Friday, October 30, 2015

Lean Quote: The Continuous Part of Continuous Improvement

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.

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.— Confucious

Lean Thinking is often described as a “journey, not a destination”. In many regards this is true since the best Lean companies have found that their improvement efforts never end. Each set of improvements result in improved bottom-line results but also exposes more opportunity. 

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.

This journey toward dramatically improved business performance shares three characteristics with more traditional travel. Every journey has a starting point, an objective, and a path that connects the two. In order to gain the maximum return on limited resources organizations must understand and optimize these three essential characteristics.

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.

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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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Daily Lean Tips Edition #86 (1291-1305)

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 #1291 - Attack the Problem, Not the Person
Being a business leader is solving a long (never-ending) series of problems.  When we get shy or afraid of dealing with a problem, often it’s because we don’t want to attack a person.

Learn to attack the problem, and not the person.  Lay out the problem for them clearly, discuss solutions, and make a decision.  Separate the person or people from the problem.

Good leaders can solve problems in this way without others leaving bitter or feeling they were treated unfairly.

Lean Tip #1292 - Struggle, but Don't Suffer
Struggle – when you are pushing, fumbling some, changing, and figuring new things out to get better.

Suffer – when you are repeating the same mistakes, dealing with the same underperformers, and not making progress, yet still not making the changes you need to make.

Struggle, but don’t suffer.

Lean Tip #1293 - Nobody Becomes Successful by Accident
If you want to be a good sailor, you study sailing.  If you want to be a good investor, you study investing.

If you want to be a good business builder, you study business.  If you want to be a good team builder, you learn about team building.  If you want to be a good leader, you study leadership.

What books are YOU reading?  What audios are you listening to in your car RIGHT NOW?

Lean Tip #1294 - How You Respond is More Important
There is what happens and how you respond to what happens.  Usually how you respond is more important.  If you allow negative events and others behavior to get under your skin, you are killing yourself with it.  They aren’t killing you with what they did, you are with how you respond.

Business is a game.  This happens, I do this.  That happens, I input that.  I put this in place and it yields these results.  It’s a never ending loop of inputs and responses from employees and customers and competitors.  

Play the game.  Control your responses and inputs, but don’t beat yourself up with poor emotional reactions.

You’re in charge no matter what happens.

Lean Tip #1295 - Stay Connected With Customers
A leaders job is to build a team that gets the results we are looking for.  Recruiting, training, implementing systems…it’s a lot of “inside work”.  But don’t forget to stay in touch with customers.

Go out in the field once in a while, and talk to them on the phone.  Stay connected, and it reminds you why you are doing the rest of it each day.

What are we without customers?

Lean Tip #1296 – Deal With Resistance to Change Proactively
Managing resistance to change is challenging and it’s not possible to be aware of all sources of resistance to change. Expecting that there will be resistance to change and being prepared to manage it is a proactive step. It’s far better to anticipate objections than to spend your time putting out fires, and knowing how to overcome resistance to change is a vital part of any change management plan.

Lean Tip #1297 – Don’t Assume Everyone’s Reaction to Change Will Be The Same
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in initiating major company changes is to expect that everyone’s reaction will be even remotely like yours.

Regardless of the catalyst for the change, it will be your employees who determine whether it successfully achieves its desired outcome. Organizations don’t change – People do – or they don’t.

Lean Tip #1298 – Don’t Manage Change, Provide Leadership
To many leaders focus too much on management and too little on leadership. That is mainly because managers are taught to use management tools, of which many exist. Leadership, on the other hand, is hard to teach, springing as it does from many personal qualities. And, compared to the great quantity of management tools, few leadership tools are available to the manager. One of the few – and one of the most effective – is storytelling.

Lean Tip #1299 – Involve Employees When Implementing Change
Leaders must actively involve the people most affected by the change in its implementation. This will help ensure employees at all levels of the organization embrace the proposed changes.

Lean Tip #1300 – Avoid Over-reliance On Structure and Systems to Change Behavior
Structural and systems changes help create a new context and orientation. And they have the surface appeal of being visible and fast. But people do not become different just because you put them in a new context. Structures and systems, by themselves, don’t change people’s behavior or give them new skills.

