Monday, March 30, 2020

Lean Roundup #130 – March 2020 & COVID-19 Edition



A selection of highlighted blog posts from Lean bloggers from the month of March 2020.  You can also view the previous monthly Lean Roundups here.

Continuous Improvement Must Be Continuous – Wayne Chaneski say it’s easy to do the work to improve your facility and then want to sit back to see how things go unfortunately, this leads to complacency, which is hard to overcome.

The Unexpected Benefit of Cancelling Everything – Jon Miller shares 5 examples of Lean transformation to restart a better way after the we resume from the unprecedented cancellations.

Why Lean Remains A Superior Business Model and Way of Thinking - Daniel T. Jones shares some conclusions from research and experimentation over the past 30 years of disseminating Lean from Toyota.

The Difference Between Naive, Purposeful, and Deliberate Practice – Ron Pereira how Gladwell misinterpreted the research and, to be blunt, got most of the “10,000 rule” concept wrong.

WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AS A LEAN MANAGER? - Michael Ballé explains the role of a lean manager and why they are so important.

Is trust essential for lean success? – Jamie Flinchbaugh says Lean transformation, with its focus on collaboration and empowerment, is particularly sensitive to the foundation of trust within the organization.

Three Tips for Managing Your Newly-Remote Day – Johanna Rothman shares advice on working in this new normal amid the coronavirus quarantines.

Lean and COVID-19 – Bob Emiliani explains why Lean management should be part of the recovery plan for every business post COVID-19.

Out Of The Crisis: The Deming Institute’s Response to COVID-19 – Kevin Cahill talks about that remarkable ability that a crisis has to bring people together to make things better.

Simon Sinek – Remote Teaming Tips – Mark Rosenthal shares Simon Sinek’s weekly huddle advice in this new remote team environment.

A Few Nuggets on Lean Product Development – Jamie Flinchbaugh discussed 3 points that can speed up your new product development.

Deepening the Lessons of Crisis – Kevin Meyer says lessons are being taught by the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s important to use them to analyze the broader perspective.

Five Reasons Why It’s Hard to Stay Lean – Jon Miller shares five reasons that were inspired by the five realities of our biology that make it difficult to keep weight off.

Give People a Sense of Certainty Through New Routines – Steve Kane explains how to help people establish and adjust to new routines quickly they will become the new normal.

Leaders Need to Lead By Example, Especially in a Crisis – Mark Graban shares examples of leading by example from recent events in the news surrounding COVID-19 that we can all learn from.

How Can Lean Help Respond to Crises? - Michael BallĂ© explains lean thinking is about training to solve small crises – problems – daily and how it can be used in the COVID-19 crisis.


Coping with COVID-19: Lessons from The Plague - John Y. Shook shares six thoughts he using to guide him toward more effective hunkering during COVID-19.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Lean Quote: The Mistake is Thinking That There Can Be An Antidote to the Uncertainty

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.


"The mistake is thinking that there can be an antidote to the uncertainty.  — David Levithan, The Lover's Dictionary

Most people are creatures of habit. When things go as planned, we feel in control. But when life throws a curveball, it can leave us feeling anxious and stressed. For many Americans life feels particularly uncertain lately, with capsized travel plans, indefinite isolation, panic over scarce re-sources and information overload.

Research shows that people react differently to uncertainty, and that those with a higher intolerance for uncertainty may be less resilient and more prone to low mood, negative or down feelings and anxiety.

No one can avoid the unexpected. But these simple steps can help you better face life’s uncertainties.


