Monday, March 30, 2015

Lean Leaders Focus on Development


Successful leaders understand the difference between things and people in an organization. They know that it’s important to manage things, but that it’s even more important to lead people. Leaders don’t just mouth empty phrases like “people are our greatest resource;” they demonstrate by their actions that people – not strategy, products, plans, processes, or systems – are the most critical factor in an organization’s performance. That’s why leaders invest heavily in growing and developing people, while managers see people as objects to be commanded and controlled.

Developing people means challenging people. But just issuing challenges isn’t enough. It would be disrespectful to not also teach a systematic, common means of developing solutions and meeting those challenges. Leaders facilitate the solution of problems by pinpointing responsibility and developing employees. Leaders do not solve other people’s problems.

The best way to develop employees is not to manage them. You need to coach them to success. This is a process of developing their skills and providing them specific feedback to meet high standards. Employees want to be on the same team with their bosses.

To get people across an organization to systematically work on improvement every day requires teaching the skills behind the solution. And for that to happen, their leaders and mangers also need to practice and learn those skills. Be their coach and lead the team to success!

In order to fully realize potential, you’ll have to add knowledge, skills, and experience. Don’t expect your people to do their best if you don’t equip them with the training they need to perform. And don’t expect your potential to spring forth in a final draft; it takes time to hone your skills and build your confidence. This could come from formal schooling, from the school of hard knocks, or from both. Either way, your education is the house your realized potential will live in.

Your role as a leader is to develop talent to the highest levels of independent and autonomous thinking and execution. Great leaders don’t subscribe to a “Do-It-For-You” methodology of talent management, rather they lead, mentor, coach and develop team members by getting them to buy-into a “Do-It-Yourself” work ethic. Great leaders view each interaction, question or even conflict as a coaching opportunity. Don’t answer questions or solve problems just because you can, rather teach your employees how to do it for themselves. If you make it a habit of solving problems for people, you simply teach them to come to you for solutions at the first sign of a challenge.

Good leadership is not reflected in the leader’s actions, it is reflected in the impact and effect of those actions on the team. A leader should adapt to the environment and what the team needs today without losing sight of what will be needed tomorrow and always preparing for that moment when he or she will no longer be there. Guaranteeing the growth and sustainability of the team and the individuals that comprise it beyond the leader’s time is the ultimate trait of a great leader. In fact, the true success of a leader can not be measured without considering the results of the succession plan.


“A true Master is not the one with the most students, but one who creates the most Masters. A true leader is not the one with the most followers, but one who creates the most leaders.” — Neale Donald Walsch

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Lean Quote: Listening is Key to All Effective Communication

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.— Peter F. Drucker

Listening is key to all effective communication, without the ability to listen effectively messages are easily misunderstood – communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.

Hearing and Listening, though synonymous, are completely different things. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, whereas listening requires more than that: it requires focus.  Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body.  In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages.  Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.

Listening is not automatic.

It takes practice.

It takes intention.

It is a skill — one that is capable of being not only honed, but lost.


Good listeners become good communicators.  They understand the importance of speaking clearly in an easy to understand manner.  When it's hard to interpret what you mean, you greatly increase the chances of a misunderstanding.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Daily Lean Tips Edition #76 (1141 -1155)

For my Facebook fans you already know about this great feature. But for those of you that are not connected to A Lean Journey on Facebook or Twitter I post daily a feature I call Lean Tips.  It is meant to be advice, things I learned from experience, and some knowledge tidbits about Lean to help you along your journey.  Another great reason to like A Lean Journey on Facebook.


Here is the next addition of tips from the Facebook page:

Lean Tip #1141 – Problem Solving Starts With Defining The Problem First.
Explain what the problem is—what went wrong, what are the symptoms, what is the impact on your business. Write it down. Everyone who reads it should understand what the problem is and why it’s important. Caution: describe the problem, not what you will do to fix it.

Lean Tip #1142 - Test Your Assumptions about Everything.
Check the facts first. Be sure that you and your team understand the problem the same way, and that you have data to confirm that the problem is important. Test the assumptions about proposed solutions to improve the chances your solution will actually solve the problem.

Lean Tip #1143 - Use Your Project Management Skills To Solve Problems.
Solving a big problem is a project: you’re far more likely to solve it successfully if you treat it like one. That means you’ll need to identify tasks, make and adjust assignments, and keep track of what is due when. Be sure to get appropriate management support for your project.

Lean Tip #1144 - Look For Solution Owners Rather Than Problem Owners.
Everyone participating in the situation owns the problem, like it or not—and nobody likes it. Avoid the finger-pointing trap by looking for solution owners, i.e., the people who can do something to help solve the problem. Helping with a solution is much more fun than being blamed for a problem, so you’re more likely to get the response you need.

Lean Tip #1145 - Identify And Fix The Right Root Causes.
Complicated problems have multiple root causes, probably more than you can fix in a reasonable amount of time. Don’t waste time or money on causes that are either insignificant in impact or only peripheral causes of the problem you’re trying to fix.

Lean Tip #1146 - Reward Prevention.
Although it’s generally understood that it costs more to deal with crises than to prevent them, many companies do not recognize and reward those who push past the symptoms to the root causes, preventing future occurrences. If you want to focus on prevention, be sure to reward those who do it successfully.

Lean Tip #1147 - Choose Solutions That Are Effective—And Implement The Solution Completely.
Identifying the right root causes is necessary, but unless you then implement a solution, you still have a problem. Double-check to be sure your solution plan really will eliminate the causes you’ve identified, and then execute the plan. It’s easy to get distracted by other projects once you get to the implementation phase and never finish.

Lean Tip #1148 – Avoid the “bug mentality” of Corrective Action.
Fixing bugs fixes symptoms: like taking aspirin for a headache, it may provide relief but does nothing to prevent the next headache. It’s ok, and often necessary, to relieve the symptoms but you have to dig deeper if you’re going to prevent problems from occurring.

Lean Tip #1149 - Plan For Things To Go Wrong.
We’ve heard it before, and it’s still true: if something can go wrong, it will. Figure out what can get in the way of your problem solving effort and develop appropriate contingency plans.

Lean Tip #1150 - Acknowledge And Thank Everyone Who Helps.
Solving an important problem deserves recognition, and nobody else is going to take care of this for you. Make sure management and key stakeholders know what you and your team have achieved. Remind them of the risks avoided. Thank everyone who participated in the project. It’s the polite thing to do, and encourages them to help you next time.

Lean Tip #1151 – Provide Training to Your Employees
Provide your employees with proper job training to help them excel in their career. Ensuring employees complete tasks accurately helps them achieve goals and provides motivation which leads to higher levels of engagement. Employees are more engaged when they understand their roles and responsibilities within their position. And, an understanding of job responsibilities results in higher levels of performance and commitment to your organization.

Lean Tip #1152 – Develop Your Employees
Developing your people is important to your success as a manager. Opportunities for growth and development are a key driver of employee engagement as well as organizational success. Employees who grow and develop their skills are more likely to stay with a company and recommend the company to others. This helps the overall company build the talent and teams needed to be successful.

Lean Tip #1153 – Recognize Your Employees
Recognition from a manager is a very important motivator for employees. It encourages positive behavior and attitudes in the workplace, and in turn, promotes higher levels of employee engagement.
Make recognition easy and highly visible to everyone throughout the organization so that others can share in the acknowledgement. Recognition should be simple and should occur as often as possible. There is no limit to how much recognition can be delivered and it is important that it come from multiple sources (i.e., senior leadership, immediate supervisors, peers and clients).

Lean Tip #1154 – Encourage Teamwork
Teamwork grows out of a culture of openness and trust between managers and employees. When employees feel they are part of a team within their company, they invest more time and energy into their job.

Teamwork fosters a cooperative atmosphere where employees have a positive attitude about the job and also ensures greater efficiency. As a manager, instill a “we’re in this together” spirit among your team. Sharing important company information, newsworthy updates from client meetings, or providing a summary of recent meetings ensures that the team is aligned toward the same goals.

Lean Tip #1155 – Build a Customer Focused Team
Today’s best leaders, managers and employees are customer-focused. They understand and anticipate the needs of both internal and external customers. They meet and exceed customer needs with timely, efficient and economical solutions.


Conduct periodic meetings with internal and external customers to discuss their unique challenges and the ways your team can be more supportive. Invite your employees to participate in the meetings. Develop and ask a brief set of questions to assess their satisfaction with your department’s services. Share the results with your team and develop action plans to improve customer relationships.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Lean Journey is a Climb not a Stroll


Lean Thinking is often described as a “journey, not a destination”. In many regards this is true since the best Lean companies have found that their improvement efforts never end. Each set of improvements result in improved bottom-line results but also exposes more opportunity.

