The Lean Manager: Part 3 – People, Purpose, Problems, Process vs. “Systems”

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This is Part 3 of a multi-part review. Part 1 is here.

Before I get into it, I will break the rules of blogging and acknowledge a time gap here. I did finish the book shortly after I wrote part 2, in fact, I didn’t want to put it down. So now I am going back through and bringing out some key points, intermixed with some other stuff that has caught my interest lately. Anyway – back to what you came for…

Steve Spear has described the TPS as a “socio-technical system.” Put in less formidable terms, it is a system that uses the structure of the work, the work environment and the support systems (the technical part) to create an organizational culture of problem solving.

Jenkinson, Andy’s boss in the book, describes it:

“You need to organize a clear flow of problem solving, explained Jenkinson one more time. “Operators need to have a complete understanding of normal conditions, so that whenever there is a gap, they know it’s a problem. Go and see is not just for the top management, It’s for everybody. This means operators as well, in particular how they learn to see parts and see the equipment they use. How can all operators recognize they have a problem? [emphasis added]

The simple statement, and following question posed by Jenkinson sums up a great deal that is left out of lean implementations. I see it everywhere, and will be commenting on it more shortly.

We talk about “go and see” (or “genchi genbutsu“) as something leaders do. I think this is because traditional leaders aren’t naturally out in the work areas, on the shop floor, in the hangars, etc. We don’t think about the workers because they are there all of the time.

Yes, they are. But what do they see? Do they see disruptions and issues as things they are expected to somehow work around and deal with? Or do they see these things as something to call out, and fully participate in solving?

And if they do see a problem, what is the process for engaging it?

Just saying “you are empowered to fix the problem” does not make it so. When are they supposed to do it? Do they have the skills they need? How do you know? Is there a time-based process to escalate to another level if they get stuck? (Or do they just have to give up?)

And indeed, as the story in the book develops, Andy turns out to be taking a brute-force approach. He is directing staff to implement the tools and to solve problems. But in spite of nearly continuous admonitions from his boss and other experts, he is not checking how they are doing it. He has put a “get-r-done” operations manager into place, and while the guy is getting “results,” in the long haul it doesn’t work very well. Yes, they end making some improvements, but at the expense of alienating the work force.

It is only late in the story (and I won’t get into the details to avoid playing the spoiler to a pretty good plot twist) that Andy finally learns the importance of having a process that is deliberately designed to engage people.

Commentary – it is amazing to me just how much we (in the “lean community”) talk about engaging people, but never really work through the deliberate processes to do it. There are explicit processes for everything involving production, administration, etc. but somehow we expect “engaging people” to happen spontaneously just because we believe it is a good thing.

The message in this book is loud and clear. This is about leadership. The tools are important, yes, but only (in my opinion) because they are proven techniques that allow people to become engaged with the process.

But the tools alone do not require people to get engaged.

Permission to make input is necessary, but not sufficient. If you want people to be engaged, you have to deliberately engage them. Otherwise you are just asking them to become nameless cogs in “the system.”

The Lean Manager: Part 2 – The Basics

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This is Part 2 of a multi-part review. Part 1 is here.

In my review of Kaizen Express back in May, I took LEI to task for two things – First, I didn’t feel Kaizen Express contributed anything really new to the body of knowledge. I would have been satisfied if it had more clearly explained what had been said before, but it didn’t do that either. Second, and more importantly, I felt that Kaizen Express, and the LEI in general, were propagating the conception that the tools were what defined “lean” and that “the tools” were “the basics.” I disagreed on both points, and still do.

I am now about halfway through The Lean Manager, and I believe this book is addressing those issues – and hopefully challenging some of the thinking within the publishers. In other words, in its content, this book is everything that Kaizen Express isn’t. Get it. Read it. Do what it says, and you will actually be implementing the basics.

What makes this different? Instead of revolving around technical descriptions of the tools, this book clearly shows the proper relationship between the tools and the two most important aspects of what makes the Toyota Production System work:

  • Leaders (and how they lead and what they lead – and it isn’t implementing the tools)
  • People (yes, other books pay lip service by mentioning shop floor engagement, but The Lean Manager is all about shop floor engagement)

The authors start to hammer home the point in Chapter 2, Everybody, Every Day. In one of the many lecturettes they use to convey the key points via their characters, Amy, a corporate consultant, sums it up:

Everybody, everyday solving problems, that’s the only answer to the Pareto dilemma. You’ve got to visualize two flows in the plant. One: the product flow[. . .].  Two: the problem flow to the person who finally solves the problem. [. . .] you shouldn’t funnel all problems to your key technical people. You should protect them to work on the really difficult issues. What you have to organize is the problem solving in the line!”

