Tag Archives: Lean Culture

The Final Frontier

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first US astronaut to journey to the “final frontier.”  Atop a Mercury rocket, Shepard launched into a fifteen-minute suborbital journey reaching an altitude of about one hundred miles before returning to earth.  His space capsule, Freedom 7, was a wonder of science weighing a little more than one ton and loaded to the max with avionics and life support apparatus. Yet, this pioneering venture into endless space would also afford almost no space for the passenger.  According to launch engineer, Guenter Wendt, “astronauts entered their capsules with a shoehorn and departed with a can opener.”   I remember watching footage of Shephard squeezing into his capsule.  The memory still creates pangs of claustrophobia.

Ironically, space constraints faced by NASA fueled a revolution in miniaturization evident in almost every innovation of modern society – from laptops to cell phones to transportation to medical devices to all things Internet.  The need to pack more utility into a small package has changed everything.  Or almost everything.  Here are some recent exceptions:

“We’re adding a new wing to manufacturing,” a colleague related to me recently, “we’re running out of space.”   As I glanced around a shop floor crowded more with material than machines, I asked, “What are you going to put in the new space?”  “We’re just going to spread out,” he said.  “This is a good time to build before interest rates start to climb.”

Another manufacturer advised recently that he was building a Lean warehouse.  “What’s that?” I asked.   “We’re relocating all of our raw material to a location that’s closer to the main highway,” he said. “We need to add several machines, so were Lean-ing out the space.”    “Aren’t you just adding more space and moving inventory farther from your floor?”  I asked.  His response: “Warehouse space is cheap.”

A major hospital requested Lean assistance to re-design its perinatal services in order to accommodate more patients.  After reviewing the current operation, I recommended that existing space could be repurposed to handle the projected growth. “No,” they said, “We’re cramped. We need more space and the budget is already approved.”

It seems that decisions regarding space are driven more by claustrophobia or perceived worth than actual need.   Flow distance may double or triple as a result of expansion, but additional space somehow still equates to growth.   More space is viewed as an investment, an alluring addition to the balance sheet, or a badge of success.   Only on rare occasions do I encounter a growing business that is interested in reducing space. Perhaps, then, space is the final frontier.  Not more space, but less.   I wonder how much Lean progress would be made if space were seen as a constraint for business as it was for NASA’s Mercury launch.

How much space do you have?  Too much?  Too little? Share a story.

O.L.D.

PS I’m teaching the Shingo Institute workshop “Continuous Improvement” at MassMutual in Springfield next week and a few seats remain if you’d like to join us. Learn more here.

PPS I’m also looking forward to presenting my monthly “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar on June 20th. It’s free! The topic is “Silver Bullet Mania”. Intrigued? Read more and register here.

Systems Tinking

At GBMP’s launch of the Shingo Institute’s BUILD EXCELLENCE workshop, it occurred to me that perhaps systems thinking might be more aptly named systems rethinking.  Workshop participants offered up current systems in their organizations that actually impeded continuous improvement, each time expressing frustration with the difficulty to create system change.  For larger organizations with more explicit codification of systems, the task to create a change was more onerous.  One class participant commented, “Our standard procedures are documented in dozens of binders – all of them covered with dust.”   But even in smaller organizations, creating a new system will mean undoing a de facto process that, despite its shortcomings, feels normal.

According to the Shingo Institute, these systems are the domain of managers who should be reviewing them regularly.  But, when business systems are ingrained as part of the corporate fabric, the idea of changing even one of them instills concern regarding the global effects.  Will changing one system negatively impact others?  Concern for unanticipated consequences will trigger risk-averse behavior.  Add to that challenge the fact that existing systems may, in fact, have been authored by the same persons who are now charged with evaluating their effectiveness.  When Shigeo Shingo declared that subjective inspection of one’s own work is not good practice, he might have included the work of managers along with that of front line employees.    It would be better apparently for these organizations to have no systems to start their Lean journeys than to be saddled with status quo systems that evoke the wrong behaviors.  So, what can be done?

According to the Shingo Institute:

First, stop basing the design of systems purely on local results.  This practice creates silos and disharmony.  Each part of the organization is rewarded as if it were its own company, rather than for its contribution to system goals.   Speaking at a Shingo Conference many years ago, Russ Scaffede, formerly an executive at General Motors (and later at Toyota) quipped, “At GM we used to say ‘All of our divisions made money, only the corporation lost its shirt.’”   That is the status quo condition for many organizations: local bogeys driven by systems that simply don’t knit together.

