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Monday, July 1, 2024

Meet-up: 5 Questions from Within the Lean Community With Tim McMahon Re-visited

As you’ve seen I have been revisiting 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.

Today I thought it would be fun to share my responses and thoughts.

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

I'm the founder and principal contributor of A Lean Journey Blog, a site dedicated to sharing lessons and experiences regarding Lean thinking, improvement practices, and leadership.  

I'm the Senior Manager of Strategy & Operational Excellence for Mirion’s Technologies North America Group. Currently, I am leading the continuous improvement initiatives to proliferate a “Lean” culture at Mirion’s Technologies Group, offering radiation measurement, personnel protection, advanced safety and search, and decontamination and decommissioning solutions for a variety of worldwide applications. I have a passion for teaching problem solving skills, Lean philosophy, and quality improvement methods by actively learning, thinking and engaging people.

For over 25 years, I have been implementing lean within operations management, continuous improvement, and quality disciplines for innovative high tech manufacturing companies such as Lucent Technologies, JDSU, Legrand Wiremold, and Mirion. I've held a number of leadership positions within operations management, Lean, and quality disciplines of innovative high tech manufacturing companies.

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

My introduction to lean manufacturing is probably somewhat typical.  After coming from a research and development role to an operations role I discovered Lean.  In 1999 I started learning what Lean manufacturing was all about and I have been learning about it ever since.   In the beginning Lean was a way for me to meet operational objectives. Now I know it is a profound way of thinking that encompasses all I do. Lean is the best business performance system I have seen.

Looking back now I was so fortunate to have a number of great coaches or sensei as we call them. One of my early teachers was David Stec. He was the co-author of “Better Thinking, Better Results” with Bob Emiliani, who is a great Lean practitioner/teacher in his own right (plus he is a local guy to me) David taught me Lean basic.

I was also fortunate to have had Toyota Production System Sensei named Motoo Usui-san who taught new TPS correctly. He worked in the same office as Taiichi Ohno. Usui-san never gave you an answer only a question. I had to solve the problem myself.   

I had the pleasure to work and lead lean efforts and Wiremold a Shingo Prize winning facility. There are a number of books and a great many practitioners who cut their teeth in that factory who went on to greatness. It was a great sandbox of learning and development.

I have sought out many opportunities to learn along the way.  I hold a Lean Certification and a Six Sigma Black Belt from Central Connecticut State University, Lean Bronze Certification from Society of Manufacturing Engineers, a Master Lean Six Sigma Black Belt from the Management and Strategy Institute, and is a Shingo Institute Alumni.

By drawing on my experience in Lean, Six Sigma, and Quality Management Systems I co-authored ASQ's Lean Handbook, an educational reference guide to support Lean Certification. I have also published 12 articles. I’ve had the pleasure of presenting at 6 conferences, doing 2 radio shows, and hosting more than a dozen webinars.

My passion is fueled by those wonderful "a-ha" moments.  Those times when I see the light turn on for someone, a new lean thinker, a new problem solver, someone that can see wastes and opportunities all around them.  I also enjoy the opportunities I get to meet some great people on similar journeys of their own.  Everyone you meet is another opportunity to learn more.

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

I think my answer to this question has probably changed over last 15 years. While there are a number of powerful aspects of Lean if done well, I am going to focus on two: 1) Use daily management to engage employees in the Gemba and 2) Empower improvement with Kaizen.

 Lean organizations make use of Daily Management systems, a structured process to focus employee’s actions to continuously improve their day-to-day work. Daily Management empowers employees to identify potential process concerns, recommend potential solutions, and learn by implementing process changes. Daily Management, if done right, can be a critical tool in any organization’s toolbox to engage frontline staff in problem-solving and to deliver customer value.

Lean Daily Management includes three components: (1) alignment of goals and effort; (2) visual data management, daily huddles, and problem-solving; and (3) leader standard work.

Kaizen events are a powerful improvement tool because people are empowered to come up with new ideas to help the business. Employees are isolated from their day-to-day responsibilities and allowed to concentrate all their creativity and time on problem-solving and improvement.

The purpose of kaizen is to involve everyone, everywhere, every day in making simple improvements. These small improvements add up overtime and result in an extraordinary and never-ending transformation of processes. Companies which use Kaizens have found they generate energy among those who work in the area being improved and produce immediate gains in productivity and quality.