And with that, the rest of the story follows – this fictitious plant manager under fire in this fictitious company sets out to do that.

The subsequent chapters (so far – remember, I haven’t finished the book yet) are Go and See, which hammers home the importance of the leaders – all of the leaders being present, not just to witness problems, but to ensure they are being solved by the right people, in the right way. Further, they must break down any barriers which impede that flow. And it’s not just the leaders. Ultimately, the entire shop floor is organized so that everyone is immersed in genchi genbutsu every time a task is carried out or work is performed. This becomes the check in PDCA.

Chapter 3 is titled Managing is Improving and begins the confront the psychological and organizational aspects of the changes that are now coming to a head in the story. This part requires the most creativity on the part of the authors, as it is an entirely human process. Because it is a human process, not a technical one, it is impossible to write a technical manual on how to do it. It requires knowledgeable, dedicated leadership that is humble enough to stake out a position that might be wrong, knowing that doing so improves the chance of learning something.

And that has been the issue in our industry. It is far, far easier to describe the tools in excruciating detail than it is to confront the leadership and organizational change issues. And because the technical descriptions predominate the literature (including, and especially what has come out of LEI for the last 10+ years), it is far easier to believe that “implementing the tools” is something that leaders can delegate to specialized technical staff.

This book, so far, is (rightly) turning that thinking on its ear.

Continued at Part 3.

The First Steps of The Lean Journey

“Where do I start?” seems to be one of the most commonly asked, and most intensely discussed and debated, topic on the various discussion forums over the years. Yet a clear consensus hasn’t really emerged.

Normally I don’t wade into those discussions when the question is asked generically. The reason is that without specifics about the situation, it is really hard to answer. There isn’t a clear set of step-by-step directions that say “Start here” followed by (2), (3) and so on.

Here’s how I look at it.

The theoretical end-game (which you likely never reach) is perfect one-piece-flow at takt time, with a perfectly safe work environment, producing 100% defect-free product, with no environmental impact, delivering it exactly when the customer needs it, without any wasted motion.

The practical end-game comes when the laws of physics and the limits of known technology become the limiting factors for further progress. (And even in that case, this is a usually a limit of human knowledge, which can be improved.)

The beginning is where ever you are.

There is no first step.
There is only the next step that moves you incrementally and tangibly toward perfection.

That next step is going to depend largely on what you are starting with.

The variation of starting points is what confounds the efforts to set down a formula. Any abstract attempt to answer the “Where do I start?” question must build in assumptions that answer the “Start from where?” question.

Here are a couple of examples.

If there is so much clutter and junk that people have to move things out of the way just to get work done, then absolutely, begin with the classic starting point – 5S. That can take anyone a long way as they learn to question why something is out of place, and come to realize that introducing new things into the workplace can will alter the way work is done. Best to do it on-purpose than randomly.

On the other hand, if the place is fairly neat, and most of the things are where they need to be, or close, and “looking for stuff” is not a huge impediment to the work, then I might be inclined to let workplace organization naturally evolve as part of the effort to establish some degree of stability.

If there is a hugely varying customer demand signal hitting the shop floor every day, calculating takt time is an exercise in frustration. If nobody believes it is possible to stabilize the demand, they aren’t much interested in hearing about takt. So the “first steps” might be to work on a leveling system so people have some solid ground to stand on.

It comes down to what is, right now, disrupting the effort to smooth out the work.

Maybe it’s quality and tons of rework. Then we’ve got to work on that. Or part shortages. Then at least contain the problem until a long-term solution can be put into place.

Sometimes it is leader’s knowledge. They don’t believe, or don’t understand, how improvement is possible. Countermeasure? Because “knowledge” is the next impediment to improvement, the “first step” becomes some kind of leader education, study mission, or other experience that is going to give them some confidence that they can do better (and it won’t be painful to get there).

If the organization has a lot of functional silos that are disrupting each other, it could be really beneficial to take a cross-functional team through a really deep exercise to understand how their system works and why it performs as it does. (this is a good time to use the current-state value stream map or a makagami.)

How do you know?
Ah – and that is why people ask the question in the first place.
As much as I hate to say it, I think the answer is “from experience.” This is one place where it might be worth your while to bring in someone who has done this a few times and get an opinion.

