Tag Archives: continuous improvement

Tours R Us (aka Why Sharing & Teaching are the best way to Learn)

After being recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize, my plant became an overnight hot spot for benchmarking.  Hardly a week went by when there was not a visit from a distinguished visitor, Fortune 500 company, professional organization or college class.   Initially we accepted the visits because of the good publicity for the company; good news sells products. 

But very quickly we discovered that the process of sharing our continuous improvement story had a powerful effect on our employee and management commitment to Lean.  This was not an outcome that I had anticipated.  Sharing with visitors encouraged us to learn more; quoting a Latin proverb, “Docendo discimus,” the best way to learn is to teach.  Anticipating a tour, employees were motivated to polish their efforts; to find one more before-and- after anecdote about changeovers or mistake-proofing or kanban or some clever idea they had implemented to make the job easier.  Front line workers, many of whom had never previously been asked about their work, spoke eloquently about reducing waste and creating value.  It was exciting for them to share knowledge and to be recognized for their grasps of topics that still eluded many of our visitors.  “The engagement of your employees is an inspiration to me,” noted a visitor from a well-known automotive manufacture.  “So many good ideas; how did this happen?”   There was no single answer to that question.

One day, after a double-decker bus carrying students and faculty from a well-known business school pulled out of our parking lot, an employee from our welding department commented, “You know, Bruce, it’s fun having these tours and being able to tell our story to visitors, but how about holding a tour for our own employees?”   He continued.  “I’ve been building parts for our assembly department for many years, but have never really seen how those parts are used.”   

The efficacy of this idea hit me instantly.  It was an enormous missed opportunity.  Shortly thereafter, the first of many employee tours was scheduled.  Long before the terms “value stream” or Yokoten ever became part of the Lean lexicon, we were practicing and gaining the benefits.  In the process, departmental boundaries were blurred and many more ideas stimulated and shared from the opportunity to see the whole rather than just the parts.  A long-time employee commented to me after an employee tour.  “We’re ‘Tours R Us.’  It’s a good thing.”  

What are you doing to remove the silos and stimulate idea sharing in your organization?   Let me hear from you. 

O.L.D. 

BTW – Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with your Lean community and share ideas about involving all of your employees in continuous improvement.  Our 15th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is all about engaging your entire workforce to create value for your customers.  We hope you will join us October 23-24 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.  Listen to this important message from the Old Lean Dude to learn more. 

Woodstock – Peace, Love & Lean

To close out the summer of 2019, here’s a lighthearted reflection from the summer of 1969: 

Today, I’m riding back from Florida bringing my new graduate home from college.  Listening to tracks from Woodstock as we cruise along in our Penske truck, I’m reminiscing about a summer 50 years ago when an understaffed production crew made a noble attempt to keep a now famous concert afloat.   (Yes, I was one of those crazies who braved the mud and overflowing portable toilets for an opportunity to listen to great music.  Definitely worth the inconvenience.)

Right from the get go, the concert was an exercise in problem solving.  The event venue was confirmed less than a month before showtime, leaving very little time for site preparation.  The main stage for the concert was built of wood just a few days before the concert at the base of a natural amphitheater on Max Yaskur’s farm.  Heavy rains and wet soil added a special challenge to construction of the 20x15x15 meter stage;  and because of time constraints, the original roof design was not completed, limiting stage lighting.  A large canvas tarp was employed to cover the performance area, much like an over-sized dining fly used for camping.  Ultimately, concert producers were forced to shift all staff to finishing the stage on time, leaving gaps in venue fencing.  Customer first thinking:   It was now a free concert with a working stage.  The entire set-build from stage to lighting and sound was an exercise in ingenuity and problem solving with scarce resources. 

One such ingenious device was a rotating platform designed to speed-up the changeover between acts.  The idea was to use the front for playing and the back for setting up the equipment of the next band so time between acts was minimized to the time required to rotate the platform. Externalize the set-up, as Shigeo Shingo would say.  Unfortunately, while the innovation worked during testing, it was not up to the task of repeated loading and unloading. By day 2, casters crumpled under the weight of musicians and equipment, and the crew had to go back to traditional set-up and tear-down. (I’m reminded of many shop carts with broken casters that I see today on my factory visits.)   Perhaps a bit more preventative maintenance could have saved the platform, or maybe the process was just not capable.  Regardless of cause, the effect was to extend the event into the wee hours of Saturday night and thence to sunrise on Sunday.  My sense is that the laid back customers were not bothered by delays.  

On Sunday, after a brief respite from the night before, Joe Cocker opened day 3 with a rousing 90-minute set while dark clouds rolled in above the stage.  As he sang his final number, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” high winds caused the stage’s canvas cover to flap and oscillate above the stage, also producing Joe’s iconic windblown hair style.  He finished the tune as the skies once again opened in a torrent.  While the crowd futilely chanted “No Rain,” concert staff scurried to secure stage and towers.  As we concert-goers sat soaked to the bone on a mountain of mud, the concert resumed after a three-hour delay almost to noon on Monday.  If ever the phrase “the show must go on” rang truer, I am not aware. 