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

Too many think Lean is just about apply tools. Most fail to fully understand the people aspect of a Lean organization. This is a myth perpetuated by less than knowledgeable leaders. Most companies miss the point that 90% of Lean is about people and culture change and only 10% is about the tools. They expect Lean to be the “silver bullet”, which, even if it does not solve all their problems, will at least aid in short-term gains. There are thousands of Lean tools, because each problem requires its own unique tool to help solve it. People are needed to solve problems. Tools don’t apply themselves. Basically, leaders have to learn to think differently and see their customers and business differently, that’s people development, not tools development.

Lean which is commonly referred as TPS (from it's originators) is the "Thinking People System" for me. It is about learning to see waste and solve problems through the development of people. This is a frequently missed and even understated purpose in lean. Lean is truly about people because tools don't solve problems, people solve problems.

As in the namesake of my blog "A Lean Journey - The Quest for True North" Lean is not about the destination but the direction or path you take toward this idealistic place. Lean is not something you check off your "To Do List".  It is about the constant, persistent, even relentless pursuit of improving your current situation. And this improvement brings you to the next current state and so on. Usually, it means doing something you haven’t done before because your old habits will not work in your new system. Lean is not technique you apply to your business system but rather a methodology that replaces your business system.

In my opinion leaning out the waste is not necessarily the difficult part but rather the identification of the wastes.  Waste is all around us, yet many cannot recognize it.  I like to say that "activity does not equal productivity".  The real challenge is to break status quo, get out of your comfort zone, and learn to "see". This means observing the actual condition at the actual place at the actual time.

If you can educate and engage your workforce to relentlessly identify and eliminate waste by solving problems, you will be well on your way to embracing the full power of Lean.

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

Every industry can benefit from Lean process improvement, but I would have to say that the biggest opportunity for Lean is in our service industries.  Lean has a proven track record in many manufacturing operations.  I think we all see things every day in our lives as we interact with businesses that bug us.  These are things that cause poor service, higher costs, less value and more waiting.  It would be nice to live in place where continuous improvement is commonplace.   Maybe that sounds utopian, but this is happening in many service industries already.

Government - Government agencies have found that when Lean is implemented, they see an improved understanding of how their own processes work, that it facilitates the quick identification and implementation of improvements and that it builds a culture of continuous improvement. Lean for government focuses on governing and serving citizens with respect and continuously improving service delivery by cutting out "waste" and "inefficiency" in processes; this in turn will result in better services overall, engaged civil servants as well as more value for tax-supported programs and services.

Education - The demand for schools to operate more efficiently and direct more resource to the classroom means Lean methodologies are becoming more and more recognized in education. They can be used to reduce variance and streamline administrative processes, such as admissions and enrollment, certification, grant administration and repair and maintenance practices.

Healthcare - Instilling a Lean culture and implementing Lean processes vastly improves service delivery. In the healthcare industry specifically, the application of Lean can reduce the amount of time nurses spend looking for wheelchairs, patient records or medicines, and increase the amount of time they spend taking of patients.

Retail - The retail and hospitality industry is reliant on excellent customer service, timely delivery of products, and accurate inventory counts. Lean provides a useful strategy for improving these important elements.

Insurance & Financial Services - As another process-driven service industry, companies in financial and legal services are ideally positioned to leverage the benefits of Lean. An application for a bank loan, a request for an insurance quote, or conveyancing for example, may go through many systems and hands before the process is completed. Removing non-value adding tasks and eliminating errors can greatly increase the ability to meet customer requirements faster and more accurately.

Office - Lean can easily be applied to office environments where lots of non-value adding tasks are being carried out. Insufficient equipment, over-ordering of stationery, duplicating processes, having to wait for multiple signatures and underutilized personnel are all examples of waste. The result of removing this waste and streamlining processes is greater productivity, a happier workforce, and a better service for customers.

In fact, any administrative function of a business can benefit from Lean, such as Accounting, Operations, Sales, Marketing, HR and IT. Delivery in all these areas involves processes which can be improved with Lean principles.

There are many more opportunities for Lean to be successful.  Lean focuses on processes; has a measurable impact on time, capacity and customer satisfaction; and involves all employees.  This formula will help many organizations to be more successful.

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