But if they tell you where to start without first personally assessing where you are, I’d question the quality of the answer. “There is no substitute for direct observation,” or, to use the Japanese jargon, genchi genbutsu. You can’t answer the question without first understanding the specific situation. At least I can’t, which is probably why I stay out of those debates.

I’d like to hear what you think. Feel free to leave comments.

Dennis Goethals, Learning and Leading at DesignOnStock Furniture

During my visit to The Netherlands, I had the pleasure to spend a couple of hours with Dennis Goethals, Managing Director and CEO of DesignOnStock, a furniture manufacturer in Tilburg, The Netherlands. What I saw and heard were all of the critical elements I have seen in organizations that pull this off in a spectacular fashion.

It starts, as always, with leadership. DesignOnStock, like every other success story I have experienced, has a leader who dedicated to his personal learning and understanding – at a level way beyond the common, but hollow, statements of “committed.” He is down on his shop floor, exploring the flow, looking for the next problem, and working the organization through a solution.

The results? He can deliver a custom order in 1/10 the time of his competitors. In these hard times, his business is increasing because he can offer quick turn-arounds to his customers who don’t want to keep a lot of inventory in anticipation of sales. They can sell one, order one, and have the replacement in a few days.

Rather than trying to recall the details myself, I asked Dennis to share his story as an interview.

How did you first get into the furniture manufacturing business, and what was your experience there?

Dennis: I studied Economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. My father had a small upholstery company. When he got sick, we agreed I would come and we would work together. My experience was that the furniture making industry is very traditional. No real partnership between companies. Very small companies in the whole industry. (the biggest in Holland is 350 people, on average 10-20 people per company). As I am an entrepreneur I thought this is the perfect industry to work in. High prices, some volume and not so much really strong competition. We worked like crazy and in 4 years time we grew from 5 to 25 people and from 300.000 usd to 6.000.000 usd. Sales was not our problem, we had great difficulty organizing our production. So much difficulty that at some stage I decided to sell the company and move the factory to Turkey.

Ed. Note: To fill in a gap in the timeline here, Dennis formed a partnership and opened another factory in Tilburg which was being set up traditionally when he then encountered “lean manufacturing.”

When did you first encounter “lean manufacturing?”
What was your initial reaction?

Dennis: Steven Blom introduced Lean manufacturing to me on 6th of December 2006 at 11.30 in the morning. I thought it was the most brilliant thing I had ever seen in my life! I realized I knew nothing about production, only what I had seen at other companies. And I was amazed not everybody is doing this.

What kind of problems did you have to overcome as you tried to implement flow?
How did you go about solving those problems?

Dennis: We had 2 big problems implementing flow:

First, when you implement flow it becomes very clear what everybody in the production line is doing. We had to replace some operators who didn’t like the idea of the ‘flow’ of their work to be visible. We ended up replacing almost 1/3 of the workforce because they didn’t want to leave the idea of batch production. This was very hard to do, letting people go is always difficult. But for us this was the only way.

And second, when you implement flow you have to make sure that the supply of parts is well organized, otherwise your line is down most of the time. We started to use kanban to order our parts to solve this. In ordering materials for your production line, kanban is the most brilliant thing I have ever seen.

What has this done for your business and your competitiveness up to this point?
How have you been effected by the global economic conditions?

Dennis: It has been an amazing experience. We reduced our lead time from 30 days to 3 days. We reduced inventory 60%. Our product quality has increased, our profit has tripled. We are the only company in the Netherlands who can ship a custom build sofa within the week! Due to the economic crisis a lot of our customers have cash flow issues. We are the only player in the market who can generate cash within 2 weeks. A lot of customers focus on selling products to improve their cash position. We increased turnover by 10% and due to further cost reductions we increased revenue by 60%.

Where do you think you are now on the “lean journey?”
What are your next steps?

Dennis: We have just begun our lean journey. The first thing we did was to implement one piece flow. This was the big breakthrough. Now we are fine tuning the tools you need to do one piece flow. I think we can double the output without increasing our workforce. We will do a lot of work ‘upstream.’ In his visit Mark explained this to me and this has brought a lot of new energy to us. We will try to further reduce inventory, simplify our system and we will have a very big focus on visualization and standardization in the months to come.

Do you have any advice for people who are wondering if this will work for them?

Dennis: I would use the Nike slogan: Just do it! When you first start to hear about lean, WCM (World Class Manufacturing), one piece flow, kanban etc. it all sounds a bit strange. Start with something really small. Like buy your groceries with a kanban system. That is how I learned it. This is a way of thinking, not a system you implement and then go back to business as usual. When you really get this, it will change all!