O.L.D. 

PS In a way, isn’t that what Lean is all about?  “The show must go on.” Solving problems and getting by with a little help from our friends?  I sincerely hope to see you for more “Peace, Love & Lean” at GBMP’s upcoming 15th annual Northeast Lean Conference in Hartford on  October 23-24.  Admittedly, it won’t be another Woodstock – a little Karaoke perhaps – but it will be educational and inspiring, sure to ignite great sharing of ideas among our awesome community of passionate Lean practitioners. Read all about it, view the agenda, session abstracts, speaker bios and get registered today here: www.NortheastLeanConference.org See you there!

Accountability or Authority?

Reflecting on McGregor’s  X and Y Theories of human motivation,  Shigeo Shingo took the position that each of us by nature has a dual  tendency: sometimes lazy and self-interested, and other times motivated and generous.  Which of these behaviors dominates is directly related to the environment in which we find ourselves – call it culture.   

My personal experience as a manager, and as an employee, has surely confirmed Shingo’s opinion for me.  Dropped into a manufacturing management role in 1986 with NO manufacturing experience, I had the opportunity to experience a quintessential Type X culture.  My predecessor, a man of considerable personal knowledge of the business, had ruled for decades with an iron fist, intolerant of opinions other than his own.   I remember commenting to a friend when I first took over the manufacturing VP job,  “it seems like employees are children and production employees are bad children.”   Transferring from an IT role in a different building to this new world of distrust and muted dissatisfaction was indeed a culture shock for me.   After a short time on the job, my general foreman presented me with a list of employees to “keep an eye on.”  He thought he was being helpful.  “Troublemakers,” he  whispered to me. 

It turns out that a few of the troublemakers became early adopters of a different kind of culture, one where employees would be seen as “the most valuable resource.”  What distinguished these rabble-rousers was that they had refused to be beaten down by the previous regime.  My role as a manager was, in the words of Mr. Shingo, to turn their dissatisfaction (Theory X) into “constructive dissatisfaction” (Theory Y.)  At the time I described the experience as akin to freeing prisoners.  I wasn’t making them participate; I was just asking for their help.   That seemingly simple shift ruffled more than a few feathers in management, a humbling experience I documented in a 2012 post jokingly entitled Lead with Humiliation.  Lean transformation,  I discovered, while difficult for everyone, is hardest for managers. 

So, what does this story have to do with the words “accountability” and “authority”?   In 2006, I had the pleasure of listening to David Mann, author of “Creating a Lean Culture“, deliver a presentation at the Shingo Conference on Leader Standard Work (LSW.)  “A novel concept,” I thought to myself.  “Why not clarify the manager’s role in developing a Lean culture?”    So much effort had already been put into transforming front-line systems, but very little in transforming the management systems for folks who were steering the ship.  In fact, the concept to engage managers by check-listing key culture-changing management activities, caught on in a big way.  Many an organization I visit today has attempted to add LSW to its Lean transformation.  Unfortunately, fifteen years and millions of white boards later, what seemed like a good concept is failing in execution.  Here are my observations.    

“Creating a Lean Culture” depicts the Lean management system as comprised of three parts:

  1. Visual Controls.  Mann describes a wide variety of devices such as hour-by-hour charts intended to make each process obvious on a real-time basis.  Are we on schedule?  Are there defects?   But very few organizations that I visit have a robust standardized work system for specifying and improving work.   More common is “standard work,” which describes only the sequence of the work, often in generalities.   Whether in a factory or office or operating room, the failure to understand cadence and precise composition of the work creates a very shaky foundation for accountability.   
  2. Standard Accountability.  This, for most sites I visit, is the centerpiece of the Lean management system.  Operational status for a work group is summarized periodically and discussed at a brief stand-up meeting.   Impediments to flow are noted and countermeasures are reviewed.  The supervisor of the front line is the owner of the “Tier 1” board and is accountable meet specific KPI’s.   The Tier 1 board is tied  to goals and targets set at a higher-level Tier 2 board, which is owned by the manager.  He or she is accountable for Tier 2.  Finally, at the global level is the Tier 3 board owned by the executive.  This is the principle that enables oversight and alignment of goals and measures. 

