Thursday, July 29, 2004

How Lean Gets Started

How Lean Gets Started

I'm often asked how to get a Lean movement started.  Many influential voices say "You have to have strong backing from senior management."  I respect that.  And I've also never been fully comfortable with that viewpoint.  Nor does it jive with my own experience.  But I haven't been able to fully articulate my discomfort, though either. 

But others have.  In a recent thread on
The Northwest Lean Networks, one of our most articulate writers shared his experience.  In his first post, Bob Miller's advice is to "Just get started and let the benefits speak for themselves."  Read the whole post, it's short and good.  Then a few days later, he followed up with a specific example of how he did it .  Wonderful material

These experiences are useful and line up almost perfectly with my own history.  Owners and senior managers are not all pathological creeps, no matter what Dilbert says.  Just get started...someone will notice and you will be rewarded. 
 I hope this is helpful.


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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Safety T Shirt

Best Ever Safety T-Shirt, originally uploaded by joeelylean.

Safety--be clear about it

On a beautiful Saturday morning, my walk took me past a parking lot under construction, where I saw the coolest T Shirt I'd seen in a while. I hustled home, got my camera, and Eric gave me permission to snap this photo.

Why did this simple T shirt grab me? Because of the clarity of it's message. If it isn't safe, don't do it. This is central to any safety program.

It also is a wonderful illustration of one of the pillars of Lean; jidoka or autonomation. In short, autonomation is all about the rapid detection and immediate correction of errors. Before they move on to the next step in the process. Mark Rosenthal, now of Eastman Kodak, wrote well on this and lists the four steps of autonomation:

  1. Detect the error.
  2. Stop.
  3. Correct the immediate problem.
  4. Install a countermeasure.
Do you see how this T shirt captures autonomation? Especially the first two steps? By seeing that something is unsafe, one detects the error. By determining to "not do it", one stops. At that point, there is still no accident. And the team can determine then what to do. But without a) detection and b) empowerment to Stop, accidents will keep happening.

Kudos to Milestone Construction of Indianapolis for having a strong safety policy and producing these T shirts. Hard-hats off to Eric, who wore the shirt with pride (and yes, I did have my hard hat on when I walked onto the site).

Words mean something...and these words save lives.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Can politics be Lean?

Can politics be Lean?

Politics don't interest me a lot.  So it says a lot about my level of boredom last night that I would pick up a magazine and read an analysis of last January's Iowa Caucuses. 


Imagine my wife's surprise as she walked though the room and I exclaimed to her "Gretchen, this is FASCINATING!" 


She rolled her eyes and said "I suppose you found something about Lean in that article." 


Yep.  It was an article about Michael Whouley, whom I'd never heard of and apparently most people have not.  And he is credited with single-handedly steering John Kerry to a crucial win in Iowa, which led to Kerry winning the Democratic nomination.  And he did it in a mere 2.5 months.  It's a long article but a few things jumped out at me that illustrate lean principles:


·         Document Reality.  Whouley insisted on a tough, rigorous system of counting Kerry support levels.  He railed at puffed up numbers.  As such, he knew just what support his candidate had. 

·         Discipline to stay Simple.  He had a simple strategy and enforced it strictly.  This simple discipline enabled volunteers to stay on task. 

·         Speed and Focus beats Size. In the face of millions of dollars thrown at this campaign by Howard Dean's seeming juggernaut, Whouley steered a team a tenth the size of Dean's to a clear victory.  Because he knew what reality was and linked this to a simple strategy, rigorously applied, he wasted none of his precious personnel or funding...all of it delivered value.


All of this made me think of my friends at Wiremold and what they did under the equally significant leadership of Art Byrne from 1990-2002.  And it struck me how these principles work.  In such a variety of places. 


I hope this is helpful.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Change...Ya Gotta Believe

Ya Gotta Believe

My wife and I had dinner this weekend at a local resturant.  As we were seated, our server offered their current special, a dish called "El Ranchero."  We opted out, had a nice meal and conversation. 

Once the 9 noisy people seated next to us left, we were able to hear better.  And thus overheard a converstion between two other servers.

"Hey, ya sold any El Rancheros today?"

"Nope.  I don't like the El how can I sell it?"

Wow.  There's the change process in a nutshell.  From other sinage in the place, I could tell the management wanted this dish to sell well.  I'm sure the shift manager had made quite a point to ask servers to present it early in the process of seating guests.  It actually sounded pretty good to me, though I didn't order it.

Yet, one server's personal taste scuttled the entire company's effort.  And, at her tables, my el predicto is that they will sell nada El Rancheros. 

And don't we do this daily?  I sure do.    We think that by telling someone to push El Ranchero, that they a) understand and b) will act accordingly.  And we'll see mucho El Rancheros being sold. 

And then we wonder "What happened?"

The solution?  Ask our people what they heard.  Ask "what concerns do you have about this?"  Ask "does this seem odd to you?"  When you hear something, thank the speaker.  Then ask the ultimate followup question; "In addition to that, do you have other concerns?"  Only by asking this second question do we ever get to the underlying issues that can derail any change effort. 

