Friday, May 29, 2020

Lean Quote: Three Key Goals of People at Work

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.


"No man can be successful, unless he first loves his work.  — David Sarnoff (CEO, RCA)

The great majority of employees are quite enthusiastic when they start a new job. But in about 85 percent of companies, our research finds, employees' morale sharply declines after their first six months—and continues to deteriorate for years afterward.

To maintain the enthusiasm employees bring to their jobs initially, management must understand the three sets of goals that the great majority of workers seek from their work—and then satisfy those goals:

  • Equity: To be respected and to be treated fairly in areas such as pay, benefits, and job security.
  • Achievement: To be proud of one's job, accomplishments, and employer.
  • Camaraderie: To have good, productive relationships with fellow employees.

To maintain an enthusiastic workforce, management must meet all three goals. Indeed, employees who work for companies where just one of these factors is missing are three times less enthusiastic than workers at companies where all elements are present.

One goal cannot be substituted for another. Improved recognition cannot replace better pay, money cannot substitute for taking pride in a job well done, and pride alone will not pay the mortgage.

Satisfying the three goals depends both on organizational policies and on the everyday practices of individual managers. If the company has a solid approach to talent management, a bad manager can undermine it in his unit. On the flip side, smart and empathetic managers can overcome a great deal of corporate mismanagement while creating enthusiasm and commitment within their units. While individual managers can't control all leadership decisions, they can still have a profound influence on employee motivation.

The most important thing is to provide employees with a sense of security, one in which they do not fear that their jobs will be in jeopardy if their performance is not perfect and one in which layoffs are considered an extreme last resort, not just another option for dealing with hard times.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lean Roundup #132 – May 2020



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

Innovation is Inefficient Problem Solving (even Simon Sinek says so) – Jamie Flinchbaugh says the best problem solving involves learning, experimentation, failure, detours, and none of that is efficient.

What Lean CEOs Know That Typical CEOs Don't – Dan Markovitz surveyed nearly 100 CEOs from a wide variety of companies and multiple industries about their feelings of overwhelm to see if there was anything to learn from how they dealt with their managerial burdens.

Make Time to Improve  - John Hunter says leaders must find a way to make sure time is devoted to improvement.

What is Breakthrough? – Pascal Dennis challenges thinking of what we think a breakthrough is.

Classical Management Cycle – Bob Emiliani says people need to better understand classical management and just how great a force it is at resisting or rejecting fundamental change in business and society.

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

What Are Hypothesis Tests and Why Should We Care? – Coronavirus Edition – Ron Pereira adapted a module from Gemba Academy’s School of Six Sigma into text to shed some light and basic understanding of what these terms mean that we hear in the news.

What Does Leadership Look Like? – Steve Kane speak about Lean leadership and why we do what we observe our leaders doing.

Akio Toyoda Articulates Toyota Way Principle #15 – Jon Miller explains that Toyota Motors CEO Akio Toyoda is starting to question some of his company’s long-ingrained practices.

Metrics from the Perspective of the Customer – Kevin Meyer says talk to your customers, understand them and how they define value, and align your metrics to appropriately measure that value from their perspective.

Problem Solving the Whole or the Pieces? – Jamie Flinchbaugh explains how we enable and empower broad problem solving while minimizing the risk of solving the parts inconsistent with the needs of the whole.

When Is The Best Time To Implement Profit Sharing? – Orry Fiume shares ten elements of a successful profit-sharing plan from experience.

Pursuing Dreams, Facing Reality – Richard Sheridan shares a letter he sent to his fellow teammates, and captures a courageous and productive approach towards confronting the many challenges we are all now facing.

Keep Calm and Manage Stably: Akio Toyoda’s Response to Crisis - Jeffrey Liker & John Y. Shook discuss how Akio Toyoda’s remarks reaffirmed the remarkable nature of the company, leaving us with confidence that Toyota will continue to serve as an inspiration, even as the world continues to change in unpredictable ways.


