Friday, April 18, 2014

Lean Quote: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

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 ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.— William Shedd

Ships aren't built so they can sit there in a harbor. Ships are built for sailing and adventures in the sea. There may be risks, but hey, that's what the ship was made to do. Much like a person can be safe and comfortable with status quo, but that's not the point of improvement. The point of continuous improvement is to explore and challenge our understanding, not to mindlessly accept what we have always done.

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.

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.

So when it comes to getting outside your comfort zone, don’t mistake magical outcomes for magical processes. Adaptation takes time, effort, strategy, and determination. But with a solid plan in place and the courage to take it forward, your results can be extraordinary.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma

One of the aspects of being a vocal Lean practitioner I enjoy is the frequent request for editorial/book reviews. I find great value in continuously learning.  I want to share a recent review with you.

Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma: Building Positive and Engaging Business Improvement is a valuable and insightful book written by David Shaked.


Most application of Lean Thinking and Six Sigma assume there is a “perfect state” for each. The strength-based approach to process improvement has a different focus. Instead of focusing on what is broken and inefficient, it helps management and staff identify what is already working efficiently and generates value in existing processes and systems. They then define ways to grow and expand those parts and implement good practices everywhere. This focus on the search for and growth of existing efficiency enables new ideas to emerge and supports implementation of process improvements by raising confidence and energy levels.

This book starts with a brief overview of Lean and Six Sigma as well as some historical developments that led to the creation of these two popular approaches. Then they build the connection between the two approaches. He shares some ways to apply this thinking at different levels of the organization and improvement initiatives.

In short this book approaches improvement from the value added side of the equation instead of the waste elimination side. I am not sure you can do one without the other however the positive value added approach is powerful.

He organizes his material within five Parts whose titles correctly suggest an on-going process that begins with "Define," continues with “Discover, Dream, and Design,” and concludes with "Deliver/Destiny."

At 230 pages it is a pretty easy read.  There are a number of case studies to reinforce concepts. Each chapter ends with a summary of learning. The book includes a few graphics to support key learnings.

The author claims this book is for business leaders, improvement champions, trained practitioners and facilitators, and consultants. However, there is an assumption that the reader is already familiar or experienced with these methodologies. Strength-based Lean Six Sigma provides ways to bring them together and expand their practice.





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Monday, April 14, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience


ASQ’s annual World Conference for Quality and Improvement (WCQI) will be held in Dallas, May 5-7. In preparation for the conference this year I thought I would share some tips on making the most out of your conference experience.

1. Before the conference.
As Dr. Stephen R. Covey (author of the international bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) would advise: “Start with the end in mind.” Make concrete connections between the value the conference represents and your personal and professional goals. Outline several detailed goals that you are committed to and keep them in mind throughout this process. Explore the conference schedule. Be selective and strategic about your planning schedule. Begin by focusing on areas relevant to your interests.

2. Attend the sessions, listen, and learn.
Remember the focus of the conference. Whether it’s to meet new people with common interests or take advantage of being in a learning environment. Come prepared to learn. Listen to peers in conversations. Attend and participate in sessions. Soak up what you hear and learn to improve your business or yourself.

3. Network, Network, Network.
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet new people who have your similar interests, new and different ideas and great feedback for your business. Have a positive attitude, a stack of business cards ready to mingle, strike up conversations and start meaningful relationships.

4. Distill every talk down to one key takeaway.
Every presenter at a conference has his or her own style. Some people tell a story, sometimes there is a video or set of images, and sometimes there is a full slide presentation. Given our short memories and the great amount of stimuli, it is important to distill each presentation down to a central point. After each presentation, ask yourself what struck you, what did you learn? Perhaps there was a specific tip that you could adapt in your own work - or some piece of counter intuitive advice that really resonated. 

5. Follow-up.
Organize any materials that you collected at the conference. Make a list of the new things you learned at the conference and write down one strategy for each idea that outlines how you’ll incorporate what you learned in your daily work. Write up a summary of what you learned at the conference and share it with your supervisor. Offer to present a session or workshop on a particular topic to your co-workers. Follow up with any new contacts you made at the conference to continue the discussion.

Lastly, you should review the conference. While it is fresh in your mind, consider what worked well and what didn’t. Think about what you’d do differently if you attended again. Make a few notes for yourself that you can refer to when planning to attend again.


