Friday, March 29, 2019

Lean Quote: Perceiving and Thinking Are Not the Same

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.


"Perceiving means recognizing phenomena by means of our five senses. Thinking, on the other hand, is our mental ability to pursue causes and purposes by objectively asking 'why' about all phenomena." — Shigeo Shingo

Humans perceive via the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Looking up at the sky, we perceive that it is cloudy. Then there is thought: Will it rain or not?

Here is a little story that illustrates this point:

Foreman A walks into plant manager Ohara’s office with a safety part and says that a defect has occurred. “What do we do?” he asks.

Ohara examines the part for a moment and then instructs the foreman to bring him the next defective item if the defect shows up again. Dubious because he has received no instructions on how to handle the matter, the foreman goes back to the shop floor.

A week later, the defect shows up again and the foreman immediately rushes to the plant manager’s office. “We’ve got another defect” he announces. But when the manager asks him about the conditions under which the defect occurred, the foreman stammer incoherently.

“In that case,” the manager says, “bring the offending part to me if the defect shows up again.” The foreman quickly withdraws.

Ten days later, when the defect occurs again, the foreman visits the manager’s office for a third time. “The defect was caused by play in a stopper on the machine,” he reports. “We’ve fixed it so the defect won’t show up again.”

Here’s what happened: The first two times, the foreman merely perceived that a defect had occurred. The third time, having understood what the manager had in mind, he thought about why the defect might have occurred.

Thus there are two positions we can take: merely perceiving – or thinking objectively about what we have perceived. Action comes about in response to cycling back and forth between perceiving and thinking, perceiving and thinking, and then finally, perceiving the solution. The more this cycle of perceiving and thinking is repeated, the closer we can approach the truth.

We must remember to ask ourselves, as we move from thought to action in the course of every day, whether we are merely perceiving or whether we have really thought about the matter in question.

Adapted from “The Sayings of Shigeo Shingo: Key Strategies for Plant Improvement” By Shigeo Shingo

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

10 Ways to Show Your Employees Are Valued


Many companies proclaim that their employees are their greatest asset. Unfortunately, the phrase has become somewhat cliché, similar to saying employees are "empowered." These are valid statements only if companies put actions behind their claims.

In other words, if you say your employees are your greatest asset, do you treat them as if they are the most valuable part of your company?

1. Say thank you.
Show your appreciation for their hard work and contributions. Identify the specific actions that you found admirable. This praise feels sincere since you took the time to spell out details—not just, "You did a good job." You also emphasize the actions that you'd like to see the employee do more often and everybody benefits when people experience clear direction.

2, Make time to connect.
Leaders have a lot of responsibilities, and it's easy to get caught up in your own work, without paying much attention to your team. But one of the best ways to show your employees you appreciate them is making the time to connect with them. Find out how they're doing--including their lives outside work.

3. Create new opportunities.
One of the best ways to win the hearts and minds of your employees is to give them as many opportunities as you can. Let them take on big challenges like a highly visible project or a new leadership role, or pick up the tab for a workshop or conference.

4. Show you trust them.
When you can show your employees you trust them, it sends a very important message. In essence, you're telling them their work is good enough that they don't need you looking over their shoulder.

5. Encourage input from them.
Ask for employee suggestions for other ways of getting the task or project accomplished. Listen and be willing to really hear the employees' comments. Employees hate to have no input and be told exactly how to perform their jobs, leaving no creativity.

6. Let them solve their own problems.
Listen to their problems but don’t bark out the answer. Instead, ask probing questions that will lead them to determine the right answer. When they get it, compliment them and tell them they don’t need to ask you about similar situations; that you have faith in them to figure it out. Don’t abandon them, but prove that you trust their judgment.

7. Make mentorship part of the culture.
In almost any organization, there are newer employees who could benefit from being paired with an old hand. Whether you establish a formal mentorship program or a more casual buddy system, there's no better way to transmit helpful information and give newbies a support system right from the start.

8. Be honest and transparent.
Honesty should be a given, but it's easier at some times than at others. Many people believe you shouldn't talk about the bad news, but those conversations--difficult as they may be--prove you care enough to deliver even hard truths. Truthful and transparent feedback will gain you respect and garner the best possible results.

9. Challenge them
Employees may become bored and dissatisfied if they are performing the same tasks and projects each day. Give your staff new challenges that are within their abilities. Provide constructive feedback as they work on new projects. Learning and mastering new challenges will give your staff a sense of accomplishment. It shows that you have confidence in their skills and value them as part of the organization.

10. Give them credit
Praise employees for their good work in front of their peers. You don’t have to spend a dime to reward hardworking employees for their actions and achievements. Your gesture lets employees know their unique contributions and positive attitudes make a difference for your company and the team.


If you're serious about creating a workforce that's engaged and productive, you must devote time and attention to creating environments in which the people on your teams can flourish. And when they flourish, you must take measures to ensure they are protected and well cared for, because that's what people do with their most celebrated and valuable assets.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Gemba Walks: A Tool for Leaders To Check


It has been said that the farther removed a leader becomes from the place where the work gets done, the less effective he/she will be in supporting those who do the work. And while that statement may be largely accurate, it’s also true that all operational leaders, but particularly department leaders and above, are pulled in many different directions during a given day, week, or month and may not feel that they have time to spend out in the operation where the products are made or the services rendered.

