Jim Collins: How the Mighty Fall – Business Week

I am a big fan of Jim Collins. His book Good to Great outlines attributes that I have seen in every successful organizational transformation.

Now he has a new book out. I haven’t read it yet, so I am not going to offer a review, just tell you about it. But the title and premise is intriguing:
How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In

There is a great article and excerpt of the book on Business Week online, including  a video of Jim Collins describing the stages (preceded by a short advertisement).

In short, Collins’ research shows that a great company can fall, and when it happens, there are five stages of decline. According to Collins, Stages One through Three are invisible from outside. The company looks great, but it is rotting from within. It is only at Stage Four that things visibly go south, and they do so very quickly. But there is also good news: The company can recover and return to greatness from any of the stages one through four, but not five.

While this whole story is fascinating, it is the nature of Stage Four that brings things into pretty sharp focus for me.

The stages are:

Stage 1: The Hubris of Success. Things are going great, and the company acquires a sense of entitlement for that success. “We deserve this success because we are so good!” In Collins’ words:

When the rhetoric of success (“We’re successful because we do these specific things”) replaces penetrating understanding and insight (“We’re successful because we understand why we do these specific things and under what conditions they would no longer work”), decline will very likely follow.

I think this idea of “penetrating understanding and insight” is what characterizes the idealized Toyota Production System. It is also seen in every example that Steven Spear covers in Chasing the Rabbit.

When an organization shifts away from questioning its own success as thoroughly as its failures, and begins to assume that its continued success is simply a matter of continuing to do what they have been doing, the seeds of decline are sown.

This ship is unsinkable.

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More.

Companies in Stage 2 stray from the disciplined creativity that led them to greatness in the first place, making undisciplined leaps into areas where they cannot be great or growing faster than they can achieve with excellence—or both.

This one really struck me. Is this the what Toyota went through in the last 5-7 years in their pursuit of #1? Clearly they overreached, even they say so. Even as early as 2003 they were seeing eroding of the TPS discipline in their North American and European plants. They shored that up, and continued their aggressive expansion of production capacity, got into big trucks, and in general seemed to bypass their traditional patient-and-relentless growth strategy.

Other industries suffered this as well. The last few years saw unprecedented (and it turned out, artificially generated) growth in sales across sectors. As one of my friends put it “When times are this good, everybody’s a genius.” Put another way, when there is more demand than supply, even a “supplier of last resort” gets great business, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking it is because “our products are great, and customers like us.” It is possible to carry that belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary – like customers telling you to your face that they bought your stuff because they couldn’t get it from your competitors.

Inventories start to grow, quickly, as nobody wants to miss a sale; factories are expanded, quickly, for the same reason. There is almost a fear of failure here, but it is fear of failure to get more rather than failure to succeed. If success is taken for granted (see Stage One), this one follows pretty directly.

We are going to set an Atlantic crossing speed record.

Here is a question: Who didn’t experience this to some degree over the last 5 years?

Things get interesting next.

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril. There are warning signs of over-reaching, that things are not going to go this way forever. But what struck me more was the cultural aspect: Shutting out the truth.

In Stage 3, leaders discount negative data, amplify positive data, and put a positive spin on ambiguous data. Those in power start to blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility. The vigorous, fact-based dialogue that characterizes high-performance teams dwindles or disappears altogether.

When leaders start suppressing dissenting views, when they equate disagreement with disrespect or unhealthy conflict, they start insulating themselves in a cocoon of denial.

If the organization is pre-disposed to avoid conflict to begin with, then this stage is really easy to slide into. Vigorous debate is part of sound decision making. When that stops, or is never allowed to surface in the first place, the organization is self-centered and vulnerable.

When leaders start attributing the warning signs to anomalous, one-time, temporary factors – and believing they are exercising that penetrating understanding and insight when, in reality, the “analysis” is no more than the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion they have shifted from rationality to internal belief-based decision making. (also called “wishcraft.”)

Reports of ice ahead.

