Friday, August 28, 2015

Lean Quote: Teamwork

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.

"Respect your fellow human being, treat them fairly, disagree with them honestly, enjoy their friendship, explore your thoughts about one another candidly, work together for a common goal. Bill Bradley, American Hall Of Fame Basketball Player, Rhodes Scholar

We all have roles in our organizations but it is the power of teamwork that makes our endeavors successful. It takes everyone working together on a common goal to be successful in Lean.

A team of people can achieve far more than the sum of the total of the individuals skills alone. In business teams can achieve:

They can generate a wider range of ideas and innovation than individuals;
They are able to motivate themselves;
They can bounce ideas off each team member;
They often take more risks than individuals;
They have a range of personalities such as workers, thinkers, leaders who contribute the right balance of skills necessary to achieve high performance;
They support each other and are not just task-orientated;
They can be a support mechanism which provide mentoring and allow others to grow in self-confidence.

Teamwork is important to the success of an organization, but as the saying goes: “it’s like getting rich or falling in love, you cannot simply will it to happen.” Teamwork is a practice. Teamwork is an outcome. And teamwork leverages the individual skills of every team member.

To create effective teamwork across your organization, you need to break down any departmental barriers to collaboration so that you can draw on the best people. You need to set clear objectives and define working relationships so that members can work as a cohesive team, and you must provide tools that support efficient collaboration.

Most people respond well to being a valued member of a team by putting forth their best efforts. Human beings are hard wired to work cooperatively with one another to achieve common goals, so remember that not all performance rewards need to go to individuals. Incentives can be provided to the team as a whole for working efficiently together to reach goals.

Collaboration and team work create an environment that allows the collective knowledge, resources and skills of each team member to flourish. When people work together they can complete tasks faster by dividing the work to people of different abilities and knowledge. Teamwork can lead to better decisions, products, or services.




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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Daily Lean Tips Edition #83 (1246-1260)

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 #1246 – Implement a Continuous Learning Strategy
Make it clear to your employees that most learning happens past the initial training. Employees will be less stressed because their development will occur gradually over time, rather than be front-loaded at the start. It also makes it clear that your first priority is their well-being, which translates into higher workforce morale.

Lean Tip #1247 - Foster a Work Environment that Encourages Continuous Learning
Replace the idea of training with capability development. This empowers the employees to be more self-motivated and more likely to want to improve themselves. Build a culture around employee satisfaction and improvement. Integrate continuous learning into daily routines.

Lean Tip #1248 - Offer Consistent Feedback to Employees
Communication is key for finding areas of improvement and adapting to your employees’ needs. Experience-based feedback with actual work context is much more effective than feedback based on rout training. Give your employees concrete goals and paths to improve their work.

Remember that communication goes two-ways. Take feedback from your employees as well, to help improve your own continuous learning strategies.

Lean Tip #1249 - Leverage Technology as a Learning Tool
Use a variety of multimedia options to encourage learning from many different angles. People have different ways of learning, through audio, visuals, text or hands-on approach. Creating multiple solutions for training ensures that employees can learn at their own pace and in a manner they are comfortable with.

Lean Tip #1250 – Continuous Learning Makes Employees Satisfied
Think of continuous learning as smoothing out the bumps and valleys of your employees’ learning curve. A front-loaded strategy has a huge spike right at the beginning that demands a lot out of your employees. This may have a negative effect in their motivation, stress levels and skill proficiency. Implementing continuous learning straightens this curve out.

Lean Tip #1251 – Be Willing to Teach or Mentor Others
I think sometimes we forget how much we know. Maybe we know something so well we do it automatically. Be willing to give others a hand and teach them what you know. Plus something magical happens when you teach someone something—you begin to understand it better yourself and deepen your mastery of that subject.

Lean Tip #1252 – Strive to Learn Something New Each Day
Approach life with a beginner’s mindset and look constantly for one new tidbit or a new way to expand your expertise or knowledge. Be open to learning and at the end of the day reflect on what you learned or sometimes maybe even relearned. Journal, meditate or contemplate the ideas you have learned to help ingrain the lessons learned. Then you can decide how to put it into practice.