Ask Art: Does Lean Really Work Beyond Manufacturing? – Art Byrne explains how Lean works in any type of business, including all sorts of non-manufacturing organizations ranging from health care to financial services.


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Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day – Honor. Remember. Never Forget.


Each year on Memorial Day Americans pause to remember the fallen and honor their sacrifice. For Memorial Day the one thing that matters most is sacrifice.

Memorial Day originally began as a day of remembrance for soldiers who had died fighting in the Civil War, and over time the day has grown to honor all American military personnel who have died fighting to protect this country. It was made a federal holiday in 1971, along with designating the last Monday of May as the official date each year.

Several years ago, on the eve of the Fourth of July, I came across a commentary by David Harmer, chief executive of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, that offered perfect clarity on the meaning of our annual national tribute. He wrote:

“Few of us have earned the freedom we enjoy; we’ve received them by bequest as gifts of grace. The freedoms we celebrate on Independence Day were made possible by the sacrifices we commemorate on Memorial Day. To the valiant few, we owe an incalculable debt.”

I don’t really have much to add, honestly. I’ve never served in the military, and have never been placed in a situation that could call on me to perform the ultimate sacrifice in service to my country. I’m just a simple blogger on a site dedicated to Lean thinking. Anything I tried to tell you regarding the military and what they go through would ring hollow.


The best I can do in times like this is to simply say thank you. Thank you to the men and women of our armed forces for your service, your bravery, your commitment to protecting the freedoms and ideals of this country. And let us always remember the men and women of our armed forces who have fallen in battle, and remember their sacrifice.

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Friday, May 22, 2020

Lean Quote: Live a Meaningful Life

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.


"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.  — Henry Ellis, British psychologist (1859-1939)

We all want to lead a life with some sort of meaning. What that meaning is, however, is often left for each of us to decide and figure out on our own.

The key to taming this ebb and flow of what to hold and what to let go off is all about perspective. Too much letting go can leave you feeling empty and remote, while too much holding on can burden you, souring your very soul. For me, balance comes from knowing what I can and can’t control, appreciating what is truly sacred in my life, and letting the rest flow above, around and through me as I let it go.

The very act of releasing is powerful – it leads to healing, it helps recharge your energy and put things into perspective.

In-fact, most of the times these things happen naturally. When you become tired of holding on, you naturally have a tendency to let go. When you let go, all that energy that got drained from you while holding on starts to replenish. You start to feel renewed to the point where you get encouraged to take action again. In this way, letting go helps you gain clarity so you can pursue things that really matter.

Life is a balance between letting go and holding on. Life is about the journey, not the destination. Living a life of purpose gives both fulfillment and meaning to your journey. 


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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Maintaining Productivity and Company Culture in a Newly Remote Workplace


Remote work has long been heralded as one of the greatest perks that an employer can offer their staff. The ability to work from any location, avoid a commute, and maintain flexible hours can all be beneficial.

However, remote work also has its downsides. It can be particularly difficult to maintain communication, community, and productivity. Employees can atrophy if left on their own for too long, as well.

If your company has found itself joining in the unplanned, coronavirus-induced rush to a 100% remote workspace, you might be wondering how to preserve your company’s culture let alone maintain steady productivity. Fortunately, it’s quite possible to do both, even with a staff that has been scattered to the four winds.

Delegate and Empower

One of the first rules of maintaining an efficient remote workforce is enabling a culture of delegation and empowerment. This starts by clearly defining the responsibilities and expectations of each individual so that everyone knows what is expected of them. When employees understand what they’re supposed to do, it can shift responsibilities onto them in a healthy manner that encourages autonomy and individual effort.

Maintain Consistent Communication

The ability to communicate is clearly important for a remote workspace, but the benefits of consistent communication go beyond that. Properly staying in touch with your staff is one of the building blocks of successful group dynamics. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, encourages healthy and fluid collaboration, and can go a long way in maintaining your company culture, even in a virtual workspace.