Additionally, some leaders, particularly those that didn’t start out working in operational roles, may not know how to productively spend time in the operation. Where should they go? What should they observe? Who should they talk to?

A “Gemba” Walk is a structured approach to getting leaders out of their offices and into the places where the critical work of the healthcare facility takes place to engage with the operation in a meaningful way and to look for signs of waste and inefficiency or other opportunities to improve. “Gemba” is a Japanese term that means “the real place”, “the actual place”, or “the place where value is created.”

Perhaps the best way to understand Gemba walks is to clarify what they are not. A Gemba walk is not a random, unplanned visit to “check up” on the workforce or catch employees being unproductive. It is also not the equivalent of a department meeting whereby leadership pull staff together to deliver a series of messages. Instead, a Gemba walk is a pre-planned and structured visit to a particular area or areas to better understand some aspect of the operation, dialogue with staff, and/or learn something that the leader can take back to his/her job. Along the way, the leader should be role modeling the behaviors that he/she expects from the broader workforce by identifying potential patient or employee safety hazards and other signs of waste or inefficiency to be addressed (e.g., disorganized work area, inefficient business processes, etc.).

The most effective Gemba walks are planned in advance and entered into with a particular objective in mind (e.g., teach something, learn something, role model a behavior, build a relationship, etc.). Contrary to popular opinion, the workforce will come to appreciate the presence of leadership in their place of work because it sends the signal that leaders want to understand the challenges they face every day and opens up opportunities for a constructive dialogue.


Nothing sustains itself, certainly not Lean manufacturing or Lean management. So, establish and stick to a routine including regular visits to the Gemba, check the status of visual controls, follow-up on daily accountability assignments, and ask the three simple questions everywhere. Gemba walks are really the check in our PDCA methodology of continuous improvement.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Lean Quote: Zeal Will Do More Than Knowledge

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.


"Zeal will do more than knowledge." — William Hazlitt

Without a sense of zeal, life sometimes can become pretty boring. Everything then seems to be done with a big sigh and a have-to. Going through the motions without a genuine want-to, turns everything into a must-do.

Nothing can take the place of being zealous or passionate. Opportunity can’t. Opportunity may open the door, but without zeal you won’t make the most of it. A lack of zeal, may cause you to miss a door meant to lead you toward your destiny.

Knowledge can’t replace zeal. Knowledge can be taught, and experience is earned in time, but it’s very hard to make someone passionate about something. And if someone is passionate about something, they’re more willing to take the extra steps and make the sacrifices to gain the necessary knowledge and collect the valuable experience.

Having a passion promotes a sense of creativity. All of the sudden, you'll find yourself connecting two aspects of your life together that you never thought could coexist. You may be inspired to start a blog to share your ideas with the world, or you may be more compelled to show your talents in a more hands-on environment.

Without passion, there isn't much motivation to work. Yes, there are material motivations such as a large bank account, the biggest house or a new car. When those things are put into perspective, though, one learns that these wants will only satisfy you for a certain amount of time before you want something else. Following your dreams suppresses all of these desires because you're striving for knowledge rather than money. Knowledge is a motivation in itself because it is infinite. You could never have too much, but you'll never have it all.


Finally, having good connections isn’t a substitute for personal zeal. You will never be successful without others, but merely surrounding yourself with the right people doesn’t guarantee success either. A team with no heart, passion, and vision won’t succeed.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

7 Key Factors of Successful Teams


We all know that teams have the potential to achieve great things for organizations. At the same time, this is by no means guaranteed. So what are the seven key factors in any successful team?

Factor 1: Selflessness
This is my No. 1 factor for a successful team. 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.

Factor 2: Communication
Effective communication is vital to team success. They communicate openly with each other, sharing their thoughts, opinions and ideas with members of their team; as well as taking into consideration what others have to say. Communication is essential for keeping track of progress and working together efficiently on tasks. Poor communication can lead to crossed wires, that can mean work is left incomplete/incorrect or conflicts can arise.

Factor 3: High Levels of Trust
A team without trust will never achieve anything. At the same time, it is important to recognize that having high levels of trust does not happen overnight. In my experience, one of the easiest ways of creating trust is to let each other know that you can be counted on by delivering consistently on what you have agreed to do.

Factor 4: Mutual Accountability
When individuals on teams need to account to each other for what they have done to progress what they agreed to do, things happen much quicker. In truth, most of us, once we have committed to something, are more likely to do it if we know we are going to have to report back to the team.

Factor 5: Results Focus
At the end of the day, a team exists to deliver results and it is key to keep the focus of the team on the end result. It is easy, especially when the going gets tough, to lose sight of the results and get lost in activities that distract.

Factor 6: Optimism
When a team is faced with a challenge, it is easy to fall into a downward spiral. Successful teams on the other hand will generally be optimistic and recognize that, even if the way forward is not immediately obvious, there is a way forward at the end of the day.