Lean Tip #1301 – Avoid the Failure to Distinguish Between Decision-driven and Behavior Dependent Change
Creating a higher level of performance, lowering cost, raising quality, carving out a new relationship to the market always requires a mix of decisions and behavior change. Decisions concern such things as market position, alliances, and product lines. Behavior change asks people to act differently, gain new skills, or shift the organization’s culture. Getting people to change their behavior requires a different mindset and a different set of leadership skills than making decisions about strategy.

Lean Tip #1302 – Change Requires Skills and Resources to be Successful
Change does not happen through goals and exhortation alone. Like any business operation, it also calls for the right skills and resources, Organizations often simply fail to commit the necessary time, people, and resources to making change work. Paradoxically, successful behavior change often demands the very skills the change Is trying to create.

Lean Tip #1303 – Don’t Assume that Change is Complete Once Initial Goals Are Achieved.
If you declare victory too soon, the focus will be taken away from your efforts, and all traces of your hard work could soon disappear. Successful companies consistently re-evaluate their change efforts to determine where other areas can be improved, such as employee development and retention, new projects and new systems and structures.

Lean Tip #1304 – Plan for Small Successive Successes to Stick to Vision
An important part of sticking to the vision is to create opportunities to achieve smaller goals along the way. These small successes will not only work directly toward achieving the desired change, but will create positive feelings of accomplishment and the drive to pursue the next goal.

Lean Tip #1305 – Using the Wrong Measures or Misinterpreting Them will Lead You Astray
When a major change effort gets under way, executives often are scared off by the symptoms of their success.  Don’t panic if you see problems vis-à-vis morale, job stress, loyalty, the trust level or job satisfaction.  It could be proof that you’re doing precisely the right things.



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Monday, October 26, 2015

10 Common Mistakes To Avoid On Your Next Kaizen Event


An essential element in Lean thinking is Kaizen. Kaizen is the Japanese name for continuous improvement. While Kaizen is really about improvement involving everyone everyday it is often associated with a structured event.  Kaizen events fill the gap between individual, very local improvement initiatives and bigger initiatives such as value stream improvement.  They are essential to get cross-functional and multi-level teams involved in a Lean transformation.   In that respect, kaizen events have a dual role – to make improvements but also to teach and communicate.

In order for a kaizen to be successful it requires a great deal of both preparation and follow-up.  Here are 10 things I have learned over the years to avoid during a kaizen:

  1. Lack of a charter
A charter is used to establish the framework of the kaizen.  It determines what the problem statement is, relevant background information, time frame, team members, some estimation of the resources involved, and how the improvement will be measured.  Without a charter the kaizen could take a very different direction.

  1. Lack of identification of critical success factors
In order to make the kaizen successful you need to identify what elements are critical to the process.  You must determine how you will measure the success of this kaizen so you know if your countermeasures are effective.  Without measurement the kaizen can go on and on.

  1. Scope is too large
The size or amount you will tackle within the kaizen is important for getting things done.  If the scope is too large you run the problem of never implementing an improvement.

  1. Kaizen event not linked business plan
You want to do kaizens that will help you meet your organization's goals.  It can be wasteful to improve processes that are not part of the plan since resources to perform kaizens are limited.

  1. Poor team selection
The team members on the kaizen are the brain power and manpower behind the improvement.  Picking the team members should be an important part of planning the kaizen.  You need to consider people's skill sets, expertise or knowledge, individuals within and outside the process, and who will provide the learning.

  1. Striving for perfection
If you try to achieve perfection you may well be at the kaizen a very long time.  Perfection is elusive.  If you can accomplish 80% of what you set out to and meet the goals of the charter then call it complete.  You will be back to improve from this new state again.

  1. Poor follow through
In some kaizens it can be difficult to complete all the items you want within the time frame of the kaizen. Failure to follow through on these can undermine the team's efforts.  It is also necessary to ensure the improvements that are made are maintained to prevent backsliding.

  1. Not presenting results
Failure to present the results after the kaizen can cause the team to feel unappreciated.  It also restricts learning throughout the organization.  Another area can have a similar situation that can benefit from knowing how this team solved the problem.

