Friday, October 30, 2020

Lean Quote: Great Leaders are Always Learning

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 distance between number one and number two is always a constant. If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you.  — Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo

True leaders are never satisfied with what they know about their leadership and are always in pursuit of new learning. That means constantly seeking feedback, taking time for relevant learning and guidance, and looking for positive changes in the organization.

Great leaders make self-improvement a daily practice. Here are some of the ways they go about it—see what makes sense for you and try incorporating it into your daily routine. Your leadership and your life will benefit.

They assess themselves honestly. In order to improve, you need to know what needs improvement. Notice how you behave in different situations. Look at your behavior and attitudes objectively and you’ll know what to keep and what to leave behind. You can’t be a better person if you don’t know what you need.

They educate themselves continually. Unsurprisingly, many leaders are avid readers. There is so much to learn and so much to understand, and reading a book is like having the best teachers and the smartest mentors from throughout history on demand.

They welcome feedback approvingly. The best leaders understand that feedback is a gift, and they seek critique from trusted people who are able to get straight to the point. Direct feedback is the quickest way to learn how to improve.

They embrace change repeatedly. Great leaders always want to improve themselves, so they remain open to change. They know it’s hard to move forward if you aren’t willing to change. Cultivate your own willingness to change with thought, effort and intentionality.

They work toward their goals daily. The best leaders understand the power of consistently working toward a goal. If you can commit to one daily practice, make it this: do one small thing every day that will get you a little bit closer to where you want to go. Every time you accomplish a goal, you’ll learn more about yourself and figure out more ways of self-improvement.

They ask for support frequently. Top leaders know the benefits of having good counsel and smart advocates, and even the best leaders may have a coach. I know one of the things my clients value most in my coaching is simply having an impartial sounding board, giving them a chance to sort things out before they present their ideas.

They express appreciation regularly. Great leaders understand that gratitude is the basis of self-improvement. They know that if you can be thankful and appreciate what you have instead of obsessing over what you wish you had, you can focus on making yourself better and expressing your thanks to the people around you.

Organizations with strong leaders experience better overall organizational performance, including high levels of customer satisfaction, organizational productivity, financial gains, and product quality. Effective leadership also has a positive impact on employee retention, performance, engagement, and morale.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Lean Roundup #137 – October 2020



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

The Stabilizing Foundation of Values – Kevin Meyer explains why organizations, and individuals, that are handling the chaos (or opportunity!) the best are those with a strong foundation of values.

The Loopy Guide to Getting Started with Lean – Jon Milller answers the question how do I get started with Lean by reviewing a series of loops.

Methods for Changing Leaders: A3 or Kaizen? – Bob Emiliani discusses leadership development through kaizen instead of popularized personal A3s.

Comparing Lean and Leadership – Andy Carlino list behaviors to further define and help leaders understand the differences between leading lean and lean leadership. 

A Lean Leadership Pocket Card – Mark Rosenthal shares the key elements of lean leadership and defines them.

Lean – So ‘Easy’, It’s Hard – Pascal Dennis talks about lean fundamentals and how they are simultaneously easy and hard.

Are You Setting the Right Trajectory? – Daniel Markovitz shares two major considerations that will dramatically affect your problem-solving.

Successful Lean Steering Committees – Jamie Flinchbaugh shares several elements that makes Lean Steering Committees work.

Betting It All On Leadership Behaviors – Bob Emiliani explains why we are doomed to failure without a daily destruction of our various preconceptions.

Focus on What you Plan to Do (Not What You Want to Get Done) – Ron Pereira illustrates why deliberate planning and activity lead to results using a baseball analogy. 

Time to Stop – Kevin Meyer shares three ways to improve the ability to stop projects and activities for performance, alignment, etc.

Stop Being the Expert and Be a Coach – Steve Kane talks about the difference between coaching and teaching.

Us and Them – Bruce Hamilton talks about the us vs them thinking that divides and kills continuous improvement.

The Power of Personal Yokoten – Jim Womack discusses the importance of setting time aside for personal yokoten and it’s value in developing leaders.

The Art of Lean: An Introduction to Muda, Mura, and Muri – Art Smalley takes a closer look at the concepts of muda, mura, and muri and learn why you have to consider all three when you pursue any type of improvement or Kaizen actions.

Avoid the Costly Work of Rework – Rose Heathcote talks about impact lousy quality has on the customer, the organization and on the individual.

Never Fail...To Create the Conditions for People to be Successful - Katie Anderson shares the story of how Isao Yoshino learned first-hand the value that Toyota places in learning from failure--from humbly framing unexpected outcomes as opportunities to learn.


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Monday, October 26, 2020

Lean Tips Edition #162 (#2641 -2655)

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 #2641 - Everyone Should Be A Leader.

I’m a great believer in decentralization of responsibilities. I used to think that hierarchy was a vital part of creating an organization, but I was wrong. Hierarchy, especially in small organizations, can suppress your team’s creativity and freedom to think and act.

Think of the great Chicago Bulls: they had Michael Jordan, but what would have happened if the only guy who could make a decision on the court was Jordan himself? The Bulls and Jordan were the best because every team member had the freedom to bring his thoughts and skills to the table, allowing the team to win and succeed. Make sure that you hire only those who would be interested in taking on responsibilities, and be ready to let them lead.

Lean Tip #2642 - Brainstorm Often.

Brainstorming is a great way to set goals, road maps and have a discussion on just about anything. Use brainstorming as a platform to hear new ideas and allow your team members to find creative solutions to everyday challenges you may encounter along the way.

Brainstorming will allow your team members to express their thoughts and flourish. This will help them to be better at what they do, but also to take on more responsibilities.

Lean Tip #2643 - Ensure Management Support

Supervisors and managers play a key role in “keeping the learning alive”. Ensure that supervisors, managers and owners are following up with staff regarding what their needs are, and how team building efforts can be enhanced. Managers also play a key role in ensuring that the learning from team building initiatives is brought back to the office.

Lean Tip #2644 - Invest in Training Your Team

Ever wondered what the best way to invest in the growth of your company is? It all starts with investing in your team.

Your team is more than just the fuel of your company. They are also the wheels, gears, and steering wheel. Without a properly functioning team, your company is not going anywhere.

Team building is an easy way to invest in your team. It shows that you are willing to put time and money into making them happier. Offering training to your employees is one way to invest in your team that demonstrates your commitment to them and also has a direct correlation to the way your company runs.

Consider holding group team building activities that focus on teaching your employees a new skill that is useful for the work they do. Another option is to provide training opportunities as rewards to employees that go the extra mile.

However, you choose to go about incorporating training into your company, know that this is an important investment. It may not have an immediate ROI, but it will come back to you in bigger and better ways.

Lean Tip #2645 - Put People First

You might measure your results with data, but there is a person behind every statistic.

When considering employee engagement you should start with your people. “What does my team need?” “Will my team members enjoy this?” “How will this benefit my team?”

Do not hesitate to ask! This whole guide has been about communicating with and trusting your team members, so why not trust them to help you pick engagement activities? Ask them what kind of skills they would like to learn or what you can do to make their work day more enjoyable. Creating an environment of trust is vital to any team, and it starts by listening to your employees.

By putting your people first, you are also showing them that you prioritize their needs and that you are willing to listen to their suggestions.

Lean Tip #2646 – Give Constructive Feedback.

Feedback does not mean criticizing, chiding, or disapproving. Instead, it should be constructive in nature and include specific recommendations for further improvement and development. Feedback should also be delivered regularly and tied to data or examples such as the performance metrics or the individual development plan. Only using feedback for employee reviews can result in missed opportunities to guide an employee through the professional development process. Employees want to know how they are doing. If feedback is used as a tool for growth and recognition, and not a tool to knock the employee down, it will make a measurable difference.

Lean Tip #2647 – Consider the Skills and Training Needed by Each Worker

It’s increasingly clear that employees want companies to offer personal and professional development, as learning and development have become crucial aspects in engaging and retaining your workforce.

Training your staff enables your company to hold them to company values, and when these values align with theirs; your workforce will be motivated to stay as they’ll envision a future with your business.

Amidst fears that managers have, mainly that training and development allow staff to find employment elsewhere, consider this aspect – well-trained workers are efficient, to the point where training and development may pay for itself, as a more efficient workforce will become more profitable. Another benefit is that well-run businesses tend to also attract and retain talented employees.

Lean Tip #2648 – Help Your Managers Become Better Coaches

Part of becoming an effective coach is learning about your direct report; their unique strengths, what drains them, and what motivates them so you can help guide them on their path to success. One way to accomplish this is by asking the right questions at the right cadence. Here are 5 questions you can start asking your people every week during check ins and 1-on-1s:

• What’s going well in your role? Any wins this week?

• What challenges are you facing?

• How are you feeling? What’s the morale around you?

• On a scale of 1-10, how fulfilled are you? Why?

• How can I become a better leader?

Having intentional conversations on a regular basis will help you form deeper connections with your people. These discussions will also contribute to building a more psychologically safe environment for employees to be open and honest.

Lean Tip #2649 – Enhance Cross-Departmental Collaboration

A truly cohesive workforce that excels at cross-departmental training can help bridge the gap between cultures, give employees the opportunity to learn more about other parts of the business, and encourage more empathy across the board. But the truth is, most teams aren’t natural collaborators.

Without the right structures in place to help your people to connect, some initiatives could run the risk of falling flat. For example, your marketing department is aiming to enhance the company’s brand with new content but doesn’t consult with the sales or customer service teams. If the marketing team isn’t fully aware of the unique pain points of their customers, the message most likely won’t resonate. Although this is just one instance, a collaboration problem could lead to more detrimental results.

Lean Tip #2650 – Emphasize Soft Skills

Unfortunately, these vital competencies are often de-emphasized in corporate environments. Even the name “soft skills” makes them seem relatively unnecessary, “These skills are not ‘soft’ – they’re highly complex, take years to learn, and are always changing in their scope.”

Businesses are a collection of human beings working together, so building core relationship skills, like the ability to collaborate and communicate, is one of the most important things that a company can encourage.

Lean Tip #2651 – Streamline Communications by Creating a “Talk To” List

One of the key tenets of how to be a better communicator involves getting organized. Instead of shooting your co-worker an email every time you need an answer, try to save all of your questions for one communication—whether that’s in a conversation or an email.

To help organize and consolidate your thoughts, create a ‘talk to’ list for that person. As you think of things you need to communicate, create tasks that start with his or her name, along with whatever you need to say.

Lean Tip #2652 – Ask Open-Ended Questions

Good communication isn’t just about expressing yourself; it’s also about asking the right kind of questions so you’re able to receive information as successfully as you deliver it.

One of the simplest ways to improve your communication skills is to ask open-ended questions. These are questions that begin with who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Let’s face it—questions that only require yes/no answers aren’t going to tell you much. But asking questions that begin with the five “w”s gives the person you’re talking to the chance to share his or her knowledge with you.

The trick is to be prepared to listen to the answers and ask the next questions based on those answers until both parties are clear on the next steps or actions to take.

That’s when you’re really engaging in effective office communication.

Lean Tip #2653 – Only Promise To Do Things If You Can Actually Do Them

In some ways, being a “yes man” can serve you well in your career, but it’s easy to slip into the “I need to please everyone” mode and get overwhelmed. Bite off only as much as you can chew at one time.

Remember that age-old adage: Actions speak louder than words. Be consistent in doing what you say and saying what you do.

If you say you’re going to finish a PowerPoint presentation by Friday, do it. If you can’t do it, don’t commit. It’s better to say no to something upfront than fail to complete the assignment.

This is critical in business because you gain credibility, trust and respect on the job.

Lean Tip #2654 – Give Positive Feedback

Don't ever underestimate the power of positive feedback. We are quick to point out to someone when they make a mistake. Sometimes we forget to acknowledge them when they do something right. Giving positive feedback can be a powerful tool for employee motivation.

Lean Tip #2655 – Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

Many managers and companies fail because they rely too heavily on the people like them and screen out those who disagree with them. That's why many people surround themselves with people who agree with them, think like them, and support them. When your company culture allows people to challenge ideas, suggestions, and plans, you create an organization of thinking, committed people. If your company culture does not allow dissent you produce an environment of fear. Not allowing appropriate dissent will kill your company.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Lean Quote: 5 Ways to Seriously Value Your Employees

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 more we retain our people, the less time we need to commit to recruiting new people.  — Christine Thatcher, VP of Human Resources at TW Metals

We often hear the phrase “Our Employees Are Our Greatest Asset,” but what does that really mean? Is it just a recruiting slogan, or is it a viable approach to building a stronger business? And how can you tell when a company is serious about valuing employees and when it’s just window dressing?

People are one resource we don’t think about enough in manufacturing. But, if we’re good to our people, it actually saves us time in the end. Working to retain employees is exponentially more sustainable than overworking them and having to replace them. Want to save time? Be good to your employees.

Research shows that companies that view employees as valuable assets, and not cost centers, outperform companies that don’t. When you know what to look for, there are clear signals that prove that a company is serious about investing in its people.

When it comes to valuing people, actions are more important than what the company says. If you want to seriously value your employees, do these five things:

1. Show employees how their work affects business outcomes.

When employees understand how their work contributes to results, they’re more likely to be engaged on the job.

With a broader understanding of the company’s inner workings, they’re better equipped to identify areas where they could work more efficiently or to solve problems they may not have known existed.

2. Model trustworthiness.

Communicate clearly with your team and show your support.

3. Invest in employees.

Guide your team members toward training, development and mentorship programs in your company and in the community. Enable your employees to develop skills that are personally fulfilling and help them do their jobs better and more efficiently.

If an employee has everything they need with your company, they’ll be less likely to look for a new job. Engaged and content employees are also more likely to provide the discretionary effort that drives innovation and productivity.

5. Build a strong community.

Successful leaders have a clear mission for their team, create a supportive culture, seek employee feedback and value good communication. Their employees feel free to raise issues that interfere with the mission and to share ideas to help the team achieve its goals.

Without a strong community and clear mission, employees are more likely to look out for themselves instead of the whole company.

6. Encourage team members to try new things and innovate.

When employees are engaged, well-trained and supported, they need freedom to keep growing and innovating. Good leaders make that possible by guiding staff to be productive and creative without micromanaging them.

Investing time, attention and other resources in your team members can help build a culture that values people. When business leaders respect the time and effort of their staff to the point where it’s engrained in the identity of the business, employees are more inclined to be thoughtful about the business.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

DIVE Deep to Understand Root Causes and Solve Problems

In lean manufacturing, root cause countermeasure tools are often used to help perform the necessary discovery and analysis, and to provide the insight needed to develop an effective and permanent solution.

Good problem solving is an iterative effort that requires strong leadership, good teamwork and relentless follow-through. If it were easy, you wouldn’t need to spend time diving deep in an effort to understand the root causes and solutions. You’d simply solve the problem.

The DIVE acronym (Define, Investigate, Verify, and Ensure) outlines the key elements of root cause analysis problem solving.


Root cause analysis requires taking the necessary time to both analyze and affect change deeply so that we achieve a permanent positive outcome.  Here is a high-level outline of the DIVE process:

D – Define the Problem consists of narrowing and then accurately articulating a problem statement based on real data trends, determining if the performance gap is a “caused” or a “self-created” problem, and understanding clearly why the problem needs solving.  The mnemonic image used here is a tree, where the branches represent symptoms and the roots represent the problem’s true source.  A team approach is critical at this stage – all interested parties need to gather and agree or affecting change may be difficult later.

I – Investigate Root Causes includes going to the actual location of the problem to focus further our attention.  We then use the “5 Whys” questioning framework (creating a casual chain) to dive deeply and thereby form a hypothesis about possible root causes.  Next, we gather data at the problem source and compare this data with our initial hypothesis.  Put simply, it’s the scientific method; and the mnemonic image used here is a funnel, aka deductive reasoning that drives our thinking ever downward to the fundamental causes of our problem.  What’s fun about this stage is that we get to use math and draw histograms!  Specifically, we deploy the Pareto method, i.e. 80% of an issue typically results from only 20% of its root causes.  Pareto analysis allows us to make the biggest (and quickest) impact to our problem with the least amount of energy.   Remember to spend most of your time in the Define and Investigate phases, so you don’t waste resources later “fixing” a mere symptom instead of a root cause.

V – Verify and Implement. This stage is where we evaluate possible (realistic) countermeasures.  Verification includes testing these countermeasures and validating their effectiveness.  Once we’re satisfied that our get-well plan might work, we implement our countermeasures and then watch.  We need to confirm through monitoring that the previously identified problem or gap is closing.

E – Ensure Sustainment.  A few of our countermeasures will be more effective than others.  Let’s keep the effective countermeasures in play because they had the greatest impact.  We’ll also need to rebuild any standard work processes that relied on the older (less effective) process and deploy additional resources to sustain the change we’ve just implemented.  Long term, we’ll return to the source of the problem to ensure results consistently improve over time.

