Monday, September 29, 2014

Eliminating the Management Roadblock for Improvement


On A Lean Journey’s Facebook page this past week we have been discussing the largest roadblock to Lean implementation. Overwhelming the response has been management.

In my experience I have learned that the single most important element for success in Lean is the human element.   First and foremost Lean managers have the critical role of motivating and engaging all people to work together toward a common goal. Management must define and explain what that goal is, share a path to achieve it, motivate people to take the journey with them, and assist them by removing obstacles.

Lean requires top-to-bottom leadership of a special kind. Lean leaders need to be firm and inspiring, relentless and resilient, demanding and forgiving, focused and flexible. Above all, they have to be smart and highly respected in the organization. Every successful company has at least one of these leaders. These people must be a passionate part of the Lean leadership team.

Commitment from management is a “MUST”. In fact, it is the driving force. Procedures, tools, and database are all useless if the management does not want to see an improvement culture in the organization. The employees of the organization will not care, if the management themselves do not show the attitude to follow the right path.

The truth is demonstrating commitment is hard work. Wavering commitment is usually seen as no commitment at all. The only way to achieve a reputation for commitment is through determination and persistence. Genuine commitment stands the test of time.

Commitment is demonstrated by a combination of two actions. The first action is called supporting. The second action underlying commitment is called improving. It is the combination of both supporting and improving behaviors that makes up the practice of commitment. Company leaders demonstrate their commitment to change and improvement by making these behaviors visible to everyone. Leading by example is the ultimate demonstration of your commitment.

Most management teams don’t understand Lean. When we don’t understand something it is next to impossible to support it. This lack of understanding of Lean by management allows even the most subtle of things to derail Lean efforts.

However those managers who truly know Lean understand the benefit comes from developing people to think and improve their own process the more they define the role as influencing or coaching. Management must focus on how solutions are developed. Develop, via coaching, the capability in people to develop new solutions. Leaders can have the biggest impact coaching or influencing the process of improvement to capture the ingenuity of those in the organization.

Getting executives in your company to want to support and then adopt Lean Thinking may be difficult but not impossible. We would all like to work at a company where the top people in the organization don’t just do Lean but live Lean but many of us work at a place where they don’t even necessarily do Lean. 

The level of involvement in Lean by the management team shapes the Lean implementation and those who may lead it. In my experience the less knowledgeable the management about REAL Lean (Bob Emiliani’s term) the more they think of it as a set of tools the more they want you to just do it. These are the managers that are usually hands-off with Lean and want to see the short term gains to demonstrate they are improving the process. They are focused on the results and outcomes and not the means by which we achieve them. This task oriented approach to management unfortunately is only sustainable while the doer is doing.

The management system must change as the production system changes in Lean. A Lean management system comprises of the practices and tools used to monitor, measure, and sustain the operation of Lean production. Lean management practices identify where actual performance fails to meet expected performance; assigns and follows up improvement activities to bring actual in line with the expected, or to raise the level of performance.

Management can’t be the roadblock to change. They need to be the champion for change. All managers are teachers, and their actions determine company capability. Whether consciously or not, with their everyday words and actions all managers are teaching their people a mindset and approach.

Lean management is an art one should perfect with time and with the understanding about Lean manufacturing. Lean leaders will be the most important asset to any organization in its Lean journey. 

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lean Quote: Fail Again, Fail Better

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.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.— Samuel Beckett

To err is completely human, so you should not be afraid of the mistakes you may make and of course, you should never hide them. Nobody likes to make mistakes. However, the simple reality of life is that at some point, all of us are going to be wrong. That’s just life. We are going to make mistakes.

Most often we learn through trial and error. We reserve the word success for the accomplishment of difficult things and there are few difficult things you get right on the first try. Hence while success does not ALWAYS start with failure, it would be fair to say it does most of the time. If you aren't failing, you're not trying, and if you aren't trying you aren't succeeding.