  1. Lack of visibility for non participants
Getting the buy in from those who are not participating on the team is important for sustaining the improvement.  When you are part of team you are involved in the solution.  For those who are not we need to make them aware of the improvements the team is making.  If you don't they will naturally resist the improvement.

  1. Lack of management commitment
Management must not just support the kaizen but actively participate.  Kaizens are as much a learning opportunity as anything else in the organization. Management must ensure the team has everything they need to be successful and when they are management must recognize the accomplishment.


Learning what not to do is as equally important as learning what not to do.  Don't make any of these mistakes on your kaizen and it will be a success.  From your experience what advice would you give others to be successful at kaizen?

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Lean Quote: A Lack of Quality Training Results in Poor Quality

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.

"An organization relying only on audits with no quality training is like a teacher administering only surprise exams with no teaching; the result is poor quality.— Aly Basyouny, PGESCO

Regular, effective and relevant training is massively important and a great motivator. If you want them to perform properly and consistently then you have to give them the tools to do so. Training is always good, it keeps people up to date and focused on the job at hand, it keeps their skills at the forefront and it will show them that management are obviously concerned with how well they do their job, etc. If they are given good quality training that covers the topics and issues they are faced with then they will respond and to a certain extent motivate themselves to stick with what they learn.

Proper training should not be reserved for new employees. In order to maintain a staff of trained and well-integrated employees, it's critical to promote continuous learning throughout their careers. There are always new things for employees to learn and the rate of change in the business world demands new skills, fresh perspectives and new ideas. Training should be utilized to ensure that your employees are continually learning and improving.

Creating a positive learning environment will encourage development and help your employees gain confidence in their position. Trainers should be relaxed and clearly explain the reasoning behind every new exercise and lesson. Negativity will only inhibit the learning process, so it's important to be patient, allow for mistakes, and always reward new achievements. This positive feedback will reinforce and affirm the efforts of your new recruits, and encourage them to continue learning.

It is a proven that companies that invest in the continued training and proficiency of their employees enjoy improved performance, lower attrition rates and a greater overall return on their investment. Intellectual capital is now a critical factor for competitive advantage in today's global world. The organizations that recognize the benefits and value of providing continuing training opportunities to employees will be better able to compete in a rapidly changing world.



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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10 Common Lean Implementation Mistakes


Lean has been around since the late eighties/ early nineties, but despite the enormous popularity of Lean, the track record for successful implementation of the methodology is spotty at best. Companies still make mistakes when implementing Lean.

These mistakes are generally due to simple misunderstandings of the Lean principles, but when something goes wrong, you will not reap the full benefits, and incorrect use of Lean can actually make a situation worse rather than better.

I believe when Lean principles are properly understood and applied, the upside for productivity improvements is nearly infinite. I have personally witnessed numerous Lean thinking initiatives that have improved productivity by large amounts (like 40-60%) in short periods of time with minimal expenditures.  The Lean track record is well documented by numerous authors.

In my experience these are ten reasons why Lean implementation fails:

  1. No Strategy
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. They also must determine where to start and how Lean will expand throughout the operation. Finally, the strategy should anticipate problem and recovery scenarios. This is critical. Companies can fail by attempting too much. They also can fail by attempting too little and assigning the initiative to a "backburner" status. 

  1. No Leadership Involvement
Lean requires top-to-bottom leadership of a special kind. Lean leaders are firm and inspiring, relentless and resilient, demanding and forgiving, focused and flexible. Above all, they have to be smart and highly respected in the organization. Every successful company has at least one of these leaders. These people must be a passionate part of the Lean leadership team.

  1. Relying on Lean Sensei/Champion
Expertise obviously is necessary. So is critical mass. There must be a sufficient amount of knowledge among a sufficient number of people for lean to work initially and spread. Further, the expertise must reside with line people as well as staff. Everyday support must come from important, respected line managers who have the most to gain or lose and have the power and authority to make things happen. Reliance on an outnumbered staff expert who has no line authority to implement lean simply is not realistic. Deployment and implementation can fail before it starts without a strong implementation team.