Second, consider the foundational principles beneath the Lean tools, or, as Shigeo Shingo noted, first ‘know-why’ before you ‘know-how.’  Many organizations parrot the tools without understanding the philosophy that makes them effective.  Simply layering tools on top of a faulty philosophy also generates disharmony rather than real results.   Many organizations, for example, have invested time to develop a quality system like ISO including QC tools and problem-solving methods; but employees are afraid to report problems for fear of reprisal.  Shingo Principles articulate the culture that must be present to make systems work.

sytems_tinkeringFinally, to avoid concerns regarding the interdependency of systems, i.e., the unanticipated consequences make the changes small; in the words of Masaaki Imai, “create many small changes for the better.”   Don’t let the policy books gather dust; review and update them often.   To use a metaphor from knitting,  check and adjust your systems one thread at a time.  Don’t let the knitting unravel.  It’s called tinking, the process of taking knitting back stitch by stitch to correct a problem in the fabric. (Tink is knit spelled backward.)   In this case, let’s call it “Systems Tinking.”

O.L.D.

P.S. Speaking of the ‘know-why’ before the ‘know-how’, GBMP’s  Lean conference is coming to Worcester MA on September 19-20. The theme for our 13th annual event – “The Integration of Culture & Tools” – will be an exploration of the value of Lean tools when embedded with a Lean culture. I know September feels like a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. The event features four keynote presenters including Paul Akers, author of ‘2-Second Lean’ & Brian Wellinghoff from Barry Wehmiller, plus 30+ breakout sessions and more than a dozen poster presentations for yokoten in our Community of Lean Lounge. Simply put, it’s the best opportunity for Lean learning and networking with professionals just like yourself – passionate Lean practitioners. Early bird registration discount (save close to $200!)  in effect through May 31. That’s tomorrow folks. I hope you take advantage of the savings. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the agenda at a glance, testimonials and photos from last year’s event and much much more on the website and decide for yourself. I sure hope to see you in September!

 

Another Use for Duct Tape

ducttapeHere’s a post inspired by the glut of recent football weekends. Lou Holtz, the legendary college and pro football coach offers the following advice to coaches everywhere:

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

Top managers often lament their employee’s reluctance to embrace change and adopt better ways to work. But, after thirty years of Lean implementations, few executives have genuinely accepted their roles as change leaders. To lead a Lean transformation, there are so many things for top managers to learn – and unlearn – it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps Lou Holtz has the best idea for starting: Stop talking. At first glance, top manager silence may seem a little incongruous, but here’s why it’s a good place to start:

A while back, I toured a local factory with their general manager, Paul. Paul was concerned about lack of employee participation. “Some days,” he said, “it seems like I’m the only one with ideas.” The root cause of the low participation became apparent as we toured the factory. At each department, Paul rushed in and started brainstorming solutions to problems, sometimes talking to me and sometimes to his employees – but always talking. Finally I whispered this suggestion to him: “I’ll have to get out the duct tape if you don’t stop talking.”  Pointing to a problem statement on a huddle board, he exclaimed emphatically, “ But I know how to solve that problem!”

“Perhaps,” I responded, “but if you want your employees to begin thinking that problem solving is a key part of their jobs, then you have to cease being the chief executive problem solver.” It was apparent to me as a visitor that factory employees immediately deferred to Paul, awaiting his strong advice; but he was oblivious. Paul scowled at me in response. After a few minutes of sullen but thoughtful silence, the Paul spoke again. “You know I got to where I am by being a good problem solver. It’s not easy being silent, when I see a solution.”

“I understand,” I said, “that you are good problem solver and an enthusiastic, involved general manager, but how can you transfer that problem solving enthusiasm and skill your employees? Isn’t that the real problem for you to solve?” Paul thought for a moment, and replied, “Maybe I need to talk less and listen more.”

“Do you think you can do that?” I asked, “It won’t be easy,” Paul replied.

How about in your organization?   Do your coaches talk or listen? Please share a thought.

O.L.D.

By the way, tomorrow I’m presenting a free webinar about “Pokayoke” (aka Mistake Proofing) at 3:00 PM EST. Join me if you can. Register here.

