Monday, September 28, 2015

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Conference


In a few days, I will be attending one of the best Lean Thinking conferences in New England, The Northeast Lean Conference. As I prepare for the conference this year I thought I would share some advice on making the most out of your conference experience.

Sharing with like-minded people who have various experiences can create a support network for continuous improvement and learning. Professional groups that share your interest in a particular topic, offer a great forum to learn and share. Special interest groups within these groups can offer further topic specialization and can be a tremendous way to learn or be mentored.

Industry associations and trade organizations offer a variety of training options, including conferences, seminars, certifications and more. There may be a cost associated with some of this training, and access to some of the resources may require membership.

By attending conferences, trade shows, and workshops you can find quality teachings. Guest speakers entertain, educate and inspire their audiences through motivational and informational presentations. They are particularly good for networking with others that you can learn from and share with.
There are some tips you should consider to make 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.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Lean Quote: Don’t Give Up, Overcome Fear of Failure

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.

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.— Thomas A. Edison

Fear of failure is one of the greatest fears people have. It 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.

Although we all make mistakes, fear of failure doesn’t have to cripple you. Take these steps to overcome your fear of failure and move yourself forward to getting the result you desire:

Step One: Take action. Bold, decisive action. Do something scary. Fear of failure immobilizes you. To overcome this fear, you must act. When you act, act boldly.
Action gives you the power to change the circumstances or the situation. You must overcome the inertia by doing something. Be brave and just do it. If it doesn’t work out the way you want, then do something else. But do something now.

Step Two: Persist. Successful people just don’t give up. They keep trying different approaches to achieving their outcomes until they finally get the results they want. Unsuccessful people try one thing that doesn’t work and then give up. Often people give up when they are on the threshold of succeeding.

Step Three: Don’t take failure personally. Failure is about behavior, outcomes, and results. Failure is not a personality characteristic. Although what you do may not give you the result you wanted, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. Because you made a mistake, doesn’t mean that you are a failure.

Step Four: Do things differently. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something else. There is an old saying, "if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got." If you’re not getting the results you want, then you must do something different. Most people stop doing anything at all, and this guarantees they won’t be successful.

Step Five: Treat the experience as an opportunity to learn. Think of failure as a learning experience. What did you learn from the experience that will help you in the future? How can you use the experience to improve yourself or your situation? Ask yourself these questions:

(1) What was the mistake?
(2) Why did it happen?
(3) How could it have been prevented?
(4) How can I do better next time?

Then use what you learned from the experience to do things differently so you get different results next time. Learn from the experience or ignore it.


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.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Putting the Pieces Together (of the Lean Implementation Puzzle)


When it comes to implementing Lean there are countless questions about how make it happen and even more about being successful at it. There is no better way to answer those questions then from those who have done it. At this year’s 11th Annual Northeast Lean Conference presented by the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP) you’ll have a chance to have your questions answered by those who have led Lean Transformations.  The conference titled “Putting the Pieces Together” will be held in Springfield, MA on September 29 -30, 2015.

I am excited to be able to attend the conference this year and learn from respected authorities in the Lean Community like:

Featured Presenters:
Dan Ariens
President, Ariens & Co.
Norman Bodek
Author & President of PCS
Mike Rother
Author of Toyota Kata
Alan Robinson
Author of The Idea Driven Organization
Mark Graban
Author of Lean Hospitals

There is something for everyone with six thoughtfully planned tracks including:
·                  Leadership - Creating a Lean Culture (The Social Side of Lean)
·                  Subject Matter Experts - The Technical Side of Lean
·                  Lean Facilitators & Change Agents - Gaining Buy-In at All Levels
·                  Improvement Kata - Scientific Thinking for Human Development
·                  Applying Lean Principles & Tools in Healthcare

Plus more than 45 presentations about successful Lean transformations by Lean practitioners themselves.
This year also feature three amazing pre-conference workshops:

Kaizen for Healthcare & the Service Industry with Mark Graban
You might think Kaizen is a method used only by manufacturers - but that is no longer true. Many service industries use and benefit from Lean, including healthcare, government, insurance, education, retail and more. A growing number of organizations embrace "daily Kaizen" - the process to facilitate small, meaningful changes -  as an ongoing continuous improvement methodology, fitting within a broader Lean approach and strategy.

