Monday, October 10, 2011

Northeast Shingo Prize Conference - Made in America Recap

Last week I had the pleasure to attend the Northeast Shingo Prize Conference hosted by my friends at GBMP.  The conference was conveniently located in my backyard of Springfield, MA. The theme of this years conference was "Made in America" and as Bruce Hamilton put it "Lean is the means by which we can stay globally competitive in our region."

The conference has been a great way to recharge my batteries along the Lean Journey.  There was more than 600 Lean thinkers learning and sharing their know-how.  I'd like to share some of the learning from this invigorating experience with you.

John Shook got the conference going with the opening keynote address.  While John advocates making things where you sell them he says to look at the total cost to avoid the outsourcing lie.  John says the Lean community has a real problem of copying solutions instead of learning to solve problems.  TPS is about Trust. Put in a system you can trust.  Trust people to do their best and trust them to do it right. It is only then we can abandon our safety nets.  Part of the manager's role is to create out of standard conditions so we can learn to improve.  John says Lean is about optimizing our process so there are no shorts (Don't starve the customer) and no overproduction.  It is not about cost cutting but rather systematic total cost reduction.

Dr. Sami Bahri, the Lean Dentist, talked about Lean as an evolution not a revolution. He advocates not improving within the system but rather changing the system altogether.  We can't eliminate waste randomly it needs direction and scope.  Single piece flow is the direction to the customer.  The enemy is our departments of functional silos not our variation in demand.  We need to synchronize our departments.  Lean is a balance of social and technical elements of which people is the most important ingredient.

Mike Rother and Meryl Runion combined for an entertaining lesson on coaching.  They say Toyota hires for teachability. Don't miss an opportunity to develop a person.  This means as a manager you need to let your people practice.  Avoid adding a little to every situation because then you don't know the capability of your people.  Rother says there is no such activity as eliminating waste.  There is only an iterative process of improvement/problem solving.  Waste elimination is not the goal of Lean but rather the result of continuous improvement.  Excellence takes practice.

Alan G. Robinson gave some advice on the success of idea driven companies.  National statistics show that while we generate about 1/2 and idea per person per year only about 1/3 of those are implemented.  That equates to only 1 implemented idea per person every 6 years.  This leaves an enormous potential if we learn to tap into these ideas.  Alan says that idea systems are not suggestion systems.  It needs to be a system that allows all employees to act on all the problems and opportunities that they see.

Mike Rother talked about his way of thinking that he captured in Toyota Kata.  The managers job is to develop people.  Once we think we know the answer "we get on rails" as Mike calls it.  Essentially we stop looking for answers and stop PDCA.  Lean is about learning to improve and adapt. Creative learning and discovery sets us apart.  Focusing on results is an implementation orientation by which we are assuming the path to the desired condition is clear.  Mike says companies need not focus only on core competencies but also core in-compentencies. Managers must innovate, create, and adapt and that we must practice this way of thinking every day.  This can only be done through coaching at all levels of your organization.

Jamie Flinchbaugh had the conference closing keynote address on problem solving.  We take problem solving as common places so we never examine our process for improvement. Managers need to look at problems in the organization systematically.  Organizations don't fail because of the problem solving method they use.  They fail because the don't know how to use them.  Manage must define when there is a problem, how to surface problems, who to surface to, and what the response will be.

For me the key take-a-ways for making Lean in America are:
  • Build trust in your employees, suppliers, and customers.
  • Our job is to develop our people.
  • Coaching is the means we develop people with our processes.
  • Excellence takes practice.
  • It is not about waste elimination but rather continually improving, learning, and adapting to our customer's problems.
  • Tap into the invisible waste of un-implemented ideas.
  • Once we stop discovering we stop learning.
  • Focus on "how" to improve not "what" to improve.
  • Manager must define our problem solving process.
  • Don't improve the "traditional" system change the system.
In the next few weeks I will have some other posts on some other lessons I learned at the conference this year.  

Mark your calendar for next years conference at  the DCU Center in Worcester, MA on September 25 & 26, 2012.  You can check out the details at

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