Tag Archives: Management Kaizen

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.


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.










A Holiday Miracle

Viewing Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” last week for the twenty-fifth time in as many years, I recalled a kind of holiday miracle I witnessed shortly after I began consulting.

holidaymiracleI was working with a manager team at a food processing plant shortly before Christmas, observing a packing line set up especially to pack hams for the holiday.   Imagine a rapidly moving serpentine conveyor transporting hams from a chiller to a rotating shrink wrap platen and thence to boxing and palletizing operations.   Operators stood at key points, to inspect, load and unload. Because the shape of each ham was unique, proper positioning and repositioning of product was also important to prevent jams and spills.

Observation was something new for this manager team. Not that they weren’t on the floor regularly, they just didn’t spend much time focused on the process. This day we were essentially standing in Ohno’s Circle, watching the work of young lady, call her Martina, stationed at the sealing platen.   Hams arrived every twenty seconds on a conveyor positioned next to the platen, where Martina would quickly do a visual inspection and then load and activate the shrink wrapper. The packing line was paused briefly, and with the help of her bilingual supervisor we inquired of Martina if she experienced any difficulty in her work.   As none of our group could speak Spanish, we could only observe facial expressions and body language.   Her supervisor spoke to her in Spanish and then turned to us with a smile on his face: “I asked if she has any problems and she responded that ‘she really likes working here.’ I think she’s a little nervous.” Martina was looking at our team with a big smile also.

Moment of truth: The top manager in our group responded directly to Martina in English. “We know you’re a very good worker and we’re happy to have you working for us. Is there anything that we can do to help you in your job?”   Her supervisor translated to her, apparently adding a few personal words of encouragement. Martina provided a longer, animated response, demonstrating how she loaded the hams from the conveyor to the platen. We watched as she as she suddenly made a long stretch to a spot where the conveyor took a right angle turn.   Her motion was reminiscent of a first baseman stretching to shag an errant throw.   She looked at us again with a smile. Pointing to the area of the “stretch”, her supervisor translated: “Martina says, that occasionally, a ham will fall off the conveyor at this turn, but that she is always watching and is able to catch it before it hits the floor.” He paused, and then smiled again. “And, she wants you to know that it’s not a big problem, and she really likes working here.”

The packing line was restarted, and we observed this time with a better understanding, watching for the occasional falling ham. There were a couple near misses, but no opportunities for Martina to demonstrate her first base stretch. So it is with occasional problems; only the front line sees them.

Before we moved on, from the top manager came a sincere thank you to Martina for her help, and a direction to engineering to add a higher barrier to the conveyor at the point where hams might tumble. For both management and employees it was a holiday miracle, an epiphany: Each had become visible to the other.   As Goodyear’s Billy Taylor put it at our Northeast Lean Conference “if you make somebody visible you make them valuable.” This is culture change, one small miracle at a time. But, in the words of Bill Murray’s Ebenezer Scrooge, managers have to “want to make it happen every day.”   It’s management’s part of “everybody everyday.”

My New Year’s challenge to every manager: Show your personal passion for continuous improvement every day. Make the miracle happen in your organization. Make your employees and yourself visible.

Best Wishes to All for an Incredible 2015.


P.S. GBMP wants to help you get 2015 off to a great start with lean training events to benefit your whole team – including Job Instruction Training, Lean for the Office, Six Sigma Green Belt, Total Productive Maintenance, Value Stream Mapping for Healthcare, benchmarking plant tours, free webinars, Shingo Institute workshops and much much more!  Visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events to see the entire list.

One by One

big batchPreface: A Christmas present from a lean-thinking friend, Brian Dandrea at Mass Mutual Insurance, is the inspiration for this week’s post. Those of you who have seen the Toast Kaizen video will remember the big batch of toast I make in my deluxe four-slice toaster. For years that toaster has been the metaphor for wrong-sized monument equipment, wrong-thinking about true efficiency and resulting overproduction. And I’ve embellished the metaphor with the assertion “You can’t buy a one-slice toaster, you’d have to build your own.” This assertion was based upon my apparently cursory search of the web, which turned up all sizes of toasters (even a ten-slicer!), but nary a single example of one-slice toaster. When I mentioned this to Brian D. recently however, he made it a personal mission to challenge my hypothesis. The result you can see for yourself in the following clip: click here. Toastmaster apparently discontinued its 1×1 model toaster around 1953 (coincidentally at about the same time Toyota was rolling out its just-in-time production system. )

Post: While it would be easy enough to parlay my new right-sized toaster into more discussion of the virtues of single piece part and information flow at the front lines, let’s consider instead the “work in process” for managers. Especially in the last decade, it seems to me that managers have become buried in administrative WIP — projects and objectives. Infinite loading of managers is the norm: give them a hundred projects and ask them to spend 1% of their time on each — just like on the factory floor, we figure if we keep pushing work in, something will eventually come out. We launch many objectives and then expedite the hot ones – and hot unfortunately usually means most urgent, not most important. Managers are rewarded for stamping out the fires, for working long hours to keep up, and for juggling too many ‘priorities.’ Loaded down like Santas we have to decide on a moment’s notice “who’s naughty and nice,” who gets help, what is the best short-term solution. We may be preaching one-by-one production to the shop floor, but we are often victims ourselves of way too much manager work in process.

I had a boss many years ago who would call me to his office almost daily to lecture me: “Project X is your number one priority, I want you to spend 100% of your time on it!” The following day I’d receive a similar message, but this time for a different project. After trying to juggle too many priorities for a while, I just learned to fake it – to pretend things were happening even when they weren’t – since it was virtually impossible to handle all of my manager WIP. Ultimately, when we overburden managers, we make them bad managers.