Check-In, But Don’t Micromanage

Don’t be afraid to check in with your staff regularly. It’s wise to set a precedent with your employees of regular contact with the boss in order to ensure that you stay up to date on your employees’ workload, productivity, and any needs that may arise.

At the same time, it’s important to avoid using these “check-ins” to micromanage an employee’s work. Balancing consistent communication and employee autonomy are essential ingredients for a happy, productive remote workforce.

Make Productivity Recommendations

While you should try to avoid the need to single out an employee, making group productivity recommendations can certainly help to increase the output in a remote work situation. The key is to look for generic productivity recommendations that translate to a huge variety of work-from-home situations.

For instance, stand-up meetings are a great productivity measure that can encourage your employees to leave their desk chairs, get up off of the couch, or even climb out of bed for a few minutes. You can encourage everyone to stand up during a video chat meeting and then dismiss them to return to the comfort of their home offices.

Be Sensitive to Generational Differences

The modern office is juggling as many as five generations at a time as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers all rub shoulders in the same space.

While a remote work scenario may put space between these coworkers, it’s still important for management to recognize the different cultures, habits, and expectations interacting in your virtual workspace. Adopting a sensitive attitude towards the cultural differences of your workforce, even from afar, is an excellent way to maintain a positive, healthy company culture.

Measure Success

While empowerment, delegation, and autonomy are all part of the remote work experience, that doesn’t mean you have to surrender productivity to the whims of your workforce.

One of the key elements to maintaining your staff’s forward momentum in a remote situation is to set up clear ways to measure success. Rather than insisting that your employees simply “clock in” and put in the man-hours, look for ways to quantify the results of their labor.

For instance, setting up goals, objectives, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for both your team and individuals is an easy way to keep them accountable and productive without the need to micromanage them. This enables you to provide praise for a job well done and constructive feedback if they fail to meet the level of productivity expected, all of which can be based on cold, hard facts rather than emotion.

Always Be Adapting

Finally, remember to always be ready to adjust your remote work setup when necessary.

The ability to tailor expectations, shift processes, and adapt to you and your staff’s remote work needs are all important aspects to strong remote work leadership.

Remotely Cultivating Productivity and Company Culture

From empowering employees to maintaining communication, being sensitive to the needs of your staff, and establishing benchmarks for success, there are many ways to boost productivity in a remote workspace.

In addition, many of these efforts can serve to help cultivate your company culture, even when everyone is working remotely. Company culture has a critical impact on employee morale, and it should also be prioritized right along with other important metrics such as productivity and efficiency.


When focused on together, productivity and company culture can be easily and effectively maintained, even from within the confines of a remote work environment.

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and business topics are his favorite. When he isn't writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Five Lean Games Every Company Can Benefit From

In recent years, several training simulation games have been developed by academic and industry experts to support the teaching and learning activities of Lean philosophy. Using simulation games to teach Lean philosophy is an effective tool to convey the concepts.

Games use multiple communication means and create engagement. More importantly, they help people to memorize concepts and allow for a more practical experience of lean than traditional teaching methods do. They give participants a chance to practice lean in a risk-free and fun environment, and work in all cultures and at all management levels.

Teaching lean thinking this way is a commonly recognized approach in our community. There are numerous lean games out there – free or requiring payment, physical or online. (Martin Boersema provides a 50-strong list of lean games and simulations here.)

Here are five lean games that every company can benefit from.

Numbers Game – 5S, Place for Everything and Everything in it’s Place


5S is a Lean Methodology using a 5 step approach to achieve and maintain a high level of workplace organization. The 5S Numbers Game is designed to illustrate how valuable 5S can be to your business. This is a no cost exercise that can be done in any setting for any level within your organization. In this exercise you will experience how a disorganized work place can negatively affect productivity and quality.