Treat every mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t feel stupid or doomed forever just because you failed at something. You can always find other opportunities.
A colleague of mine always said, “Learn to fail quickly.” Essentially, if you are going to fail you need to learn to do it quickly in order to get the data (results) that you can use to gradually improve. The faster you get at learning from unforeseen circumstances and outcomes, the faster you can find a solution that truly adds value.

If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not improving. Henry Ford said, “Failure is merely an opportunity to begin again knowledgeably.” Failure can be an inevitable stepping-stone to great achievement.

Fear of failure is a genuinely scary thing for many people, and often the reason that individuals do not attempt the things they would like to accomplish. But the only true failure is failure to make the attempt. If you don't try, you gain nothing, and life is too short a thing to waste.

But to have success, management must create an environment where it is safe to fail. Failure is an expected part of the process of finding solutions. If workers feel that they have to “hit one out of the park” every time they come up with an improvement idea, they will be reluctant to provide their ideas. In a Lean environment, failure and success should be met with the same level of enthusiasm and support.


The ability to go through failures without losing enthusiasm starts from a passion, or some form of inner fire. If that’s missing, then every failure is going to be a huge blow able to stop you. If you have passion, than it’s going to be a huge bang able to make you stronger.

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Daily Lean Tips Edition #68 (1021-1035)

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 #1021 - Know, Understand and Involve Your Customers
It’s a given that without customers you will have no business. You need to know what they want and how they want it – not just now, but in the future – to stay ahead of the game. Ask them questions such as: would they recommend your business to others without hesitation. If not, ask them what they think you need to do better.

Lean Tip #1022 - Create a Coaching Culture
Lead by example. Show that you are willing to receive and give feedback by openly asking for it.  And encourage your colleagues on the management team and your employees to do the same. This doesn’t just involve giving out feedback forms for big initiatives like new customer launches or employee events, it also means asking employees or customers for informal feedback, for instance after a particularly tricky meeting or discussion.

Lean Tip #1023 - Actively Listen…and Respond
Whether it’s a customer or an employee, whether they are saying something you want to hear, or not, make sure you actively listen. And show you are listening by asking questions to clarify and consolidate what people are telling you. Once you have listened, acknowledge and respond, quickly – otherwise customers and employees will assume that you weren’t listening in the first place.

Lean Tip #1024 - Share Knowledge Within Your Company
 If you don’t share knowledge within your company, your customers will suffer. Many managers are unaware that the team that sits right next to theirs is doing some great work that that could help the business deliver a better service to customers, or open the door to a new market.

Host regular knowledge-sharing sessions – whether virtual or real; keep your knowledge management system updated and make it interactive. Or invite individuals from totally different parts of the business to team meetings and then reciprocate. Start with some of the managers. Proactive knowledge sharing is one of the key ways to remain one step ahead of your competitors – and senior people need to make the time to lead by example.

Lean Tip #1025 – Remember The Four Main Factors in Goal Setting.
In order to get people motivated, they must: 1) Value the goal; 2) The goal must be difficult, but obtainable; 3) There must be feedback contingent upon goals; and 4) That feedback must be numerical. If you have someone acting on an A3, you will have all of these and you will build the culture change that you're looking for.

Lean Tip #1026 – Start By Defining Processes
First things first: You have to take a hard look at current processes, both how your workers go about their job and with your manufacturing equipment, and see if there is room for improvement.

Are you using machine parts that are defective? Unnecessary? Is an employee skipping important steps that only save production a minimal amount of time?

Look at every aspect of your production process and clearly define and streamline those processes.

Lean Tip #1027 - Create Repeatable Processes
If you’ve done something with absolute success before, you want to continue doing it that way. That’s why it’s important to document processes, as it provides a baseline understanding of what you do and how you do it. Following a disciplined approach to documentation promotes consistent results.

