which focused on harnessing ideas and creativity, was different.   Also around that time, early TPS efforts at my company were foundering.  We had “lowered the water level of inventory to expose the rocks” and to our dismay were discovering more rocks than we’d bargained for.  We needed more problem solvers and Mr. Imai’s book quickly became a blueprint for individual and small group improvements that bailed us out of troubled waters.  It was truly good luck that led me to Imai’s definition of kaizen which I’ll paraphrase as “many small improvements that come from the common sense and experience of the people who do the work.”

Thus, many small improvements chipped away at and eventually dislodged the rocks that threatened to sink our TPS efforts.   As a manager, my tacit learning from this experience was that shop floor employees were brilliant and creative – some more than others, but all of them smart, proud of their work and extremely willing to be problem-solvers.  Of course there are a lot of books that tell managers that, but that’s academic.  To really understand it we have to practice it!  While Mr. Imai explicitly described the nature of kaizen with many tangible examples, he was quick to point out that understanding kaizen requires practice:  learning by doing.  Toyota refers to this as “tacit learning” as opposed to academic or book learning.  Anyone who has learned to ride a bike can understand what tacit learning is.  It’s visceral and emotional as well as intellectual.  It’s not academic.  And I had a serious need for more problem-solvers. So there’s another stroke of luck:  Our self-inflicted crisis (hitting the rocks) created a need – and opportunity — to take a chance.   While I like to think myself egalitarian, if there had not been a crisis, the opportunity to expand the problem-solving role beyond a few support personnel and supervisors might not have occurred.

Never-ending improvement – that’s kaizen. This is what I learned by “riding the bike.”  But the common translation of “continuous improvement” doesn’t do it justice because it doesn’t connote the changes that also occur within the persons who have created the improvement. The act of being creative to solve a problem or make an improvement has not only educated us but also inspired us to go further. Now tacit learning kicks in again: Concerns by supervision that work will not get done are replaced by more time to do work. Unfounded fears that “employees will mess up” give way to positive anticipation.   More ideas from more employees offered more freely and more frequently generates an organizational confidence to do more than what was previously thought possible. Every day is a day for more improvement.  My tacit learning?  That kaizen is for “Everybody, Everyday” (GBMP’s slogan.)  The momentum and pace of improvement is governed by the breadth and depth of learning and participation of every single person in the organization.  True, there are some employees with more ideas than others, but the act of each and every employee offering his or her creativity changes the organization.

All of this learning proceeded from a definition of kaizen offered by Masaaki Imai.  Unfortunately not everyone subscribes to his definition.  The notion of “small changes” it seems was a turn-off to managers looking for faster progress, managers who subscribed to the “big brain” theory:  breakthrough and innovation emanating from the creativity of just a few smart people.  The idea that many small ideas from the shop floor were going to make any difference at all was (and still is) summarily dismissed.  This is indeed unfortunate because even though its success has been documented countless times over the last three decades, only tacit learning can teach managers the real power of kaizen.

To parody an old proverb:

“You can lead the manager to the shop floor,” as they say, “but you can’t make him see.”

And sometimes you can’t even lead him to the shop floor!  The word “small” is really a misnomer, perhaps a bad translation from Japanese, because while the cost of the small changes may be small, the effect may be huge!  I have witnessed many small changes that were worth ten dollars and many that were worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  As one former skeptic reported to me recently, “I can only assume that the dramatic improvements in quality are attributable to the small changes we made, and these summed up to a gain I would not have imagined.”   Tacit learning.  Another manager in the same conversation stated “We’ve made more significant headway in the last six weeks than in the previous six years!  Tacit learning for her:  “Many small changes for the better” add up to improvement much faster than we think.

Still many managers remain immune to this evidence.  The big brain theorists have morphed kaizen into events.  Not something done by “Everybody, Everyday”, but some thing done apart from the work, largely organized and directed by people other than those who do the work.  I first witnessed this practice in 1989 as a visitor in another New England manufacturer at a week long “kaizen event” billed as “5 days and one night”.  I was invited as a participant even though I did not work at the company and knew nothing about its factory. Coming from a situation where improvements were mostly grassroots generated and implemented, I found the whole situation stunning.   Employees from the work center where I was participating were tangentially involved at best.  Most stood sullenly on the sidelines.  One employee confided to me that they would change everything back after we left.  He referred to the process as the BOHICA method, an acronym that I will not expand (but you can guess.)  In this situation employees had become objects rather agents of change, a situation all too comfortable for many managers.  For these employees “kaizen” meant “messes created by managers that produced fabricated gains.”   Implicit in their understanding of kaizen was that management had no regard for employee initiative or creativity, that all of the ideas were coming from the big brains.