If you type the 5S numbers game into any search engine on the internet you will likely come up with a number of good hits. The folks at SuperTeams, a Lean Six Sigma training firm have put the 5S numbers game on their web site. They have included a simple facilitators guide to make it easy for anyone to start teach this exercise right away.

I found a nice online simulator you can test out at http://leantools.info/5sgame/.

Standard Work is a foundation of Lean. This fun exercise was originally created by the Minnesota Office of Continuous Improvement as a great way to illustrate the value of Standard Work. Each participant is given a grid and written instructions, or the instructions can be read out to the group. The goal is for everyone to come up with the same drawing at the end based on the instructions. And it's a pig!!

This activity is simple, no cost, and great for everyone. I often use this activity as a teambuilding exercise to kick-off teaching elements of standard work. Paul Levy, former President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston put a simple explanation of this exercise on his blog. Round 1 starts with the audience drawing the side profile of a pig. In round 2 you give standard work instructions to the audience to draw the pig. The final round has the audience draws the pig with standard work instructions with visual template for comparison. Everyone will find it easier to draw the pig in the final round. You’ll also find that all the pigs in the audience look that same at the end.


This is a simple exercise but it teaches a powerful Lean lesson of team work, direct involvement, and continuous improvement. It involves passing tennis balls within a group where the goal is to perform this action as quickly as possible.

Ralph Bernstein at the Lean Insider posted on the tennis ball exercise with several photos from an event.

Robert Forder loaded a detailed explanation of the exercise in power point on the lean in education forum at LEI.

The Tennis Ball Exercise is a simple, low cost exercise that can be used to teach any one no matter education, language, or culture. It will break the ice, help teams form, and get people involved while teaching the “we can” attitude that so necessary in continuous improvement.

Reducing the batch size in manufacturing is a desirable goal: it improves the speed of response to the customer, while improving the ratio of value-added to non value-added work.

In the book Lean Thinking, James Womack and Daniel Jones recount a story of stuffing newsletters into envelopes with the assistance of one of the author’s two young children. Every envelope had to be addressed, stamped, filled with a letter, and sealed. The daughters, age six and nine, knew how they should go about completing the project: “Daddy, first you should fold all of the newsletters. Then you should attach the seal. Then you should put on the stamps.” Their father wanted to do it the counter-intuitive way: complete each envelope one at a time. They told him “that wouldn’t be efficient!” So he and his daughters each took half the envelopes and competed to see who would finish first.

The father won the race, and not just because he is an adult.

Red Bead Game


In 1982, Dr. Deming created a teaching tool that he used in his seminars around the world to teach his famous 14 Obligations of Management. Dr. Deming called this training tool, The RED BEAD Experiment or Red bead Game.

When you play the game, each player uses a special metal paddle to draw small red and white colored beads from a large bowl. Each draw of the paddle gets 50 beads. Some are white and some are red. The white beads symbolize the good things that we experience each day as we do our work and the red beads symbolize the problems or bad things that we experience. As each player draws their paddle full of 50 beads each player receives a different mix of red and white beads.

The red bead experiment is deceptively simple because it provides a powerful message that is difficult for many to grasp. In summary, the misconception that workers can be meaningfully ranked is based on two faulty assumptions. The first assumption is that each worker can control his or her performance. Deming estimated that 94 percent of the variation in any system is attributable to the system, not to the people working in the system. The second assumption is that any system variation will be equally distributed across workers. Deming taught that there is no basis for this assumption in real life experiences. The source of the confusion comes from statistical (probability) theory where random numbers are used to obtain samples from a known population. When random numbers are used in an experiment, there is only one source of variation, so the randomness tends to be equally distributed. However, in real life experiences, there are many identifiable causes of variation, as well as a great many others that are unknown.

Mark Graban uses this game to illustrate process variation and learning what the data tells you in his book Measures of Success and associated workshops.

There are several resources online where you can purchase a Red Bead Kit.

Indeed, as lean coaches, we must always look for new ways to improve the learning experience, and I have personally found that using games and simulations works quite well.



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