Take a look at all of our upcoming Events on our website to see what else we’ve got going on. Great Stuff. Hope to see you soon! If you don’t get our weekly event e-bulletins, subscribe on the GBMP home page and then you’ll be the first to know when new events get posted.

Lastly, the video clip above comes from GBMP’s Go See: A Management Primer for Gemba Walks video – one of four in our Management Engagement Series. Learn more about getting your own full copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Up, Back and Around

up backWatching the US Women’s Team take the World Cup last week caused me to reminisce about my short-term coaching stint of a U12 soccer team. Before becoming a coach, I hadn’t played soccer or even watched a game, but there were not enough coaches in our town league so I volunteered.   After a two-week clinic for new coaches, I’d learned enough to know when I was allowed to substitute players, what was meant by off sides and a few other key rules. I’d even learned how to clumsily dribble and pass, but, like many other coaches, not well enough to actually teach the kids.  Fortunately for the team, however, a parent of one of the players knew John G., a local resident who at one time had played on the Portuguese national team. John seemed to know everything about soccer from basic skills to game tactics and even strategy for the season. Beyond this, John motivated and energized the kids. His personal enthusiasm and love of the game was contagious. Whenever I would thank him for sharing his skill and experience, he’d humbly respond, “The game is the best teacher.”

“No doubt,” I thought, “the boys are learning to play by playing, but John G. observes each boy’s every move, making subtle adjustments in skill and teamwork.”

Practice, after all, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. John had the boys practicing dribbling, passing and kicking the right way. Over the course of the season, every player improved individually, and the group of giggly eleven year old boys became an accomplished team – not World Cup, but pretty darned good.   “Better teams beat better players,” John G. exclaimed when any player appeared to be less than selfless in his play. Along the way I also became a better coach observing and listening to him.

Watching the superb play last week by the US women reminded me of one more of John G.’s lessons, which like his other coaching tips have had direct application to my work. “Up, back and around” he’d shout to the field during scrimmage. “Don’t always try to beat the defender directly. If the resistance is too great, then pass the ball back to your teammate and play around the defense.” While this tactic appeared to be “two steps forward and one step back,” it led ultimately to many goals.

So it is approaching True North.   The goal does not change, but depending upon the resistance at any point we should take John G.’s advice and avoid forcing the play. Don’t try to change the status quo by yourself. Share with your team members, and take the change up, back and around.

Do you trust all of your team, or do you only pass to certain team members? Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

PS I’ll be in Gorham, Maine on the 23rd of this month at Jotul N/A for an afternoon “Lean Learning Bite” event on Gemba Walks. Maybe you can join us. Here’s more info.

PPS We’re offering The Shingo Institute workshop “Discover Excellence” in Texas for the very first time at the end of the month. Check it out here.

And just one more thing – GBMP just released the agenda for its upcoming 11th Annual Northeast Lean Conference in Springfield MA. See the agenda, get more info about the event and register on the conference website: www.NortheastLeanConference.org

I hope I’ll see you there!

 

 

NVLLIVS IN VERBA

nvllivs imageThere was a time when it was not fashionable for managers to associate with front line employees. Alluding to an old adage, I used to joke that you could not even lead the horse (manager) to water, let alone make him drink. Division of labor at that time was a great divide. In my early days as a manager, visiting with front line employees was frowned upon as “fraternizing”. Managers stayed on the margins, managing from a safe distance.

Today the divide seems to be narrowing for some organizations. Thanks to the popularization of manager standard work and emphasis on business culture (referred to twenty-five years ago as “fluff”), managers are now adding Gemba walks to their busy schedules. So – that’s progress. We can now lead the horse to water. But can we make him drink?

“Why are we here?” I asked Lorie the sales manager as I accompanied her to a sales order department. “According to my standard work, I’m to look for abnormalities.” “So, what do you see?” I asked. Pointing to some numbers written in red ink on a huddle board at the edge of the department Lorie noted, “I see that we’re taking too long to respond to quote requests.”   I asked, “What do you actually see here at the huddle board?” Thinking for a second, she responded, “a record of quote requests.” “So how would you learn more about this apparently abnormal condition,” I inquired. “I’d talk to the supervisor,” Lorie said. “Okay,” I persisted, “would that be direct observation of the abnormality?” “No,” Lorie, conceded, “it would be second hand information as well.” Pausing a moment she then argued, “I can’t be out here all day long just watching for slow responses to quote requests.” Without disputing the time commitment issue I asked, “Do you have even fifteen minutes to watch the process that produces the quotations?” “Yes, I do,” said Lorie. “Good, let’s see how many abnormalities we can observe in that length of time.” With that we left the margins of the sales order department and went to where the work was done. Here is what we observed:

  • A computer system stalled according to the sales associate by “some buffering problem” that IT was working on.
  • An incorrect price list, which needed to be verified and approved.
  • An inconsistency between the customer’s and manufacturer’s drawings.
  • A phone coverage issue. Quotes from different time zones frequently generated abnormal quote times.
  • Escalation challenges. When technical questions were not directly answerable, the path to the correct answer was not always clear.

This is a partial list of process abnormalities, not all from one order writer or a single order, but most directly observable within the fifteen-minute time frame and all coming direct from the front lines. “What will you do now?” I asked Lorie.   “I guess I need to go see for myself more often,” she said.

In many cases, we have led the horse to water but he is still thirsting for the truth. The idea of direct observation continues to be foreign to many managers who feel that division of labor dictates they get their information second hand, massaged, summarized and homogenized. Change leaders would do well to remind managers of the motto of the Royal Society, the seat of modern science and philosophy: “Nullius in verba” – a Latin expression meaning “take nobody’s word for it.” This gold standard of objectivity encouraged scientific thinkers not to let status quo politics and prevailing beliefs affect their thinking. If we are truly seeking a culture change to our organizations we need to encourage the same thinking from our leaders.

In your organization, have you led the horse to water? Has he/she drunk? Share a story.

O.L.D.

P.S. A few reminders:

In my next Tea Time with the Toast Dude webinar, on Tuesday, November 18, I’ll discuss “Making Huddle Boards Work“. Hope you can join in the conversation. Register here.

Also, I’m excited to be leading the upcoming Shingo Institute course –  “Discover Excellence” – at Ken’s Foods in Marlborough MA on November 6-7. Seats are still available. This foundational workshop introduces the Shingo Model, the Guiding Principles and the Three Insights to Enterprise Excellence™. With real-time discussions and on-site learning, the program is a highly interactive experience and designed to make your learning meaningful and immediately applicable to release the latent potential in your organization and achieve enterprise excellence. Read more and register here. 

Patience

patienceIn 1966, a freshman at a college in Maine attended a speech given by Floyd McKissick, newly appointed head of the Congress of Racial Equality, better known as CORE.   In the packed auditorium there were no more than a half-dozen African Americans come to hear the “radical” new leader whose mission was to raise awareness of gross racial inequality.  Mr. McKissick’s animated and passionate litany clearly affected the mostly white, middle class audience who sat wide-eyed and still as he detailed the shameful history of persecution to which most of society had turned a blind eye.

A half-century later, it’s hard to articulate the social turmoil of that decade to someone born later.  The marches and mobilizations (such as Mr. McKissick hoped to foment at an unlikely Maine college), the assassinations of leaders of the movement, the lynchings and murders of their followers and advocates, the riots and destruction of property in all our major cities, are now material for history books, dulled by time.   What seemed to many back then to be an impending collapse of society was for persons like Mr. McKissick a major overhaul to an unfair and counterproductive system, a step change for everyone towards the ideals we more fortunate students took for granted.

Near the end of his presentation, Floyd McKissick raised his fist to the audience in a show of emotion and used this analogy to make his case:

“The Man is standing on my neck. I am on the ground and he is choking me.  And he says to me ‘You need to be patient because I need acceptance time for these kind of changes.’”

These words hit their intended target.  Patience is not a virtue when it is an excuse by those in power to forestall positive change.   Further, sometimes testy, impatient mavericks like Mr. McKissock are the advance guard, forging the trail for the rest of us who are trying to create change.

Decades later, working to make improvements in my factory, I was reminded of Mr. McKissick’s remarks when my teacher said to me “Bruce, you should be very patient with the workers but not patient with the managers.”

A belated thanks to Floyd McKissick and other trailblazers.   Happy MLK day.

O.L.D.

BTW – My next free webinar will be on Tuesday, Feburary 11, from 3:00-3:45 p.m. EST.  The topic is “Tips for Manager Gemba WalksHope you can join me.  Click here to register.

And you can learn about all of GBMP’s public lean training events here  – from benchmarking Plant Tours to Lean Accounting Workshops, Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate programs and more.