Lean Tip #1253 - Follow Your Intuition For Better Learning
Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind. Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

Lean Tip #1254 - Schedule Time for Learning
It is too easy to say that you didn’t have time to partake in some form of development. The best way to find time is to make it. Put aside some time every day, week, month and even year to allocate towards continuous learning and development. Allocated daily time could be 5 minutes every morning to read the latest industry headlines, for instance. Weekly time could be apportioned to catching up with a leading industry periodical or journal. Over the longer term, managers could dedicate a handful of days towards conference or course attendance.

Lean Tip #1255 – Continuous Learning is a Process of Constant Evolution
In any organization, continuous learning means growth through learning events and experiences. It can be applied to individuals, team, and organizations- a process that will help them to achieve their overall objectives.

Undergoing a continuous learning process entails change; one cannot learn and still be the same person, team, or organization. There is a constant evolution in the way we think and act, brought about by new understanding, new knowledge, and new skills.

One of the worst phrases that any person or entity can say is “I already know that” because this can very well destroy any chances of continuous learning. And when there is no learning, there is no growth.

Lean Tip #1256 – Don’t Try to Measure Too Much
It sounds like a contradiction, but measuring too much can actually have an adverse effect on your business operations. There are an intimidating number of ways to measure a business, and trying to measure everything will leave you exhausted and will stop you focusing on what’s important. Think of it like setting out to eat a chocolate mountain – tempting, but eating it in one go will make you sick.  It’s better to take one bite at a time. Pick just one objective for your business to measure in its initial stages as you begin to develop your KPIs.

Lean Tip #1257 - Only Measure What’s Important to Your Organization
There are lots of practices that a business can measure, and as illustrated in Point 1, it’s inefficient to measure absolutely everything. So you need to figure out what the priorities are for your business and thus what KPIs you should set to measure the most important activities within your organization.

Lean Tip#1258 - Don’t Design Business Measures for Somebody Else.
Don’t design measures for a staff member or team without their involvement. The measures will fail unless you involve those people in the process. Work with the people concerned and they will have higher ownership of the measures produced and more buy-in to using them – this will improve the performance of the processes in which they work and will consequently have a positive effect on business results.

Lean Tip #1259 – Good Metrics Should be Actionable
Evaluating the metric should help you make a decision.  This is why metrics work best with a target, so you can clearly see if you have or have not hit your target, and then take appropriate action.

Lean Tip #1260 - Make Metrics Visible.

The best way to connect every member of your team to the company’s metrics in a meaningful, regular way is to make them visible. At my company, each department has an analytics dashboard and scorecard, which display high-level goals and how the organization is performing on the specific tasks that comprise them. Making metrics visible encourages transparency and can dramatically increase motivation.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Shaping Your Company’s Culture to Drive Performance


On ASQ’s blog the monthly topic presented by Influential Voices Blogger James Lawther is about what not to do when creating a performance culture. Culture change is a frequent topic for us change managers where continuous improvement initiatives are underway.

Corporate culture, safety culture, quality culture, lean culture, … We talk about culture all the time but what is it?

Culture is the environment in which you work all of the time. Culture is a powerful element that shapes your work enjoyment, your work relationships, and your work processes. But, culture is something that you cannot actually see, except through its physical manifestations in your work place.

Culture is like personality. In a person, the personality is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, interests, experiences, upbringing, and habits that create a person's behavior.

Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of - generally unspoken and unwritten - rules for working together.

In a healthy business culture, what's good for the company and for customers comes together and becomes the driving force behind what everyone does. Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behavior, dress, and language.

An organizations culture shown in
(1) the ways the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers, and the wider community,
(2) the extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas, and personal expression,
(3) how power and information flow through its hierarchy, and
(4) how committed employees are towards collective objectives.

Company culture is important because it can make or break your company. Companies with an adaptive culture that is aligned to their business goals routinely outperform their competitors.

It affects the organization's productivity and performance, and provides guidelines on customer care and service, product quality and safety, attendance and punctuality, and concern for the environment. It also extends to production-methods, marketing and advertising practices, and to new product creation. Organizational culture is unique for every organization and one of the hardest things to change.