  1. Copying Others
Some enterprises think they will get desirable effects by applying Lean tools that others have gotten great achievements. Successful implementation of any Lean tool must be closely related to the management philosophy. So we can’t succeed by imitating and copying practices of others indiscriminately, it must be combined with local culture.

  1. Thinking Lean Is A Tool
Lean implementation can not be treated as a delegated "project." Lean manufacturing is not a project. It is a fundamental change in the value delivery system. Top management must be in front of this.

  1. Lack of Customer Focus
Many companies do Lean for internal cost reasons rather than external and customer-focused reasons. The focus of Lean is on providing the customer with more value sooner. Without customer focus, Lean management techniques are difficult to employ.

  1. Not Engaging Employees
Employee participation in project decision making is a main principle affecting innovation, productivity, and work satisfaction. Workers typically have more complete knowledge of their work than does management; hence, if workers participate in decision making, decisions will be made with better pools of information.

  1. Not Educating Employees
Lean training is crucial, obviously. But the content, level, and depth vary by the company and its needs, activity, and function. It goes back to the business case. Training needs to be appropriate for the Lean elements to be deployed.

  1. Lack of Understanding
Most management teams don’t understand Lean. When we don’t understand something it is next to impossible to support it. This lack of understanding of Lean by management allows even the most subtle of things to derail Lean efforts.

  1. Conflicting Metrics
Lean requires metrics that focus on the processes of value creation and their associated costs. Traditional cost accounting techniques such as absorption, as well as individual machine and employee performance, can cause a lot of non-Lean behavior. Lean accounting ties directly to financial measures but focuses on performance of the entire value delivery system.

Lean implementation is not simple or easy. However, results show that, when done properly, Lean lives up to its promises. Lean and its elements work. All of the failure modes presented here can be avoided or overcome.


If you want Lean to succeed in your organization, management has to become a student of Lean in order to be a successful sponsor. In other words, you have to apply Lean to your management process first in order to understand how to apply it to others.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Benefits of Change


Change is often necessary but can be frightening for your employees. Common reactions to change include anger, denial, opposition and depression. As a manager, you must illustrate to your employees the benefits of change so that they, hopefully, develop an excited and positive attitude. Point out how change brings with it new ideas and opportunities as well as the chance to shine as an important part of the company.

People usually avoid changes and prefer to stay in their comfort zones, but I am true believer that once you get the courage and take the first step to change, your life will become much better.

Below are just few benefits of change:

1. Personal Growth

You grow and learn new things every time something changes. You discover new insights about different aspects of your life. You learn lessons even from changes that did not lead you to where you wanted to be.

2. Flexibility

Frequent changes make you easily adapt to new situations, new environments, and new people. As a result you do not freak out when something unexpectedly shifts.

3. Improvements

We all have things in our lives we’d like to improve—finances, job, partner, house, etc. All of us know that nothing will improve by itself. We need to do things differently to make that happen. Without change, there’d be no improvements.

4. Life Values

From time to time changes make you re-evaluate your life and look at certain things from a different perspective. Depending on what the change is, it may also reinforce your life values.

5. The Snowball Effect

Often we give up because we cannot accomplish the difficult task of making a huge and immediate change. That is when small changes become extremely valuable. One shift at a time, small changes will eventually lead you to the desired big one.

6. Strength

Not all changes lead you to pleasant periods of life. Unfortunately we do not live in fairy tale and sad things happen, too. Overcoming the tough period will make you stronger.

7. Progress

Changes trigger progress. Things move forward and develop because of the them.

8. Opportunities

One never knows what each change may bring. When you turn from your usual path there will be plenty of different opportunities waiting for you. Changes will bring new choices for happiness and fulfillment.

9. New Beginnings

Each change is a turning page. It is about closing one chapter and opening another one. Changes bring new beginnings and excitement to life.

10. Routine

A monotonous job bores employees who need to be given variety to excel. Change often provides the refreshment a worker needs to refocus his energy and increase his interest.

So next time you get the temptation to avoid or resist the change, aim instead to initiate the ones that will lead you to where you want be.

And remember—if there were no change, there would be no benefit!


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Friday, October 16, 2015

Lean Quote: Improvement is About Small Changes

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.

"Little Strokes Fell Great Oaks.— Benjamin Franklin

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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