  • Be kind to yourself. Some people are better at dealing with uncertainties than others, so don’t beat yourself up if your tolerance for unpredictability is lower than a friend’s. Remind yourself that it might take time for the stressful situation to resolve, and be patient with yourself in the meantime.
  • Reflect on past successes. Chances are you’ve overcome stressful events in the past – and you survived! Give yourself credit. Reflect on what you did during that event that was helpful, and what you might like to do differently this time.
  • Develop new skills. When life is relatively calm, make a point to try things outside your comfort zone. Become a continuous learner. Learn new skills, gain new understanding, and apply them during times of change or uncertainty. Taking risks helps you develop confidence and skills that come in handy when life veers off course.
  • Limit exposure to news. When we’re stressed about something, it can be hard to look away. But compulsively checking the news only keeps you wound up. Try to limit your check-ins and avoid the news during vulnerable times of day, such as right before bedtime.
  • Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine worst-case scenarios. Get out of the habit of ruminating on negative events.
  • Take your own advice. Ask yourself: If a friend came to me with this worry, what would I tell her? Imagining your situation from the outside can often provide perspective and fresh ideas.
  • Engage in self-care. Don’t let stress derail your healthy routines. Make efforts to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Many people find stress release in practices such as yoga and meditation.
  • Seek support from those you trust. Many people isolate themselves when they’re stressed or worried. But social support is important, so reach out to family and friends.
  • Control what you can. Oftentimes, we overlook the little things we can do to make life easier while obsessing about the big things we can’t do. Focus on the things that are within your control to give your days and weeks some comforting structure.
  • Ask for help. If you’re having trouble managing stress and coping with uncertainty on your own, ask for help. Psychologists are experts in helping people develop healthy ways to cope with stress.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 and How to Deal With Change


With COVID-19 cases recorded in more than 140 countries, the novel coronavirus has become a global health crisis that is disrupting lives in countries around the world.

In the U.S., restaurants, bars and offices have been closed, conferences canceled and kids kept home from school in an attempt to slow the spread. President Trump has declared a national emergency and invoked the Defense Production Act to accelerate the virus response.

The lives of millions of people in our region are undergoing radical change. There is quite simply a new reality.

Change can be stressful and confusing. There is what happens and how you respond to what happens.  Usually how you respond is more important. Your attitude is the one thing that keeps you in control. Try to remain upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic.

Here are some ways to deal with change in the workplace that can translate well to this new reality:

1: Empower employees to become part of the change.  There are several reasons people resist change, one of which is fear.  Many people play "Gee, what if" scenarios over and over when a new idea is proposed.  When you begin to implement your plan of action, it's essential that you invite those around you to identify how the change will influence them, benefit them, and improve their present situations.

2: Keep your employees informed.  Communicate as much as you know about what is happening as a result of the change.  One of the major reasons people resist change is fear of the unknown.  If you communicate with employees and keep them informed, you put this fear to rest.

3: Break the change down into digestible chunks.  If it makes it easier for employees, introduce the change gradually.  You can give employees encouragement and help them focus on small steps they can take to move toward the future.  Celebrate their small successes.

4: Answer the "What's in it for Me?" question.  This is similar to #1.  Generally, people will accept change when they see a personal benefit.  Employees who are involved in determining the benefits of change are less likely to resist it.  Assist employees in identifying what the change will do for them.

5: Give employees some control over change.  As employees begin to focus on the benefits of the desired change, provide them with the opportunity to control the steps to the change.  Participants in change workshops have revealed that having control reduces the anxiety and stress associated with the change implementation and increases their motivation to make the change.

6: Help employees assimilate the change.  Once employees begin to experience change, help them assimilate it by reinforcing the personal benefits they're gaining.

Change is one of the most difficult things for humans to readily accept. The sooner we learn to embrace it and work within it, the easier it will be to begin the next challenge that comes along. We naturally gravitate toward the things that make us feel fulfilled, safe and happy.


All of this … what’s happened already elsewhere in the world and what is happening now here, and whatever comes next … will give all of us the opportunity to display who we are. Let us hope that we are worthy of the challenge ahead of us.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus and Five Ways to Overcome the Fear of the Unknown


We find ourselves in unprecedented times as a society today dealing with COVID-19. With cases of confirmed novel coronavirus in the United States steadily increasing, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructing Americans to prepare for social disruptions, the uncertainty around COVID-19 has sparked anxiety and fear among the public.

Anxiety spreads faster than the virus. We are often afraid of the unknown; and it is easy to associate that fear with ‘others’. The fear of the unknown can be hard to describe because all the feelings and thoughts around this fear are in our head. Essentially it is the fear of anything that is beyond our comfort zone.