Lean Tip #1028 - Plan For Continuous Improvement
By following a system that adheres to planning, monitoring, evaluating and measuring results, you get continuous improvement in the quality of your employees, your manufacturing equipment, your processes and your products.

Lean Tip #1029 - Have A Preventative Maintenance Plan
Preventative maintenance of your manufacturing equipment is the key to avoiding downtime and big costs to replace broken machines. By implementing routine adjustments and replacing worn components, you ensure your equipment is functioning with the highest possible degree of efficiency.

All of these factors improve quality and, in terms of costs, actually save you a lot of money in the long run.

Lean Tip #1030 - Cleaning Is Inspection
Typically, in a production environment, the raw materials being turned into products leave residue on the machinery. At least once per eight-hour shift, use an air hose to clear this residue. This minimizes the opportunity for the dusty remains to work their way into the components of your equipment and cause a breakdown over time. Then, once or twice a month, pull the machines out and do a more thorough, intense cleaning.

Lean Tip #1031 - Think About How To Do It, Not Why It Can't Be Done.
I often hear, "We tried that before and it didn't work." They may have had a good idea, but the chances are that they didn't include the accountability portion. Without accountability, you will not have sustainability. Make someone accountable and avoid the "flavour of the month."

Lean Tip #1032 - Do Not Seek Perfection. Do It Right Away.
Taiichi Ohno used to regularly nag at people not to let a quality problem "escape" to the next customer. You've got to stop what you're doing, put a countermeasure on it and do it right away. You've got to fix mistakes immediately. Don't wait for the next shift to do it. Don't wait for the weekend to do it. Don't wait for maintenance to do it.

Lean Tip #1033 - Do Not Spend Money for Kaizen.
All that proves is that you have a lot of money. I don't care whether you're in manufacturing or health care, you don't have "extra" money. Toyota says that they use their wits, not their wallets, for continuous improvement.

Lean Tip #1034 - Ideas are Infinite. Execution is the Key.
This simple maxim is often overlooked as people get caught up in meetings and so on. You've got to be the change you want to see, not the change you'd like to see. It's the same as not confusing better with best. You want to move to better right away, not take forever working out what "best" looks like.


Lean Tip #1035 - Kaizen Starts With Taking a Look at the Actual Place of Work. Continuous improvement efforts must start with a trip to the gemba. The gemba might often be the factory floor, but people forget about Lean in the office, where half of the work starts out being late! It's easy to see waste on the floor, but it's harder (at first) to see waste in the office or other value streams. Going to the gemba will make it easier.


Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

Monday, September 22, 2014

ASQ: Improve Your Strategy Through Hoshin Kanri



Bill Troy discussed ASQ’s approach to strategic planning over the last several months and asks the Influential Voices this month how they approach strategy.

Companies must determine ahead of time what the vision and direction will be. A proper strategy must assign clear responsibilities and show what resources are to be committed. Metrics and timelines must be defined. Management must decide what core elements are to be deployed and the order of deployment.

Traditional planning methodologies focus on steering an organization in the direction desired by top management. Often referred to as management by objective (MBO) since top management establish the objectives, targets, evaluate whether employees meet these targets. Unfortunately, as we know, you can’t achieve the desired results by just dictating individual targets.

In Lean Thinking “Hoshin Kanri” is the process to select those annual objectives that will give the organization the greatest possible advantage. The word hoshin is formed from two Chinese characters: ho stands for “method,” shin means “shiny metal showing direction.” Kanri stands for “planning.” Together, hoshin kanri is used to communicate a “methodology for setting strategic direction,” in other words, a management “compass.”

