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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

2023 Northeast Lean Conference Re-cap

Last week I attended the Northeast Lean Conference in Worcester, MA. The Northeast Lean Conference was created by GBMP to provide information and inspiration to Lean practitioners - from those just starting out to seasoned Lean leaders from the manufacturing, healthcare, service and other vital industry sectors.

The theme, It’s About Time, has a double meaning:

  • First, the correct use of Lean methods – from 5S to SMED to Standardized Work – absolutely reclaims and repurposes wasted time for the betterment of customers, employees, and the company.  Provide employees with these methods and watch the creativity surge.
  • Second, there has never been a better time than today when so many organizations regardless of industry share a common motivation:  How to satisfy increased customer demand in the face of scarce resources?  Doesn’t that sound like Lean?  It’s about time for management to make a visible commitment to continuous improvement.

Andrew Koenig, CEO of City Furniture, kicked off the conference with message about Lean implementation with heart. Andrew’s lean journey started in college with a trip to Toyota in Japan. He implemented Lean throughout all departments in a retail company by creating a culture of mutual trust and respect, teamwork, and a deep sense of urgency to continuously improve. As a result, they have seen many major breakthroughs in turnover reduction, operational process improvement, customer experience, safety, associate satisfaction, strategic planning, and finance. We need to focus on people and teamwork – not just problem solving. “You need to have strong mutual respect among all the associates, so they feel no fear in offering ideas and highlighting problems,” Andrew explained. “Every day, we are pulling problems out of our associates, and leaders, working together to solve them.” For strategic planning purposes, Andrew has a catchphrase: Bottom Up, Top Down, Closed Loop. “We are trying to get everyone in the entire company to participate in our strategic planning processes, give us their ideas, and share that with the senior team, who then share that with me. What I learned from Toyota is that you need to get everyone engaged in improving the business."

Melinda Mante, GBMP Lean Consultant, showcased a set of practical habits you can immediately implement to inspire action from her experience at Intel. There are 3 leadership actions:

  • Set direction – challenge the status quo
  • Show the way – go first, learn, and demonstrate
  • Support – enable, encourage, and care

There is approximately 4000 weeks to live on average. Every day matters. At work its’ much less. Set aside time on calendar for these leadership elements.

Tom Sullivan, Senior Vice President of Operations at Ruger, ended the first day share their journey to develop a Lean New Product Development process.

Highlights included:

  • Dedicated formal project management is very important – Obeya Room co-located teams
  • Simultaneous product & process development (Single Thought Flow) “Tatakidai” = chopping block, rapid prototyping
  • Virtual Obeya Room – COVID pushed this idea but still very effective for dispersed teams
  • Leaders Genba with Lean NPD Team – Servant Leadership
  • Focus on Lean Thinking – PDCA, 8 wastes for NPD, Mura, Muri
  • Standard Work – the one best way to do something

Billy Taylor, Founder and CEO of LinkedXL, got day 2 going by sharing three key principles: Deliberate Clarity, Deliberate Ownership, and Deliberate Practice to achieve success in any organization. Billy says “Winning is not everything, how you win is everything.” Most people don’t know if they are winning and many leaders only know at end of month. If you make people visible, hhey will make you valuable.

From his book “The Winning Link” Billy outlines how we win:

  • Deliberate Clarity - You can not manage a secret, Define Winning
    • 10ft and 10sec rule – ask people close to board what the board means to them
    • What is your leadership standard – What you tolerate, you cannot change
      • Walk by and not say anything and then that is new standard
  • Deliberate Ownership
    • Strategy + Execution = Results
    • In the absence of ownership comes blame
    • Celebrate the red so you can harvest the green
  • Deliberate Practice – Daily Management Process, Let’s people know if we are winning or losing.
    • Enables problem solving, drives ownership
    • Physical Safety is needed
    • Take action
    • Be hard on the process so you can lead easy on the people
  • Trust
    • Earning the Right to Change
    • Create a safe environment for change
    • Behaviors are visible, Mindsets are hidden
    • Critical to measure what matters…Everything that matters cannot be measured?

Allan Robinson, Professor at UMass Isenberg School of Management, discussed strategies for managing change. It is said that 70-80% of change initiatives fail because:

  • Poor execution of the chosen change methodology
  • Current methods require time, effort, and patience
  • They require extremely strong leadership

Most methods (from the 1940s) don’t incorporate modern understanding in continuous improvement, innovation, and lean. The limitations of traditional approaches to management of change:

Perhaps our management approach makes a difference: How can we make our organizations more adaptable to change. A big part of the answer emerges from feedback loops and dependencies discovered more recently by the lean, continuous improvement, and innovation communities. Front-line driven important is a powerful way to make your organization is more adaptable.

80% of organization’s improvement potential is from front-line ideas

Frontline driven improvement is very sensitive to poor leadership and misalignment, so it forces managers and leaders to significantly change their behavior, and address misalignments that are normally ignored. It cannot happen without also getting high levels of trust and respect between management and the front lines. It cultivates a culture of constant improvement and problem-solving.

Helen Zak, Director of Research at The Shingo Institute, closed out the conference with tips, words of wisdom, and learning from 38 years as a change agent. Helen’s Top 5:

  • It’s All About Time – the most valuable resource on the planet
  • Psychological Safety – free from fear of acknowledging problems and comfortable tackling problems
  • Team Sport – transformation requires alignment and teamwork
  • Dissatisfaction with status quo – good enough is not enough
  • People Development – lean leader’s job is to develop people

There were many other great presentations, but this is a brief highlight. Mark your calendars for next year’s conference Leveraging Lean to Thrive in Uncertain Times in Providence, RI November 7-8, 2024.

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