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation.

The cumulative peril and/or risks gone bad of Stage 3 assert themselves, throwing the enterprise into a sharp decline visible to all. The critical question is: How does its leadership respond? By lurching for a quick salvation or by getting back to the disciplines that brought about greatness in the first place?

So things have gone to hell in a handcart, and the leadership starts looking around for how to get out of the spin. They have ignored all of the warning signs up to this point, but now they are undeniably in trouble. What to do?

As I said, this is where it gets really interesting from a personal / professional level.

There is no doubt that, at this moment, the proverbial “burning platform” exists. There is clearly a sense of urgency… Pick your clichés from “change management” literature here.

“Hey – I just read this book about lean. Let’s bring in this hot-shot consultant to lean us out.” And so it begins. The Search for the Silver Bullet – the magic that will fix everything. And it doesn’t have to be “lean.” It might be x-Sigma (put your favorite buzzword in place of the ‘x’). Maybe everybody reads The Goal and starts looking for constraints. Or the leaders leap from “program” to “program” looking for the solution. While each “initiative” is kicked off with great deliberate fanfare, in reality the leaders are panicing.

They fail to see that leaders atop companies in the late stages of decline need to get back to a calm, clear-headed, and focused approach. If you want to reverse decline, be rigorous about what not to do.

Here is my take on this. These leaders who leap from “solution” to “solution” are still in hubris and denial. They are still looking outside of themselves for the problem, and the solution.

My last post, How the Sensei Teaches, describes leaders who teach by being students. This requires humility, something totally incompatible with hubris. If they want to bring in that hot-shot consultant, they need to tell her “We really need help up here, please teach us” rather than “Go teach our people how to be lean.” They need that consultant to be a true sensei, not just a technician.

Oh – what is Stage Five? Collins calls it Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death.

My words are “The boat sinks.”

Kaizen Express – and the Lean Enterprise Institute

The Lean Enterprise Institute has recently published Kaizen Express, an overview of the classic characteristics of “lean manufacturing” and, by implication, the Toyota Production System. As I set out to review the book, I found myself heading in two directions.

One is the content of the book itself.

Over the years, there have been a slew of books with similar tables of contents that describe the various mechanics and mechanisms observed in the Toyota Production System.

The first really comprehensive reference in English was Productivity Press’s translation of Hirano’s JIT Implementation Manual. (Originally a two volume set priced at $900, it appears it is about to be published in a second edition for around $200. I have not seen the second edition.) Back in the early and mid 1980’s, Hirano was about the only comprehensive reference out there. At Boeing we had internal-use reproduction rights, and many of us poured over those volumes, parsing every word.

Kiyoshi Suzuki’s New Manufacturing Challenge (1987) was the book we gave out to all of our suppliers. It, too, provides a pretty good overview of most of the tools and techniques. It is a good basic reference, and I still believe it really takes about three years for a practitioner to outgrow it.

At a more technical level, we have had Toyota Production System: An Integrated Approach to Just-In-Time by Yusuhiro Monden. This book goes into more depth from a system engineering standpoint, and focuses mostly on “Toyota’s production system” vs. a more generic approach.

These three titles are by no means the only ones. A couple of feet of my own bookshelf is occupied with books covering the same basic topics. I only mention these three only because they have been my workhorse references, especially in the days when I was still putting together my own mental models.

Kaizen Express is well at home with this family. It is a solid overview of the tools and techniques that generally characterize “lean manufacturing” and I can quibble with nothing that is in the book.

The presentation itself harks back to the days when all of the decent references came out of Japan. It is a bilingual book, written in Japanese language and graphic style with English translation along side.