Subsequent to that experience I’ve heard the term kaizen used as a euphemism for job cutting and outsourcing, and as a task force method to “get workers to work harder.”  Several years ago I had to even sign a contract before I started to work with a company stating that I would never use the word kaizen in the presence of employees, lest they become enraged; so distasteful was their previous experience.  Less damaging, but still confusing, is a growing tendency to break kaizen into “minor” and major”, a token gesture most often to allow a certain number of non-mandated improvements and differentiate them from the “real” events.  Others shoehorn every capital investment into the kaizen court.  Some might be kaizen, some innovation; but even a warehouse expansion has qualified with one company as a “major kaizen.”  (I thought that was waste of storage.)   Companies who can afford it are establishing mezzanine departments to foster kaizen, but too often only those in the new department are focused on improvement.  Management and supervision distance themselves, and the whole process becomes an extracurricular activity.   In these environments no real change is occurring to the organization.  It’s status quo, business as usual.

A respected friend in the TPS business remarked to me recently that maybe the term “kaizen” is itself becoming a point of confusion, that maybe it has been carved up too many times and now, like “continuous improvement”, is devoid of meaning or emotive power; this, the word that Mr. Imai explained thirty years ago is the “Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.”  Sadly, my friend may be right; maybe we need a new name.  We’re good at renaming Toyota words after all.  If such a move could enlighten us and direct our thinking to Mr. Imai’s definition, I’d support it.  But for me, it’s still, and will always be, kaizen:  many small (but organization transforming) improvements that come from the common sense and experience of the people who do the work.  “Everybody, Everyday”.


Thanks to all of my readers for subscribing, reading and occasionally commenting on my blog. The very best wishes to you all for 2017.

O. L. D.

Ten Posts for Ten Shingo Principles

Hurrah!  Today is the first day of Spring, if a little snowy, in the Boston area.  And the 28th Annual Shingo Prize Conference is fast approaching in just one month.   GBMP will be there and I’ll be teaching the Shingo Institute IMPROVE Workshop on April 24-25.  In honor of the conference, I’ve dug into the archives of my blog, going back to 2010, to find posts relating to each of the ten guiding principles from the Shingo model.  For those of you who’ve started reading my posts more recently, I invite you to peruse a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious potpourri of posts from the last six years.

Looking for a five-minute break from your work?  Each post takes about that long to read.  Follow the links and enjoy – and hope to see you at the Shingo Conference in Washington, D.C.


Lead With Humility

Humility may be seen as a sign of weakness.  This post from early in 2010, entitled Lead with Humiliation is about a couple of my fellow managers struggling with the concept of humility.  Leading with humility can be scary for managers.

Respect Every Individual

I wrote this post, Invisibility, about the unfortunate assumptions that are often made regarding the value of formal education or lack thereof.  The 8th waste is definitely the worst and unfortunately the most prevalent.

Focus on Process

Inspired by a scene from Casablanca, this post, The Usual Suspects, from 2011 reminds us to focus on the 5 Why’s rather than the 1 Who.   When we rush to judgment without understanding root causes we poison the quality culture.

Embrace Scientific Thinking

In 2010, I had a funny experience with a young engineer’s interpretation of ‘direct observation.’  This post, entitled Being There was written with millennials in mind, but probably applies to all generations.

Flow and Pull Value

My personal experience trying futilely to satisfy customer demands with push production is described in this recent post, Bump and Grind.  The message is that a bad system cannot be fixed with workarounds.

Assure Quality at the Source

As suppliers we often feel that zero defects is impossible or at least impractical; but as customers we demand zero defects.  This post from 2013, titled Cracked, is about a familiar product for which most of us as customers will accept no defects.