Factor 7: Proactive
Successful teams make things happen and don’t sit back waiting for others to do something before they get started. They grab the bull by the horns and start to make things happen.

The Bottom Line: While all of the above factors really matter, I have also noticed that you need to underpin them with appropriate rewards and a culture that recognizes and values team working.


Teams have basic needs that must be acknowledged and fulfilled if you expect your teams to experience their greatest success. No team will succeed if these basics do not exist.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

10 Tips to a Better Value Stream Map


Business is growing more competitive every day. In order to keep up with customer demand and expectations, companies are having to work faster and be more efficient than ever before. A VSM activity can help to identify and better coordinate operational teams and process segments that are integral to the overall process.

To understand value stream mapping, we need to first understand what a “value stream” is. Simply put, a value stream is a series of steps that occur to provide the product or service that their customers want or need. In order to provide the product or service that the customers desire, every company has a set of steps that are required. Value stream mapping enables us to better understand what these steps are, where the value is added, where it’s not, and more importantly, how to improve upon the collective process. Value stream mapping (VSM) provides us with a structured visualization of the key steps and corresponding data needed to understand and intelligently make improvements that optimize the entire process, not just one section at the expense of another.

There are some tips to creating a VSM for your organization.

       1. Define a value stream.
Include all the activities required to bring a product from “raw materials” into the customer’s hands or provide service to a target audience.

2. Base the value stream map process on customer requirements.
You must understand what the customer values, and use that as your starting point. If you don’t, you risk, in the words of my favorite band The Fall, paying “the highest attention to the wrong detail.”

3. Capture the process as it operates now, not how it’s supposed to operate.
A process that worked well when you had 20 employees may not perform as efficiently now that the business is a 200-person company. Be sure you map the process as it happens now, not the way it used to work—or how you wish it worked!

4. Assign a value stream map manager to lead the mapping effort. 
Input from team members and stakeholders is important, but appoint (or elect) one team member to draw the entire value stream map. This ensures that the manager understands the material and information flows.

5. Walk through the process to ensure that the flow of materials and information is accurate.
Make sure your map reflects the reality of the process—verifying this by following the process from start to finish can reveal crucial details you might have missed.

6. Focus on one small step at a time.
Make sure you capture each step accurately. For example, don’t trust the clock on the wall to measure cycle times—use a stopwatch.

7. Identify critical paths and bottlenecks.
Your map may reveal a number of potential areas for improvement. Which ones will make the biggest difference in meeting customer requirements?

8. Create a future state map from the current state map.
Your current-state map suggests where to focus your efforts, so you can draft a map that shows how value will flow through an improved process.

9. Limit the improvement plan to achieve the future state to a one-page document, if possible.
List the actions that need to happen to improve the process. Use simple, clearly-defined steps.

10. To implement the improvement plan quickly, focus on individual areas.
Take a step-by-step approach to putting your plan in action, then update your future state map as you implement each step.

Value stream mapping provides a great way to make changes and improvements to the process without doing so at the expense of other processes. Creating a value stream map of the current state of your process helps you focus on areas of waste such as excess inventory, non-value-added time, and multiple operators. If we don’t understand the current process, we can’t really make intelligent decisions about how the future current state might or should look.


At the end of the day, the goal is to develop a corporate culture that provides the best possible product to meet or exceed customer needs and expectations. This is ultimately done by making continual improvements to the value stream. As our customers’ needs and expectations evolve, so also will our value streams need to change and constantly evolve.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Lean Quote: Standing Still is Falling Behind

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.


"There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still." — Franklin D. Roosevelt

I have said this before, in a world that constantly moves forward, if we choose to stand still, we will eventually fall behind.

Organizations develop a status quo for many reasons. Those reasons range from leaders feeling pressured for time and the need to prioritize, all the way to a culture that has a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

Status quo can be comfortable because it’s easy. It doesn’t require us to challenge ourselves or each other. It doesn’t require us to take risks or change what we’ve gotten so used to. Yet, over time, following the status quo will become uncomfortable. Individuals, teams, leaders, and companies will miss out on opportunities for growth, and stagnation becomes the mode of operation. This is when it’s time to challenge the way it’s been and think about how it could be.

Challenging (and changing) the status quo can be scary. It often requires courage and a willingness to go against the grain, while potentially butting heads with others who are less open to new ideas.

It's leadership’s responsibility to create the kind of culture where challenging the status quo is encouraged. Leaders need to have a forward-thinking mindset—a mindset that doesn’t settle for an attitude of the bare minimum and instead looks to their teams for insight on how things can be improved. The most successful leaders set out to support them with new values, policies, and ideas that are important to them.

Challenging the status quo is critical if we are to prosper in our businesses and set ourselves apart from the competition. The world of commerce is cruel, fast paced, and change is happening by the day and by the hour.

Simply put, challenging the status quo actually means challenging it. In business, it often isn’t even our competitors getting in our way, it is ourselves and our inability to face our fears and get out of our comfort zone.


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