To be able to shape organizational culture we need to understand the difference between culture and climate. We can compare this difference by using an everyday analogy with a person’s personality and mood.  Someone’s personality is enduring and difficult to change, whilst their mood may change many times during a day. Based on this analogy, culture is the equivalent of personality, whilst climate is the equivalent of mood.

Fundamentally, a change of culture occurs when people start behaving differently as a result of a change in the climate of the organization. There are many different models of how an organizational culture is shaped by the prevailing climate and how it can be assessed.

There are seven practical actions that you should consider undertaking if you want to shape your organizational culture so that is supports Lean.

Become aware of your current culture
You should start to notice your existing culture. Listen to how people express themselves and the stories they tell about successes and failures. Pay attention to shared values and watch how teams behave. You will gain a lot of information about your current culture by going to the gemba.

Assess your cultural “current state”
There is a need to identify the cultural aspects you want to retain from your current culture.  For example, you may want to keep motivated teams, a commitment to achieving excellent performance, flexible working practices, and a desire to deliver exceptional customer service. You will also need to identify the things that need to go. Lastly, you will need to identify the things that are missing.

Create a cultural “future state”
Imagine your ideal culture. How do you want people to behave and to react when things go wrong? Fine tune it until you have a clear picture of what you want from your organizational culture in the future.

Share the vision
Communicate openly, frequently, and consistently. Describer your cultural vision in letters, e-mails, briefings, and put it on notice boards, in newsletters, and everywhere else you can. Don’t be afraid to over communicate your vision because you can’t.

Align your leaders
There is a need for leaders to do more than just agree about the future state. Alignment is about leader at all levels living the cultural future state for the organization. You and your fellow leaders should constantly be working together to learn and reflect on how things are going.

Treat culture as a strategic issue
Culture may be perceived as fluffy stuff but it has real impact on organizational performance. Changing a culture can change the fortunes of the entire organization and is therefore a senior management team issue and should be discussed regularly.

Keep it fresh and up to date
Culture can take a long time to change. Celebrating every success along the way has the effect of keeping things fresh during this extended period of time, as well as reinforcing the behaviors you want in the future. You will also need to keep your cultural future state up to date, based on any changes in your organization’s market or operating environment.

The culture of an organization is learnt over time. It can be taught to new employees through formal training programs but is more generally absorbed through stories, myths, rituals, and shared behaviors within teams. Organizational culture will impact positively or negatively on everything you try to do whether you want it to or not.


Note: You can also refer to an older ASQ post Creating a Quality Culture for 5 critical elements necessary for creating a climate focused on quality.



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, August 21, 2015

Lean Quote: Power of Observation

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.

"Take the facts into your own hands; look, and see for yourself! Louis Agassiz

No matter what your position is or what you are working on you can not underestimate the importance of going to the Gemba. Gemba is the Japanese word for “actual place.” You can’t solve problems at your desk. Going to the Gemba is a great way to get the entire team involved in identifying and solving problems. It is grounded in fact finding using actual conditions from the actual workers who perform the work. This activity creates energy within the team solving the problem leading to experimentation, ideas, and discussion on improvements.

There is no better way to experience the flow of value (or lack thereof) than taking the same journey that an order, new product, patient or other takes through your processes. Start where the order, product or person enters your value stream and "go see" all the places they go from start to finish. Look for all forms of the 7 wastes and when you see them, think about "why" they exist. Do this often in order to gain a true understanding of your processes. What happens on Monday is not necessarily what happens on Friday. See if you can discover why on your Gemba walks.

Supervisors and managers must continually walk through the factory to see that standards are being followed and to practice seeing waste. Operators need to continually examine their own operations to stay alert for new problems and new ideas for solving them that may come to mind as they do their jobs.

All too often, attempts are made to solve problems without knowing anything about or are not being familiar with a particular area or process -- resulting in a misdiagnosis or failed solution. Answers come from the floor, from the 'gemba,' where the condition occurs. You need to go to the real place and experience these conditions for yourself before being able to take the next steps.



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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

10 Factors to Avoid Plateaus and Sustain Improvement


The other day while visiting a local company regarding continuous improvement the question of how to sustain improvement and avoid plateaus came up. Thinking that this is a very common question many wrestle with I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.