Overcoming your fear of the unknown is a personal journey that never really ends. However, if you live your life controlled by your fear of the unknown and want to break free then here are 5 strategies that will help you on your personal journey of transformation.

1. Understand Your Fear
Fear is not unique to you. Fear is part of our human DNA and so it is not unusual for you to feel fear when you are stepping out into the unknown. Our brain is hardwired to prefer negative consequences to uncertain outcomes. Our brain does not like us stepping out into the unknown or living in a world of change. Our fear of the unknown is just a whole pile of self-limiting beliefs based on what we think may happen and not on what is our reality. Accept that you have fearful thoughts but don’t let these fearful thoughts paralyze your life.

2. Identify The Real Cause Of The Fear
Xenophobia or fear of the Unknown is manageable. First thing to do is you need to understand the cause of the fear.  Your fear of the unknown is an essential part of our survival. It is a natural human instinct. There is fear that will protect you and heighten your senses to threatening situations. We all have fears about something or the other. The fear stems from past experiences, certain things, situations or memories in life. One need to ask himself what are the situations, things, and people we try to avoid in day to day routine life.
Once you identify and relate to the fear to the cause, you can get rid of it by incorporating some basic changes in your life.

3. Change The Perception
We all know that our fears are not based on reality. The fear of the unknown is based on our perception of what might happen in the future. The future has not happened and this is where you take your fears to court and question them.

Try to replace the fear with the Curiosity. Consider it the opportunity for the enhancement of your knowledge. Ask yourself “What can you learn from the challenge ahead?” Identify the top three things you would like to learn or grow. Be curious about the new learning while dealing with the unknown people, things or situations.

4. Accept Failure As An Option
An underlying cause of our fear of the unknown is based on our fear of failure. This is especially true when we are about to embark on a new journey that will take us out of our comfort zone.

If you really understand your fear of the unknown and have looked at realistic risks in regard to stepping out of your comfort zone, then you just have to accept that failure could be an option.

If you cannot accept that the possibility of failure is an option, then your fear of the unknown will convince you to stay put in your comfort zone.

Remember, your fear of the unknown prefers that you don’t do anything and live with regret than step out and possibly fail.

If we take away the idea of failure and use setbacks as experiences to draw lessons from, there will always inevitably be a positive outcome at some point in your journey.

5. Embrace Change
The one thing that is a constant in our lives is change. We live in a world of constant and at times disruptive change. The more we resist change, the more it will persist in our lives.

Accept that you cannot avoid the effect of change in your life. Also accept that change is not to be feared by you. The more you open up to the concept of change, the more resilient and courageous you will become.

Resisting change keeps you in a place of discomfort and that’s where your fear of the unknown likes to be. Your fear will keep you paralyzed in a bad situation because it is what it knows best and where it can control you.

Stepping out and embracing change will open you up to a world of opportunities and growth. Change will become a fact of life that you will embrace and successfully manage.


Conquering the fear of the unknown is not simple, but it’s not complicated either. Being afraid is natural, but it shouldn’t prevent you from embracing the unknown. Don’t be afraid of being afraid. That’s how you conquer the fear of the unknown both in yourself and in others.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Lean Quote: The Realities of People Working Together Every Day

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.


"Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.  — Frances Hesselbein

An insightful quote comes from Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute and former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

The last part is the most important: “…the realities of people working together every day.”

Effective leaders recognize and see the realities as they are, and work on changing problem realities (such as poor communication or lack of enthusiasm) while preserving positive realities (such as good planning or strong creativity).

Of course, there is no magic bullet to transforming the current realities. However, clarifying Mission, Vision, and Values is an important start.

  • Clarifying Mission (or Purpose) provides direction. It helps everyone be clear on what business they are in.”
  • Clarifying Vision shows where the organization is going. It helps everyone be clear on what the future looks like if things are running as planned.
  • Clarifying Values provides the rumble strips to keep the organization on track. They help everyone be clear on what matters most and their priority.
Once these items have been established, leaders can then focus on various ways to positively impact the problem realities – and thereby transform an organization’s culture.