To conclude I would like to quote Lao Tze: Show me and I will look. Tell me and I will listen. Let me experience and I will learn.


I would like to offer thanks, again, to Dennis for taking his valuable time both to show me around his plant, and to respond with his own words for the story of his experience. What I appreciate most, I think, is that he is not resting on his accomplishments. Rather, he sees what he has done so far only as a foundation.

Genchi Genbutsu in a Warehouse

Now and then something comes across that makes it all worth it. And nothing is more “worth it” to me than to know something I said or did contributed to someone’s insight or impetus to do something spectacular.

Yesterday Earl sent me an email that is one of those times. I was going to edit it from an email to me into a story about Earl’s experience. But instead, I decided to just publish it (with his permission) pretty much as I got it. But to be clear, this is about Earl, and his learning, not about me or my teaching.


I received this email [see below] the other day from John.

John was one of the lean leaders working for me in Rochester when I was the Lean Director for Kodak’s Global Logistics team and you were the Lean Director for Equipment Mfg. He is now a professor at RIT teaching lean.

One of the things he does with every class is bring them through his old operation in Kodak. The operation is an outbound crossdock for all of Kodak Park where, through applying our lean principles, primarily “flowing at takt”, we have taken a 2,000,000 square foot (186,000 m2) warehouse and replaced it with an 85,000 square foot (<8000 m2) crossdock.

Along the way we reduced the costs by 70%, improved the reliability to +/- a few hours, and amassed an enviable safety record….and as you can see in his note, we’re making it better every day.

When I think back to how we got here, I have to go back to what started as an innocent Friday night, when you, Paul Cary, and I were sitting around his office and you and Paul were pushing on me that we weren’t really thinking about lean in the right way in Logistics, and I was pushing back that “you didn’t understand”….that we just move pallets around the warehouse.

I can remember like it happened yesterday, but it was actually a few years ago, you and Paul looked at each other, looked at me, jumped up and said “Let’s go see”, so we did.

Several hours later, we emerged from the warehouse, not tired and worn out, but energized and excited. You had helped me to see what was invisible to me (and everyone else around)….even though I was the local “lean expert”.

The approach was classic “Mark”, and I have to admit I’ve stolen it and used it as my own many times, although not nearly as effortlessly. At your insistence, we entered through the outbound dock door, as you pointed out, “closest to the customer”. As I started to walk through and into the warehouse proper, you stopped at the door, and made me stop and describe what I was seeing.

The “Five Why’s” were relentless, and I think it was something like 30-40 minutes before we even moved off that spot, but the seeds were planted right then and there. I had now started to see the whole warehouse as “waste” and totally unnecessary if we could only get product flowing at takt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied on the lessons learned that night to guide me when I get in the middle of something unfamiliar to me.

Well, it took us a couple of years, but your invaluable and patient counsel over the next few years shaped a whole organization’s culture. I know better (now) than to suggest “we’ve arrived”, but the principle of using “flow at takt” and making waste visible to drive continuous improvement is firmly rooted in our DNA now.

Aside from the impressive performance statistics of the operation I know you’ll appreciate more that the things you taught me have been dutifully passed along from me to the manager of the area, and through him, to his successor, and now through the college to many more. All we have to do now is close the loop and get you to hire one of the RIT students somewhere!

I’ll not pretend that a couple of hours on a Friday night several years ago was all it took, and I’m forever indebted to the many hours you spent with me afterwards helping me to grow, but it was truly a life changing event, and I thought you’d appreciate seeing a snippet of what it’s led to. Thanks again for all your insight and support in our, and my, journey.

If you ever find your way back East, you have to stop in to see it, drinks are on me. It is pretty wild, but if you do, I might tiptoe carefully around the idea that you’re the guy that taught me to “physically constrain the process to force it to flow at takt”. It was an essential part of our journey, but obviously anyone that would suggest we can change a 2,000,000 square foot warehouse into an 85,000 square foot crossdock can’t be seeing the world the right way! (Of course I have to follow that up with one of my favorite quotes one of the VP’s here used….”If it wasn’t for the fact we already did it, we would have said it’s impossible”. Thanks again.
This is the email he is talking about:

Dave and Tony, thanks again for giving the walk through to my 25 advanced lean class students yesterday. Some observations:

I think the floor was about the cleanest I have ever seen it. It is always clean, but yesterday seemed even more so.