The Lean effort involves change.  We dare not focus only on the tools...we have to listen to the people as well.  Unless they believe, it won't happen.

I hope this is helpful. 

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

two quick lessons

Two quick lessons from the past 24 hours


Rabbit Trails


I had a complex financial report to do this morning.  Got it done and was off by precisely $50.00.  Ugh.  Where's the error?  Combing the data, I found one individual entry for $50.00.  Aha, I say, that has to be it.  I missed it or double entered it somehow.  Search and search.  I did that entry correctly.  Reviewing the more mundane entries, I discovered I had mistyped a "2" instead of a "7" in the tens column on a totally different part of the report.  Boom.  The $50.00 error was real but not where I expected it. I wasted an hour trying to confirm what I was sure was true. 


Lesson:  The culprit is not always where I think it is. Test the conclusion before landing on it. 




Those of you who know me even a little bit know I have an avocation for umpiring Little League baseball and I've been doing this since the mid 80s.  July is a busy month with tournaments.  Last night, I called the balls and strikes while a veteran umpire I've known for 8 years sat in the press box, just above home plate, literally looking over my shoulder, taking notes.  After the game, he had several pages of comments.  Some good.  Many on details I need to work on.  "Hold you hand higher to indicate time out."  "Move your right foot farther forward with a left-handed batter at the plate." For about 15 minutes.  Fine points, unnoticed by any fan and most players.  Yet part of excellence. 


I know a lot about umpiring.  Yet I relished the input from Tom.  Why?  a)  I trust him.  I know he acts with my best interest in mind.  b) He has competence.  He's worked high levels of baseball.  c)  I know this is key to improving.  I have to have someone who is beyond me to teach me.


Lesson:  Find a mentor.  Someone who will shoot straight with you in an area you seek to excel.  In Lean terms this is called a sensei or teacher, (who might tell you this ).  I'm increasingly seeing there is no way to true excellence without such a teacher. 


I hope this is helpful. 


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Simple Metrics

A Handful of Key Metrics

As I’ve written often in this space, Lean systems must latch onto a small handful of key metrics. It is not easy to arrive at these metrics. Yet, when you do, it’s like the perfect vacation spot…you ask yourself “Why didn’t I use this sooner?”

First thing this morning, my colleague Kevin pointed out to me a new metric he’s using with his team. Simple. Clear. And puts its numeric finger onto an obvious problem.

Ten minutes later, my daily email from Blogarithm told me Jeff Angus added a new blog entry yesterday. Going there, I read his fascinating piece on simple, predictive metrics. It has much to teach the Lean practitioner.

Assess one of your metrics today. Make it clear and visual if you can. Then, see if you can explain it to three colleagues. You’ll be surprised.

I hope this is helpful.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Time Magazine on Market Based forecasting

Tapping into the wisdom of your people


In a lean setting, we want to continually gain insight from the people touching the product, the customers, the machines, the processes.  


Well.... take this concept an entire factor of a thousand forward.  Time Magazine recently published a very mind-boggling article on stock market-like ways to find this information.  Quickly and efficiently.  With minimal waste.  Pretty well blew my mind. 


Is this applicable in our company settings?  Could we get better information, faster, using such a mechanism?  I'd welcome your comments.


I hope this is helpful...and expands your thinking today. 





Friday, July 09, 2004

Defensiveness, Blame, Curiosity

Defensiveness, Blame, Curiosity


Is it a coincidence?  Or am I just noticing?


Recently, Dave Anderson wrote on not blaming for poor performance.  Then, a few days later, John Sambrook wrote on how blaming incites defensiveness.  Several weeks ago, I posted a chart I found guiding us to shift from defensiveness to curiosity on a subject. 


Each post adds a facet to the same jewel.  The jewel is being effective in a rapidly changing environment. 


When things change rapidly, it is easy to shift blame.  It is easy to insist that the other person must be wrong.  How much better to rather choose to be curious about what is going on, to ask questions rather than making large statements, to understand first. 


This is good material...I hope you will read the links and follow through.  And I hope it is helpful for you. 




Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Dave Anderson on Lean/TOC

Couldn't have said it better myself...


I mentioned in a long item last week on airport security last week that "TOC tells you where, Lean tells you how."  Saying this much more eloquently, Dave Anderson of Agile Management describes how Lean and Theory of Constraints relate.  All based on a recent seminar he attended with Eli Goldratt, author of TOC. 


And, yes, we agree...Dave's just a better writer.  Salute! 


I hope this is helpful.



Monday, July 05, 2004

Dave Barry on Security Lines at Airports..ha ha

Airport Security Line Constraints meet Avacados

Gee, I didn't know humorist Dave Barry read my recent post about airport security line constraints. However, it seems he located a new constraint to security check throughput.

This may not be terribly helpful, but may give you a smile.

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