    Several issues frustrate the effectiveness of Standard Accountability. 
    • First, as noted above, workers are often not given a stable, repeatable process to run.  Says Mann, “until you demonstrate an improvement in stability of a process by applying the tools of Lean production, leader standard work comes across as a waste of time, a bureaucratic abstraction without real meaning.”
    • Second, inadequate attention is given to actual Kaizen.  Referring to the role of leader standard work, Mann notes, “the journey truly begins in earnest after the production floor has been rearranged, or procedures redefined.” But, if front-line capability to deploy countermeasures to problems has not first been established, then what system is there to manage?   It’s a bit like coaching a baseball team where the players themselves have never played.  We can measure the balls and strikes, but nobody has learned how to bat.  Before accountability, there must be ability. 
    • Third, there’s that word “accountability.”  Check out Roget’s Thesaurus for the synonyms:   blame, fault, liability, answerability, responsibility, culpability, chargeability.  Or just listen to the evening news for the connotation of the word.   It’s the equivalent of referring to mistake-proofing as fool-proofing.   In this sense, accountability is more like finger-pointing.  Mr. Shingo condemned the word fool-proofing because it was a Theory X word.  I think if he were alive today, he would also ban the use of word accountability for the same reason.   When our words imply that we must make people do something, we’re perpetuating an archaic Theory X view.  As managers, we should be enabling our employees to develop their capabilities.  We should be authorizing them to master their crafts.  Words mean something.  We should choose them carefully. 
    • Finally, the concept of tiered accountability can provide an empowering line of sight to all employees and managers, IF it is sincerely followed by all – and when I see the occasional effective tiered accountability process it underscores the power of true alignment.   More commonly, however, engagement at higher tiers is spotty; accountability in that case flows downhill.   The message at Tier 1 is “S.O.S.” 

  3. Leader Standard Work (LSW).  This is the management checklist that keeps everyone practiced with the new way, a thoughtfully constructed list of periodic tasks for executives, managers and supervisors, designed to show visible commitment and support for the new way.  This is the concept that first intrigued me when I listened to David Mann’s presentation in 2006: a reminder to managers to be leaders for change.  My observation over the last decade is that managers who use LSW well soon become practiced and no longer need a checklist.   Unfortunately, many managers create a checklist, but then don’t follow it.  “My day is too unpredictable to use leader standard work,” one manager tells me.  An all too common refrain.  We are asking our employees to embrace change, but we are excused.  It is perhaps no accident that the third edition of Mann’s book, released a decade after the original, adds a full chapter dealing with the challenge to engage management. 

From the foregoing rant, it may seem that I don’t subscribe to concepts put forth in “Creating a Lean Culture”; but in fact, fifteen years after its publication, I continue to believe that if employees have both ability and authority, then the guidance and alignment provided by a Lean management system is imperative. That is Theory Y.  As David Mann reminds us, “Execution is the key to lean management.”   The authority to execute, today as in 2006, rests squarely on the shoulders of executives. 

What is your experience creating a Lean management system?  Can you share a story or observation?  

O.L.D.

Hope to see you all at our 15th annual Northeast LEAN Conference in Hartford, October 23-24.  The topic of engagement – employees and execs – will be a main focus.  Our theme this year, Total Employee Involvement, combines the knowledge and experience of leading practitioners and experts.  Want more information?  Click here. 

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.    

O.L.D.

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.

Late Bloomers

late bloomers.jpg
Last week as I climbed into my car, I glanced at a tub of morning glories that I’d started from seed last March.   All spring and summer the plant grew taller and taller leaping at one point off the trellis and over the garage door frame.   Green and gangly, my morning glory plant was the picture of health, but for one thing:  it had no flowers. I watered and fertilized, but each morning as I climbed into my car nary a bloom; even into the early fall there was only greenery.  With the first frost imminent, I’d pretty much given up on the idea of blooms.

 
But then, suddenly (or so it seemed) on October 19th there was a profusion of heavenly blue blossoms.  I waxed philosophical at the sight, reflecting that some of us are just late bloomers.  We find our passion, if we’re fortunate, a little later in life.

 
One week earlier I’d delivered the opening keynote at the Northeast Lean Conference in Providence, RI.  Before beginning, I asked the audience for a show of hands:  “How many of you,” I inquired, “when you entered the workforce and took your first job, had no idea that one day you’d be attending a conference that dealt with transforming your organization?”   Five hundred hands went up – almost everyone in the hall.    Perhaps there were a few twenty-somethings who knew from the first that this would be their career, but for most of us, there was no guiding vision of Lean Transformation when we took our first jobs.  For me personally, there were few resources to even prepare me for the struggle of a cultural and conceptual revolution.   I left school with a B.A. in English literature to work in a marketing department.  Today I relate happily that, with the exception of that first job, I’ve been equally unprepared for every job I’ve ever held.

 
In fact, if the hands in the audience are any indication, many of us entered the workforce with a different idea of the future.   Who knew we’d become excited about dealing with seemingly overwhelming challenges?  Who knew that a serendipitous struggle – or in some cases calamity – would draw us into the fray?  Who knew that would become a personal burning platform.   “Thank you,” I said before continuing, “Thank you for the important contributions that you all make.”  Late bloomers, all of us.

 
I’d be very interested to know, how did your Lean journey begin?  Please share your story.


O.L.D. 

PS A quick reminder: At the conference last week, we offered a special super early bird discount ticket price for next year’s Northeast Lean Conference – October 23-24, 2019 in Hartford CT – good through the end of this month. If you’re planning to attend (and you should be) register now and save huge (only $795 per person instead of the regular $995 for members, $1095 for non members). The theme will be “Total Employee Improvement”. We can’t wait.