On a sidebar note: As a practitioner, dealing with shop floor people and their sensibilities and values, I would rather use a reference that didn’t come across as so foreign. While I fully appreciate that the Japanese vocabulary is a solidly embedded part of Toyota’s culture, that is not the case elsewhere, and some Toyota-trained practitioners would do well to keep that in mind. The concepts are difficult enough to get across without having to overcome language resistance. Add to that the unfortunate truth that many countries, especially in Asia, still have vivid cultural memories of a far more malevolent Japan, and the resistance just increases. I would not give a copy of this book out in China or Korea, for example. There are others which serve the same purpose without bringing up unresolved issues. Memories and emotions run much longer and deeper in Asia than they do in the West.

All of those reservations aside, this book is a welcome review of familiar material.

Now, the second part. I want to go beyond the book itself, and look at its context. This becomes not so much a review of the book, but one person’s opinion (mine, to be sure) of the state of our communities understanding of the Toyota Production System itself.

The TPS is somewhat unique among all of the various “management systems” in the popular business press today in that it grew organically rather than being explicitly designed. Thus, rather than consult standard documents to learn about it, knowledge comes from research.

In the early days, through the late 1980’s, the topic of “JIT” or “Japanese manufacturing techniques” was a quiet, esoteric backwater of consultants and a few committed practitioners. We knew about Harley Davidson, and some of the other early adopters. Danaher was just getting started, and some of the household name early leaders were starting to gain meaningful experience and reputations. The knowledge base came from practitioners trying to make it work, rather than professional academics who are in the business of developing and testing rigorous theory.

In late 1990, everything changed. The Machine That Changed the World by Womack, Jones and Roos published the results of good, solid research from MIT and became a hot seller. It broke out of the practitioner’s technical corral, got the attention of mainline executives and managers, and introduced the buzzwords “lean production” (which later morphed into “lean manufacturing”) into the lexicon of everyday business.

This was followed by Lean Thinking which profiled a number of these companies and put Shingijutsu on everyone’s radar.

The Lean Enterprise Institute was founded shortly thereafter, and in the late 1990’s published Learning to See and introduced everyone to value stream mapping. This was the first of a series of workbooks designed to take the practitioner through the mechanics of implementing various aspects of the basic elements of modern manufacturing techniques.

These workbooks were something new. Rather than the encyclopedic approach of a single book devoting short chapters to descriptions of the various tools, these workbooks went into much more depth on a single topic, such as materials distribution, creating a work cell, the basics of heijunka or mentoring someone through solving a problem.

In the background of all of this, “lean manufacturing” became the hot topic. Writers, consultants, managers were all talking about how to “get lean” and to “lean out” a business. Hundreds of books were published on the topic, a few of them good, many of them re-hashing old stuff in new ways, a few just using the buzzwords to sell bad information.

This explosion resulted in a lot of noise pollution. What had started as peer-reviewed academic research of the automobile industry turned into the “lean industry” – a crowded, bustling bazaar with everyone hawking and touting their “solutions.” This, by the way, included a mountain of junk academic research.

But there was also some really exceptional academic research, especially out of Harvard. While everyone was busy implementing the tools of lean – the things in the tables of contents of all of those books, the success rate was a far cry from the promise. I have experienced this myself a couple of times. But Steven Spear made it the topic of his 1999 groundbreaking PhD thesis at Harvard. Let me quote, and offer my interpretation, of a few key sentences from the abstract of his dissertation.

Researchers have established that Toyota enjoys advantages in cost, quality, lead-time, and flexibility when compared to its competitors in automotive assembly.

There is no doubt here. It’s why we are all reading this stuff in the first place! And while there was considerable anecdotal evidence before that, The Machine That Changed the World offered up a solid base of good research to confirm what everybody was thinking.

Differences in generating value have been attributed to differences between the Toyota Production System (“TPS”) and alternative management systems. Distinctive tools and practices have been associated with TPS.

Those “tools and practices” are what are covered in the classic books I cited earlier. They are also what is covered in Kaizen Express if not by industry in general, certainly by the community of experts.

However, evidence suggests that merely copying these [tools and practices] does not generate the performance advantages enjoyed by Toyota. This has prompted several questions … [including] … why is it so difficult to imitate?