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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Friday, April 11, 2014

Lean Quote: Go to the Gemba

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.

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're 1,000 miles from the corn field.— Dwight Eisenhower

Get out there, go to the Gemba. I say this to executives and to people on-the-floor alike. They must start their Lean journey with a trip to see what Toyota calls the three reals - the real place, the real data and the real problem. They must go and see for themselves, not just take the advice of a Lean committee!

Management must go to the Gemba to practice Lean thinking. Gemba is roughly translated from the Japanese as the real place. The idea of the Gemba is simple: go to the place, look at the process, and talk with the people. Gemba walking teaches us to see in new ways what we have failed to see before. So what do you look for and how do you see it? All management should learn to ask these three simple questions:

       1) What is the process?

       2) How can you tell it is working?

       3) What are you doing to improve it (if it is working)?

Nothing sustains itself, certainly not Lean manufacturing or Lean management. So, establish and stick to a routine including regular visits to the Gemba, check the status of visual controls, follow-up on daily accountability assignments, and ask the three simple questions everywhere. Lean management is, as much as anything, a way of thinking.

Going to the Gemba has become popular for the simple reason that it is powerfully effective. But there is more to it than getting up from your desk, as even this simple explanation attempts to demonstrate.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review: Jim Womack’s Gemba Walks Expanded 2nd Edition


My good friends at the Lean Enterprise Institute sent me Jim Womack’s newest book Gemba Walks Expanded 2nd Edition. In a significantly expanded second edition of his popular Gemba Walks book Jim Womack illustrates the power of rooting improvement efforts in deliberate visits to the “gemba,” a Japanese word for the place where value is created.

In his first book Jim shared a decade of learning from Gemba Walks. He thought he was done but that wouldn’t be Jim. He kept walking and learning. In 12 new essays, ranging from the provocative to the practical Jim reflects on the past 30 years of lean, and assesses the current state of lean today.

The new essays tell the origin of flow going back 100 years to Ford and the discovery of Lean as told by those who were there to see it. To this he adds a reflection on the last 25 years of Lean that while not perfect and easily fragile has been a significant vehicle of innovation for the world’s managers. He discusses Lean in other industry sectors like Government and Healthcare where the challenges are no less demanding. Jim reviews shoring or as he calls it Leanshoring as many companies return to the US.

Jim reminds us that despite the growth of adoption of Lean Thinking (and in many other industry sectors) there are still large amounts of waste.  He challenges us to continue learning to see, Gemba walking, and learning together.

I am sure this will not be the last we hear from Jim and frankly I would be happy with that. It is a pleasure to be able to learn from Jim Womack’s experience. Gemba Walks Expanded 2nd Edition is eye opening, though provoking, and completely informing. This is a must read for all business leaders at all levels in all industries. Start your endless journey today by Gemba walking.


The following was my previous endorsement of Jim’s first book on the subject Gemba Walks from 2011.


Gemba Walks is Jim Womack’s newest book from LEI. In Gemba Walks, Jim Womack a pioneer in bringing Lean to the world, shares a decade of learning that will have a deep resonance for both the Lean community and for anyone seriously engaged in improving any value-creating activity.

The life of lean is experiments. All authority for any sensei flows from experiments on the Gemba [the place where work takes place], not from dogmatic interpretations of sacred texts or the few degrees of separation from the founders of the movement. In short, lean is not a religion but a daily practice of conducting experiments and accumulating knowledge.

Over the past decade, he has shared his thoughts and discoveries from these visits with the Lean community through a monthly letter. In Gemba Walks, Womack has selected and re-organized his key letters, as well as written new essays providing additional context.

Gemba Walks shares his insights on topics ranging from the application of specific tools, to the role of management in sustaining lean, as well as the long-term prospects for this fundamental new way of creating value.

The most productive way to walk is to follow a single product family or product design or customer-facing process from start to finish. As you do this you look at each step with the eye of the customer and from the perspective of creating values and asking how this can be done with less. This process Jim summarizes by the phrase “Go see, ask why, show respect.”

In one of his newly written sections Jim reflects on a decade of walking by sharing lessons he has learned from all these Gemba Walks.

Lesson 1: The critical importance of the simple act of walking. When you get bogged down, distracted, or even discouraged rediscover the power of going to see.

Lesson 2: Never walk alone. What is the benefit if only you see the current state and think of a better way to create a future sate? Always walk the value stream with the people who touch it. It will be their efforts who are needed to improve it.