This journey toward dramatically improved business performance shares three characteristics with more traditional travel. Every journey has a starting point, an objective, and a path that connects the two. In order to gain the maximum return on limited resources organizations must understand and optimize these three essential characteristics.

Lean is more than a specific tool, management technique or software package. Above all, lean is a strategy, a commitment to organizing and managing the process in ways that reduce waste and assess value from the customer’s eyes. Lean is not a set of tools. Lean is a cultural change to the way a company does business. Because it's a culture change it becomes more of a journey than a destination.

We have seen countless companies whose goal to be #1 leads to terrible demise once finally achieved. It is not necessarily that this is a bad goal but it is not customer focused. So once achieved they naturally decline. I believe if you are not improving then you are declining.

For me the Lean journey is not a stroll down a winding road but rather a climb up a perpetual hill. Reaching the top of the hill is the pinnacle of the journey. So you are either improving (climbing the hill) or you are falling back. The key to keep you moving forward up the hill is to stay customer focused (not competitor focused as that is looking behind you.) Your acceleration up the hill is controlled by the rate of new learning (this changes the speed of improvement). The smarter you work the closer you get to reaching the top.

Lean doesn’t end after you reach your first set of goals, and it’s not a finite project with a beginning and end date. Rather it’s a way of business life that everyone needs to pursue continuously. Sustaining the Lean effort and overcoming inertia requires institutionalizing your process (how you’re going to climb the hill). The real benefits of Lean come from a sustained effort over years, not weeks or months.




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Friday, March 20, 2015

Lean Quote: Comfort Zone Doesn’t Promote Growth

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.— Unknown

It’s funny that this quote is by ‘unknown’ because stepping out of your comfort zone is essentially stepping into the unknown. and it’s scary but that is how we grow and learn, we must face what is new to us head on no matter how scary or difficult it is.

Your comfort zone.  This phrase can be used to describe many areas of our lives, both personally and professionally.  It is a place where we are, well, comfortable.

Change is necessary for growth. While it may be very comfortable to stay in a place of familiarity, we will never grow into the person we are created to be if we are unwilling to move beyond what is comfortable.  Many people have become complacent because the common notion is that change is bad. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Change can be very healthy and liberating. How we respond to change is a function of our mindset. Change your mind, change your outlook. And the reality is, change is inevitable. I like to say the only thing that remains the same is change.

If you want something that you have never had before, you’re going to have to do some things that you have never done before.  It’s like being a caged hamster on a wheel. You can expend a lot of energy, but never go anywhere. I‘ve learned that every step you take out of your comfort zone gets you off the “wheel” and onto a path of improvement.  Every step into the uncomfortable is building courage to take the next step.

Moving beyond our comfort zones is how we can best learn and grow. The challenge is to resist our normal human instinct to seek comfort rather that discomfort. The key is to continually push beyond the comfort zone and drive continuous improvement to develop and strengthen your Lean thinking.


Leaders need to challenge their employees to move out of their comfort zone. You can’t move forward if you don’t grow and you can’t grow if you never leave your comfort zone. When possible, give your employees challenging assignments. Help them prepare by providing them a safe environment to learn from the mistakes that they are bound to make.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Do We Promote STEM Careers?


In Bill Troy’s post this month on ASQ's blog he highlights the importance of STEM careers in business. STEM represents the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM education encourages a curriculum that is driven by problem solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and student-centered development of ideas and solutions. The saturation of technology in most fields means that all students – not just those who plan to pursue a STEM profession – will require a solid foundation in STEM to be productive members of the workforce.

I couldn't agree with Bill more myself. I am an engineer (chemical) by formal education so this hits home for me. STEM fields have become increasingly central to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth. Education in math and science is critical to our nation’s future success. Bill notes a recent ASQ survey that found a lack of yong people believe their jobs in STEM fields. Our nation needs to increase the supply and quality of “knowledge workers” whose specialized skills enable them to work productively within the STEM industries and occupations.

There is broad consensus that the long-term key to continued U.S. competitiveness in an increasingly global economic environment is the adequacy of supply and the quality of the workforce in the STEM fields. Scientific innovation has produced roughly half of all U.S. economic growth in the last 50 years (National Science Foundation 2004). The STEM fields and those who work in them are critical engines of innovation and growth: according to one recent estimate, while only about five percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in STEM fields, the STEM workforce accounts for more than fifty percent of the nation’s sustained economic growth (Babco 2004).