So we (the community of experts) were happily out the there doing the stuff that was in the books, teaching the basics, trying to implement them, and finding it generally difficult to get a lot of traction once the initial novelty wears off.

Meanwhile, the noisy bazaar continued to churn out more and more “solutions” aimed at the “gaps in lean manufacturing.”

“Lean looks at waste, but doesn’t address variation…” so “Sigma” was spliced in. Yet Toyota obsesses on stability and eliminating variation at levels we cannot even fathom.

“We need someone to implement quality in our lean company.” Hello? How can you leave out quality? Yet in our efforts to implement flow and reduce inventory, we did it all of the time!

We try to bring kaizen into administrative and creative process flows – well enough, but upon finding that the “tools and techniques” need to be adjusted somewhat, people draw the conclusion that there is more to it.

All of these things, over the last ten or fifteen years seemed to make things very complex indeed.

So we go back to the basics.

I agree with the principle. But we need to discuss exactly what the basics are.

The second paragraph of Steven Spear’s abstract is pretty clear:

… the tools and practices that have received attention are not fundamental to TPS.

(emphasis added)

Then he brings up things that the rest of us never talk about:

… the … Rules-In-Use promote distinctive organizational features. These are nested, modular [organizational] structure; frequent, finely grained self-diagnostics; and frequent, structured, directed problem solving that is the primary mechanism for training and process improvement.

(emphasis added) (For explanation of what Spear means by “Rules-In-Use” read the dissertation itself, or Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, which is the HBR summary of his conclusions. Personally, I “got it” a lot better from the dissertation, but then he has 465 pages to make his points vs. 10 pages in the article.)

What has all of this got to do with the little green book, Kaizen Express?

I think it is a great book, for 1991.

But this is 2009. So while Kaizen Express is a welcome refresher of the mechanics, those mechanics are, according to the current standing theory, built upon a foundation of something that Kaizen Express, and for that matter, the LEI has not, to date, addressed. What is missing, in my view, is how the tools and practices outlined in Kaizen Express and its predecessors actually drive daily continuous improvement that engages every team member in the process.

Anyone out there is perfectly welcome to refute Spear’s research and make a compelling case that “the fundamentals” are, indeed, the things addressed in Kaizen Express. But to do so means bringing credible peer-reviewed, published research to the table. It means building a compelling case of documented observations that contradict Spear’s theory. Anything else is simply conjecture.

My challenge to the Lean Enterprise Institute: Your organization is unique. It emerged from the world of academia with very solid credentials, with a great mission to carry this message to the non-academic world. Because of its academic origins, LEI has a real opportunity to be the bridge between the cutting-edge understanding coming out of these top-flight research institutions and translate it into practical things the rest of us can put to use. Extend your charter to taking PhD words like “nested modular structure” and “frequent finely grained self-diagnostics” and giving the daily practitioners some workbooks that lay out how to do it.

Kaizen Express is a great little book.

LEI can do better, though, than to re-publish material that has been out there since 1988.

TPS Failure Modes – Part 1

Following on from the buzz created by the last couple of posts, I would like to go back in time a bit.

In 2005 Steven Spear wrote a working paper called “Why General Motors Lost and Toyota Won.” A reader can clearly the see emerging themes that were developed into his book Chasing the Rabbit .

Spear talks about the leverage of “operationally outstanding” in changing the game, the capabilities he sees in “operationally outstanding” organizations, then “Failure Modes at Becoming Toyota Like.”

I would like to dwell a bit on these failure modes, and reflect a little on what they look like.

Failure Mode 1: Copy Lean Tools Without Making Work Self Diagnostic

So what does “self diagnostic” mean?

For something to be “self diagnostic” you need two pieces of information:

  • What is supposed to happen.
  • What actually happens.

Then you need some mechanism that compares the two and flags any difference between them. This sounds complicated, but in reality, it isn’t.

Let’s look at a common example: At the most basic level, this is the purpose of 5S.

