Tag Archives: problem solving

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.”

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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.

It’s a Small World After All

guestblog[Many thanks to Gerry Cronin and Julieanne Brandolini for passing along the following story about sharing between industry and healthcare.   Gerry manages the Lean Program at the Center for Comparative Medicine (CCM), the Biomedical Research division at the Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the largest programs of its kind in the US.  CCM has been on its Lean journey for 8 years, and has adapted Lean tools and methods in novel ways to service their 5000 customers as efficiently as possible with a staff of 130 employees. As a pioneer in Lean management in Biomedical Research CCM conducts Lean Tours, trainings and seminars to help accelerate the healthcare industry in the development of new therapies against disease. Learn more.]

At GBMP’s recent Northeast Shingo Prize Conference in Hyannis Massachusetts, CCM displayed adaptations of Lean as they have applied it to Biomedical Research  in their Community of Lean Lounge booth.   Conference attendees were drawn in by the wacky display of dangerous animals and props.   But during these times of sharing, CCM staff realized that a majority of the representatives from all different industries shared their frustrations in  getting employees involved with a) active Problem Solving and b) employee engagement. It appeared that everyone – regardless of their work – is faced with the very same challenges when developing a culture of Continuous Improvement. CCM is attempting to address this challenge in novel ways and here is the story that they shared in the Community of Lean Lounge:

Pulling the Cord”

During a Kaizen event that was focused on improving our Gemba Walks, the Team Leads and front-line technicians recognized that many members of our staff were not making the connections of how 5S and problem-solving are integrated into everyday work.  Many still see Lean as “another thing to do”; a “thing” that requires dedicated time for them to find, think, test and implement solutions to problems. The Kaizen Team announced “we are pulling the cord and we need more help to coach our staff to connect the dots”.

“Making it real”

To address this problem, leadership set out to create a realistic life-or-death simulation that would clearly illustrate how 5S, standard work and Problem Solving are part of everyday work.  From this setback was born the “5S Wetlabs”, a portable, 90-minute training session that was designed to reinforce the importance of Standard Work, workplace organization and stakeholder involvement.  During the intense and dramatic simulation, a critical step goes haywire activating an emergency response to save a life.  The “First Responders” encounter a dysfunctional and chaotic situation making the life-saving process totally ineffective, resulting in the tragic death of the victim.  The Responders fail miserably to perform effectively in their role; they articulate feelings of disappointment, of being demoralized, embarrassed and frustrated by their inability to save the victim.

“Shoveling against the tide… or Making Excuses”

The First Responders are asked to list “what went wrong”, which inevitably becomes a shopping list for 5S-related improvements. The Responders are then asked “who killed the victim” and to write an “Obituary” for the victim that will be presented to the family members at the wake.  The Obituary is often comically uncomfortable, forcing the responders to identify “who” and “what” failed, and their contribution to the victim’s death.  The Obituary exercise illustrates how we tend to make excuses, even when we have influence on a process. A short problem-solving session follows which then leads to Responders identifying dozens of improvements that will make the situation fool-proof; especially since every participant now realizes that “they” are the stakeholder.  They are personally relying on the quality and effectiveness of the system for their own survival.  The simulation is then immediately changed and improved, and the students are  challenged to create a system that will save their own lives when the process goes wrong.  5S principals are now demonstrated to the students by transforming a mundane exercise into a realistic life-or-death situation that makes the mistakes painfully personal.

Lean Learning Goes Both Ways

The theme of CCM’s 2013 Lean Lounge booth was “if we can do it, anybody can”.  The 5S Wetlabs display was an instant hit, as it attracted many trainers and managers who were interested in an unconventional approach to teaching the benefits of workplace organization and problem-solving in a short period of time. One such company was a major aerospace manufacturer that had recently experienced system failures that relied on multiple roles. The Continuous Improvement Director instantly saw the value in life-or-death scenario training for engineers and maintenance technicians who develop and maintain machines and processes that can result in death from catastrophic failure.   Other companies that visited the CCM booth expressed interest in the novel approach to personalized training concepts, and many remarked that perhaps the time has come when industry can now learn from healthcare.   While healthcare has been catching up for years, problems encountered in the dynamic healthcare setting can provide useful lessons for all industries when faced with change that threatens the life or death of an organization.  The learning pendulum has shifted, and healthcare may now be the very industry to illuminate the way to rapid improvements in a threatening market or environment.  Can lessons learned from healthcare help your organization?

Notes from O.L.D. :

1)    I think the answer to above question is:  Yes, definitely!  Lean learning is anything but industry specific.  Thanks again to Gerry and Julianne for their story.

2)    It’s not too early to register for our October 1-2, 2014 conference in Springfield, MA. – and maybe sign up for your own  Lean Lounge table. Click here for details.

3)    It’s almost too late to register for my Sign up here for “Tea Time with Toast Dude” – but not quite!  The topic will be “Killer Measures”, traditional measures that can derail your lean implementation.  Hope you can join me on Tuesday, December 10 (tomorrow!) from 3:00 – 3:40 p.m. EST.  Read more & register.