Hoshin kanri translates the strategic intent into the required day-to-day behavior. It is not another attempt to improve MBO. While hoshin kanri and MBO both aim to deploy company goals and encourage employees to achieve them, there are several radical points of departure. Specifically,
  • Hoshin kanri deploys the voice of the customer, not just profit goals. More than the traditional MBO description of projected market share, profit goals, and revenues, hoshin kanri maps and controls the path to a new design based on customer priorities. It describes the behaviors needed to achieve the policies that support the strategic vision.
  • Hoshin kanri deploys breakthrough strategies. It concentrates resources on strategic priorities and chronic problems by going after root cause(s) of obstacles to achieve dramatic improvements in performance.
  • Hoshin kanri controls the means and methods, not just the results. It manages cause and effect linkage of supporting strategies, measures, and targets to ensure that employee efforts are realistic, synergistic, and add up to the total effort required to meet corporate objectives.
  • Hoshin kanri is a continuous improvement management process, not calendar-driven system. MBO typically establishes a set of quarterly and annual goals. In contrast, hoshin kanri identifies a few critical breakthrough objectives that require coordinated and focused effort over an extended period of three to five years. Annual objectives are established within the context of these longer term objectives.
  • Hoshin kanri emphasizes frequent reviews up and down the organization. In MBO, the performance review, often an annual event, does not capture or communicate valuable feedback to inform future rounds of planning. Hoshin kanri uses an explicit inter-level communication system to continually distill local lessons and channel them upward to the leaders of the organization. It routinely tracks performance, reviews the capability of the entire planning system, and modifies it accordingly.
  • Hoshin kanri is not tied to performance appraisals. Authentic hoshin kanri separates the evaluation of personnel from the evaluation of the strategy. It focuses not on personnel, but on the quality of the strategic assumptions and the discipline of the planning system.

Hoshin kanri is not a strategic planning tool, it is an execution tool. It is a system to deploy an existing strategic plan throughout the organization. In other words, hoshin management is an idea handler, not an idea generator. It depends on a preexisting statement of direction typically generated by an augmented strategic planning process.

The hoshin kanri process identifies and concentrates resources on the vital few stretch achievements that support the vision. It separates those performance issues that require dramatic improvement from the many incremental improvements that can achieved at the local level. All the changes that the leadership believes to be incremental are skimmed out of the strategic plan and addressed through quality in daily work. The remaining category of contribution – the vital few breakthrough achievements – becomes the core of the hoshin kanri process.

At the heart of hoshin kanri is the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle. Promoted by w. Edwards Deming, this management cycle (sometimes called the PDCA cycle) is an iterative process. A closed loop system, it emphasizes four repetitive steps:

  • First, start with an idea and create a PLAN to test it.
  • Then, DO adhere to the plan, and take corrective action when necessary.
  • Next, analyze and STUDY discrepancies to identify the root causes of obstacles.
  • Finally, take appropriate ACTion. If the outcome matches expectations, then standardize the process to maintain the gains. If the results were disappointing, then modify the process to eliminate the root cause of remaining problems. In either case, repeat the process starting again with PLAN.

While these steps appear in a linear sequence, when implemented the phases are best thought of as concurrent processes that can continually be improved.


Hoshin Kanri is the system for setting management’s compass toward True North. It is a tool to align people, activities, and performance metrics with strategic priorities. It can be used to communicate direction, coordinate activity, and monitor progress. It enables members of the organization to work together in the most creative way to define and achieve the strategic intent.

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.

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

Friday, September 19, 2014

Lean Quote: Looking Back

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.

"We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.— Bill Watterson

Unfortunately, there’s not enough emphasis in the business world about the need for leaders to make time in their day for reflection. In fact, thanks to today’s accelerated pace in the workplace, a greater focus is being put on a leader’s ability to react fast to changes and making quick decisions for their organization. While the ability to think quick on one’s feet is certainly a valuable trait for a leader to demonstrate, it’s also important that leaders develop the habit of putting aside time during their day to reflect not only on current decisions their organization needs to make, but also to review past mistakes to see what lessons their company can gain from that experience.

The process of thinking about the past learning - the process of reflection - can be a powerful process for building self-awareness and self-confidence. Reflection increases self-knowledge, better preparing people to make deliberate, well informed choices for their futures.