5S as a Self Diagnostic Tool

In 5S, you first examine the process and seek to understand it. Then, applying your best understanding, you decide what is necessary to perform the process, and remove everything else. Applying your best understanding again, you seek to locate the items where they would be used if the process goes the way you expect it to.

You improve the self-diagnostic effect by marking where things go, so it immediately clear if something is missing, out of place, or excess.

Then you watch. As the process is carried out, your “best understanding” is going to be tested.

Can it be done with the things you believed are necessary? If something else is required, then you have an opportunity to improve your understanding. Get that item determine where it is used, and carry out the operation. But go a little deeper. Ask why you didn’t realize this was needed when you examined the process. Challenge your process of getting that initial understanding and you improve your own observation skills.

Is everything you believed is necessary actually used? If not, then you have another opportunity to improve your understanding. Is that item only used sometimes? When? Why? Is it for rework or exceptions? (see failure mode #2!) Why did you believe it was necessary when you did your initial observation?

Does something end up out of place? Is it routinely used in a place other than where you put it? This is valuable information if you now seek to understand how the process is different from what you expected.

Now think about the failure mode: What does fake-5S look like? What is 5S without this thinking applied?

How do you “do” 5S?

Look long and hard if you are trying to audit your way into compliance rather than using it as a diagnostic for your understanding of your process.

Though the jargon “self diagnostic” sounds academic, we have all talked about visual controls “distinguishing the normal from the abnormal” or other similar terms. It is nothing new. What makes this a failure mode is that people normally don’t think it is that important when Spear cites a mountain of evidence (and I agree) that this is critical to success. You can only solve the problems you can see.

Another Example: Takt Time

What is takt time? Before you whip out your calculators and show me the math, step back and ask the core question of “What it is” rather than “how to calculate it.” What is it?

Takt time is part of a specification for a process – it defines what should be happening. By setting takt time you are saying “IF our process can routinely cycle at this interval, then we can meet our customer’s demand. Takt time defines both part of a “defect free” outcome of your work cycle as well as a specification for process design.

Then you apply your very best knowledge of the process steps and sequence and set out a work cycle which you believe can be accomplished within the takt. It becomes self-diagnostic when you check, every time if the actual work cycle was the same as the intended work cycle. An easy way to check is to compare the actual time with the designed time.

In Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, Spear cites an example of seat installation.

At Toyota’s plants, […] it is instantly clear when they deviate from the specifications. Consider how workers at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant install the right-front seat into a Camry. The work is designed as a sequence of seven tasks, all of which are expected to be completed in 55 seconds as the car moves at a fixed speed through a worker’s zone. If the production worker finds himself doing task 6 (installing the rear seat-bolts) before task 4 (installing the front seat-bolts), then the job is actually being done differently than it was designed to be done, indicating that something must be wrong. Similarly, if after 40 seconds the worker is still on task 4, which should have been completed after 31 seconds, then something, too, is amiss. To make problem detection even simpler, the length of the floor for each work area is marked in tenths. So if the worker is passing the sixth of the ten floor marks (that is, if he is 33 seconds into the cycle) and is still on task 4, then he and his team leader know that he has fallen behind.

assembly-valencien-640

On this assembly line, time is used, not so much to pace the work, but as a diagnostic tool to call out instances when the work departs from what is intended – or in simpler terms, when there is a problem.

All of this has been about checking that the process is being carried out as expected. But, bluntly, the customer really doesn’t give a hoot about the process. The customer is interested in the output. How do you know that the output of your process is actually helping your customer?

To know that you first have to be really clear on a couple of things:

  • Who your customer actually is.
  • What value do you provide to that customer?

Put another way, can you establish a clear, unambiguous specification of what a defect free outcome is for each supplier-customer interface in your process? Can you follow that trap line of supplier-customer interfaces down to the process of delivering value to your paying customers?

To make this self-diagnostic, though, you have to not only specify (what should be happening), you have to check (what is actually happening), and you have to do it every time.

So poka-yoke (mistake proofing) is a way to verify process steps. Other mistake proofing will detect problems with the outputs. All are (or should be) designed to diagnose any problems and immediately halt the process or, at the very least, alert someone.

The theme that is emerging here is the concept of PLAN-DO and CHECK, with the CHECK being thoroughly integrated into the process itself, rather than a separate function. (Not that it can’t be, but it is better if CHECK is continuous.)

The Supply Chain

I was walking through the shop one afternoon and spotted an open bundle of steel tube – about half of them remaining. They used kanban to trigger re-order. The rule of kanban is that the kanban card is pulled and placed in the post when the first part is consumed. To make this clear, they literally attached the kanban to the bands with a cable tie. Thus, breaking the band would literally release the kanban. Simple, effective.

But, though this bundle had been opened, there was the kanban card still attached to the (now broken) banding. It was lurking at the base of the pallet, but visible.

I went and got the supervisor, and told him that “You are going to have a shortage of 4×5 tube on Wednesday, and it is your fault. Would you like to know why?” I guess I should point out that I had a pretty good relationship with this guy, so he knew I was playing him a little. Then I just said “Look, and tell me what you see.”

It took a few seconds, but he saw the kanban, said “Argh” and started to pick it up to put into the post. I stopped him and asked if it was his responsibility to do that. No, it was the welder’s responsibility. “Then you should take a minute with him, and do what I just did with you.”

Then I asked him how often the kanban cards were collected. (I knew, I wanted to check that he knew.) “Daily, about 1 pm.”

“How often do you walk by here every day?” He said at least twice, in the morning and right after lunch. “So all you need to do is take a quick glance as you walk by, twice a day, and you will always get that kanban into the post before 1pm.”

He did, and their periodic shortages dropped pretty much to zero.

Why?

First, the system was set up JIT. We knew the expected rate of use of that part. We knew the supplier’s lead time and delivery frequency. We knew the bundle size. MATH told us the minimum number of kanban cards that would need to circulate in this loop to ensure the weld cell never ran out… unless one of the inputs was wrong or unless the process operated differently than we expected.

We also knew that, given the rate of consumption, how many bundles should be in the shop at any given time, and we had space market out for just that amount. Thus, we could tell immediately if something was received early, or if our rate of consumption fluctuated downward. (Because a pallet would arrive, but there would be no place to put it.)

We could have just had a Team Member come by once a day and check if a bundle had been opened, and send an order to replenish it. We could have been even more sophisticated and just set up a barcode scan that would trigger a computer order.

But if we had set up the process that way, how could the Supervisor distinguish between “Ordered” or “Not Ordered?” It was that stray out-of-place kanban card that told him.

Bin with kanban cardThus, physical kanban cards, physically attached to the materials, represent a self-diagnostic check. If the card is there, then that container should be full. Quick to check. If the container is not full, there should be no card. Quick to check. If a container arrives with no card, it was not properly ordered and is likely excess (or at least calls for investigation). Quick to check. The physical card, the seeming crude manual operation, provides cross-checks…self-diagnosis… simply and cheaply in ways that few automated systems replicate.

So far these have all been manufacturing examples. But Spear is clear that all work is self-diagnostic, not just manufacturing.

What non-manufacturing work fits into this model?

(Hint: All of it.)

What about a project plan? Though in reality, most project plans don’t. Read Critical Chain by Goldratt to understand the difference – and produce and manage project plans that are much more likely to finish on time.

What about a sales plan? Do you predict your monthly sales? Do you check to see if week 1 actual sales deviated from what was expected? Do you plan on activities that you believe will hit your sales targets? Which customers are you calling on? What do you predict they will do? (Which tests how well you really know them.) Do you actually call on those customers? Do they need what you thought they would? Or do you learn something else about them? (Or do you make a best guess “forecast” and wait for the phone to ring?)

Once you have a sales plan, do you put together a manufacturing and operations plan which you believe will match production to sales? How much variation do you expect to accumulate between production and sales over the course of that plan? Do you put alarm thresholds on your finished goods or your backlog levels that would tell you when that predicted variation has been exceeded?