The goal of the DIVE method is to provide a reliable and robust way for people to analyze problems in a structured and consistent manner, identify causes, and develop and implement preventative actions that can be sustained over time to keep the problem for recurring.


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Monday, October 19, 2020

3 Critical Facilitation Skills For Root Cause Analysis


Imagine a root cause analysis has been triggered by an unplanned incident or event which falls into any of the safety, quality, environment, production, equipment failure or similar categories. You have been appointed as the root cause analysis facilitator by a superior/manager who is responding to the particular event. What are the critical facilitation skill necessary to make the analysis successful?

1. Be dynamic

As facilitator, you need to guide the direction of the group and yet still be alert for other cause paths that may crop up. You are the prime mover, controlling the focus of the group. Don’t be a bystander to the process. You are the conduit through which the group is interacting.

Ask questions that are as precise as possible. This will elicit better, more concise responses which make it easier to identify causes. Good questioning will also eliminate unnecessary discussion and storytelling from the group.

Once the information has been recorded, get the group to help you organise the information and then challenge the logic of the way that information is linked together. Your cause and effect chart needs to make sense – or it risks being challenged and disregarded by those who look at it.

2. Be a good listener

Attentive listening skills are critical. You need to be able to hear more than one response at a time. Your ears should be like radar, picking up on all signals. Don’t miss a response while recording another. You need to record everything.

Being a good listener means keeping an open mind, suspending judgment, and maintaining a positive bias.

It also requires the efforts of the whole group – ask the group not to have discussions on the side, as they might come up with causes that should be included but may not be shared with the group. This will also help you to hear all responses more clearly.

3. Don’t profess to be an expert

Don’t profess to be the expert about the problem at hand. You were appointed to be the facilitator, an independent guide, without a vested interest in the outcome. Ask the others in the group to explain what they know so that everyone can follow and understand it. That is why they are there.

Remember … you don’t hold all the answers. That isn’t why you are the facilitator or it shouldn’t be. A good facilitator plays dumb whilst still directing traffic and working the cause and effects paths to a reasonable stop point.

Every organization needs advanced problem solvers who can lead timely and effective issue-resolutions and prevent their recurrence. Developing facilitators goes hand-in-hand with building new capabilities in an organization. Adoption of new skills is a driver of results. Better problem solving skills is key to achieving maximum ROI around any initiative to improve quality within an organization. Problem-solving facilitators can help others transition new skills to the workplace and lead teams charged with resolving complex issues in a timely fashion.


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Friday, October 16, 2020

Lean Quote: Ask and Answer “Why” Five Times to Get to Real Cause of Problems

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 Toyota production system has been built on the practice and evolution of this scientific approach. By asking and answering ‘why’ five times, we can get to the real cause of the problem, which is often hidden behind more obvious symptoms.  — Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

I am a big believer in the 5-Whys process. The 5-Whys have withstood the test of time as a successful process for problem solving in hundreds of companies around the world.

The technique consists of the following:

Start by identifying a problem that you’re having.

Ask “why” that problem is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact. You should be able to state the proof or evidence that you’re relying on for your assertion of the reason why the problem is occurring.

Once you have an answer, ask “why” again.

Continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem. Usually, you’ll be able to identify the root cause of a problem after asking “why” five times.

Once you’ve identified the root cause of the problem, come up with a counter-measure that prevents it from recurring.

Here’s an example involving an individual who’s late for work:

Problem: You were driving to work and your car broke down.

First “Why?”: The battery died.

Second “Why?”: The alternator stopped functioning.

Third “Why?”: The alternator belt broke.

Fourth “Why?”: The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not been replaced.

Fifth “Why?”: The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (This is the root cause of the problem.)

Solution: Fix the root cause of the problem by implementing a maintenance schedule for the vehicle in accordance with the recommended service schedule.

Five Whys is effective because it is simple and can often help you get to the bottom of a problem. The simplicity is part of its genius. It is easy to learn, easy to teach, easy to understand, and easy to use. Companies are naturally complex, so the challenges they face can be complex as well. The 5 Whys helps break these problems down into manageable sections. And, while 5 Whys is designed to identify process errors, it can also be applied to business strategy as well. Its versatility and functionality make it a fantastic tool that can be applied to both process and strategy.


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