Friday, October 31, 2014

Lean Quote: Fear of Failure is Only Real Stumbling Block

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 only real stumbling block is fear of failure.— Julia Child

Fear of unknown, consequent failure and complacency are some of the major reasons for resisting change. There are some people out there who have no fear of the unknown, and who can simply decide logically what they want to do and do it, but for the rest of us, we have to make the unfamiliar feel familiar.

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.

As a manager, you should work to create an environment where improvements are encouraged and failures are embraced. An environment where ideas are continually tested and then those that work are adopted. This cycle of continually learning and improving is at the heart of Toyota’s success.


Management needs to establish an environment where failure is acceptable. Failures can either destroy or advance our goals, but it's our response to them that truly determines the outcome. If we are too afraid of failure to try then we will never know if we can improve our situation.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lean Roundup #65 - October, 2014



A selection of highlighted blog posts from Lean bloggers from the month of October, 2014.  You can also view the previous monthly Lean Roundups here.

Leading Without Respect – Bob Emiliani challenges leaders to lead with respect and to adopt this for your Lean efforts.

Is Your Culture Working the Way You Think it Is? – Johanna Rothman shares a story that describes why people are not empowered just because you cay so.

A summary of mistakes about Lean – Michael Baudin discusses some common mistakes that can cause Lean efforts to fail.

5 Ways to use Technology to Run a More Productive Warehouse – Jerry Matos shares 5 warehouse management processes that can maximize your productivity.

TOYOTA KATA: OBSTACLES ARE NOT ACTION ITEMS – Mark Rosenthal explains that many have it wrong; obstacles are not action items because it is unlikely you will have to deal with all of them.

Kaizen Coaching: Don’t Give People Answers, Let Them Learn – Mark Graban reminds us that “respect for people” is not telling them the answers but supporting them to find them on their own.

Leading the Way with Leading Indicators – Steve Taninecz says the key is to define the behavior based leading indicators, hold them accountable, measure them daily and problem solve and adjust if the behaviors are not being adhered to.

The Lean Starting Line – Jamie Flinchbaugh shares several steps to examine before heading done the Lean path to avoid failure.

The Skinny on Value Stream Management – Bill Waddell explains value stream management in short: Simplicity, Focus, and Speed.

The System Will Produce What It’s Capable of Producing – Simon Guilfoyle explains why targets alone are irrelevant since it doesn’t provide a method for accomplishing goals.

The ”Just Do It” Approach to Strategy Deployment Has Proven to “Just Not Work” – Michael Sinocchi explains that what makes Hoshin Kanri unique and useful is the catch ball process.

To Copy is to Invite Disaster – John Hunter says copying for copying is down right dangerous and the proper course of action depends on the system.

Continuous Improvement of Learning: North East Shingo Conference 2014 – Christina Kach shares wonderful lessons her learning from the recent North East Shingo Conference.

Leadership = di/dt – Bob Emiliani explains that better leadership is a function of better information more quickly which essentially is characterized by flow.

NVLLIVS IN VERBA – Bruce Hamilton says this expression meaning “take nobody’s word for it” draws parallel to objective leadership and what we call Gemba Walks.

Looking ahead or looking down? – Bill Waddell says when there is no vision and there is no strategy, the default strategy becomes ‘cost reduction’; and when the primary goal is cost reduction it is a sure fire sign of senior leadership that spends all its time looking down rather than looking ahead to see where we are going.

Why Leadership and "Respect" Are Fundamentally Entwined – Michael Balle shares 5 distinct point from his book “Lead with Respect.”

Leader Standard Work: Where to Start – Eric Ethington provides 8 key success factors to implementing leader standard work.

Keep It Simple: Value Stream Map at the Gemba – Dave LaHote explains the value in pencil and paper value stream maps.

What is the difference between Visual Management and Visual Control? – Tracey Richardson explains that visual control and visual management are part of a larger cultural infrastructure toward an organization’s growth and sustainability.


Make visual what matters! – Dave Meier says you need to consider the purpose and intention of every visual and ask if it is achieving what you want.


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Monday, October 27, 2014

Monkey Business – A Lesson in Cultural Formation


Corporate culture, safety culture, quality culture, lean culture, … We talk about culture all the time but how does a culture form?

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.

A Lean consulting friend of mine recently told me a story about how cultures form. I wanted to share with you.

There were three monkeys in a cage in a zoo. Hanging from the roof of the cage was a bunch of bananas beneath which was a ladder to enable the monkeys to climb up and reach the bananas. One of the monkeys was the juicy treat and decided to climb the ladder to get to them.

As soon as his foot touched the ladder, the remaining two monkeys were sprayed with water from high-pressure hoses. Having retrieved and eaten his first banana the first monkey went to climb the ladder again and immediately his fellow monkeys were again drenched. As the first monkey went for his third banana, the two soaked monkeys grabbed him just as he reached the ladder and threw the third monkey to the ground. It didn’t take long before all three monkeys learnt to stay away from the ladder to avoid the wrath of their comrades caused by the associated drenching.

Unbeknown to the monkeys, the high-pressure hoses were then turned off but as the monkeys no longer went near the ladder they didn’t realize this. A few days later a fourth monkey is introduced to the group. This new monkey is completely unaware of the issues the other three have experienced, so when he sees the bananas he goes to climb the ladder. Before he gets anywhere near the bananas all of the other three monkeys attack him. Having experienced this aggressive behavior the new monkey also quickly learns not to go near the ladder.