The evidence of continuous improvement is amazing. Yesterday I saw a number of things that I did not see in my last visit Feb 10 – new lane structures, hybrid cards, changes in box 2, clearer e-box sheets, new standard work sheets and visuals, etc.

I really appreciate you taking to heart the input I gave you based on the feedback from my last class on the tour structure/agenda itself. The last tour was very good, this one was awesome. The standard work sheet Dave showed me for the tour was great standard work – content, sequence, timing and outcomes were all vividly clear. I asked for more of a focus on the production control system and you delivered on that request. Dave, in your intro, you sounded like me teaching my class (maybe not a good thing?!?).

[…]I was pleased the students had more time to ask more questions. I keep preaching continuous improvement in class and you guys model it which helps give the message credibility in the minds of the students.

The other thing that struck me, which is not new but seemed different for some reason I can’t explain….. You are moving large volumes of freight, […] and the floor is just so calm. There is no panic, no arguing, no anxiety, just people following the processes, getting product from point A to point B, in a quiet, controlled, efficient way. I still remember when I brought the facilities class over last spring, and especially 2 of the folks with lots of work experience said “I never imagined that a warehouse type of environment could actually look like this.”

Your safety performance is stunning. I know the record when I was there was 534 days. Then we had 2 “old-age” repetitive motion injuries in 2 weeks, then you went 600 + days. Now you are at 200+ days. Absolutely remarkable in a tight space with fork lift trucks moving around. 3 OSHA reportables in 4 years, wow.

I clearly remember “that Friday night.” I think we were in there until 10:00 or later. Paul and I had a really good synergistic style, we reinforced each other, and it was an intense experience for whoever was on the receiving end. This was not the last time we took someone through this exercise.

To be sure, it was Earl and his team that did all of the heavy lifting. All Paul and I did was give him a sense of an ideal flow, and challenged them to discover, and overcome, the obstacles between the current state and that vision – one problem at a time, a couple every day.

4S, 5S, 6S

Staight left an interesting post on The Whiteboard a couple of days ago:

You’ve discussed 5S but Novaces, for example, has a 6S system. I think it would be great if you talked about different consultant companies and their processes.

Novaces, it turns out, is a consultancy apparently based out of New Orleans. In the nature of full disclosure, I have to say that I know nothing about them other than what is on their web site plus they (apparently) teach 6S rather than 5S. I render no opinion either way about their competency or capability.

There are a lot of good consultancies out there. There are a lot of mediocre ones. There are some that are charlatans. I suppose one of the great ironies of the business is that, if you are capable of reliably vetting them on their competency, you probably don’t need them in the first place.

For the sake of the discussion, though, I want to limit myself to the population of really good ones. These are the ones who are primarly there to teach the clients how to engage in the kind of sharp critical thinking that charactarizes high-performance organizations.

The good consultancies will have an approach that applies the same principles. And here is the key point:

As long as the basic principles of the thinking structure get embedded, it really does not matter that much how they do it. If a consultancy wants to differentiate itself by using 6S, or 4S, instead of 5S, there is little difference in the result if they are any good.

Let’s take the different numbers of ‘S’ and really take a look at why this is true.

Though they may have adapted 5S today, originally (a long time ago) Toyota taught 4S. The idea of “self discipline” or “sustaining” didn’t come into it because that was embedded thoroughly in the culture. It was taught elsewhere.  Likewise for safety. It isn’t that they leave it out because they didn’t have it called out as an ‘S’, they just include it somewhere else.

What is the 6th S? I don’t know what Novaces uses, but I have most commonly seen it as Safety. It isn’t a bad thing to include it, but in reality, as long as relentless daily problem solving is applied to safety issues somewhere, somehow, there isn’t a right or wrong way to teach it or do it.

Some consultants claim to “fill in the gaps” of “lean manufacturing.” They add hyphens or create three letter abbreviations to differentiate their product. Because the term “lean manufacturing” originally referred to the observed results of the Toyota Production System, and not the system itself, there is a lot of room to make claims that it leaves things out because the method was never really defined in a holistic way.

“Lean manufacturing” not withstanding, IF you stipulate that “lean manufacturing” is the “Toyota Production System” and then understand that, to Toyota, this is their entire management system – it encompasses everything they do – then to claim “lean manufacturing” has gaps is to claim that Toyota somehow leaves something out. I don’t think so. Sure, they slip up like everyone else, but their management system is pretty thorough.

For example, I have heard things like “we are lean, now we need quality.” Hello? If you aren’t obsessive about quality, if you aren’t applying immediate detection, stop, correction and countermeasure investigation to every quality problem, how can you possibly claim you are “lean?” If you aren’t doing these things, you are just making defective goods very efficiently.