The Improvement Kata Experience with Beth Carrington
This course provides a unique mix of theory with a hefty dose of hands-on practice including a deep dive into two fundamental behavior patterns at the core of the TK methodology: the 5-Question Coaching Dialog and Rapid PDCA Cycles. Students will gain direct insight into the power of these methods through repeated personal practice. At the heart of the training experience is a challenge that requires a high level of ingenuity and continuous improvement; on the spot and in real time.

Kata in The Classroom: An Event for Educators with Mike Rother
Kata in the Classroom(KiC) is a hands-on simulation game following the scientific Improvement Kata pattern to establish a goal and then experiment toward it from round to round. The Kata in the Classroom exercise helps teach habits of scientific thinking, takes only 50 minutes and easily fits within a teacher's existing instructional plan.

The North American Shingo Prize recognizes business excellence in the United States, Canada and Mexico. It was established to create increased awareness, development, and implementation of lean manufacturing principles and techniques. The goal of the North American Shingo Prize is to make manufacturing facilities and other industries more competitive in the global marketplace, illustrating how world-class results can be achieved through the implementation of lean principles and techniques in core manufacturing and other business processes.

My dear friends at GBMP are the educational partner of Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is an excellent opportunity for regional manufacturers, as well as other industries. The Northeastern region is comprised of 11 states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

If you can I highly recommend you attend the Northeast Lean Conference in Springfield, MA on September 29-30, 2015. It is not too late to join the conference. Register here.


I have attended in the past and found the experience of learning from so many like-minded practitioners invaluable. It promises to be another energizing conference and I look forward to seeing you there.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Improvement Doesn’t Come from Focusing on Tools


We all have stories of those who try to use Lean as a tool to improve their business but fail. Those of us who have experienced the true power of Lean understand that it is more than that.

Lean is not about the tools it’s how they are applied. A large number of organizations have failed to produce the desired results from the direct and prescriptive application of Lean tools. The tools themselves have been proven to work in many situations. The difference must then be in how the tools were applied, their appropriateness, but not the tools themselves.

Improvement methods and tools can be used in all industries. There is not one right tool for all problems. Rather, the right tool for each job is based on the nature of the problem to be solved. A sage once said “To a hammer, all problems look like a nail.”

There are thousands of Lean tools, because each problem requires its own unique tool to help solve it. However, tools do not solve problems but rather people do. People are needed to apply tools. Basically, leaders have to learn to think differently and see their customers and business differently, that’s people development, not tools development.

Improvement is not about using a set of tools and techniques. Improvement is not going through the motions of organizing improvement teams and training people. Improvement is a result, so it can only be claimed after there has been a beneficial change in an organization’s performance.

One of the most common and most difficult to eradicate beliefs is that “Lean” is just a bunch of analytical tools and methods. By knowing and applying them, organizations often believe they will automatically — and forever more — increase their profitability. If this were the case, why are so many companies, institutions and agencies that have applied Lean tools not experiencing sustainable differences? Why is it that in many instances organizations, once started down the road of Continuous Improvement (with varying degrees of success for sure), break away and refocus on other initiatives the moment a new CEO or plant supervisor comes onboard? Are the tools not working? Is it just another consultant’s ruse, where the theory sounds great but doesn’t work in real life? Or, are the means and methods not being used properly?

Toyota's view is that the main method of Lean is not the tools, but the reduction of three types of waste: muda ("non-value-adding work"), muri ("overburden"), and mura ("unevenness"), to expose problems systematically and to use the tools where the ideal cannot be achieved. From this perspective, the tools are workarounds adapted to different situations, which explains any apparent incoherence of the principles above.


Lean goes beyond the tools to challenge our way of thinking. It is about learning to see opportunities and continually improving them. Lean is a system of tools and people that work together.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Lean Quote: Quality is Not an Act; It is a Habit

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.