Reflection enhances your abilities to see connections between various learning contexts and the transferability of their knowledge, skills and attitudes. Reflection involves four main steps:
1. having an experience,
2. thinking about the experience,
3. learning from the experience, and
4. applying what has been learned.

The more you reflect, the more you realize that it comes naturally, and that without it, you are not able to do your job. You will discover that we all reflect, most of the time. By relearning how to use your reflecting skills as a tool in your leader’s toolbox, you can increase your ability to see possible challenges early, and seek alternative solutions before you are forced into a corner. You become pro-active.


Making time to reflect on past decisions and mistakes, and allowing yourself the opportunity to learn from it, is a critical step to continued growth and development and your ability to effectively lead others.

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Better Change with Education and Training


Education and training are important means of changing individual perceptions and behaviors. There is a distinction between training and education. Training refers to instruction and practice designed to teach a person how to perform some task. Training focuses on concrete tasks that need to be done. Training will be an integral aspect of instituting any process level change.

Education refers to instruction in how to think. Education focuses on integrating abstract concepts into one’s knowledge of the world. Educated people will view the world differently after being educated than they did before.  This is an essential part of the process of change.

When Lean improvement plans are implemented, the nature of the work being done changes. People involved in or impacted by the new approach must receive two different types of training: conceptual and task-based.

Conceptual training involves explanation of the principles driving the change and a shift from an internal, product-based perspective to a customer and process-based focus.  Rather than viewing their jobs in isolation, employees must be taught to see all work as a process, connected to other processes in a system.

Conceptual training also involves teaching employees the basics of problem-solving. Data-driven process improvement demands an understanding of the fundamentals of data collection and analysis. Employees are trained in the basic tools of quality which provides a means of understanding the systematic nature of process variation.

Task-based training is necessary to help employees acquire and maintain new skills and proficiencies. Employees are given the responsibility for self-control of process quality.  These skills must be acquired through training and experience.

As part of the change initiative, an effective change agent will organize an assessment of the organization to identify its strengths and weaknesses.  Change is usually undertaken to either reduce areas of weakness, or exploit areas of strength. Knowing one’s specific strengths and weaknesses is useful in mapping the process for change.

Training and education are a key aspect in initiating change and maintaining the improvements that are deployed.


Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Call For Shorter Meetings



No one likes long meetings or too many meetings for that matter.  Meeting efficiency is a frequent topic on this and many other sites. Recently in an article on LinkedIn Fast Company explored the 18 minute meeting.
It doesn't take a scientist to know that you cannot inspire people if you put them to sleep. But scientists are beginning to identify how long most people can pay attention before they tune out. The range seems to be in the area of 10 to 18 minutes. TED organizers reached the conclusion that 18 minutes works best. 
TED curator Chris Anderson explained the organization’s thinking this way:
It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.

Efficient meetings are the result of careful planning by the meeting planner. Make your meetings more effective with the use of SPACER as a meeting framework

Use SPACER (Safety, Purpose, Agenda, Conduct, Expectations, and Roles & Responsibilities) as a technique to improve team meeting efficiency and effectiveness.

Safety – is always the top priority, discuss safety protocols like evacuation, PPE or safety equipment needed in the facility, bathroom location, etc.

Purpose – "what is the meeting for?", discuss what is in scope and what might not be.

Agenda – no matter what type of meeting or for how long there should be some sort of plan.

Conduct – what are the rules the team participants should adhere to while in the meeting like cell phone us, side discussions, etc.

Expectations – what do we expect to get out of this meeting especially if it is a training session?

Roles – what are the roles of the participants in the meeting, is there a note taker or time keeper for example. 

One of the biggest challenges to meeting effectiveness is we are essentially creatures of habit. We do things this way because we have always done things this way – status quo. Perhaps the easiest change is break away from the Outlook meeting defaults of 30 minute blocks. What do you think? How do you make your meetings effective.

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare