Floor Tape Store

Monday, May 13, 2024

Meet-up: 5 Questions from Within the Lean Community With Mark Graban

This month A Lean Journey Blog turns 15 and as I look back on how I got started and who influenced my journey I wanted to revisit a previous series I started in 2012 called the Meet-up.

One of the things I am so found of in the Lean community is the general wiliness to share with each other.  I have learned some much from my very experienced colleagues since I have been an active contributor.  Every month I roundup the best Lean related posts and articles I found particularly valuable from these fellow bloggers and contributors. Each one has their own story and opinions to share.

The goal of Meet-up is provide you an opportunity to meet some influential voices in the Lean community.  I will ask these authors a series of questions to learn about them, their lessons, and get their perspective on trends in industry.

In today’s edition we are going to Meet-up with Mark Graban. Mark has the longest running Lean blog that I know and sets a high standard to follow. I’ve been fortunate to meet Mark many times and collaborate on a few projects over the years that been fun and of course great learning opportunities for me. Mark put together a video of his response:

Here are his answers:

1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current  lean-oriented activities?

I’m Mark Graban, and I am fortunate to do a wide variety of things. I work independently through my own company, Constancy, Inc. — as a consultant (often partnering or sub-contracting with others), professional speaker, author, publisher, and podcaster.

I’ve written or co-authored two Shingo-Award-winning books: Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen. I’ve also edited and published the anthology Practicing Lean. And I’ve also written and published Measures of Success and my latest, The Mistakes That Make Us.

I’ve hosted and produced podcasts, including “My Favorite Mistake” and “Lean Blog Interviews.” The latter started in 2006 as an offshoot of my blog, LeanBlog.org

My career started in manufacturing, and that was my focus for the first ten years. However, I had the opportunity to start applying Lean in hospitals and healthcare settings back in 2005. That’s still my primary focus, but I enjoy helping people in other industries.

I am also currently a Senior Advisor to KaiNexus, a software company whose mission is to spread continuous improvement through its enterprise platform.  

2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?

During my undergraduate Industrial Engineering studies at Northwestern University, I received an academic introduction to the Toyota Production System. What they taught was technically correct, but the topics were limited to technical topics related to inventory management and production planning—focused on flow and pull. 

After growing up near Detroit, I was skeptical about joining the automotive industry. But, I had the opportunity to take an I.E. job at my hometown General Motors Livonia Engine Plant. What was the appeal?  The plant claimed to work under a version of the “Deming Philosophy,” but as I’ve written about, it seemed that the philosophy died at the plant about the same time Dr. Deming passed away in 1993. I joined in 1995. It very well could have been 1975 in terms of attitudes and management style, but at least we had computers on our desks. 

The first year there was incredibly frustrating. The only thing keeping me going was an internal “Lean Team,” if you will, who had all been hired from Toyota suppliers or Nissan. The problem was our plant managers were still old-guard “command-and-control” GM people. They yelled, screamed, and blamed the workers for everything. It was an incredibly stressful place to work — and it felt like we were playing for a last-place team with no hope.

I was able and willing to learn from the Lean Team, even if the plant manager wanted nothing to do with them. The Lean Team people mentored me. And there was no shortage of waste or problems to see—and to talk through how their old employers would have done things and what could be possible there. 

Thankfully, after a year, a new plant manager was brought in to save us. He was one of the original “NUMMI Commandos” — a GM leader who was sent to learn from Toyota through the opening and the first few years of operating the joint venture plant in California. He was such a breath of fresh air. He literally told an all-hands meeting that the era of blaming the workers was over and that we’d succeed together, with the same workers being managed in a new and different way.

Over that first year, I saw the impact of the Lean management style. It wasn’t just a matter of now being unleashed to implement Lean tools and methods. It was the leadership mindsets that made such a difference. The new plant manager spent so much more time out on the shopfloor—listening, building relationships, and building the employee’s confidence in him.

Within a few years, the plant almost duplicated aspects of the NUMMI turnaround story. They went from being quite literally the worst in GM plant performance (in productivity and quality measures) to being in the top quartile.

This inspired me to try to help bring this sort of turnaround to others. Sadly, the conditions of that painful first year still exist in some locations today — including in healthcare. 

3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?

The most powerful aspect of Lean is that it’s an integrated system. As Toyota explains, even today, the Toyota Production System is not just tools and technical methods. It’s also a philosophy and a set of managerial practices. It’s an organizational culture that puts a huge focus on developing people. Since the term “Lean production” was meant to be a genericized term for TPS, successful Lean journeys are led by leaders who realize it’s an integrated system. 

One of the most powerful components is when Lean leaders tap into the intrinsic motivation of employees to improve. These leaders aim to engage everybody, enabling them to implement improvements that matter to them. These leaders also help steer improvements, especially larger projects, toward the “true north” goals of Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost.

4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?

One misunderstood aspect is the idea that implementing a few Lean tools here and there will make a transformational difference. A similar trap is thinking that a series of week-long Kaizen Events will automatically create a culture of ongoing daily continuous improvement. If the events are only engaging a handful of the employees, that’s nowhere near the Kaizen ideal of everybody improving everywhere, everyday. A related pitfall to that is thinking that certifying a large number of people as some sort of “belt” will lead to significant culture change. Leaders must lead the Lean transformation, participating in it and not just sponsoring or supporting it.

I think the most unrecognized aspect of Lean is its foundational role of “psychological safety.” Psychological safety is the feeling or perception that a person can speak up candidly without fear of being punished or marginalized in some way. This includes speaking up about mistakes, problems, and improvement ideas.

When Toyota describes its system and culture, I think many of the writers take it for granted that you can speak up (or pull an “andon cord”) without fear of punishment. Toyota team members should expect a helpful and constructive response when they speak up. When organizations try copying tools and methods from successful Lean organizations, such as Kaizen boards or andon-type systems, if that organization has a low level of psychological safety, Lean won’t ever take hold. 

Many organizations invest greatly in problem-solving training. But if employees don’t feel safe to point out or admit problems, what is going to be solved? Nothing, or not much.

A final misunderstanding related to employee participation in Lean is that it can be forced or incentivized. Getting compliance, such as “I did my four improvements this year,” isn’t the path to world-class performance. Instead of lecturing people about their duty to speak up, demonstrate that it’s actually safe and effective to do so.

5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?

I still think the greatest opportunity is in healthcare. It’s been over 25 years since the first “Lean healthcare” experiments took place in the U.S. The problems in healthcare are real and significant. Estimates suggest one in four hospitalized patients suffer from a medical error and between 100,000 and 400,000 Americans are killed by medical errors each year—and we rely on estimates because real numbers are not tracked and shared by the healthcare industry. And this is a global problem, with other countries seeing similar per-capita levels of harm and death.

There are huge opportunities to use Lean methodologies to improve safety and quality, reduce waiting times, and improve the quality of care. Where this has been done, engaging employees and medical staff helps achieve those goals, while also improving employee satisfaction and reducing turnover.

There have been pockets of great progress in some health systems. But some of those systems have taken steps back from Lean when new leaders were installed from the outside. Too many still see Lean as tools to train frontline staff on—instead of seeing Lean as a management system and a culture of PDSA-based continuous improvement.

I think healthcare is repeating the waves of adoption, decline, and re-adoption that we’ve seen in manufacturing—first using some tools, then a broader set of tools, then followed by attempts to adopt a management system at wall levels. It’s frustrating when healthcare doesn’t learn from manufacturing on this and other fronts. So, we’ll keep working at it.

Through their answers to these questions hopefully you will get a sense of the thinking behind those who are shaping the Lean landscape.  I continue to keep learning and thankfully with the willingness of these practitioners to share I am positive you will, too.

Subscribe to my feed Subscribe via Email LinkedIn Group Facebook Page @TimALeanJourney YouTube Channel SlideShare

No comments:

Post a Comment