Since the mid-1990's many US manufacturers have benefited from implementation of Lean manufacturing methods. Most of these implementations, however, have plateaued far below their potentials, producing only modest and sometimes transient gains, and failing to capture the passion and engagement of true Lean transformations.

Companies naturally plateau because they get too happy too soon.  The earliest plateau occurs after some initial stability from attacking low hanging fruit. In actuality if you are focused on developing people it is all low hanging fruit. These plateaus along the journey to true north can be counteracted by not only teaching the know-how but teaching the know-why.

Plateaus are going to happen and management must anticipate them.  They are a temporary place to solidify concepts and learning. Leaders must take the next step to move past their comfort zone. It is management kaizen that gets you past plateaus. Companies who break through realize that employee development leads to business (and Lean) success.

Simply, sustainability is about lasting change. Sustainability is discussed often and one of the great issues in management.  We have all seen facts related to the low rates of sustaining change or seen news about a company who lost its way. Unfortunately, we see all too often those companies who finally reach #1 to only lose their way.

Complacency can and will compromise the performance of your organization. Everyone can become complacent in their particular environment, and there are different levels of complacency. At higher management positions, complacency may be more latent. At the line personnel “trigger pullers” level, however, complacency can have catastrophic results.

When it comes to complacency with regard to Lean it is often the result of a “We are Lean” mindset. This leads to a reduction in awareness/focus and leads to a false sense of security. For Lean to work effectively, the organization must be constantly focused on continuous improvement and best practice procedures for providing value. What sets an effective Lean system apart from simply reducing waste is ingraining continuous improvement thinking into daily practice. Lean is not about a destination but rather journey.

Charles Darwin said "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change" which holds true for culture change.

Below are ten factors that will help any organization make the change they make lasting.

Capability – Management must employ the time and resources necessary for change.

Intention – Determination and drive for the cause is required.  You must insist we make the change and be determined to keep it up.

Success – People feel happier and perform better when there is a feeling of success and vice versa.  Attitude drives performance so managers must project confidence.

Hard Work – It is hard to keep it going.  This is entropy.  Without it, the system runs down.

Emphasis on the team not the individual – In the US we love heroes, but actually teams are more fundamental for long-term survival.  Teams need to be mentored and developed.

Many small wins, rather than the occasional big win – Small wins keep up the enthusiasm, and certainly add up.  Management needs to continually recognize small wins.

Attitude toward failure – Everyone fails from time to time, but what is crucial is the attitude toward failure: do you punish or do you treat it as part of learning?

Motivation – Sustainability requires interest and involvement of all employees.  Ask "What gets rewarded around here?  Build a culture to support improvement.

Discipline – Make it a habit.  Without good disciple the system will not be maintained.  Management must teach discipline and correct lapses with respect for people as they occur.

Performance measures – It is true you get what you measure, drive good behavior.  Performance measures need to be aligned with what you want to achieve.  Think long term.

There is no such thing as self-sustainability, it requires ongoing effort. Sustainable behavior change is not something that occurs as a result of doing a 30 or 90-day program, nor is it something that you master after doing it for a year. Change takes a daily commitment to put in the time and energy, knowing that the return on that investment is great.

Lean (excellence) is a journey that never ends. There will always be a gap between where you are (current state) and where you would like to be (True North). Since there will always be a gap, there will always be an opportunity to improve. Walking the path on a Lean journey can be an overwhelming experience.

Lean grew out of years of practice and experimentation at Toyota. No matter how much better they are than their competition, they continue to find more and more opportunities to improve each and every year. Lean involves the creation and implementation of continuous experiments to improve your strategies over time. This means experimenting with every process every day to get it right. We learn problem solving through hands-on improvement experiments. In Toyota and in lean thinking, the idea is to repeat cycles of improvement experiments forever.

A Lean journey is full of steps not all of which are forward. Failure will occur. Its ok, the purpose is learning, and we learn through experimentation. Trying new approaches, exploring new methods and testing new ideas for improving the various processes is exercise for the mind.