Seek Perfection

Managers are often encouraged to choose easy targets, a practice that limits professional challenge of team members and stymies Lean transformation.  This post, Target Practice, was written in 2010 about an experience at customer from several years earlier.

Create Constancy of Purpose

Here are some good Lean lessons I learned while coaching my kid’s soccer teams.  Last year I wrote a post called Up, Back and Around as a reminder that when the goal is clear, we may adjust our tactical decisions will also be clear.

Think Systemically

Watching repairs to the UMass Boston campus library last June, I reflected on the criticality of improving a system, not just its parts.  Failure to do this will have negative consequences.  Long Term Sinking is a result of short-term thinking.

Create Value for the Customer

In 2012, I wrote a post about my experience many years ago accompanying a salesman to a customer site to learn some lessons about the importance of understanding value to the customer.  The post: A Salesman’s Gemba.

I hope you’ll find a few of these stories and video links helpful.  As always, your responses are a welcome indication that there is somebody there.  Want to learn more about the Shingo Principles?  Come to the Shingo Conference in Washington next month!


Hey!  Would you like to be able to see Toast Kaizen any time on demand as well as ninety-nine other classic GBMP Lean videos, podcasts, plant tours and conference keynotes?  Become a Gold Level GBMP member today for only $895 and receive streaming capability for our award-winning videos as well as 15% – 30% discounts on our annual conference, public training events and products.  Click here to learn about LEANFLIX and see all the membership benefits.



Ludicrous Speed

speedMel Brooks fans will remember Spaceballs, his jocular jibe at the Star Wars epic. In pursuit of a rebel ship, evil Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) orders his crew to accelerate their craft beyond the speed of light to “ludicrous speed.” While time travel remains science fiction, our ability to process and transmit data has proceeded apace since I was a young lean dude. In college we expressed data transmission speed as a baud rate, a unit of measure roughly equivalent to one alphanumeric character per second. Geeks like me sat at Teletype machines watching our computer programs transmit programs at the blazing speed of 32 baud (i.e. 32 characters per second) to a shared computer at Dartmouth College, which then processed that information at a rate expressed in IPS, instructions per second.   Information speed was severely limited by the transmission and processing technology of the day.  By the time I graduated college however, speed had progressed to MIPS, millions of instructions per second, then to billions, and more recently FLOPS.   The trend continues today, bounded only by theoretical limits, towards ludicrous speed.

Fascination with information speed has been with us since 1953 when the first commercial computer was sold. At that time UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) processing speeds averaged 0.002 MIPS. Only a handful of the world’s largest corporations could afford the million-dollar price tag for the twenty-nine thousand pound device that filled a four hundred square-foot room.   UNIVAC was the device that coined the term “real-time” defined as the “actual time during which something takes place” plus a few more MIPS for processing.   No doubt, the technological breakthrough was amazing, if only visible to a few persons.

However, compare UNIVAC’s real-time stats to the iPhone 6, weighing in at less than five ounces, and fitting easily in a jacket pocket. In a sixty year span, the speed of real-time has increased by nearly 130 million percent. Ludicrous speed! Moreover, smart phones are ubiquitous. Now everyone can have real-time information, not just a few large corporations. So what’s so ludicrous about that?

From a Lean standpoint, there are a number of challenges:

  1. First, is the barrage of media presented to us every minute of the day. How many emails must I routinely delete each time I handle my smart phone?   How many videos do I need to see on, for example, Kanban? YouTube lists 56,600 entries. Which of these is valuable to me? Which represent misinformation?   How can I confirm? In reality anybody can post any video today – with ludicrous speed.  No doubt, some of these videos will be excellent. But I could sort and sift through the YouTube haystack forever looking for good information.
  2. Second, the promises of automating Lean are alluring but insidious. For example, say some, do away with those pesky cards (kanbans) and replace with them with real-time kanban. This, unfortunately, separates the information from the material, assuring that the two flows will be out of sync. Moreover, the ‘instantaneous’ information becomes invisible.   Cyberspace is not a Gemba. We can’t go there to see queues or delays or problems.
  3. There is a paradox in the lack of connectedness that has derived from this ludicrous speed of information flow. An increasing number of persons labor under the delusion, for example, that texting is “talking to someone.”   At a time when we are finally acknowledging the importance of social science to real Lean transformation, we are at the same time interposing a tool that isolates people, that creates only the illusion of human interaction.
  4. The ludicrous speed with which we can all whip up professional-looking presentations today has blurred the distinction between looking good and being good. In the immortal words of Dave Lee Roth, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how good you look.”   PowerPoint, the original “baffle-them-with-B.S.” application has been around for twenty-five years, but it is quickly being supplanted by a plethora of smartphone apps for 5S, standardized work , Kanban, Kamishibai, and..well…you name it! Why do we do this? Because we can.   The words of my old-school TPS teacher are ringing in my ears.   Responding to my PowerPoint-drawn value stream map, he replied “Don’t make it pretty, make it accurate.
  5. Finally, as with material flow, when we focus primarily on cycle time, those nanoseconds of computer processing and transmission, we lose sight of the often huge stagnation time of computer queues, the automated over-production of information (produced before it is needed), and the total elapsed time for information flow, which includes the batching of information before input and after output. Those times can be truly ludicrous.

I’m admittedly a participant in the information age and I benefit from its ludicrous speed.  I use the Internet, for example, to write my posts and revel in the opportunity to pull in links to humorous video, historical background and scholarly articles.   But I worry that the ludicrous speed with which I send and receive information today may not be leading to more wisdom.

Please share your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with the challenges I’ve posed? Can you think of other challenges?


P.S. GBMP has lined up several Shingo Institute workshops this winter and spring. For those who wish to learn how to create and lead sustainable cultures of excellence based on the Shingo Model and its Guiding Principles, we hope you can join one of our exceptional Certified Facilitators at an event near you soon. Read all about the courses and our faciliatators here.

Also, it’s long been a part of my organization’s mission to help build a community of passionate lean practitioners, leaders and learners and we at GBMP are proud of our Membership Mission and program. You can read all about it here. After more than a decade without a change in the annual fee to belong (which has always been an astonishingly low $495 per year for a company-wide membership),  dues are going up in March of 2016. Not without additional benefits, we promise. And not without the option to pay the current price to keep the current level of benefits (plus a few new ones). Beat the increase by signing up for or renewing a current membership now so you’ll get all the benefits of our GOLD Membership for the old price.

Putting The Pieces Together

Summer’s here, and puttingpiecespicturethat means a family vacation to the beach, the boardwalk and the Hamilton’s favorite Pizza place.   We all agree that Manco’s pizza is the best anywhere, but we differ on the reason why.

My brother, Geoff, thinks it’s the cheese: aged white cheddar in place of mozzarella. My son, Ben, says it’s the combination of spices in the sauce, but my daughter, Alison, thinks it’s the oil – maybe olive oil. Maureen, Mrs. Toast, insists it’s the dough and the thin crust. And for me, it’s the boardwalk experience: the warm summer night and the relaxed atmosphere that give this pizza place the edge.

No doubt, it’s all of these things, not just one, that make Manco’s Pizza what it is, but human nature seems to dictate a tendency to break down the whole into it’s pieces for understanding, and then to subjectively isolate according to our particular experience.   I notice in my work that, depending upon the job title or discipline, there is often a distinct bias or perspective for improvement.   Engineers for example, generally tend to think in terms of functional costs and view value engineering as a means to improvement. Production focuses on safety, speed and operational availability. And quality worries that engineering and production may be cutting corners, adversely impacting product quality. This list goes on. I’m reminded of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, each of us trying to understand the whole through a narrow lens of our particular experience or expertise. We bring our silos with us wherever we go.

Similarly, we segment various aspects of continuous improvement in our attempt to break a big system down into digestible pieces. (How do you eat an elephant?)   We recite the seven wastes one-by-one as if they exist separate from one another, and juxtapose culture and tools with questions like “Which is more important.”   The tools themselves are studied ala Carte, too often promoted as ends in themselves rather than means to the ends they are intended to achieve. We break off pieces of the Toyota Production System and call it “Lean” when we should be looking at the whole.

Recently, the Lean discussion has turned to the top manager’s role in Lean transformation, declaring lack of management commitment to be the “elephant in the room” the most important prerequisite for sustainable improvement. While I’m inclined to agree with this hypothesis, Harvard Business Review has declared that the optimal tenure for a CEO is only 4.8 years – a short time for continuity of leadership. Perhaps the next elephant in the room for lean thinkers will be boards of directors, whose average tenures are twice that of the CEO — better for long-term thinking.

In fact, I think our piecemeal learning and the vertical and horizontal extension of Lean thinking over the past forty years would be very positive if it were only holistic, building upon and deepening our understanding. Too often, however, Lean implementers glom onto the latest piece of the puzzle, behaving as if the pieces already in place have maxed out or become passé.   Ultimately, as with the pizza discussion, if we focus only on the pieces, we’ll never understand the whole.

How about in your organization? Are you looking at Lean holistically or hop scotching from the latest trend to the next latest trend?   LMK.


Hurry!   There’s only two months (66 days to be exact) to go to until this year’s Northeast Lean Conference. Our objective this year is to practice seeing all the pieces of the Lean puzzle as whole, and we’ve lined up some dynamite leaders, practitioners and experts for learning and sharing.   That’s the theme of our 2015 Northeast Lean Conference: Putting the Pieces Together. Hope to see you there.

BTW: Have a great summer!



P-D Ratios

The last few weeks have been all things Shingo for me including a presentation at the Shingo Institute’s International Conference three weeks ago in Provo, Utah, followed by four days of Shingo Institute workshops at Vibco in Richmond, Rhode Island. Questions at both events about assessing for enterprise excellence caused me to reflect on a basic framework that Shingo himself used to explain the progression of what we refer to today as “Lean maturity”.

pdratioThe P-D Ratio was Shingo’s comparison of the time required to Produce a product to the time given by the customer to Deliver the product. A large P-D ratio, for example, was indicative of a producer who took much longer to produce a product than desired by the customer. In 1985, this was the condition in my business. We attempted to match the customer’s short “D” time by stockpiling inventory.   Our push production method, as Dr. Shingo called it, was “speculative”, that is to say we built to forecast. Unfortunately our forecasts were wrong much of the time and there was an abundance of Muda in our production system. The atmosphere in the plant was one of frenetic expediting, particularly at month and quarter end. I don’t recall using the word “culture” at the time, but in today’s terms we did not yet have a culture of improvement. Shortly after I took a job as materials manager, a question posed to me by a buyer from one of our largest customers, a compressor manufacturer, summed up our P-D ratio:

“Welcome to your new job, Mr. Hamilton.   Can you explain to me why your company takes sixteen weeks to fill an order for a product the size of my fist, while my company can make a product as big as a house and deliver it in a week?”

That mortifying question may very well have been the trigger for my first study of TPS. A read of Robert Hall’s Zero Inventories (1982) led via a footnote to Shigeo Shingo’s Study of the Toyota Production System (1981) and this is where the epiphanies began. The book was such a bad translation from the Japanese that it has become a collector’s item. (It was retranslated in 1989 to a more readable but less authentic form.) Using Shingo’s ideas, we began to shift our production from “speculative” to “authorized” – Mr. Shingo’s words to describe the shift from push production to pull. And little by little, the sixteen weeks reduced to ten and then five and eventually, over a period of years, to two weeks for our customer’s product. With starts and stops and lot of TPS learning opportunities, by 1990 we’d reduced the P-D ratio from 16:1 to 2:1, not exactly just-in-time, but improved enough to be recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize for Manufacturing Excellence.

By the fall of that year we were asked to tell our TPS story at the annual AME conference in Boston.   A team of seven persons from my company each told a piece of the story: what we’d learned technically and how we worked together to overcome challenges and develop an improvement culture. After our presentation, each team member sat at a different lunch table, anxious to hear from other participants. As I seated myself for lunch, the gentleman to my right was already talking about some impressive results: shorter lead-times, inventory reductions, lower costs. Not to be outdone, someone across the table talked about same day delivery.   Another told a story of enormous cost reductions. “These are really impressive results,” I thought to myself.