"Quality is not an act; it is a habit.— Quality is not an act; it is a habit

When it comes to habits David Mann tells the story of Smokey the Bear's campfire rules. Douse the fire with water, stir the coals and turn them over, then douse again. Not following the rules of Smokey the Bear you risk the fire restarting itself from the live embers that remain. Cultural habits are very much the same way.

Habits define how organizations behave, and therefore changing organizational habits often requires changing the organization’s culture. To increase your chances of success, start by changing your organization’s keystone habits, or the habits that by definition change other habits.

The culture of a company is the result of the behavior of its leaders. If you change their attitudes, their values, their beliefs, their behaviors, you will change your culture. If you don’t, you will fail. Here are 5 ways leaders can make forming new habits easier for employees and themselves:

1. Start Simple
Don’t try to completely change everything in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. For example, If you wanted to study two hours a day, first make the habit to go for thirty minutes and build on that.

2. Commit to Thirty Days
Three to four weeks is all the time you need to make a habit automatic. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it easily fits in your calendar.

3. Make it Daily
Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.

4. Run it as an Experiment
Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behavior. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.

5. Be Imperfect
Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way.

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.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Leadership is Responsible for Vision, Strategy, and Alignment


On ASQ’s blog the monthly topic presented by Influential Voices Blogger Pat La Londe is about vision, leadership, and values. Strong leadership is essential to developing and sustaining a culture of quality. If an organization is seeking to improve its culture of quality, a closer look at the three areas —vision, values and leadership—is likely a good place to begin.

Leadership must articulate a vision and goals describing what they believe want to accomplish. They must provide a clear charge to all layers of management and process improvement team members to work towards this vision, making sure that everyone understands the vision. Leaders work with others to set specific goals and a manageable scope for each action. Focus on defining the attributes needed for success and empower the team to develop efficient and effective approaches to accomplish them.

Casting the vision is not enough.  Starting out is always the most difficult part, but do not let the vision fall flat.  Revisit, reinvent, and restrategize until the flow becomes natural. Create and align company goals with the vision, and align individual and team goals with company goals.

Let your employees know how they will benefit from embracing the vision. Explain and reinforce the financial rewards when the goals of the vision have been achieved, such as bonuses, recognition, and career development. Share the vision frequently through staff meetings, outings, newsletters, emails, posters and employee campaigns. Develop visuals, such as tables, charts and photos, which highlight milestone accomplishments of the vision.

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.

If management by objectives is so deficient in communicating direction and ensuring cross-functional coordination, then how can managers develop, communicate, and monitor their corporate road maps? The answer is to find an alternative management methodology to disseminate and implement strategic policy in a turbulent operating environment.

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.”

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.

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.


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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Monday, September 14, 2015

Daily Lean Tips Edition #84 (1261-1275)

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 #1261 - Hold Touch-Point Meetings to Review Metrics.
Metrics are useless if they don’t lead to company adjustments and growth. My organization hosts weekly touch-point meetings where the discussion is driven by a focus on company metrics. These meetings help employees develop the habit of responding regularly and directly to the company’s metrics and using that information while it’s still relevant.

Lean Tip #1262 – Avoid Focusing on People Rather Than Processes
In some cases metrics are being used primarily to assess people performance, rather than process performance. This may lead to data manipulation or underreporting of metrics. If people’s careers are dependent on reported metrics, there is a tendency to hide facts or report incorrect data. Individual performance is important, but the focus of an initiative should be on process performance. This will lead to much wider participation within the organization, and when processes improve in performance, everybody wins.

Lean Tip #1263 – Stay Away From Unrealistic Targets
Many organizations set targets without any thought to current performance, process stability or process capability. Industry benchmarks are helpful, but before applying these benchmarks to an organization, the team should analyze current process performance to ensure that unrealistic targets are not set. Unrealistic targets create resistance within an organization and impact team and people performance. In some cases, they also lead to data manipulation or incorrect reporting.