How do you (and how often do you) compare actual sales (volume, models, and revenue) against the plan? Do you know right away if you are off plan? How long will you tolerate being off plan before you decide that something unexpected is happening? Is there a hard trigger point already set out for that? Or do you let the pain accumulate for a while?

A lot of companies were caught totally by surprise a few months ago when their sales seemed to fall off a cliff. Question: Did you have rising inventory levels before that? Was there a threshold that forced attention to something unexpected? Or did you increasingly tolerate and normalize deviance from your intended business plan?

At the next levels up – you have a business plan of some kind. You have financial targets. Do you have specific actions you plan to take at specific times? Do you check if those actions were actually taken? Do those actions have some kind of predicted outcome associated with them? Do you check if the actual outcome matches what you predicted? If you just “try something to see what happens” you might learn, but you might not. If you predict, then try to see IF it happens, you are more likely to gain more understanding from that experience.

When you design a product, do you have performance specifications? Do you test your design(s) against those performance specifications? Do you do that at every stage, or just at the end?

When you say “We need training” have you first specified what the work process is? Have you studied the situation and determined that people do not have the skills or knowledge to do the job? Have you specified what those skills are?

Have you developed the training to specifically develop those skills? Do you have a way to verify that people got the skills required? Do you check if, now, they can perform the work that they could not perform before? If you didn’t do the last, why did you “train” them at all? How do you know it was not just entertainment?

“Management Is Prediction”

deming

This quote, attributed to W. Edwards Deming, really sums up what this is about. By specifying an outcome – “defect free” (which implies you know that is), within a certain time; and by specifying the process steps; you are predicting the outcome.

“If we do these things, in this sequence, it should require this amount of time, and produce this result.”

Then do it, and check:

Does what you really had to do reflect the tasks you thought would be required?

Does the order you really did them in reflect what was in the plan?

Does the time required reflect the time you planned on?

Did it produce the intended result?

Building those checks into the process itself makes it self-diagnostic.

Try This

Go study a process, any process. Just watch. Constantly ask yourself:

How does this person know what to do?

How does this person know if s/he is doing it right?

What alerts this person if s/he makes a mistake?

How does this person know s/he succeeded?

If there are clear, unambiguous answers right in front of you – without research, without requiring vigilance or luck on the part of the Team Member, then you probably have something approaching self-diagnostic work. Likely, you don’t. If that is the case, don’t say you are “doing lean.” You are only going through the motions.

Profitable Value Streams

Lean Product and Process Development by the late Allan Ward is an interesting view into his extensive research into Toyota’s product development system. I am still reading it (along with Product Development for the Lean Enterprise
by Michael Kennedy. The books present the same basic model in different ways, though I should point out that it Kennedy is obviously a protégé of Dr. Ward.

One key point really jumped out at me, and challenges the traditional mindset of the design engineering community.

The output of product development is a profitable value stream.

Think about that for a minute. How does this mindset alter the focus of the design engineering subtask of product development?

Is Your Lean Implementation Sticky or Slick?

My posts about “Made to Stick” and visual controls created some interesting responses on Jon Miller’s Gemba Panta Rei blog, so I want to continue the great dialog. Jon asks the great question “Is your lean deployment made to stick?” and extends the context from just visual controls to the entire concept.

Of course this level of thinking is the author’s intent in the book. I’d like to ask you, the reader and change agent, some questions that might help you see if you are obscuring your own message.

What is core message of your implementation?

The words “vision” and “mission” are so worn out today that people are cynical. And with good reason. By the time the board rooms are done with wordsmithing, there is no content left.

When I was growing up, current events in the USA were dominated by two stories:

  • The war in Vietnam.
  • Sending people to the moon.

Both were major undertakings and consumed a lot of talent and resources. Consider the core message for each.

Vietnam: Bad things will happen if we leave.

The Moon: “…achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon, and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Which is those is “sticky?” Which one captures the essence of True North so that everyone just knows not only what we are trying to do, but how they can contribute?