I broke my silence by announcing that while my company had worked very hard to improve, our results were not nearly so compelling as those described by others at the table. Hoping to capitalize on the experience of others at my table, I then asked, “What companies are you with?”  To my complete surprise, everyone else at my table was a consultant. One was pushing Theory of Constraints, another was into TPM and a third was an MRP consultant. The rest were Lean consultants, a relatively new idea at that time. All had business cards in hand. Suddenly their improvement claims seemed a bit less credible. In 1985, there had been almost nothing written about TPS and the only Lean (TPS) consultants were from Japan. It was hard to find companies that had even heard of TPS. But, by the 1990 AME conference, Lean consultants were apparently multiplying like lab rats.   The group at my lunch table outnumbered the doers by 9 to 1, a ratio that was later borne out more generally by other of my team members. “Lean is good business for consultants,” I skeptically thought to myself, “but what about their customers.”

pdratio2Revisiting Shingo and his ideas over the last few weeks at conferences and training, I’ve concocted a whimsical P-D ratio for us to keep an eye on: The ratio of Pundits to Doers. (Yes, I am now a Pundit too.)   Today’s pundits have titles superior to consultant: Lean Expert, Lean Practice Expert, Sensei, Master Sensei, Black Belt, Guru and so on. Have a laugh –  We’re even on Weird Al’s radar!   My unscientific application of this Pundit-Doer ratio leads me to believe that while there are many more Doers now than in 1990 (the good news), the Pundit-Doer ratio is getting larger (the bad news.)  There are more of us, both internal and external, than there are doers.

During a recent discussion with my board of directors, the question was posed: “What do we want GBMP to look like in ten years?” One astute board member commented, “Perhaps we should ask ‘What do we want our customers to look like in ten years?’”

Where is your company on Shingo’s P-D scale?   Where do you want to be in ten years? Please share a thought.


Hey! Speaking of Shingo, there’s still time to register for our next Shingo Institute Discover Excellence Course, June 9-10 at Smith-Midland in Midland, Virginia. You can register here.

Also, this week is the last call for the early bird registration discount for our 11th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference on September 29-30, 2015 in Springfield MA – a great event to meet, hear from and share with other “doers” just like you.  Read more and register here.

Finally, I hope you’ll join me for my next “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar on June 2. It’s FREE! I’ll be discussing Overcoming Organization Obstacles to Lean. Get the scoop here.


unreasonSometimes we receive unreasonable and confusing directions, and sometimes we give them. Check out this example.

As in the short video clip, even if the systems behind this confusion are sound and the motivations reasonable, when you put them together they can create a frustrating no-win situation.

Here are a few examples from my recent experience:

 At an aerospace manufacturer, I followed a team of engineers to the factory floor to observe a defect caused by what they all thought was an assembly mistake. When we arrived at the assembly workstation, the team member was ready for us. Holding an assembly drawing in one hand and a fixture instruction in the other, he asked us, “Which one these do you want me to use?”   A closer examination of the two documents revealed conflicting directions.   The team member continued, “If I follow the assembly drawing to the letter, the part won’t fit the fixture, but if I follow the fixture instruction exactly, the final dimensions for the part are out of spec, so I have to compromise the assembly instruction in order to make the part.”   Each assembly document came from a different department and each department was adamant that its document was correct.

At a small industrial distributor, a sales order department sales associate pointed to the wall behind her desk. “All of these notes and schedules above my computer represent special deals that we have struck with particular customers. It’s hard enough to remember all of them, but sometimes I have conflicting discount offers. I may choose the wrong one, or maybe I’m supposed to combine them, but that could add up to an 80% discount in some cases.” Unfortunately the conflicting instructions often resulted in customer complaints, change orders and credits involving multiple departments.

On a broader scale, managers often grapple with conflicting goals and measures.  For example, a machine shop manager whose efforts to reduce set-up times and run smaller batches whose improvement efforts are rewarded with a low machine utilization score. As Edward’s Deming put it, “You can’t sharpen the blade while the saw is running.”

I believe this can be called Muri: mental strain caused by insufficient or conflicting information. Most often this kind of Muri is internal to the organization and inadvertent because it comes from multiple authorities, each of whom feels they are doing the right thing.

Do you have examples of unreasonability in your organization you can share?   What are effective countermeasures to this kind of mental Muri?


P.S. Please join me tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. EST for a free, live 45-minute webinar on “3P – Production Preparation Process”. You can register online here.

