Tag Archives: ryuji fukuda

How We Learn

While I am an unabashed proponent of learning by doing, I have a list of books that have over the years been essential to me as a framework for experiential learning. Most of these books were written before 1990, and one of the most insightful, Managerial Engineering by Ryuji Fukuda, was first published in English over 40 years ago. I think it was the very first book published by Productivity Press (publisher of Shingo’s and Ohno’s books as well.)

howwelearnAs the book’s title suggests, the topic is about better management practices.   There is so much substance to this book, some of which is only now being revisited in more contemporary texts. Among other things, Fukuda introduced CEDAC (cause and effect diagram adding cards), a substantial improvement to the Ishikawa diagram. And policy deployment was not even a part of the English lexicon until Fukuda’s development of the X-type matrix. Window analysis, a simple way to clarify kaizen maturity and guide it forward, is another gem from this text.

This post, however, reflects on just one key point from Managerial Engineering. A diagram on the front cover of the book describes a simple, practical improvement model that the author, a Deming Prize Winner, dubbed ‘Managerial Effectiveness.”

His three-step method begins with identifying reliable methods (referred to today as ‘tools’), which he qualifies as having the impact of reducing either set-ups or defects to zero. In other words, he was ahead of the curve on why the tools should be used, a popular topic today for latter day lean disciples. Also, Fukuda is challenging managers with this step to follow the leaders, not the pack, a concept still missing from many business strategies.

The second step in Fukuda’s model, create a favorable environment, is a real mouthful. Today the term “culture” is substituted for Fukuda’s phrase, but I like his term better. Forty years later, many organizations are rediscovering that the best problem-solvers will hide problems if they are afraid to report them. Fukuda puts the onus on managers to recreate the work environment by changing their work, an idea popularized years later as “manager standard work”.

Finally the biggest challenge, keep everyone practiced, is a call to action for daily kaizen. Dr. Fukuda uses the game of golf to make his point. If we want to be good, we should first of all learn from the best and then practice every day  in an environment that nurtures experimentation and discovery. After four decades of event-type improvement, organizations are finally realizing that this is how we learn.

Is your organization learning or parroting?   Share a story.

BTW: Managerial Engineering is available used on Amazon for $1.47  : )


Don’t forget: Our next Tea Time with Toast Guy Webinar is next Tuesday, August 12 from 3:00 – 3:45 p.m.   The topic is “Creating a Realistic Pace for Improvement”. Read more and register here.

Bonus!  We’ll select one person from the list of participants to win a free registration to our October 1-2 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. Learn more about the conference here.

They Assessment

Over years of listening to persons describe their work, one single word has surfaced repeatedly as a barometer of what is frequently called “culture.”   The use of the word they in conversation gives me insight into an organization’s ability to engage employees and sustain improvement.

The technical aspects of Lean I can observe primarily with my eyes:

  • the flow of material and information
  • the stability, repeatability and clarity of work
  • adherence to standards
  • alignment of resources to strategic objectives

These are artifacts, physical manifestations, of Lean and together are necessary to an organization’s Lean development.  But alone, the technical efforts provide only a cursory understanding of culture.  For example, too often I visit workplaces that exhibit evidence of Lean tools and systems, but are lacking a spirit of improvement.  Deming Prize recipient, Ryuji Fukuda refers to a “favorable environment” as a work atmosphere that supports employee participation and nourishes that spirit.  This environment is not easily visible from the Lean artifacts.  In fact, organizations willing and able to spend money can create an appearance of Lean, with no real change in culture at all.  One large manufacturer I visited recently actually farms out improvement projects to subcontractors.  They are outsourcing Lean implementation – or so they think.

One word gives these companies away:  they.   It’s a word that refers variously to management, employees, other departments or divisions, external suppliers, boards of directors – any parties involved in the flow of goods and services to the customer.  When I visit a company, I’m not only looking for the use of Lean tools and systems, but I’m also counting They’s.  Let’s call it a They Assesment.

Sometimes they alludes to an adversarial relationship.  “They don’t listen to us”, a nurse told me when I asked her about a scheduling snafu that left patients overflowing in a waiting room.  “Who are they?” I asked.  “The docs,” she said.  “All doctors?” I asked.  “Some more than others,” she replied.”  Notice that the pronoun they objectifies an entire group.

In other instances, they connotes a more passive separation: “They won’t support these changes” is a concern I hear often, and it could just as well be spoken by top managers or by employees depending on frame of reference.  When I’m speaking to a production department, support departments like IT or engineering are often in the they category.  And the effect is reciprocal.  If one function refers to another as they, the other department will always respond in kind.

They is a red flag word.  Its frequency and location of use in conversation paint a picture of the business environment: favorable or unfavorable.  Organizations with a stronger Lean culture will refer more frequently to “we” in describing their work.   In one company, for example, assembly employees repeatedly referred to the engineering department as “we” even though engineering was clearly a separate entity on the organizational chart.  The same production department, however, referred to a subassembly department as they, even though both departments worked side by side in the same physical area.   As organizations develop the favorable environment, they is incrementally replaced by “we”, the ideal condition being no they’s at all.   Short of that ideal, when I hear the word they I note a relationship problem that is holding back the essential spirit of improvement.

Recently, I visited a company that was considering the Shingo Prize model as a template for company improvement.  The plant manager greeted me in the lobby with these words:

“We’d like to know more about the Shingo model and how it can help us improve.  We feel like we’ve made a lot of improvement in the last five years, but have hit a plateau.”

Indeed, there were technical challenges for this company that were apparent on a tour of the shop floor.  Operational availability was still low and inventories still too high.   But not a single they was spoken.   In a company of several hundred people, from management to the factory floor, only “we” and “us” were heard.   I responded to the plant manager’s question,

“The Shingo Prize model will certainly help your plant past its technical plateau, but as far as I can hear your potential for improvement is very high.”

How would your plant fare with a They Assessment?  Which are the toughest relationships to forge?  Let me hear from you.