Time goes by again and a fifth monkey is introduced. As this new monkey goes to climb the ladder all four monkeys attack him, including the fourth monkey, who has never experienced the ‘drenching’ and is just reacting to the ‘way things are done round here’.

In effect, the monkeys have formed a new set of cultural behaviors, even though some of the group have no idea why things are done the way they are.

Of course, any experiment undertaken in this manner would be cruel, but it serves as a simple explanation of how cultures form. Do you think this example represents how cultures form?



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Friday, October 24, 2014

Lean Quote: Perseverance with Lean is Series of Short Races

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.

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.— Walter Elliot

Lean 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.

Continuous improvement is about small changes on a daily basis to make your job easier.  Small step-by-step improvements are more effective over time than occasional kaizen bursts, and have a significantly greater impact on the organization culture - creating an environment of involvement and improvement.

Small victories tap into motivation. Achievement is fueled by making small amounts of progress, such as accomplishing a task or solving a problem. Help employees break projects, goals, and work assignments into small victories. Help them jump into an achievement cycle. 

Making one small change is both rewarding to the person making the change and if communicated to others can lead to a widespread adoption of the improvement and the possibility that someone will improve on what has already been improved. There's no telling what might occur if this were the everyday habit of all team members.

One of the most counter intuitive facts about small ideas is that they can actually provide a business with more sustainable competitive advantages than big ideas. The bigger the ideas, the more likely competitors will copy or counter them. If new ideas affect the company's products or services, they're directly visible and often widely advertised.  And even if they involve behind-the-scenes improvements--say, to a major system or process--they're often copied just as quickly. That's because big, internal initiatives typically require outside sources, such as suppliers, contractors, and consultants, who sell their products and services to other companies, too.  Small ideas, on the other hand, are much less likely to migrate to competitors--and even if they do, they're often too specific to be useful.  Because most small ideas remain proprietary, large numbers of them can accumulate into a big, competitive advantage that is sustainable. That edge often means the difference between success and failure.


In a Lean enterprise a strategy of making small, incremental improvements every day, rather than trying to find a monumental improvement once or twice a year equates to a colossal competitive advantage over time and competitors cannot copy these compounded small improvements.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Eight Most Common Traits of Successful People


Why do people succeed? Is it because they're smart, or are they just lucky? Analyst Richard St. John condenses 7 years of research and 500 interviews into 8 common traits of successful people.

After analyzing everything he’d learned, he came up with these eight traits:

  1. Passion: Love what you do.
  2. Work: Really hard.
  3. Focus: On one thing, not everything.
  4. Push: And keep on pushing yourself.
  5. Ideas: Come up with some good ones.
  6. Improve: Keep improving yourself and what you do.
  7. Serve: Serve others something of value.
  8. Persist: Because there is no overnight success.
These are the traits that are great if you have them, but should be sought after if you don't. Success doesn't come easy, but when you know what you're aiming for, taking the shot is much simpler.


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lessons From Geese


Fall in New England is my favorite time of year. As the leaves start turning colors geese head south for the winter. But did you know that we can learn a lot about leadership and teamwork from geese? It’s true! Animals can teach us valuable lessons about life. It is truly amazing how humans can relate to them just by observing their behavior.

Many years ago, I was given a copy of “Lessons from Geese” as part of an organizational leadership program I was enrolled in. To this day, it is still my favorite leadership analogy. The story was written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish, a science teacher from Baltimore, Maryland and has since been used as a study lesson by many leadership institutes, consultants, organizations, and corporations.

We all know how important leadership and teamwork are in today’s organizations.  We can use the five principles presented in the “Lessons from Geese” story as inspiration to practice good leadership and teamwork skills as we implement Lean.

Fact 1: The Importance of Achieving Goals
As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: The Importance of Team Work
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

Fact 3: The Importance of Sharing
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

Fact 4: The Importance of Empathy and Understanding
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

Fact 5: The Importance of Encouragement
When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

"Lessons from Geese" provides a perfect example of the importance of team work and how it can have a profound and powerful effect on any endeavor. When we use these five principles in our personal and business life it will help us to foster and encourage a level of passion and energy in ourselves, as well as those who are our friends, associates, or team members.


This is a great, thoughtful message on how we all relate to each other. It carries a strong theme of cooperation and teamwork empowering us to reach individual as well as shared goals.



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Friday, October 17, 2014

Lean Quote: Start Your Lean Journey, Do What You Can

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.

"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.— Arthur Ashe

I am often asked when the best time to start your Lean Journey is. Well, the short answer is now.  There is never a convenient or inconvenient time for change.

Sometime, I hear “we are not ready for lean”. This is a rather circular argument, because effectively what the management is saying is that business processes are too bad and therefore it can’t implement improvement. Of course this means that the business will never improve! I have never seen a business where the processes where too bad to start improving.

Many organizations are waiting for the optimum time to change.  Unfortunately, tomorrow never comes.  If you allow it you will always find another distraction.  There is never a better time to start than now.  We really must invest everyday in our future since you can't get back lost time.


Don’t spend your time trying to wait till things are perfect. Perfection is elusive. It is more important to get started. And it's better to get something done imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.

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