So leaders must create a culture that puts failure in its proper place: a useful tool for learning, and a natural part of iterative experimentation. Management must avoid the temptation to harshly judge unsuccessful ideas. A leader who allows for experimentation sends a clear signal that personnel are encouraged to find better methods and products.

Organizations embarking on a Lean journey should follow a disciplined process of systematic exploration and controlled experimentation. Kaizen is the process which determines whether processes resulted in improvements. It refers to an on-going activity by all people (including managers) to relentlessly and incrementally change and improve practices in small experiments.


The road to continual improvement is a rocky one with many ups and downs. Value the incremental improvement approach to continuous improvement. Through simple, common-sense, and low cost experimentation a great deal of process improvements can be made. Experimentation is the exercise of a healthy Lean journey. Understanding this allows one the opportunity to stay on the path along the journey.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Respect: Platinum is More Valuable Than Gold


You may have heard of the Golden Rule before. Many people aspire to live by it but the Golden Rule is not a panacea. 

The Golden Rule—treat others as you want to be treated—has a fatal flaw: it assumes that all people want to be treated the same way. It ignores that people are motivated by vastly different things. One person loves public recognition, while another loathes being the center of attention.

The Platinum Rule—treat others as they want to be treated—corrects that flaw. Irresistible people are great at reading other people, and they adjust their behavior and style to make others feel comfortable. 

The Platinum Rule accommodates the feelings of others. The focus of relationships shifts from "this is what I want, so I'll give everyone the same thing" to "let me first understand what they want and then I'll give it to them." This rule presents us with a significant challenge, in order for us to follow it we must listen and inquire about the needs of others, and suppress our desire to tell them what it is that they need.

I believe the real goal of the Golden Rule is to treat others the way they would like to be treated. The Platinum Rule, distilled to its essence, equates to respect for others. After all, isn't it really about being considerate of others? Isn't it about understanding what their needs and wants are and empowering them to succeed by meeting those needs and wants? When you empower those around you, it makes for a positive and uplifting environment. Who doesn't want to be in a happy workplace?

The Platinum Rule not only applies to your employees but your customers, vendors, and partners. If you really want to deliver customer excellence and not simply deliver customer service then use the Platinum Rule. I think the best way to find out how your customers like to be treated is to ask them.

Customers may or may not like being treated in a standardized manner and they may or may not have the same preferences as the employees they are dealing with. In other words, they may want to be treated differently.

Knowing the personality preferences of others can help employees adapt their own behaviors to reflect the preferences of your customers. Reflecting the needs, wants and expectations of the customer – in a manner that creates a collaborative relationship – will achieve much greater success.

By teaching your employees to recognize, respect and reflect the customer’s preferences, by changing how you approach customer interactions, you can differentiate your company, its products and services from your competitors.


When you think about it the Platinum Rule is a value adding proposition while the Golden Rule is not. When dealing with others feeling valued can translate to respect. Respect for People is the most critical element for success in a Lean environment. So treat others the way they want to be treated.  It is worth more.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Lean Quote: Managers vs Leaders

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.

"If you’re making decisions, you’re not leading. Square CEO Jack Dorsey

This sounds like incredibly counter intuitive advice. Aren’t leaders supposed to be the ones who decide everything? Actually, those are called managers, and there’s a difference.

While a leader can be a manager, not every manager is a leader. The distinction between being a manager and being a leader may seem small, but it means the world to the people who work for you.

A leader coaches employees, depends on goodwill, generates enthusiasm, says “we”, fixes the breakdown, shows how it is done, develops people, gives credit, asks questions, and says “let’s go”.

A manager drives employees, depends on authority, inspires fear (the beatings will continue until morale improves…), says “I”, places blame for any breakdown, knows how it is done, uses people, takes credit, commands and says “go”.

The definition of leadership is “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” That is why it is my belief that if you are a good leader for your organization, then you really don’t need to worry about being The Manager. You will gain more influence and have more positive impact on your organization if your team feels valued and respected and has an understanding of where you expect them to be headed.

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.

During your life, you will face two kinds of managers: leaders and bosses. It does not matter how high the position of these individuals; bossy people are more likely to fail while those who lead will succeed.



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