But I also understand that there ARE companies that think they have implemented lean, and have totally left out the quality component. So if it makes sense to them, (the customer) to find a consultant to help them “fill in the gap” then great. They still get there.

And that is the point. Getting there.

One last point. To get there you have to pick a course and stick with it. What trips up a lot of companies is they get to the point where they are “stuck” without examining (in the mirror) the factors that are causing it. Instead, they switch course, and say “AH! It must be Theory of Seven Sigma” that will get us there. But in reality, because all of these approaches require a change in the way everyone thinks, without that fundamental shift, they end up in the same place a little later…

Cause remember, no matter where you go… there you are.

Setting Up For Success (or failure)

Remember when, a few short months ago, everyone was too busy taking orders and building up all of that inventory that you see out of your window now? Times have changed.

Then again, very few can claim lack of a “burning platform” now. Platform? Today it is more about getting out of the building alive!

Still, a few organizations are trying to drive change into the way they operate, and many more will fail than succeed.

The reasons why this is true were articulated by John Kotter back in 1995 in his now classic article Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.

The short list is:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency.
  2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition.
  3. Creating a vision.
  4. Communicating the vision. (Over-communicating!)
  5. Empowering others to act on the vision.
  6. Planning for and creating short-term wins.
  7. Consolidating improvements and producing still more change.
  8. Institutionalizing new approaches.

The question, then, becomes “Are you deploying effective countermeasures against these known failure points?”

I would like to share an exercise I used (admittedly improvised as I went) with a company leadership team a few years ago. It ended up really hitting them between the eyes with the gap between their perception and the reality.

Prior to the day, I had them all read the article.

We spent some time discussing and understanding each of the eight points Kotter discusses.

Then I had each of the little sub-teams we had break out and score how effectively they felt they were dealing with each of these eight items. For example, how well did they rate themselves on “Communicating the vision?” It was a simple numeric rating, 1-5.

Each sub-team then debriefed the group, and found everyone was pretty close to consensus.

In the meantime, we had another group going through the same exercise. This group consisted of the direct reports of the top leadership team.

We compared the numbers. They were very different.

The leaders rated themselves as being pretty effective. Their direct reports were not so kind. We didn’t do it, but it would have been interesting to do the same thing another level down again.

The leaders gained a decent understanding of the huge gap that existed between what they thought they were doing vs. how it was being read by their staff. What the leaders thought was a clear, crisp “change” message was pretty mushy by the time it was filtered through words vs. actions.

Try it in your organization. Assess yourselves. Then do the same assessment with another group a couple of levels closer to reality. See what you get.


Beyond the Value Stream

As I mentioned a long time ago, Art Smalley’s web site,, is an excellent resource for learning. His thinking is cutting edge – he has kept up in the field.

I am mentioning it here because he has a couple of really good resources available.

Learning From Toyota is a presentation that challenges some of the conventional thinking about what “lean” is… or better, contrasts the current “lean industry” from Toyota’s thinking and approach.

The Eight Basic Questions of TPS is a longer article on the same topic.

In both cases, Art emphasizes that the classic approach of mapping value streams and implementing flow cover only a very small fraction of what makes up the system. Indeed, in my opinion, those steps will uncover (e.g. confront) many more previously buried problems than they resolve. Yet so many practitioners, many of them even taking your money as consultants, never go beyond these basic steps.

Look at the “classic” questions and Art’s questions, and see for yourself how different the path is.

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.

Back in China

At the end of the last post I promised to write more when I was over the jet-lag of returning from three weeks in China. Well.. I didn’t, and how I am back over here.

While I was in the USA I took some time off, or at least I did during my “day job.” Since I live near Seattle, it is 5:00 pm there when the people here in China get to work and the Blackberry starts buzzing. Thus I am on and off email until either: Things get quiet long enough for me to just decide to go to sleep or 2:00 am when they end the workday here at 5pm.

For better or worse, my approach here has been to try to establish from the beginning a sense that we don’t wait for an “event” to study a process and look for improvements. Instead, we study and improve every time we do it. I am trying to instill a culture that continuously compares “what is happening” vs. “what should be happening” and acts whenever there is a gap.

Overall, however, I find the main role here is to get the right people equipped with the right skills and tools, and ensure they are working on the right things, then supporting them.

“Working on the right things” means taking responsibility for what is not going to get done right now rather than assigning a dozen “#1 priorities.”