And don’t miss GBMP’s next Shingo Institute course offerings coming up in the week of May 11 at Vibco, Inc., in Rhode Island.  I’ll be teaching DISCOVER Excellence on May 11 & 12 and Continuous IMPROVEMENT on May 13-14. Join us for one or both; I must admit it’s very convenient to have two of the four courses under your belt in one week and I hope to see you there. Register online here.


The Emperor’s New Huddle Boards

emperorAfter a one-day observation at a local company, I participated in a wrap-up meeting with the General Manager and his team. “We’ve been at this for five years,” the general manager said to me, proudly referring to his division’s lean implementation. “Our 5S rating is over 85% and every department spends one hour per week on problem-solving.”   He continued on for several more minutes to extol the vibrancy of their transformation, citing numbers of A3’s, kaizen events and Gemba walks. “I visit team huddle boards every month to monitor adherence. And our corporate maturity score is 3.5 out of 4!”   Finally, in an attempt at humility he glanced to other managers in the room and concluded, “Of course, there’s always room for improvement.   What did you see when you visited our site today?” I took a long pause before answering his question.

I had just finished touring the facility at his request to provide a rough idea of how the site would fare in a Shingo Prize challenge. I had spent a half-day in the factory with the factory manager and several hours in support departments trying to understand the current condition of their improvement process.   My observation bore out the appearance of various activities he described, but there seemed to be no outcomes associated with these. Employees were going through the motions, but not creating change. A3’s posted on the factory wall had grown stale. Huddle boards, notable for their abundance, were updated inconsistently.

“Where is the problem-solving?” I asked a supervisor at one of the factory huddle boards. “We get to it when we can, but it’s been pretty busy lately,” she apologized. I continued, “How often do you get a visit from management?” “Once in a while,” she chuckled, “but that’s okay. We have enough problems as it is.” The factory manager standing next to me looked disapprovingly at his supervisor’s quip. He said to me a bit later in the tour “We need to change our culture. They are not on board.”

Who is they? I asked. “The front line,” he responded.

As we continued into the office spaces I commented, “It looks like you have a lot of Lean props, like A3’s and huddle boards and color-coding, but I don’t see much happening.”

That’s why you’re here,” he replied. “We made some big changes – cut costs and reduced lead-times — at the start of our Lean journey, but we have had difficulty getting employees engaged.”

“What have you done previously to promote Lean?” I asked.

The factory manager responded. “We had consultants swarming the place for a couple years, and spent a small fortune on huddle boards. And we provided Lean training for everyone. Our first wave of improvements seemed to go well, but then we stalled.”

I agreed. “Yes, the process appears to have stagnated. Why are you interested in challenging for the Shingo Prize?”

After a moment, the factory manager replied, “Our GM has an interest.”

  • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Back at the boardroom debrief, I responded to the general manager’s question. “You have a very successful, traditionally managed business”, I began in an attempt to temper my comments, “but I don’t sense an environment that supports improvement and problem-solving.” The president frowned a bit. I continued.   “Use of Lean tools like visual boards and problem-solving are inconsistent and not purposeful. From a distance, it looks like something’s happening, but closer inspection suggests that problems are not being addressed and resources for improvement are scarce. Most of the activity is being generated by a few supervisors. “  I continued a bit longer to amplify my observations with specific details from the floor.

As I spoke, I noted that several of the president’s staff glancing to him for a response. I concluded. “Several times today I heard that employees don’t have the right culture.   The responsibility for changing that culture resides in this room. My recommendation is that your management team re-evaluate your roles and participation needed to create a culture that’s more favorable to improvement.”

After a short deafening silence, a manager responded nervously, addressing the president as much as me. “I don’t agree that our process is broken as Mr. Hamilton suggests. We’ve made a lot of progress.” Other managers nodded in agreement. “Bobble heads,” I thought to myself.

Bolstered by this support, the president addressed me. “Well, everyone is welcome to their opinions. We’d like to thank you for coming in today.” The meeting was over.

Call me a bad salesman, but the emperor had no Lean.


Interested to learn more about management’s role to move beyond “tools” to create a Lean culture? Check out GBMP’s Events page for upcoming courses from the Shingo Institute, as well as our own workshops and video training targeted specifically to creating a work environment that support and accelerates improvement.