Everyone needs a strong foundation in science and mathematics accompanied by familiarity with their applications to engineering and technology to be productive contributors in business and society. Since the 1960s, the demand for skills has changed significantly – the demand for routine manual task skills have decreased, while the demand for non-routine interactive task skills have increased significantly. However, as jobs requiring a solid background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are growing – more students are choosing not to major in these areas. If students continue to pursue degrees and careers in fields other than STEM related areas, the U.S. will find it difficult to compete in the global economy.

In order to grow this field we need to recognize the achievements of those in STEM fields and raise awareness for the continual need for these individuals in the future. Companies need to encourage young people to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to give their company a competitive advantage.  As good stewards in our community we need to foster this belief in our youth.

Businesses can create enthusiasm among our youth about the STEM fields through small, effective, low-cost methods.

Be a mentor. Mentoring can occur during the recruitment phase, and it can occur with your internal talent. Mentoring is a common activity, but the key to its success is the proper alignment of the mentee with your experienced staff.

Provide classes and webinars. Encourage employees to discuss new technologies related to their career fields in webinars. Online classes conducted by employees in different departments can provide demonstrations of techniques and new technologies.

Open your doors.  Allow students to visit your business and learn what your employees do. Let them see STEM careers in action.

Companies can leverage their resources, including their employees’ time or donated funds and products, to support STEM initiatives in a variety of ways.


I encourage you to take some time to think about how you encourage the need for STEM related fields.  Is there more we can do? 



I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Strengthen Relationships with Your Suppliers


According to the Harvard Business Review, 100 of the largest manufacturers in the United States distributed 48 cents of every dollar earned to buy materials in 2002. Now, 15 years later, manufacturers are spending more than ever on suppliers, so why is there so much discord in their relationships?

For starters, manufacturers are in search of the best products on the market, but at a fraction of the cost. And they’re placing the pressure on the suppliers to do whatever it takes to meet their pricing and expedited delivery demands. Unfortunately, attempts at reconciliation from both ends in an effort to strengthen broken relationships haven’t always been successful, although being on one accord definitely benefits both parties. So where do manufacturers and suppliers go from here?

Here are a few tips to forge or restore these damaged relationships:

1. Conduct research
Chances are you did your homework before selecting suppliers, but did you gain an in-depth understanding of how their in-house processes work? If not, now’s the time to do so to learn how they come up with their pricing structure for inputs, who the key players are in their organization and what factors delay or expedite manufacturing times. Through research, you may also identify additional ways to boost supplier efficiency.

2. Keep suppliers in the loop
As a manufacturer, one of your primary objectives is to deliver an irresistible product that captures the attention of your target market. But to be successful, you must beat the competitors to the punch, so it’s crucial that you keep suppliers in the loop. If they are aware of your intentions in advance through strategic meetings and training sessions, they’ll have an adequate amount of time to work their processes so their inputs not only meet your expectations, but are produced efficiently. Auto manufacturer General Motors now has a system to grade suppliers in two areas: business performance and cultural performance. The "prime" suppliers—highest scoring based on the aforementioned metrics—are rewarded with these opportunities in an effort to improve relations.

3. Provide managerial oversight
Letting suppliers steer their own ship might seem like a wise move, but it may not yield the results you’re after. A better approach: closely monitor your suppliers using a report card or some other evaluation tool like GM did. “[Toyota and Honda] don’t take a hands-off approach; they believe suppliers’ roles are too vital for that. They use elaborate systems to measure the way their suppliers work, to set targets for them, and to monitor their performance at all times,” notes the Harvard Business Review. And thanks to this hands-on approach, both Japanese automakers have been quite successful over the years.

4. Implement quality control procedures
Are widgets up to par or are there deficiencies? A one-size approach definitely does not fit all, so create a distinct set of quality control procedures for individual suppliers, based on your company’s specific needs. Apple Rubber, the leading designer and manufacturer of o-rings, rubber seals and custom sealing devices has quality control representatives conduct extensive reviews and tests before shipping out materials.

5. Solicit feedback
The relationship should not mirror a dictatorship where the manufacturer barks orders or submits requests while the supplier blindly fills them or acquiesces. Instead, there should be an open line of communication between both parties so questions, concerns or suggestions can be presented and addressed in a timely, but cordial manner. As with most other business matters, communication is key.

About Author:
Allison Martin is a writer, financial mentor and business consultant to mommy-preneurs. Her work has been featured on ABC News, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, Fox Business, Credit.com and Money Talks News.  When  she's not writing away, Allison enjoys spending time with her family and traveling.

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