Tag Archives: improvement kata

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.

O.L.D.

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!

 

 

Musical Kata

musicalkataI sang baritone and sometimes tenor in the St. John’s Lutheran Church choir according the key of the hymn were rehearsing and also depending upon who showed up for rehearsal. There were no try-outs for our choir; willingness to sing on Sunday was the primary requirement for membership. One of our brethren, I recall, had a voice that sounded like a frog, but he always showed up for service.

I was thirteen years old at the time, surrounded by persons for the most part twenty to fifty years my senior. This was my first gig, my first rehearsal with the choir.   I had been encouraged to join to bolster the tenor section for Easter services. Loretta M., the glue that held our motley voices together was a supremely patient and optimistic organist and choir director, a woman in her fifties, who no doubt had coached many choirs before ours. Loretta was a talented musician, but more that she was an excellent teacher.

“Good evening everyone,” Loretta exclaimed enthusiastically at our Thursday rehearsal. “This Sunday’s Liturgy for Easter services is one I think most of us are familiar with, but can we have a quick review? I’ll go through it once and you listen. Then we’ll break down the parts.”

Loretta played and sang the Liturgy once through, and then turned to us. “This is such a beautiful piece of music, such a key part of the service. We sounded great last year, and I know we’ll do well this year.”   Then she smiled and said, “You know this service is standing room only.”

This was inspiring, but also made me nervous, apparently visibly so, as Loretta glanced my way with a friendly “it’ll be okay” nod.   “First the soprano’s,” she said and proceeded to walk through the liturgy in sections. I wasn’t thinking PDCA at the time, but clearly each of us was experimenting, supported by Loretta’s gentle, positive feedback. Measure by measure we practiced until we were comfortable. Then the measures and sections were strung together, sopranos first, then tenor, then baritones and basses.

“Okay!” Loretta declared about ninety minutes into our rehearsal. “We have all the parts. Now let’s put them together.   Don’t worry if you make a mistake, just keep going and you’ll catch up.”   Loretta’s pipe organ introduction commenced and, on her cue, we began to sing. As she predicted there were mistakes; missed entrances and wrong notes, and a general imbalance of voices. But we achieved our first target. As we finished the liturgy, we turned to each other in surprise. One of us remarked, “We didn’t sound that bad.”

“Indeed,” Loretta agreed, “a great beginning.”   Then she put a question to us: “Which are the areas we need to work on?” I think she knew the answers before she asked the question, but her question created reflection by every one of us. At age 13, I wasn’t thinking “Hansei,” but Loretta’s question created that experience.

By 10:00 p.m., after nearly three hours of rehearsal we sounded musical. Our liturgy would play to a standing room only congregation, and every one of us had a sense of personal accomplishment and organizational harmony.

O.L.D.

P.S. So why this post? Because I’m headed tomorrow to Kata Summit in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to officially release GBMP’s latest DVD, Improvement Kata, a collaborative effort of GBMP, W3 Group and Leanovator.   (Check out www.shopgbmp.org for other titles in our Lean Training DVD catalog – from Kanban to CEDAC, Quick Changeover to Idea Systems.) Hope to see you at the summit.

And don’t forget about my monthly FREE webinar – Tea Time with The Toast Dude. It’s this afternoon! This month’s topic: Tips for Engaging More Employees in your Lean Implementation. Starts today at 3:00 pm. Register here!