Before setting any targets, the metrics team should ensure that processes are stable and that process capability can be measured in a reliable manner. Process capability should be measured from the customer’s perspective. If teams do not consult the customers, they may find that clients are still unhappy even when targets are consistently met. Involving customers at each stage of target setting helps teams set realistic and achievable targets that will meet customer’s expectations.

Lean Tip #1264 - Measure Before You Manage
Accountability is fundamental to effective management, but it’s impossible to achieve it without tracking each department and individual progress against very specific, measurable goals and objectives. You first need to determine the right metrics and then make sure you have all the tools you need for measurement.

Lean Tip #1265 - Remember that Accountability Starts at the Top
Business leaders don’t always recognize how closely employees will follow their example. But if you want your workers to take goal-setting seriously, you should be prepared to share your own goals – as well as how you came out on delivering on them at the end of the quarter. Such transparency shows your team that you are in the trenches with them, making every effort to achieve what you set out to do – even if your targets were off.

Lean Tip #1266 – Continually Question, Reevaluate, and Refine Metrics
Keep in mind that you will need to reevaluate and adjust your metrics as your business priorities change. Every week, month, and quarter is a new opportunity to test and refine your ability to set and track metrics that will drive growth. When you invest time and thought into setting, monitoring, sharing, and refining your metrics, you’ll be amazed at how much more in tune you are to the state of your business, and how much more easily you can make the critical decisions that can catapult your business’ success.

Lean Tip #1267 - Create Humiliation-Free Zones.
Performance metrics and reviews should not be intended to “name and shame.” Leaders can provide safe havens in which dialogue can take place without making anyone feel put on the spot, and where difficult issues can be discussed without assigning blame. The goal is to solve problems, not to hurl accusations or tear people down. Creating such a positive climate calls for a matter-of-fact, objective manner: assume that people want to do the right thing and that data help them know what the right thing is.

Lean Tip #1268 - Ask Questions; Stress Inquiry on Goals.
We know that it helps to begin with agreement about goals and then to conduct an inquiry-oriented dialogue: Did you do this, did you try that, and what happened? Questions help people deconstruct the details of performance and consider alternatives without becoming defensive.

Lean Tip #1269 – Leaders Need to Model Accountability.
It builds confidence in leaders when they name problems that everyone knows are there, put performance data on the table for everyone to see, and refuse to shift responsibility to some nameless “them.” When leaders accept responsibility (for example, by sharing their own performance ratings), it helps other people get over their fear of exposure and humiliation.

Lean Tip #1270 - Enable Authority of Team Members.
Give your team and its members the power to make decisions. Though this might seem risky, it's a logical progression once all members' roles are defined. Assuming that each individual is qualified to fulfill his or her role means trusting them to make judgment calls when necessary.

Define performance standards for each team member. When everyone knows what is expected, they know what to aim for. Simultaneously, ask team workers to give each other constructive feedback.

Lean Tip #1271 - Encourage Employee Development.
High-potential employees are not satisfied with the status quo. You want these employees on your team. They are typically ambitious, high performing, and dynamic. They will be the future leaders of your organization if they are given proper guidance in their development. If not, be prepared to lose them to the competition.

Lean Tip #1272 - Create a Development Plan.
Planning is crucial to advancing your learning and development. Help your employees establish goals that are aligned with their strengths, interest and experience and then create a plan to get there. A development plan serves as the roadmap that will take you to your goal. It can be simple or complex but it must include action steps, resources, and deadlines.

Lean Tip #1273 - Pair Your Employee’s With a Mentor.
Once their goals have been established, find someone who is in a similar role to the target position to serve as a mentor. Mentoring enables an organization to use it’s existing talent to impart their knowledge and expertise to one another. Everyone – the organization, the mentor, and the mentee – benefits from the mentoring process.

Lean Tip #1274 – Identify Opportunities to Network for Development.
Having a solid network is imperative to the success of future leaders. A network is a great source of information, advice, support and inspiration. Recommend opportunities within the organization, as well as, networking or professional groups that will help them build strong connections.

Lean Tip #1275 - Challenge Your 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.

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