Lesson 3: Expand your focus. Many look primarily at the steps in the value stream and ask how to remove the waste. You must ask about the support processes to get the right people to the right place in the value stream at the right time with the right knowledge, materials, and equipment.

Lesson 4: Reflect first on the purpose of the process. Focus on what problem the customer is trying to solve and ask whether the existing process, now matter how well, run, can effectively address their problem. Pay special attention to the way people are engaged in the operation and its improvement.

Lesson 5: Make work fulfilling. There is nothing worse than seeing good people trapped in an unfulfilling process that they lack the power to improve.

Lesson 6: Stability before full panoply of lean techniques. The process must be capable (able to produce good results every time) and available (able to operate when it is needed).

As John Shook says in the introduction Jim has a remarkable ability to frame issues in new ways, asking why things are as they are, causing us to think differently. Something he referred to as “intense noticing”. Jim inspired all of us by simply seeing and communication lean best practices. He encouraged others to try new things or to try old things in different ways. Offering others the courage to try truly embodies showing respect for people.


I recommend Gemba Walks to anyone serious about making improvements where humans create value. Reading this book will reveal to readers a range of lean principles, as well as the basis for the critical lean practice of: go see, ask why, and show respect.


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Monday, April 7, 2014

Daily Lean Tips Edition #62 (916-930)

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 #916 - Don’t Expect Training Alone to Fix Your Problem
Having a well-trained, correctly-focused team is of course an absolute must for any company looking to operate along Lean lines. But training alone isn’t a panacea and, indeed, will almost certainly lead to serious problems if it’s not accompanied by the organization paying proper attention to the other requirements of the methodology.

Lean Tip #917 - Develop a Suitable Infrastructure
Lean is far from a cosmetic practice: indeed, it’s pretty much the opposite, going deep into the cogs and springs of a business to get the very best out of the areas of operation it touches. As a result, it needs to be supported by a suitable organizational infrastructure catering for the specific requirements of this methodology. Think of what’s required as a somewhat holistic approach reaching throughout your business - it might sound like a big task, but in order to make the most of Lean you need to go well beyond the implementation team.

Lean Tip #918 - Cultivate a Zero Defect Mentality
The effectiveness of a Lean program depends on developing a mindset that refuses to accept or accommodate defects. Defects cost money, waste time, and frustrate managers, and building and sustaining a prevention-oriented culture requires driving away both defects and non-conformances. It’s important to create a culture of prevention, which causes people to prevent defects and non-conformities.

Lean Tip #919 - Understand Customer Requirements
Quality is a moving target that is defined or judged by the customer. Lean places the highest priority on customer input, and adopts a customer-driven quality approach to anticipating, meeting, and exceeding customer requirements. Lean should focus on aligning critical to quality customer requirements with the company’s business strategy.

Lean Tip #920 - Address the Root Cause
One critical factor on which the success of a problem solving rests is whether the analysis of the problem treats the root cause of the issue or the symptoms. Treating the root cause allows for the successful resolution of the problem and a permanent fix, whereas addressing the symptoms means that the root cause remains and will manifest itself later.

A successful root cause analysis must ask the question "WHY" the process or product is defective and proceed from there to try to find answers. Repeatedly stressing the "Why" after each answer allows you to peel away the layers of symptoms, eventually leading to the root cause of a problem.

Lean Tip #921 – Use a Data Based Approach to Improvement
Any good Lean program is steeped in data collection and analysis. Lean emphasizes gathering data, and then analyzing the same to identify problems, measure changes, and verify whether the changes lead to the desired improvements.

Lean Tip #922 - Manage Resistance to Change
Lean is in its purest sense a change management initiative, for it involves changing from a current state to a better state. Just as all change attracts resistance, Lean improvements also attract resistance to change, which may manifest as employees ignoring new processes, disagreeing with the benefits, making stringent criticisms, and more. Success depends on how effectively the leadership rises to the occasion and manages resistance to change.

Ways to overcome changes involve proactive leadership that lends clarity and removes doubts, effective communications, a carrot-and-stick policy, and more.

Lean Tip #923 – Effective Leadership is a Decisive Factor in Lean Success
Effective leadership is a decisive factor in the success of any project. Lean leaders need to lead from the front by displaying competence in the key methodologies, adopting a hands-on approach in the actual implementation, selling the project to the top management and other stakeholders, striking a rapport with key functional heads, overcoming resistance to change among the workforce, and more.