Take JFK’s commitment and put it in the language of a typical corporate mission statement: “We will be a world leader in space exploration.” Yawn. How will we know when we get there? Exactly. It is a very safe goal since it allows redefining success at any point.

Kennedy’s commitment is simple, concrete, credible, emotionally appealing, and made a hell of a story. How does yours stand up?

But we so-called “lean professionals” are by no means off the hook.

What is the core message of the TPS?

That is a little tougher to get to. Why? My theory is that we “professionals” are all cursed with what Heath and Heath call “the curse of knowledge.” We understand the nuances and details of how all of the pieces fit together. The question is: How much of that wealth of knowledge passes the “So What?” test. What is the lead story?

When you start talking about takt time, work sequences, cycle times, kanban loops, andon signals, painting lines on the floor, all of the so-called “tools” of the TPS, do people’s eyes glaze over? What ties it all together? What is the central theme, the core message?

I’ve re-written this paragraph about a dozen times. How can we get it down to Herb Kelleher’s “Southwest is the low-fare airline” (p 29 in the book) and not lose anything?

I think, at its fundamental core, the Toyota Production System is “A structured work environment which captures people’s creativity and focuses it solving problems every day.”

The next line in the story: “All of the tools, techniques, principles that people associate with the Toyota Production System are simply the best currently known mechanisms to surface problems, or they are the best currently known countermeasures to common problems.”

Nope, that is still to complicated.

The Toyota Production System structures the organization and the work so that people can solve problems to save time.

That comes closer. I think a test question: “Does that save time?” (without compromising safety, quality or the customer in any way) would usually discriminate between a good idea and a bad one.

Readers – there is no way on Earth (or the moon) that I have got this right, or even close, sitting here in a Beijing apartment at 11pm on a muggy Saturday night. My challenge is: in one sentence, as direct as “The low-fare airline,” capture the core message of the TPS in a way that guides decisions toward True North.

Next – your training.

Most of us use some kind of training materials. Question: Does each topic have a lead? Does it build the story? Does it tie to the top story? As you go into more depth, are the interconnections more and more apparent? Do you tie everything back to the TPS Lead Story? Failure to do these things decomposes the system. It gives people the impression they can pick and choose the tools vs. understanding that they all are doing the same thing in different contexts. It implies there is some kind of set-piece sequence of implementation.

Are your examples concrete? Are they things people can go do?

Do you build a shared experience base by telling stories? Or do you deliver abstract, cold, analytical bullet lists of “the three elements of standard work?” Who cares? Obviously they are important, but how well do you communicate exactly why balance to the takt time contributes to the effort of surfacing and solving problems?

OK – it is late, and I am rambling. I hope I have provoked a little thought.

I originally titled this piece “Is Your Lean Implementation Velcro or Teflon?” But Velcro Industries has enough challenges protecting their trademark without me making it worse.

Made To Stick

Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath have addressed head-on one of the biggest problems with implementing change in people’s thinking and behavior — crafting the concept in a way that makes it compelling.. “sticky” in their words.

The book is an extension of the concept described in Gladwell’s The Tipping Point which outlines “stickiness” as one of the things required for an idea to catch on and spread.

Read this book, then take a look at your presentations and training materials, and compare the messages with the examples in the book. Make an honest assessment:

Is your message:

Simple? Is the core concept immediately apparent?

Unexpected? Does it come across in a way that compels retention?

Concrete? Do analogies and examples make the concept something people can see, touch, feel in their minds (or even better, physically)?

Credible? Does it just make sense?

Emotional? Does it appeal to people’s feelings, or is it “just the facts” with cold analytical presentation.

Have stories? Does the presentation include experiences people can visualize?

Other books on organizational transformation, like John Kotter’s Leading Change talk about the critical importance of creating a sense of urgency, creating a vision, communicating that vision, but Made to Stick goes further and gives you tools to actually make sure your message gets across in a way that compels people to act differently.