This being the holiday season and my last post for 2013, I like to suggest to managers that next year you give your direct reports and yourself the gift of one-by-one projects – or at least smaller batches. Focus on less at a time, get some balance in your life, and the flow will improve. Less WIP, greater velocity.

Thanks for reading and commenting this year; hope to have you back in 2014.


BTW. Please Join me on January 14 from 3:00 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. for a free “Tea Time with the Toast Dude” Webinar. Next month’s topic will be “Value Stream Mapping Mistakes and Faux Pas.” You can register on our website: go to www.gbmp.org and click on Events.




Seeing the Invisible

[This post celebrates the product launch for a great new book Seeing The Invisible, authored by GBMP’s friend and collaborator, John Kravontka, and published by GBMP.]

seeinginvisibleSummer time is synonymous for me with a trip to the amusement park.  I took my twins to Wonderland Park when they were just four years old, a déjà vu experience that transported me be back fifty years.  As my kids climbed onto the fire engine ride, I realized that this was the very same ride that I had loved when I was four years old.  Amidst the other high speed, high tech amusements, the fire engines existed in sharp relief, harkening to a simpler time period when children’s imagination required fewer bells and whistles.  Not being an especially nostalgic person, I was nonetheless impressed by the staying power of this simple amusement.  A line of enthusiastic children still waited in queue for this ride; same as when I was a kid.

Last summer, I noticed someone working on the fire engines just before the park opened for business, and felt compelled to let him know, “This ride is older than me.  I used to ride these engines when I was a kid. How do you keep them in such good shape?”

The maintenance tech smiled and replied, “We take care to lubricate the moving parts and we pretty much know what wears and when service will be needed.  These old engines don’t do much, but they’ve carried delighted kids for millions of miles. I would expect that your grandchildren will also be riding these engines at some point.  We’ve learned a lot about them over the years and we keep them in better than new condition.”

More recently, I had a similar exchange at a local factory with a machine shop manager.  Pointing to an ancient grinding machine, the manager echoed the thoughts from the amusement park:  “This old grinder doesn’t do much – no bells or whistles like many of our newer machines – but what it does do it does very consistently.”   “How do you keep it in such good shape?” I asked.  His reply: “We know this machine very well, where and when it will need service.  We treat it well and it returns the favor.”

Thoughtful preventative maintenance, be it at an amusement park, a factory, a laboratory or an operating room, creates a stable environment that favors safety, productivity and continuous improvement.  Yet, regular PM continues to be more of an exceptional condition rather than the norm.  There are so many simple opportunities to maintain equipment that just hide in plain sight, invisible to operators and maintenance techs.  The costs too are hidden in longer run times, injuries, defects, customer service and employee frustration.

Is your de facto standard  “run to failure”?   Do you see the simple opportunities to maintain your equipment in better than new condition or are they invisible to you?  Please share a story — and check out Seeing the Invisible, on sale beginning Monday July 29, 2013 at www.shopgbmp.org.


BTW:  Don’t forget…August 13 is my second webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, 3:00 – 3:45 pm (Eastern), the topic: Management Kaizen…one of my favorites. And of course, the 9th Annual Northeast Shingo Conference is fast approaching – September 24-25 in Hyannis MA. The line up looks great and the benchmarking and networking is always terrific. I can’t wait and hope to see you there!

Culture Schmulture

not_aboutSome time ago, while giving a presentation entitled Organizational Obstacles to Lean, I displayed a slide with the title “It’s Not about Culture”.  My point was that ‘culture’ is a bad analogy because it places the burden for change on the shoulders of employees rather than on management where it belongs.

Later I drew criticism from a fellow presenter, a manager from a well-known leading edge Lean manufacturer.   “I liked everything about your presentation,” he said after I finished, “except the part about culture. If the culture in our company had not changed we would never been able to sustain our gains.”

“It’s just the word,” I explained. “I think it’s often used to deflect responsibility away from bad management.  I prefer the words “favorable environment” because they connote management responsibility.”

My friend persisted that his Lean culture was embedded, so we agreed to disagree.  A short time later, my friend’s company was acquired by a competitor.  The ‘embedded culture’ disappeared in a few short months.  Lean leaders from that company became lean refugees; some were fired, others departed voluntarily.  What had taken years to build was unwittingly dismantled by a new management team, who apparently also felt the culture was embedded, and needed no further care and feeding.

On the flip side, John Shook, tells a great story about NUMMI, an early collaboration between Toyota and General Motors: In one short year, under a new management team from Toyota, the NUMMI plant – previously the worst GM plant in the US – became General Motor’s best assembly plant.   Once again new management apparently triumphed over embedded culture, this time for the better.   Was a new embedded culture created?  I think not.   Management had created an environment that favored continuous improvement.

Some persons may feel like I’m mincing words, but I think words direct our thinking and our actions; and buzzwords can cause us to turn a blind eye to real problems.   When we define our business problem as “culture”, we may be only fueling a burgeoning market for ‘culture consultants” while avoiding the need for management to change bad systems and management practices.

How do you feel about culture?   Please chime in.  I’d like to hear from you.

June 21, 2013

BTW  Beginning in July, I’m going to experiment with a series of forty minute webinars I’ll refer to as “Tuesday Tea Time with The Toast Dude”; same themes as my blog, just a different medium where ideas can be exchanged in real-time.  Added bonus: participants will be entered to win a free registration to our Northeast Region Shingo Conference, on September 24th & 25th in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The winner will be announced live at the conclusion of the webinar. I’ll provide more details about our first topic and how to register next week, but for now please “save the date” on your calendar for 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9.