7 Ways To Change Culture

The following are a few of the ways I’ve discovered effective leaders impact the realities of how people work together.
  1. Start from here. No matter how bad it may look (right now), there is always hope. While it might not be the desired reality (yet), where there are willing people there is hope. Effective leaders continually foster this hope and build on it to move the organization forward
  2. Focus on opportunities. Issues and problems will always exist. But if the leaders always see opportunities in every challenge, so will team members.
  3. Ask for help. When leaders ask for help, it shows both openness to new ideas and a willingness to listen. This in turn will encourage team members to ask for help too. Healthy cultures are team based, not hero-based.
  4. Share stories. Facts may tell. But stories sell. People are more open to change when they can visualize why they should change and can see the outcome.
  5. Over communicate. In his book Turn the Ship Around!, author L. David Marquet encouraged his crew to practice more “informal communication”, something he refers to as “thinking out loud.” When team members are encouraged to share what they’re thinking or planning, even if it’s not fully fleshed out yet, it eventually leads to greater trust and collaboration.
  6. Push personal limits. Just as a good teacher challenges their students to stretch, a healthy culture encourages everyone to stretch their best. While it can be uncomfortable at times, it leads to better outcomes, and better people.
  7. Promote shared learning. People like to share what they know and have experienced. This can occur formally in team meetings where one (or more) share something they have learned. Or this can be done informally, where individuals are encouraged share what they know with others on a one-on-one basis. Important: reward desired behavior!

With a clearly defined Mission, Vision, and Values, and when leaders proactively address problem realities, it is absolutely possible to positively change an organization’s culture.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Do's and Don'ts of Catchball


The catchball is an important part of any planning process, but it is something that is all too often just glossed over. When done properly the catchball encourages leadership and team members to dialogue about a particular topic in an efficient and productive manner. It can help to break down the walls which are all too often placed between management and the team members, and it can also help meetings progress much more smoothly.

Unfortunately most people misunderstand how catchball is supposed to work, and what it is supposed to accomplish. Let’s consider a few do’s and don’ts of the catchball approach.

What You Should Do
  1. Establish a Strategic Vision. At a leadership level, the organization needs a strategic vision. This may be considered the organization’s “true north,” one interpretation of the words hoshin kanri. Along with the vision, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to track progress toward the vision, with specific targets in a limited number of areas. These overarching metrics are often reported on the organization’s balanced scorecard, which is generally monitored and addressed on a monthly basis.
  2. Communicate. As with all continuous improvement efforts, Hoshin Kanri implementation starts with communication within the team of the vision and intent along with training as needed on concepts and tools. The idea of catchball communications is pretty simple, but may be quite novel in typical hierarchical organizations that utilize primarily top-down directions. Catchball starts by ensuring the strategic vision is understood and deemed achievable throughout the organization.
  3. Understand the Current State. Another important element of Hoshin Kanri is having a clear understanding of the current state. Comparing this to the strategic vision helps to identify various gaps. Using the catchball process, the team identifies tactical plans aligned with the strategy and executes actions to close the gaps.
  4. Prioritize. Typically, organizations find they want to achieve more than is possible with the people, resources, and money they have available. Rather than setting unrealistic top-down expectations, the catchball process is ideal for deciding upon and communicating priorities in a way that considers both the organization’s needs and capabilities.
  5. Get Engagement. Make sure that everyone who participates in, contributes ideas to, and leads continuous improvement has the opportunity to engage in the catchball process. In other words, help the entire workforce to become engaged. While shopfloor input might not be elevated in a typical organization, catchball collects and synergizes valuable ideas from anywhere and everywhere.
  6. Utilize Evidence. The catchball process uses fact-based communications. Real-time process performance monitoring is made visible, identifying needs for attention or reinforcement. At the overarching level, key performance indicators show how the gap closure activities are adding up to make progress toward the strategic objectives.
What You Shouldn’t Do
  1. Don’t Create a New Strategy Each Year. Once the Hoshin Kanri process has been implemented and a strategic plan has been established, it should become the foundation for regular review and updates. Instead of using just an annual planning cycle that creates a one-time budget, catchball keeps an ongoing process of gap closure toward strategic objectives alive at all times.
  2. Don’t Layer on Unachievable Top-Down Goals. The whole point of catchball is to share communications, solicit input, establish trust throughout the organization, create agreement and commitment to plans, and to implement and monitor progress. If business pressures force top management to arbitrarily impose new financial or other requirements, the system collapses.
  3. Don’t Rush. Allow plenty of time in the catchball process for people to digest and respond to input they have received from others. Include enough back-and-forth iterations to ensure understanding is developed and consensus is achieved.
  4. Don’t Ignore Real-Time Issues. While your team is engaged in the important activities of setting long-term strategy and defining tactical plans, day-to-day business must obviously be attended to. At times, current issues might trigger a need to revisit the strategic vision. For example, if planned activities are not delivering results, if technology or other breakthrough changes trigger market shifts, or if new opportunities become evident, the catchball process helps to identify what needs to change, rather than waiting for an annual budgeting or planning review.
  5. Don’t Get Too Hung Up on Nomenclature. Hoshin Kanri is simply Japanese for “policy management,” but it is and sounds like an odd term to most folks. Even “catchball” is not commonly used in English. If your team is more comfortable calling the process strategy deployment, policy management, or some other more comfortable name, it’s okay to adopt that name instead. Nevertheless, share the vision and process and use the up-and-down communications of the proven catchball Hoshin Kanri approach. Having an ongoing integrated drive toward strategic and tactical objectives with high levels of engagement throughout the organization will be useful regardless of whatever name you give it.
The ultimate benefit of Hoshin planning is that it helps organizations to eliminate the disconnects and resulting miscommunications that often happens as a result of strategic plans being made at the C-level without consideration as to how those plans will be executed across the organization. Because the consensus and buy-in are emphasized from the start, a feeling of ownership is fostered across the organization. Your company operates as a “united front” and your key priorities become personal agendas of employees.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

