Friday, December 25, 2015

Lean Quote: Spirit of Giving and Forgiving

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.

"Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.— J. C. Penney

Merry Christmas to all A Lean Journey Fans! I hope everyone takes the time to spend quality time with your family and enjoy all the things you have to be thankful for. Lean thinking is a gift to us individually and to organizations empowering and inspiring improvement all around us. This holiday season I want to take the opportunity to thank all those who share the passion for continuous improvement and share in the learning on this blog.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top 10 Lean Tips of 2015


As 2015 comes to an end and we look toward 2016 I wanted to revisit some tips. The Lean Tips published daily are meant to be advice, things I learned from experience, and some knowledgeable tidbits about Lean to help you along your journey. Here are the top 10 Lean tips from this past year:

Lean Tip #1100 - Remove Blame Culture – Make Failure Acceptable
Innovation is one of the key ingredients in business success and if you want to create an innovative organization you'll need to motivate your staff to show initiative, think creatively and even take some risks. But, they won't do this in a blame culture environment where employees are castigated for failure and for trying something new; they will become afraid to think creatively and won't be motivated to innovate. Companies with a blame culture are disadvantaged in relation to creativity, learning, innovation and productive risk-taking. Replace a blame culture with one of learning from mistakes. Encourage workers to own up to mistakes but with a focus on what has been learned from it. Senior managers should lead the way by owning up to mistakes to show that it is OK to fail.

Lean Tip #1155 – Build a Customer Focused Team
Today’s best leaders, managers and employees are customer-focused. They understand and anticipate the needs of both internal and external customers. They meet and exceed customer needs with timely, efficient and economical solutions.

Conduct periodic meetings with internal and external customers to discuss their unique challenges and the ways your team can be more supportive. Invite your employees to participate in the meetings. Develop and ask a brief set of questions to assess their satisfaction with your department’s services. Share the results with your team and develop action plans to improve customer relationships.

Lean Tip #1205 - Develop Exceptional People And Teams Who Follow Your Company’s Philosophy.
Exceptional people thrive in environments that promote Continuous Improvement; however, organizations that have a powerful culture of CI are not those that demand that employees practice CI. Instead exceptional people are “developed” within the “system dynamics of an organization” – in other words, they work in a place where Continuous Improvement is second-nature.

People must feel secure; feel as though they are part of a team; feel challenged in their job; have some degree of autonomy and feel like they have some control over their work.
Without a culture of respect, where each person is valued for what they contribute to an organization, the chances of developing exceptional people who strive to improve what they do and how they do it every day becomes nearly impossible.

Lean Tip #1215 - Give Employee the Chance to Fail -- and a Safe Place to Land When They Do.
Not all employees are risk-takers. Fortunately, the willingness to take risks can be taught -- or at least modeled.

First, stomp out micromanagement in your organization. If your employees feel as if they have to seek approval before making every decision, or if their day-to-day routine is filled with monitoring and correction, they’ll never take initiative.

A manager shouldn’t be a babysitter. Encourage every manager to be a mentor, and give employees opportunities to push out of their comfort zone. If employees fail, train your managers to treat those mistakes as teachable moments. Train your managers to help employees try again -- and to give them the tools and motivation to do so.

Lean Tip #1221 - Develop an Environment that will Encourage Continuous Training
Foster an environment that will make your employees see that the future of the company lies within continuous on job training. You should replace the idea of initial training with ability to develop and become a better equipped employee. Coming up with this kind of environment will empower your employees thus giving them the self motivation that will drive them to the need of improving themselves. Your business culture should be built around employee improvement and satisfaction. Integrate continuous on job training in your daily routines so that it can stick. Remember, employees that are encouraged by the fact that there is a good environment within which they can grow have high chances of being loyal to the company hence better productivity in the end.

Lean Tip #1242 - Encourage, Motivate, Reward and Recognize
The employer must ensure that on his part he always has words of encouragement for his staff. Encouraging them helps them move forward and do even better, and makes the worker feel happy. Innovative ways of motivating them spurs them even more. For example, holidays or conferences paid for by the company have been found to motivate employees immensely.
  • Rewarding the hard work put in by employees makes them continue to work in the same fashion, and if the employee feels that his work is not appreciated in words or in material terms, he may gradually stop doing so, since he may feel that others working less are given the same too, so he need not work more.
  • Rewards, and other ways of keeping employees happy makes them feel that their effort is being recognized and that they are needed by the company.
  • Without these, they may soon start looking for greener pastures and new jobs.

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 #1306 – Learn From Your Past Changes
Unless your organization is brand new, it’s unlikely it has not rolled out a change (big or small) before.  You should use the lessons learned from rolling out these changes to form and inform your new change management approach.  This is the easiest and probably most valuable piece of information to shape your tactics and build an even stronger approach.

Key questions to ask about the previous change are:  what worked and what didn’t work?  Why or why not?  If you can get more details, ask for more!  Find out which communication mechanisms had the most impact, which champions were the strongest and which resources were the most helpful.

Lean Tip #1320 - Change Requires Constant Support and Attention.
To get better every day takes knowledge, diligence, effort, focus and resources. It will not work to simply give a team a book about Lean Manufacturing, turn on your heels and walk away, ordering them to implement the process. The result will be 'short-term-improvement' and 'long-term-frustration'. Company leadership must take an active role in steering the efforts of the team. Direction and discipline to keep working on the Model-Line must come from the top. Otherwise sub-optimization and shot gunning will occur. The short-term needs of the manufacturing managers and the finance team will overshadow the long term needs to establish something more than a brittle veneer.

Lean Tip #1322- There is No End to Improvement
There is an old saying that goes “Once you think you have arrived, you have already started your descent.” One must never think they "have arrived." In the US we say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But the spirit of kaizen suggests that there is always something to learn and ways to improve, and that it is also better to prevent problems than to fix them. So, no matter how good things may seem now, there is always room for improvement, and looking to improve every day is what the spirit of kaizen is all about. It’s not about how far you have come or how far you have yet to go, it is only about this moment and being open to seeing the lessons around you, and possessing the capacity and willingness to learn and improve. There are many small things you can do to increase your design mindfulness and skills over time.


These 10 Lean tips can help you with your journey in 2016. What advice would you share for the new year?

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Top 10 Posts of 2015


It’s that time of year again – time for a round up of our top Lean blog posts for the year.

The end of the year is traditionally a time to look back and reflect. One way to reflect is to evaluate popular blog posts. I have been taking time to reflect on the year that was and as part of that reflection I have flicked back through the 150 blog posts I have written so far this year and compiled a list of my Top 10.

The 5S system is a good starting point for all improvement efforts aiming to drive out waste from the manufacturing process, and ultimately improve a company’s bottom line by improving products and services, and lowering costs.

Quality is about prevention—you cannot "inspect" quality into a product. It has to happen before the inspection process.

Success in your business and for that of your company is a matter of effective problem solving. If you do one thing well this is paramount.

Coaching is one of the premier skills of a good Lean leader, but one that is often overlooked. A leader whose goal is to help employees fulfill potential must be an exemplary coach.
Anyone who has worked in or led an organization's transformation understands change is not easy. People commonly resist change for a variety of reasons. Tips on reducing resistance to change.

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

A well-stated problem statement speeds a robust corrective action process. It helps identify potential root causes and eliminate bias and noise.

Companies can leverage their resources, including their employees’ time or donated funds and products, to support STEM initiatives in a variety of ways.

A Visual Factory provides a clear and common understanding of goals and measures of the business. With this information employees are able to align their actions and decisions with the overall strategic direction of the company.

Management must go to the Gemba to practice Lean management. Gemba walking teaches us to see in new ways what we have failed to see before. There you can identify problems, non-value added activities, or wastes through a deliberate observation of a particular area or process.

What were some of your favorite Lean posts from 2015? Any predictions for next year?


Thanks for your continued readership in 2015. I hope you enjoy the holiday season and go on to achieve Lean success for your business in 2016.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Lean Quote: Spreading Hope

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.

"A leader is a dealer in hope.— Napoleon Bonaparte

The attitude of the leader has a huge impact on the culture, environment, and mood of the department or organization. The leader’s attitude tends to spread and affect others dramatically. A good leader has the attitude of serving his employees at all times, often at the expense of his own morale or personal needs. A good leader truly cares about the morale of the team, pushes and motivates his team with respect, a relentlessly positive attitude and with a genuine heart.

Lean leaders are optimists and believe the cup is always half full. They aren’t pie-in-the-sky types, but they see the positive side of an opportunity, and they believe in their ability to achieve their goals. Leaders provide inspirational motivation to encourage their followers to get into action.

Always maintain a positive attitude. Positive attitudes have power in more ways than one. As a leader, you should exude optimism which will help your staff avoid patterns of negativity. When the economic climate is unstable, businesses will face continual challenges. If you are not optimistic about your ways of conducting business, it can negatively affect the mindset and productivity of those who work for you.


Leaders must guide, motivate, and inspire. Guide your team in the direction you want the group to go by setting a vision, strategy, and goals. Motivate them to bring their best by expressing your passion, communicating with confidence and optimism, and connecting tasks to a greater purpose.  Your work doesn’t stop there; inspire them to act by continuously engaging their talents, re-recruiting their spirit, and celebrating successes.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lean Tip Edition #88 (1321-1335)

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 #1321 – Kaizen Needs a Long Term Commitment
The overriding principles of kaizen is that it is daily, continuous, steady, and it takes the long-term view. Kaizen also requires a commitment and a strong willingness to change. The interesting thing about kaizen is that big, sudden improvements are not necessary. Instead, what is important is that you’re always looking for ideas — including even the smallest of things — that you can build on. Tiny improvements are OK; over the long-term these add up to great improvements. Each journey begins with a single step — this too is a precept inherent in Kaizen. Keep moving forward.

Lean Tip #1322- There is No End to Improvement
There is an old saying that goes “Once you think you have arrived, you have already started your descent.” One must never think they "have arrived." In the US we say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But the spirit of kaizen suggests that there is always something to learn and ways to improve, and that it is also better to prevent problems than to fix them. So, no matter how good things may seem now, there is always room for improvement, and looking to improve every day is what the spirit of kaizen is all about. It’s not about how far you have come or how far you have yet to go, it is only about this moment and being open to seeing the lessons around you, and possessing the capacity and willingness to learn and improve. There are many small things you can do to increase your design mindfulness and skills over time.

Lean Tip #1323 – Always Involve People in the Area in Kaizen
Involve operators and people in the area by notifying them that there will be an event in their designated area. The most basic communication can help prevent confusion. Also, post a flip chart in the area for employees to post ideas before an event takes place. Keep employees informed during events and follow up with operators for evaluation.

Lean Tip #1324 - Facts and Data Will Substantially Improve Your Kaizen Process
Make sure you have solid information before making changes. Facts and data will substantially improve your kaizen process, not only now but in the future. In new Lean implementations, or ones with considerable resistance, every mistake acts as an indictment of Lean. Minimize the ammunition for the naysayers.

Lean Tip #1325 - Think Small and Frequent
Many companies today are only looking for the, “BIG WINS” when it comes to improvements. While big wins are always nice, they really aren’t going to be able to happen very often. A company that identifies small areas of improvement and implements them frequently is going to make much more progress over time than one that ignores the small things and only focuses on bigger issues.

Lean Tip #1326 - Engage the Full Team to Find Improvement Opportunities
Continuous improvement in a facility is almost never going to be made by a single person. This is why you need to have the entire team involved. This starts with the CEO and leadership team and goes all the way to the front line employees. By creating a teamwork environment where everyone is working together to ensure ongoing improvement you will be much more successful in the long run.

Even when employees propose an unrealistic idea it should still be seen as a positive step. Taking all ideas seriously and trying to find ways to implement them if practical can allow employees to have the confidence in the management team that they need to want to bring new ideas up to the team.

Lean Tip #1327 – Lead a Kaizen By Being a Real Team Player
From setting the goals to solving problems and achieving improvements, you and your team members should be equally involved. You should be acting like a teacher for generating ideas from your team members. You will be really blessed if you have a team willed with bright, motivated, and talented people. Otherwise, your success as a Kaizen leader will depend totally upon how well you are able to increase the knowledge, skills, and participation of your team members.

Lean Tip #1328 - Set the Tone and Your Employees Will Follow It.
Leaders need to show, not just tell. If you want your employees to be punctual, make sure you’re there on time -- or even early. If professionalism is a priority, make sure you’re dressed for success, and treat everyone you interact with (both in-person and online) with courtesy. Set the tone and your employees will follow it.

Lean Tip #1329 - A Little Humility Goes a Long Way.
There’s a difference between a leader and a boss. While both are in charge, a leader shares the spotlight and is comfortable crediting others. While it might seem counterintuitive, being humble takes more confidence than basking in glory. Your employees will appreciate it, and your clients will, too.

Lean Tip #1330 - Never Stop Improving.
Great leaders -- indeed, great people -- are constantly learning and always trying to improve themselves. There’s always something that you can work on or a new skill to master. Be sure to keep your mind open to new ideas and possibilities.

Lean Tip #1331 - Make Sure Everyone Understands the Big Picture
If your team isn’t already familiar with the organization’s main goals, then lay them out in plain language.

Show them where they fit within the organizational structure, and why their work moves everyone toward those goals. Make them feel valued, so they’ll have reason to engage with and “own” their jobs.

Lean tip #1332 - Give Employees What They Need
If team members lack the right tools or training, they may not feel capable of or confident about doing the tasks you’ve assigned them. Whether they need training, a new computer, a smartphone, or a better printer, make it happen, so they can move forward with confidence.

If they express a need for something to help them be more productive, and you fail to provide or approve it, they soon will stop coming to you with improvement ideas.

Lean Tip #1333 – Plan Carefully and Get Everyone Involved
Because long-term strategies rarely survive their first brushes with reality, you’ll need to collaborate with your team on how to best achieve them, because they probably know best. Review the plans and get everyone involved in how to proceed.

Give them active, important roles in building those plans, as well as controlling deadlines, scheduling, project management, and scope creep.

Lean Tip #1334 - Be There For Your Team
Lead from the front, ready to smooth the path and provide anything they need to in order to execute. During a crunch time or crisis, roll up your sleeves, and work side-by-side with them until everything’s back to normal.

Lean Tip #1335 - Encourage Creative Thinking.

There are always problems to be solved and better ways to do things, so why not challenge your employees to come up with creative ways to deal with common business issues. Supervising doesn't mean controlling each and every step. It means making sure that all the organizational activities are being implemented at the highest level. Give people the freedom to find their own unique ways of solving issues. Challenge them to think out of the box.



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Monday, December 14, 2015

10 Traits of a Good “Team” Player


Highly empowered and effective teams are the key to compete in today’s world of high technology processes, six sigma quality, and continuous innovation. 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. Teams are the engines that deliver successful process improvements.

We’ve all been told the cliché that there is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.’ That boils down to the type of teammates we’re surrounded by. Teams need strong team players to perform well. But what does it take to be a part of a team? Here are 10 traits to become a better team player.

1. Selflessness
This is my No. 1 attribute to being a good team player. It should never be “me, me, me” or “I, I, I” but instead always be “we” or “us.” Every employee should be asking, “What can I bring to my team?” as opposed to “What can the team bring me?”
If we’re focused on individual goals all the time, we're not going to achieve anything as a whole. Instead, focus on team-oriented goals, even if one of those goals is that we all get better individually.

2. Communication
This means communicating with your managers and your colleagues. Technology is a wonderful thing, and it serves a lot of purposes, but a lot of times we rely on it too much. Put the phone down and talk face-to-face with your colleagues. Have a conversation with them. That can translate to better communication in the office, which is key to any successful team. Regular communication fosters collaborative interactions among leaders, stakeholders, and practitioners at all levels.

3. Accountability
Accountability is an agreement to be held to account for some result. You can assign accountability between yourself and others, but responsibility can only be self-generated.
Everyone is afraid to make mistakes, and people don’t want to be labeled the guy who makes mistakes, but we need to let it be known that it’s OK to fail a bit. It’s OK to make these mistakes and own up to them. Be accountable.

4. Passion
Passion is the driving force that enables people to attain far more than they ever imagined. Your energy is contagious and is easily shared. Passion will bridge moments of weakness, and will drive you past your failures while reaching for your goals. Passion radiates from you and is easily detected by others.

5. Confidence
It’s important to have confidence in yourself, but it’s more important to have confidence in your colleagues and your managers. Have confidence that your team members will bring their best to the team, and have confidence that together you will have great success.
Have confidence in your leader to bring the group together as a team and confidence in his or her leadership.

6. Be Respectful
No matter where you come from, or what your differences are, you have a common bond in that you’re on the same team. You have to put aside any differences that you might have and respect that person. Showing respect in the workplace is all about the relationship we develop with other people and how we value them. You guys are trying to achieve a common goal. You have to respect your colleagues enough to get there. You can’t be pulling in different directions on the rope.

7. Trusting
This has everything to do with trusting that your colleagues are going to do the right thing. Sometimes you see some colleagues trying to do too much or do someone else’s job, and they’re eventually hurting the team in general. Trust people to do their best and trust them to do it right. Allow them to make mistakes without retribution.

8. Positive Attitude
Having the right attitude can make the difference between success and failure. A positive attitude can motivate other people to change their negative thinking and come over to your side. Everything is possible with right attitude behind you to push you forward.

9. Dependability
You need to be a reliable person. It’s being committed to part of the team and buying in to what the team is doing. When you don’t show up, you’re letting the team down in a sense. You want to be that guy to rely on to show up and work hard every time.

10. Have Fun
Getting energized about work usually results from a couple things. Primarily if a work culture is fun to be in, it’s a place you look forward to going because the people (and leadership) are authentic, caring and fun. And teams that are energized with what they are doing get excited by the opportunities that a day may bring.


Organizations that cultivate a culture of teamwork generally outperform their more individualistic competitors. Frequently, this leads to a virtuous cycle of self-improvement, as success breeds enthusiasm, which breeds better teamwork, which breeds yet more success. For this reason, teamwork is important for creating a healthy, prosperous organization.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Lean Quote: Leadership is Action, Not Position

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.

"Leadership is action, not position.— Donald H. McGannon

Actions speak louder than words! An expression where doing what you say you will do is a greater determinant of behavior and character. People can say anything, but when what they say and do are contrary, it’s easier to judge by what is done instead of by what is said.

For leaders, action is one of the most important traits they can embody.  Taking action means getting things done.  It means seizing the initiative.  It conveys momentum, and energy, and creating something new, something that didn’t exist before.  And this excites followers and others who understand that going towards something is always better than sitting around staring at the wall.

The only cure for inactivity is action. That’s why the first step in creating a successful culture of execution is creating a bias toward action. People who make things happen need to be praised and rewarded. People who don’t should be coached to change, or weeded out. Failure cannot be unduly punished. Unless people feel free to make mistakes, they will not feel free to take bold actions.

People will usually listen to what you say, but they really pay attention to what you do. You can't say one thing and do another if you want to be effective as a leader. What you say is important. However if your actions are different than your words people will assume the actions are what is true.


In the end, taking action is simple.  You do or you don’t.  The hard part comes when we introduce doubt, fear, concern about what others will say (or not say) and the outcome being failure.  If you have a great idea, why not take action?  What will happen if you fail?  You’ll learn from the failure and perhaps, have even more great ideas.  You’ll also be taking action and not just merely talking about it.

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