Lean Tip #924 – Involve the Workforce in Improvement
Quality improvement through Lean is not the responsibility of a specific team or department. Successful implementation occurs only when all employees take up responsibility to implement Lean in their work domains. Such a mindset comes only when employees perceive the benefits of the change. Benefits come only when the organization develops leaders and empowers people to become valuable contributors to the organization's success.

Lean Tip #925 - Without People, a Process Will Fail
If anything, good Lean is an intensively collaborative effort. From defining a problem to identifying what is important to a customer, from brainstorming for potential solutions to the actual work of implementing solutions, people form the core of a good Lean project. An important lesson here is to collaborate and associate with people who can offer ideas, give constructive criticism, and empower the attainment of your goals.

Lean relies on people working together to achieve a common measurable goal and the effective use of collective intelligence.

Lean Tip #926 - Engage the Right Team to Drive the Change
Having the right project structure is important. Make sure you have a strong, multi-disciplinary project team with the authority to make decisions on areas of design, communication, and change management. At the same time, ensure you have a group of employees who are representative of the workforce and whose role is to facilitate upward communication, review plans, and be your ambassadors in change.

Lean Tip #927 - Keep Culture Change Top of Mind
Many organizations focus on the physical and logistical changes (e.g., construction, moving into the new space) needed when transforming their workplace. Afterwards, they realize they should have focused much more on the culture change needed for success. The impact of change on people can be significant, and managing this is a crucial step to reaping the benefits of these programs.

Lean Tip #928 - Listen Deeply and Empathetically to the Employees.
You can expect that the employees will experience the same range of emotions, thoughts, agreement, and disagreement that you experienced when the change was introduced to you or when you participated in creating the change. Never minimize an employee's response to even the most simple change. You can't know or experience the impact from an individual employee's point of view. Maybe the change seems insignificant to many employees, but the change will seriously impact another employee's favorite task. Hearing the employees out and letting them express their point of view in a non-judgmental environment will reduce resistance to change.

Lean Tip #929 – Empower Employees to Contribute.
Control of their own jobs is one of the key factors in what employees want from work. So, too, this control aspect follows when you seek to minimize resistance to change. Give the employees control over any aspect of the change that they can manage. If you have communicated transparently, you have provided the direction, the rationale, the goals, and the parameters that have been set by your organization. Within that framework, your job is to empower the employees to make the change work. Practice effective delegation and set the critical path points at which you need feedback for the change effort - and get out of the way.

Lean Tip #930 - Create an Organization-Wide Feedback and Improvement Loop.
Is your change effective or optimal? Not necessarily. You must maintain an open line of communication throughout your organization to make sure that feedback reaches the ears of the employees leading the charge. Changing course or details, continuous improvement, and tweaking is a natural, and expected, part of any organizational change. Most changes are not poured in concrete but there must be a willingness to examine the improvement (plan - do - study - act).


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Friday, April 4, 2014

Lean Quote: Find and Eliminate the Hidden Factory

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.

"In the U.S.A., about a third of what we do consists of redoing work previously done.— J.M. Juran

Nearly every business has some level of ongoing rework. Most product-based businesses have some form of rework when they don’t satisfy the customer with their first effort. It may be that you can’t supply the complete order in one lot, or the quality of the product does not meet the customers’ needs. In service businesses, rework can occur when the customer is not happy with the service and some form of corrective work or follow up is required by the management team.

Scrap and rework costs are a manufacturing reality impacting organizations across all industries and product lines. No matter why scrap and rework occurs, its impact on an organization is always the same—wasted time and money. Activities that reduce the quality or efficiency of a manufacturing operation or business process, but are not initially known to managers or others seeking to improve the process are referred to as “The Hidden Factory.” Most organizations have some form of a Hidden Factory.

Instead of trying to fix the rework process (which is Muda), determine the root causes of needing rework/repair and fix those. If priority is given to evaluating and improving your manufacturing processes, it becomes much easier to reduce the amount of scrap and rework in your organization. Remember, Lean is about zero defects.


To maintain a competitive edge, manufacturers must constantly find ways to cut costs and improve efficiency. Correcting your systems by finding and eliminating the root causes of rework will result in a much smoother workflow. This will translate directly to bottom line improvements.

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