The Role of Catchball in Lean and Strategic Planning


Catchball is one of the simplest and most effective ways to achieve continuous improvement in your organization. To reduce ambiguity and misinterpretation during the planning phase of Hoshin Kanri management uses a fact-based inter-level negotiation process known as “Catchball”. The word “catchball” denotes a simple social game in Japan in which a circle of young children throw a baseball back and forth. It metaphorically describes a participative process that uses iterative planning sessions to field questions, clarify priorities, build consensus, and ensure that strategies, objectives, and measures are well understood, realistic and sufficient to achieve the objectives.

Hoshin planning begins with the senior management identifying the strategic outcomes/goals to be achieved, complete with deadlines. Once determined, the ‘challenges’ are sent to the operational units who break them down and determine what each unit and person has to do to be able to achieve the management objective. They then bounce the ‘ball’ back to senior management who catches it and determines if the execution committed to will be satisfactory or not. If it is not, the ‘ball’ is bounced back to the operations folks again who catch it and respond accordingly.

The conversation about strategic objectives and means widens as top management deploys its strategy to middle management because managers throw ideas back and forth from one level of the organization to another. There are three major benefits to catchball. First, it opens up new channels of communication between company leaders and process owners, which greatly improves the quality of the organization’s shared knowledge about its processes, people and relationships. Second, it forges new relationships necessary to execute the strategy. Third, by engaging middle and even front line managers in genuine give-and-take negotiations—that is, by getting their buy-in—Hoshin dramatically reduces the cost of getting people to do what they’ve agreed to do.

In short, catchball is a disciplined multi-level planning methodology for “tossing an idea around.” It takes strategic issues to the grassroots level, asking employees at each level of management to “value add” to the plan based on data analysis and experience of their functional areas.

Most processes are built around the existing organizational structure depicted in the top of the picture. Targets and measures are set and many times a mandate on how we will achieve them. Hoshin Kanri through the use of catchball develops a more collaborative structure and as a result an easier method for change and even more importantly sustainability.

It all sounds great but it requires a huge amount of work and patience achieving consensus and playing catchball, but it is worth it.  You must fight the urge to just delegate the tasks to your team when you get impatient and the pressures are mounting.  You must “give up control” and fight the Amercian mentality of “I’m the boss and I’m the smartest person!”  You’ll also encounter team members that don’t want the accountability of developing solutions!  Don’t be discouraged by these things as you play ball.

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