Tuesday, December 30, 2003

"Those who are both humble and tough"

Last fall, a good friend gave me a remarkable little book, a collection of essays by C.S. Lewis (good sites here and here ) from the 1930s and 40s. Lewis is best known for his five-book set about the fictional world of Narnia. He was also, though one of finest thinkers and ethicists of the mid 20th century and has long been a favorite of mine.

And a surprise came in the middle of the book. In a lecture at Oxford in October, 1939, Lewis sought to give students perspective as to why they should continue in their education even as Europe lurched inexorably towards war. Why stay with their studies when the call to action seemed so loud?

Lewis answered with a telling quote. Each vocation and stage of training has its dullness, its boredom. Which is useful because, Lewis said,

It weeds out the vain, windy people and keeps in those who are both humble and tough.

Who really makes it? Who are the true influencers? Who is it who really changes things? Is it not those who have humility? Who do not care where the credit goes so long as the job gets done? Is it not those who are tenacious to get results and hang in there? Those who can put up with the boredom, the petty pot-shots, the political wrangling, the difficulty with understanding correctly? And is it not those who are humble and tough who earn the trust of others?

The simplicity of Lewis' words rings true 63 years later. And is a great challenge and encouragement to all of us hoping to make a difference in our organizations.

May you practice humility and be tough today.

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Monday, December 29, 2003

Five Minds of a Manager, Part 5

I'll tie up today my comments on this fine article from the November issue of Harvard Business Review by Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg (click for a free summary or to download for $7, if you don't have the article).

The last two mindsets of the manager as described are the Collaborative Mindset (that is, managing relationships) and the Action mindset (managing change). These two perspectives jive closely with previous three.

Collaboration cannot take place unless the manager is with others, both physically and emotionally. Relationships are key. And, this acknowledges that we are not purely rational people...we have likes and dislikes, warts and gowns. In one simple way, collaboration means the manger listens more than talks. The manager chooses to shut up. Frequently. It means leadership is earned from, not thrust upon them.

Which leads to action. The authors point out that our usual view of action is a linear one...we plot a course, take steps and the expected result happens. IF you are a good leader. In reality, action is far less linear. An opportunity presents itself. It is seized (or not). The organization improves (or not). And then it happens again. When will we get out of the illusion of linear action?

I think part of the key to moving out of this illusion is to look at the interrelatedness of managerial excellence captured in this short article. Unless one reflects, one will miss the opportunity. Apart from collaboration, others don't add their input. Lousy analysis will lead to poor use of cash and people. If we miss the impact on the worlds of the those affected, it won't improve. If we don't understand change, surprise, nothing will change.

Conversely, a reflective understanding of the worlds of others, collaborating with them while breaking down the components of the action will be generally positive. And, even if it fails, it won't sink the ship. And the lean leader will learn from any failure, and continue to drive waste out.

I hope this short series was helpful for you. Thanks for reading.

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Five Minds of a Manager, Part 4

I hope I'm not boring you with my continued comments on the most excellent article from the November issue of Harvard Business Review by Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg (click for a free summary or to download for $7, if you don't have the article). But it is very helpful to me to write about it. So, hang on!

The authors third aspect of managing was refreshing to me. They call it Managing Context: The Worldly Mind-Set. What on earth is this? A suggestion that the next business seminar should be in New Orleans during Mardi Gras??

Quite simply, the worldly mindset implores managers to make decisions looking hard that the "world" in which the decisions will be implemented. The authors write extensively for the multi-national corporation, with examples of cultures, governments, ecologies in far-off places. Probably true, I just don't know much about that.

However, this "mindset" is clearly something a Lean manager should address, at either the micro or macro level. Lean managers have known for a long time to physically get to gemba, the workplace. This is why daily meetings take place in the work area. This is why blitzes or kaizens take place on the shop floor. This is why a value stream map should be drawn in the work place, not in an office. This is why visual measurements are very clear right where people work.

In a sidebar, the authors summarize this mindset:

What matters is attention paid to particular responses to specific conditions.
Here's our old friend, the concept of "attention". They set this attention to specifics against the trend of generalizations about markets, values and practices.

I recall reading in the early 80s a business magazine marveling at how Canon had taken over such a huge market share in cameras at the time. The authors described, with apparent horror, Canon's technique. They would send an experienced manager or engineer to spend five days in a real camera store, behind the counter, talking to real customers. They found that a small handful to people spending a small amount of time in real contact with real customers gave them more market insight than processed data from focus groups. Is this "worldly"? Is this understanding context? Is this paying attention? I think so.

I'm asking myself (and thus encourage you to do the same) "OK, Joe, how do you get closer to the target of the impact of decisions?" Often, it is no more complicated than physically getting to the scene of the action. But that is usually preceded by an intention. I challenge myself to make that intention practical, more often.

I hope this is helpful.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Thoughts on Christmas Eve

This day is always a quiet, reflective one for me. Looking back at my blog a year ago today , I see that some of the same things are on my mind, yet modified by current events.
  • What to say about the economy? The glass has water up to the mid point. Is that good or bad? Depends on who you want to believe. Some metrics are encouraging. Other measures depress us all. In our area, several factories are re-hiring. Another one was shut down last week. This morning, we learn that mad cow disease is found in the US. Looks to me like we'll keep lurching sideways.

  • Change is difficult. Combating such inertia, even on a local level, is tough. The inertia to maintain the status quo is huge. The need for a combination of focus and perseverence has hit me more deeply than ever. And indifference to focus and persevernce bugs me more than ever.

  • My sons seem to be in better spots than they were a year ago. David, age 25, is loving being a medic in the US Army, despite the fact it means he spends this Christmas in barracks 12 miles from the North Korean border. He and his wife are expecting twin boys in early March. Nathan, now 23, is more settled and finding a career job opportunity at last. The maturation process continues, positively. Matt, age 15, has straight A's, good friends and a Learner's Permit. Look out, local drivers. Being a Dad, example and counselor to three very different kids remains a joy and a mind-blowing challenge.

  • My own Dad remains a huge example to me. It's hard to believe that he died ten years ago today, Christmas Eve, 1993. I am so grateful for a man from whom I could learn everything from soybean futures to serving on a school board to nurturing a long marriage. With my own son soon becoming a Dad himself, his example means more than ever.

  • Hope is central, and without it we have little to hang on. My own hope flows from my faith in Christ, which continues to be very real to me.

My very best to you this Christmas. Thank you for your gift to me, allowing and encouraging me to write and learn in the public space. It means more than you can imagine.

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Sunday, December 21, 2003

Five Minds of a Manager, Part 3

Continuing to comment on the most excellent article from the November issue of Harvard Business Review by Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg (click for a free summary or to download for $7, if you don't have the article).

The second of the five mindsets of the manager is the analytical mind-set, the management of organizations. This is breaking down a complex phenomenon into it's component parts.

The authors suggest that conventional analysis is inadequate; rather it is crucial that managers dig up deeper.

That said, they don't offer ways to do this deeper analysis, other than to say to appreciate the "soft data" and to examine "biases and assumptions." Let me offer a way to do analysis, based on the well-known factors of the Balanced Scorecard.

  • Financial Factors. No amount of "soft data" can overwhelm an inadequate or nonsensical financial analysis. And financial analysis begins with a hard look at cash. Any lean initiative MUST lead to improved cash flow. Cash will usually lead us in the right direction. So, look at the cash flow first.
  • Customer Factors. How will the change affect the folks who pay for this? Will it get product or service to them sooner? Better? In a way that they want and will pay for? Has anyone actually asked the customer about it?? Does it make sense from the customer's point of view?
  • Process Factors. So how will it affect our own processes? Will it lower our operational cost? Will is shorten our cycle time? Will it lower our work-in-process inventory? How about our raw materials inventory? Will it make it easier to deliver and assess quality?
  • Development Factors. Will this help the training of our key people? Will it trigger more learning? Will we encourage or discourage our people?
This is a basis for analysis for a lean decision making process. It is not difficult nor is it complicated. Neither is it simplistic.

I hope this is helpful.

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Monday, December 15, 2003

Five Minds of a Manager, Part 2

This intriguing article from the November issue of Harvard Business Review by Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg (click for a free summary or to download for $7, if you don't have the article) suggests five ways a manager unpacks the chaos around him/her.

The first is by managing self, via "The Reflective Mindset". The authors maintain that "what managers need is to stop and think, to step back and reflect thoughtfully on their experiences."

Why mention this? Is it obvious? Perhaps. Yet, I see it seldom practiced. In the "action oriented" business world we swim in daily, many regard quiet consideration as a "wimpy" type of practice.

The authors tell us that the root of the word "reflection" is in the Latin word "refold". I like that...a great mental image of the active mind opening and refolding the situation. Looking at it from different angles. Flipping it back and forth in the hand. Considering the full feel of the fabric of the situation.

Yet, for those involved in a quest to eliminate waste, this is "refolding" is vital. Why? Because waste seldom jumps up with a large label on itself. It is often buried in machines, processes, procedures. Because we seldom really reflect on what the customer is really telling us about value. Because we get so enamored with measuring activity, we seldom stop to see what these measurements are telling us.

In the alternative, though, reflection allows for thoughtful discussion about what the customer is saying. It allows for further discussions with the customer. It allows for discussion about the metrics. It allows for asking the second, third, fourth, fifth "why" in getting to root cause. It allows for careful listening to the complaint (dare I say "whining"?) of a co-worker.

Reflection allows for respect for others, both inside and outside the company. It listens to what people and events have to say. Reflection is the opposite of multi-tasking. Reflection tells me to not check my email while someone is talking to me on the phone.

Reflection allows for assessments of the situation. Remember an assessment is an opinion stated with a particular goal in mind. Without reflection, assessments can be merely shot from the hip, inaccurate, insipid weak. With reflection, which allows one to consider the goal, we can make well-grounded assessments, which then will lead to effective action.

So try something today. Take a task you need to get done and, before you launch into it, sit quietly for five minutes and think about it. Why are you doing it? What is the basis for it? What do you want to accomplish with it? Who will be affected? Sit. Think. Consider.

And time yourself. Yes, I really mean five minutes.

Then start in. But, not until you've sat there for five minutes, focusing on the task.

Do the task. Then, later in the day, assess how it went. Were you more effective? Did you have better insight? Did the reflective mindset help you move through this better?

I'd enjoy hearing from you, if you tried this exercise. Leave a comment if you'd like to make it public; email me if you'd rather not. I do ask you to write about it, though, as it will help cement what you've learned.

I hope this is helpful and you can reflect further on it.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Saturday, December 13, 2003

The Five Minds of a Manager

In the November issue of Harvard Business Review, Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg authored an article by this title (click for a free summary or to download for $7, if you don't have the article). I was so intrigued by the article, I'm going to attempt to learn it better by summarizing it myself in the next several blog entries, as it applies to any of us attempting to lead a Lean Transformation.

While I am unfamiliar (until now) with Mr. Gosling's work, Mr. Mintzberg has been a key light to me for over 15 years. His insight into organizations has been very influential for me. (thanks again to my friend, Ann Marie Ott, a deep thinker who put me on to Mintzberg's work in the late 80s) So, his name drew me to the article.

Their key premise is that our fascination with "leadership" has made the term "management" seem less noble, less appealing. Yet, we badly need both. Their summary:

Just as management without leadership encourages an uninspired style, which deadens activities, leadership without management encourages a disconnected style, which promotes hubris.

Whoa. What's hubris?

From Encyclopedia Britannica, hubris is defined, in classical Greek ethical and religious thought, to be an overweening presumption suggesting complete disregard of the limits governing human action in an orderly universe. It is the sin to which the great and gifted are most susceptible

So, the authors succinctly grasp that the leader who does not manage is not only disconnected, but risks missing the normal limits surrounding human action.

Put more simply, that leader can become an emperor with "New Clothes".

I've seen this in a number of settings. When "leadership" is held up to be the "only thing" and the nuts and bolts of management are ignored or put down, the leader always becomes more distant and unable to relate to the real world of her/his people. It is a scary thing.

So, desiring to neither be uninspired nor disconnected, I read on.

The authors propose that the effective manager be one who can actively synthesize five different mindsets:

  • Managing Self: the reflective mind-set
  • Managing organizations: the analytic mind-set
  • Managing context: the worldly mind-set
  • Managing relationships: the collaborative mind-set
  • Managing change: the action mind-set

The authors claim, and I agree, that this framework allows one to make sense out of complicated and confusing situations. I'll discuss each of these in future entries. I hope you find it helpful.

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Friday, December 12, 2003

Improvement Fatigue

Is it possible to just plain get tired of continuous improvement?

What is the likelihood of all those Atkins Diet fans going on carbo binges over the next three weeks? How well will they stand up to the relentless barrage of holiday goodies at the office, at parties, at home? How many Cinnamon Strudel Delights can go unsampled? How many Christmas cookies can go unsnitched? Can that one remaining Snickerdoodle on the plate be passed up by the Hi protein guru?

You get the idea...we've all fought fatigue.

Fighting the waste around us is a lot like fighting the waist around us. I let up and back it comes. With far less effort than it took to get rid of it in the first place.

So what is the role of the Lean leader in the workplace to fight this inevitable fatigue? I'm not entirely sure, but here are some thoughts:

  • Accept "fatigue" as a real phenomenon. As I've often mentioned in this blog, the lean process is an intensely human one. And we get tired of it. To deny its reality is silly.
  • Learn to notice the signs of fatigue. Lack of attention. Sloppiness on the edges. Tolerance of non conformances. It is in the "noticing" that one begins to exercise leadership.
  • Talk about the fatigue. Some sentences like this perhaps? "Wow, have we run out of ways to improve?" "Gee, where's the bottleneck? What can we do to improve it?" "It gets frustrating doesn't it...so how do we work through it?"
  • Learn to enjoy the "plateau"In his excellent little book Mastery, George Leonard describes the learning process as brief spurts of improvement followed by much longer "plateaus". It is on these plateaus that we secure the gains made by during the improvement. Yet it does not appear we are making much progress. What is crucial is being able to recognize the difference between a plateau and a full-scale regression.
  • Celebrate. Perhaps if we are fatigued over improvement, we are also fatigued over celebration. So, can I find something to really be excited about? To give out a simple award? To thank sincerely? To write a thank-you note?
  • Review basic goals. Our sugar-laden Atkins friend may need to ask himself "So what was my weight target anyway? Have I weighed in during the past week?"
Hope you don't run out of gas anytime soon. The Lean process is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't ignore the water table along the way...and don't forget to pass the water along to your fellow participants.

I hope this is helpful. And encouraging!Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The High Price of Scrap Steel

My colleague Ken Kellams alerted me yesterday to recent data showing a very rapid rise in the price of scrap steel to all-time record levels over the past four months. This is gaining attention since scrap is a key input to new steel manufacture.

Which got me thinking; Does a high price for scrap steel serve as a disincentive to eliminating waste? Does this make the effort to get rid of scrap less attractive? So I ran some numbers.

Consider a hypothetical steel processor who purchases steel for $500/ton and by processing it further adds 20% to its value, selling it for $600/ton. Further, assume the processor has an 8% scrap rate.

In this scenario, the processor requires 1.08 tons of steel to produce one ton of salable product. The input steel will thus cost $540. Assuming all scrap is recoverable and is sold at the current record-high price of $190/ton, the 0.08 tons of scrap will generate $15.20 of additional revenue. Put together, one ton of product will generate $44.80 in net profit.

What happens then if the processor can cut the scrap rate to 4% from 8%??

The customer doesn't care, still paying only $600 for the finished product. However, it now only takes 1.04 tons of input to produce that output, costing $520. The now-smaller scrap of 0.04 tons yields $7.60 of additional revenue. The result? $72.40 of net profit for the ton of output.

An increase of 61% in operating profit. By simply focusing on waste elimination as a strategy.

Now, if that processor can handle, say, 500 tons of product per week, it would be left with an improvement on operating profit of $13,800 per week. With this data, the processor could assess if additional labor costs and/or capital improvements are justified for $13,800 per week.

Further calculations indicate that the price for scrap steel would have to triple in this scenario to make waste elimination not pay off.

Test these figures with your own...but the logic is the same. Inevitably, waste elimination wins out because one saves the high priced inputs, which will always cost more than scrap.

I hope this is helpful...and that you don't get distracted by the appeal of selling scrap to the exclusion of not needing to sell it in the first place.

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Saturday, December 06, 2003

Learning to Live with "Igor"

As promised, blogging has been slow the past couple of weeks due to the shoulder surgery I had before Thanksgiving. I'm pleased to report that the surgery seemed to have had its intended effect in getting rid of the bone spurs. However, I have also had to learn to live with a tender and weak right arm. I've nicknamed the arm "Igor" as it kind of just hangs there and I sling it around as needed.

And Igor has taught me several things. Take the simple act of brushing my teeth in the morning. I'm right-handed...and Igor is on my right side. Have you ever brushed your teeth with the "wrong" hand? Wow, does it feel weird. Clumsy. Unnatural. New. Different. Slow.

And very, very wrong.

It takes me a lot longer than normal to brush my teeth. My gums hurt more, as I jam the brush in from an unnatural angle. I can't think about other things as I brush...I have to concentrate on this very mundane task or else my bicuspids get ignored badly. I don't like it. I'm working hard at my physical therapy, so that I can get Igor up high enough to take over again. But it's looking like it will be another 3 weeks before he's "up" to it.

What I've learned, afresh, is just how uncomfortable change is. Doing something differently hurts. It feels weird. Clumsy. Unnatural. Slow. And very, very wrong.

When I come in, all flags flying, proposing some new lean implementation, it should not surprise me that folks resist. Because none of us want to brush our teeth with the wrong hand!!

Thus, having Igor here is a great learning tool for me as I continue to try to drive change. Change is hard...give it time and keep persisting. The "therapy" will pay off.

The best work I've read on this whole subject is George Leonard's little book Mastery. In it he described the physical and mental blocks to change. Very helpful, if you'd like to understand the change process in more depth..

I hope this is helpful.

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Monday, December 01, 2003

Wisdom from a Lean Veteran

This morning on the Northwest Lean Listserve, my friend Mary Pat Cooper posted a very incisive post, which I want to pass along. She wrote the following in response to a question posed by another reader; "What's in it for me to pursue a Lean strategy?"

Mary Pat's 20 years of Lean experience at Wiremold and passion for people jumps out of this. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And, you go apply some this deeply held and well-learned wisdom!

Dear Jeff,

What's in it for me? Your question is inspiring. I will try to limit my
comments to these 4 themes:

1. Creating a crisis...
2. What you learn to achieve, no one can take away.
3. Improving work working life is improving the quality of our lives.
4. If it ain't broke, fix it till it is.

1. There is a crisis - we just can't see it. Our assumptions about the
stability of our jobs, our work environment, and our own expertise are
all pure fantasy. No one knows what the future holds. We do know that if
we learn how to learn quickly, we can adapt faster than the next guy.
That's basic science, survival of the fittest (which, if you really
think about it, is really survival of the most adaptable...) Waiting
until the doors are closed and the facility is consolidated into
something else will be too late to do anything other than film another
chapter of "Roger and Me..."

2. There is a powerful speech made by the protagonist as he runs for
president in the book "Primary Colors." When challenged to promise job
security, his passionate answer is that our basis of competition rests
in what we put between our ears. Job security is a moving target. You
may not be able to control which base is closed, but you can add to the
employability of your skills.

3. During the weekday most of us spend at least 8 hours at our jobs,
another hour or two in the commute, and another 2 or 3 hours chasing
after the required errands of our lives. Maybe 8 hours asleep. That
leaves 3 or so hours for "enjoyment." We would not expect to "enjoy"
work - that's why they call it work, isn't it? How could anyone enjoy
working all day around stupid processes in a slop heap of wasted time
and energy? Work is a bitter, dirty, junkyard of busted dreams filled
with grey-faced sleepwalkers with a scattering of posers climbing
towards the corporate Olympus over the backs of everybody else.

What a horrible picture! Why do we accept it so readily? Why do we
keep ourselves separate and cynical, never expecting anything more?

Watching successful teams is a multi-billion dollar entertainment
industry. Groups of people overcoming outrageous odds are the highlight
of the human condition. Think about how fun it would be to be a part of
a great team. Learning how to continuously improve a work situation
under difficult circumstances is a high, as natural and as addicting as
physical exercise. You do it once well enough to make a real difference
and you get hooked for life.

4. I saw this bumper sticker on the back of a pickup truck; I think it
was a government service vehicle of some sort. "If it ain't broke, fix
it till it is." I'm sure that it was meant as a cynical dig at the
bumptious, ambitious, crop after crop of program-promoting dimwits that
wear out the "working stiffs" with their endless management fads of the
month. But riding along in traffic behind this pickup, I realized that
this is exactly what we must do to survive. How else can we break
through mediocrity and sustain front-running performance?

Wasted work creates its own false reality. High inventory hides the
waste of bad quality, poor planning, inept equipment and busted
processes, making everything seem just fine. Long lead times, ridiculous
layouts, computer complexities and stacks of paperwork grow illusions of
importance and security; of course we are so badly needed to deal with
this stuff because no one else can! We are trapped in our assumption
that the recipients of our goods and services must be satisfied, because
they keep coming back. Therefore, it "ain't broke, so don't fix it."

But our customers only come back until they can find satisfaction
somewhere else. We are trapped until we "break it", or "break out of it"
or have it broken by someone else who has figured out a better way
before we have.

What's in it for me? What's not?! Thank you for the inspiring
question, Jeff. Best of luck.


Marypat Cooper
Brooks Electronics Division of the Wiremold Company
Philadelphia, PA

I hope this is helpful. Thanks, so much Mary Pat.

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Saturday, November 29, 2003

New Meaning of "Minor"

Blogging has been non-existent this week of Thanksgiving and will likely be so for another week or so. You see, I had "minor" surgery on Monday, November 24.

I was diagnosed with bone spurs in the right shoulder which were the cause of a lot of pain over the past couple of months. "No problem" says my doctor, "we'll do some minor surgery and shave them off." And, so he did.

I clearly underestimated just how much the procedure would throw me off. Six days later, I'm only now getting to the point of comfortably reading. My right arm is largely immobile, making it tough to type. The spurs do appear to be gone...as is muscle tone!!

And so much to write about!! Saw an incredible example of Lean the night before surgery as I waited for a pizza. Several other very useful thing have come along. I'll have to share them as we go along, though.

Thanks for your patience. And may none of your surgeries be as "minor" as mine was!!

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Training and Learning

One of the many cool things about a Lean system is the constant learning. Here's a wonderfully creative treatment of learning by Jeff Angus. Note how the teacher learns as much as the learner, why documentation is important, why "all of us are smarter than any of us."

Go learn something new today and write it down while you are at it. And, you can feel free to forward to a friend who is also anxious to learn.

I hope this is helpful. Email me

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Situational Awareness

In early August, I had the privilege of attending the graduation of my oldest son, David, from the US Army's Airborne School . He spent three weeks at Ft Benning Georgia learning how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes at low altitude. I'm glad there are people who are willing to do this.

I have no military background at all, so watching David work through Army training over the past year has been a real education for me. On the morning of the graduation, I arrived at the outdoor graduation site an hour early. I began to observe the various officers and enlisted men in uniform interact in the preparation for the event. In particular, I noted who saluted whom, when, in what order and what followed in the military protocol surrounding the very basic matter of a salute. As I said, all of this is new to me, a lifelong civilian.

Later that day, I described my observations to David, wondering just how everyone knew what to do and when.

He chuckled. "It's all about 'situational awareness' Dad."

What's that mean??

"The saluting thing is only partially about military courtesy. Underneath it is the constant discipline to be aware of your surroundings. "

Sorry, pal, I still don't get it.

He sighed, wondering if he could make the old man understand. "Here's how it works. When you are in uniform, you must learn to quickly identify anyone else near you who is also in uniform. You must instantly scan their uniform to learn if they are an officer or enlisted. Then, depending on what you observe, you salute or stand at ease."

Hmmmm. So what's the connection?

He's still chuckling. "Dad, pay attention. What we learn is to constantly know what is going on around us. If you are in a combat situation, you have to be aware, all the time, all around you, for your sake and for the sake of your unit. Thus, the simple thing of saluting makes this awareness second nature. Now, does that make sense?"

Yes. It is good when the son teaches the Dad.

And I ask myself: do I have that same eye, that same situational awareness, for the wastes around me? Have I developed the keen outlook that sees and reacts with the same precision and consistency that a soldier learns? Do I "notice"?

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Sunday, November 16, 2003

More on Value

So this weekend I noted a nearby conveninece store had 2 litre Pepsis on sale for 79c. In the Pepsi dispenser at work, I can buy a 20 oz bottle (591 ml) for 95c every day.

Things like this make me wonder "Why is this so?"

The big bottle, plus tax, works out to 41.9c per litre. The little bottle, with tax included in the price, works out to $1.61 per litre. And it is the same sweet fizzy liquid in both.

Why would an arguably intelligent man like me (and some regular readers of this blog would argue there is precious little intelligence here :) ) knowingly pay 3.8 times as much per unit for a mere soft drink? I think it comes down to value. Consider:

  • The big bottle is a "batch" of cola. I can't drink it all at once (at least in socially acceptable circles). So, it's use must spread out over time.
  • The big bottle isn't cold. So, I have to either refrigerate it or find some ice before drinking it.
  • The big bottle requires a drinking cup to transfer it into before I can enjoy it. Something else I have to do.
  • I then have to either wash the reusable cup (a hassle) or throw away a non-reusable cup (a waste) when I'm done. I don't like either one.
  • The big bottle requires planning. I have to catch the sale price and then stock up when it happens.
  • On the other hand, the little bottle is there when I want it, it is cold, in a drinkable container, and requires no clean up or advance planning on my part.
In short, the soft drink folks are reaping a 3.8x premium to add services to their sweet fizzy drink. By bringing it to me, at the point of use, in a batch of one, I pay a huge markup. Gladly. Unthinkingly.

I pay for the value. Big time.

OK, Joe, why do you carry on about a bottle of pop? One reason: Simple examples often help explain complex issues.

The beginning of any Lean process is to understand the value the customer places on the product. The Lean process must focus on these two: the customer and the product. Only then can we know what waste is in the process and begin to replace it. Value is the beginning of the framework of Lean.

So, begin to notice value. Where can I find the same sort of value in delivering my product? How well do I know my customer (either internal or external) such that he/she will gladly pay a sizable mark up? Look at the numbers...it is worth pondering.

I hope this is helpful. Oh yeah, and enjoy your cola of choice from the machine today. As always, feel free to forward to a cola-drinking friend. Email me

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Why is Lean Important?

Because it is a framework for understanding complex systems.

Perhaps this is obvious...perhaps it simply is another "layer of the onion" that peeled back for me. But this basic fact really hit me like a ton of CCA-laced lumber late this week.

In a week full of tough issues, with all the complexity that comes when dealing with people, money, projects, products, the economy, the weather, quality, customers, vendors, bankers, planners, users, paperwork, software, the list goes on; in this complexity, an over-arching framework for understanding is oh so very helpful.

For example, when faced with a pricing question, I went mentally to a value stream map for the item of interest and could begin to estimate the true "value added" costs that went into it...from that, could begin to think clearly about the actual cost and how it was different. Without that framework, it would have just been a matter of debate; "I think it's too high"--"No way, it's actually too low!"

More of concern, without a framework, a job can become simply "Let's work harder" or "Let's try this" or "Let's change the whole thing." There is no sense of putting precious effort onto the point where it can truly help. There is no framework for improvment.

There is no framework for hope.

The business world is incredibly complex and only getting more so. The lean framework is crucial for me to keep focus and useful action.

I hope this is helpful for you to make sense of your complex world.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

What "Just in Time" Isn't

Most folks believe JIT to work like this.

Ain't so. And to cut it this close is, indeed, to leave yourself open to walking around in your boxers. We have to build in buffers for the inevitable variances, beyond our control.

I hope this is helpful. And that you got to work on time this morning. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Monday, November 10, 2003

Tom Peters Online Seminar

Checked in today to a web-based hour long seminar with Tom Peters. Peters was taking questions on his latest book, Re-imagine!, which I've discussed recently. I've read a lot of Peters' stuff over the years...and nobody is as provocative.

One thing grabbed me today that was genuinely new.

How do we find people who will engage with improvement and change?

Peters was asked this question and he answered thoughtfully "You don't find them; they find you." He went on, speaking from experience.

  • If you become passionate about something, those who might be similarly passionate will find you. Somehow.
  • Passion is the only way to truly attract talent. Who wants to play for the Detroit Tigers? Doesn't every good player want to be on the Yankees?
  • Passionate people arise from unlikely places. They also tend to be younger and lower in an organization. Don't reject that.
My observation is that passionate people also raise up more strong opinions than non-impassioned people. And, thus, get criticized. And in many organizations, that is something to be avoided. So, you gotta make your choice.

A truly waste-free system will only happen with passionate people. Find some to work with you. I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Talk About "Value"!

We've talked about the beginning of all Lean transformations: Value. Defining value from the customer's perspective. What he/she wants. How he/she wants it. When. In what manner.

And this afternoon, I happened on a fabulous example of "value". The search engine Google now offers a way to get email updates on news of interest at Google News. While this is not a new development in itself, it did impress me with how easy it was to set up. No complex registrations. No sense that I was giving away my privacy. Rather, I just typed in the search term of interest and my email address. That's it. They confirmed the address with me. And, boom, I was in.

They made it so easy, so frictionless, that it was a simple decision. I wonder why more customer contact can't be that smooth. I wonder how I do that for our customers. Try it and see.

I hope this is of value to you...feel free to unsubscribe if it isn't. Feel free to pass it along if it is. And thank you for reading!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Election Day Constraints

It's probably hopeless that I'll ever quit seeing things like this...but it happened again, early this morning.

At 6:30am, on my way to work, I stopped off to vote in our local municipal elections. Walking into the school, I was pleased to see a line out the door of the voting room. "Great to see so many people voting so early!" I said to myself. Then I saw the reason for the line. And it had nothing to do with a lot of people showing up to vote.

Looking through the door, I saw that only two of the four voting booths had voters standing in them. Immediately, I looked for the constraint. And there it was: a chaotic and disorganized process to sign-in each voter. Two harried poll-workers were flipping crazily through three-ring binders with the voter rolls in them; one with A-M, the other with N-Z. At the same time, three other poll workers were standing back, just observing.

And few people were actually voting. And isn't that the point of this exercise in democracy?

See how this illustrates constraints? How any improvement to the process had to happen at the constraint? That there could be no improved throughput (which here means ballots cast per hour) without expanding the constraint?

So what could happen?? What could we suggest??

  • Create a third notebook to look up names; go to A-G, H-P, Q-Z.
  • Add sticky notes to the binders to make it easier to find major letter divisions
  • Allocate one of the other poll workers to help the folks looking up the names.

Of course, since I'm a very non-political guy, I'm only looking at the physical constraints. We may well have a "policy constraint" here, literally. There may be regulations stating both a Democrat AND a Republican have to observe the looking up of the names in the book. Therefore, policy prohibits going to three books. If this is the case (I don't know that it is...just postulating), then only changing that policy will impact the throughput of voters.

Why do I go on? Because simple things like this illustrate how we approach bigger issues of throughput and improvement in our companies. I hope this helps you to see a little better.

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Lean 2003 Conference Report #2

In yesterday's blog, I summarized some of the big items that struck me while at Productivity Inc's Lean 2003 conferencethe last week. As I jumped back into the fray today after 2.5 days away, a very simple thing struck me.

In several sessions, while describing plenty of other sophisticated techniques, the speaker would say in one form or another, "Of course, most of this is just another use of Demming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle."

Indeed. First articulated by Shewart in 1931, Demming made it real for an entire generation. He had a particularly eager audience in post-war Japan. And, thus, drove the attitude of Continuous Improvement.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And the PDCA cycle is so very, very valid. Keep using it yourself, please.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Lean 2003 Conference Report #1

Just got back from a mind-boggling two days at Productivity Inc's Lean 2003 conference. There is a ton I can share...I'll try to deliver it in bite-sized bits.

The Importance of Vision

Some would characterize Lean as a relatively plan-less search for elimination of waste. Certainly Tom Peters' recent book Reimagine creates this view of non-strategic, incremental improvement that never creates anything new, rather only improveing what exists. This criticism is valid in many applications, and usually results in improvements that are too small to have a business impact and/or are not sustainable.

What was crystal clear in many presentations in Nashville was how a longer-term vision and focus was necessary to overcome that. That this focus had to be on constraints and in delivering breakthroughs from the customer's perspective. We saw specific tools and target metrics for three-year planning. The tools themselves were as waste-free as the best running manufacturing cell.

The key? Vision. From the top. Taking a view of business development that uses lean tools to free up cash which then fund further development.

Communicating that Vision

I also saw a combination of written and spoken means to communicate the vision of where a firm is going. Some very simple graphics. Some very simple planning sheets. Plain language. Radically simplified financial statements. Clear targets for staff. Clear rewards for success, shared by all.

Eliminating Fear in an Atmosphere of Rapid Change

A vision is only useful if it our teams hear it. And if fear pervades an organization, nothing is heard. The change required to see productivity increase is nothing short of breathtaking. So much so, it will be hard for many of our folks to absorb. Which is why actions are so critical. Which is why some form of sharing the financial gains is so important. Which is why simple, clear metrics that are inherently fair are so needed.

I'll share more. This is just an overview. And I hope it is helpful.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Conference in Nashville

I'll be out the rest of the week, attending Productivity, Inc annual conference on Lean. Here's the conference overview; scroll down to session 3E and see what Ken Kellams and I will be talking about.

If any of you are going to be there, please email me and we can get together! I'm looking forward to what I can learn and in discussing applications for us here at FBi with Ken.

Here are my notes from last year's conference. I'll post this years observations here later.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Toyota Observations, Part 2

Much activity has delayed writing up my observations from our October 2 visit to Toyota's Fork Truck factory in Columbus, Indiana. The delay hasn't stopped my mulling it, though. Here are some summary thoughts.


Several years ago, I read a discussion of Toyota's openness in conducting tour after tour of their facility. The reason is that most visitors see things as they are. They take a "mental photograph", if you will, of a static system, resolving to try to do what they see. But the real power in Toyota's system is in its dynamic nature. It is impossible for the outsider to see just how rapidly and repeatedly the Toyota folks change the system. It is anything but static...it is a living, breathing, dynamic system that both changes constantly and is amazingly stable.

I've visited this plant four times now in three years and have had just a glimpse of this dynamic. Here's an example.

  • In our mid-August trip, we saw a new idea for improving a subassembly of a wiring harness. The work bench looked a little rough; duct tape holding some hoses in place, masking tape labels, nothing painted.
  • I asked our host, Jim Clark, just how long this workbench idea had been in process. "Oh, we thought of this about 6 days ago. We built the bench last Saturday and this is the second day it has been in production." Wow.
  • When we showed up again on October 2, we saw the same wiring harness bench again. We learned it had moved twice more since mid-August. It was cleaned up, secured and looked as if it had been there forever.
  • I asked the associate in the area about it. He laughed and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess we did just start that in August. We change so much, I kinda forget just when we did what!"

It is this relentnessness, this assumption of change, this eye to improve constantly, this broad sharing of responsibilities that was so impressive.

Importing Jobs

In the last two years, this plant has imported jobs to their facility. They brought in frame welding from Malaysia. Axles from south Texas. They are in the process of importing hydraulic cylinders.

Talk about turning conventional wisdom on its head!! Smart businesses are supposed to ship jobs to low-wage areas!! Ha, they say! Bring those jobs in house and cut WIP and lead time further.

More significantly, they are using their operational excellence to cut costs. They don't cut wages...they cut total costs.

It is an impressive thing to see such a well-run operation up close. To shake the hands and talk with the very ordinary Hoosiers who make the plant run. To see the metrics of improved throughput with existing staff. I'm impressed. I hope you find this helpful as well.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Finishing the Task

Is there anything one can learn from the tragic collapse of the Chicago Cubs in the National League playoffs last week? Getting beyond the "Billy Goat Curse", the history of laughable flopping, management gaffes, Ernie Broglio and ticket scalping schemes, consider the following.

The Cubs came up a mere 5 outs short. In Game 6 of the NL playoffs, they had a three-run lead with 1 man out in the 8th inning and no one on base, their ace, Mark Prior, pitching. And the wheels came off the wagon at that point, as they gave up 8 runs in that 8th inning, lost the game and effectively never recovered.

There is no clock in baseball. Success only comes by clear action, not by stalling. Specifically, one must get the other team out 27 times per game. So just how close were the Cubs, with only 5 outs standing between them and a trip to the World Series??

  • With a regular season of 162 games, plus 5 games in the first round and 6 games in the second round of the playoffs, the Cubs had a total of 4,671 outs to make.
  • The 5 outs that remained constituted only 0.107% of the total outs for the year! Or, they were 99.893% of the way to the finish!
  • Taking this same proportion to the length of a marathon race (26 miles, 385 yards), they came up 49.3 yards short!
I can hear the Olympic announcer: "And now, entering the stadium is the leader in the Marathon! She's all alone after 26 miles and over 2 hours of running! The gold medal is in her sight! She's onto the final straightaway! The crowd is cheering! Wait, wait...she's down! She's grabbing her left calf in pain! The muscles are in spasm!! She has only half the straightaway to go...but she can't get up! She's straining but can't seem to move! And, entering the stadium is the second place runner! She's going to pass the leader! She does!! And she wins! It is unbelievable!!!"

The reasons for the Cubs' collapse will be debated all winter (one of the Cubs' annual contribution to mental health in the Midwest is by providing much to mull about every winter...this will be no exception). But, whatever the reason, they came up short.

How often do we do this in any project? How often to we launch into some waste-eradicating effort, build up a lead and then not finish it off? How often are we happy with getting 99.893% of the job done?

Success depends on finishing the job. I hope this is helpful.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Toyota Report #1

So much to say, so little time!! My mind is still buzzing from last Thursday's trip to the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing facility in Columbus, Indiana. I'll write up more in the next several days...I have seven pages of dense notes that I'll try to distill for you.

In the mean time, Gary Stewart of Classico Seating gave me permission to share the following observations. Gary is a fellow steering committee member on the Wabash Valley Lean Network and gives leadership to his company's lean efforts. He and three of his colleages, Shelly Langler, Nell Browning and Steve Williams compiled their list of observations. From this unedited list, you will get a flavor of just what we saw.

1.) Commitment from upper management this is the way it is...no options!!!!!
2.) Commitment and believe in the system from the front line supervisors that there are better ways to do things believing in continuous improvement and that change, is a good thing!!!!!!
3.) Real-time information and status reporting.seamless flow of information and product.
4.) Support staff to support the company goal of change and continuous improvement.
5.) Training the right people investment in training the people that are actually doing the work.
6.) A place for everything and everything in it's place. If it's wasn't needed it wasn't there.
7.) Overall adherence to established procedures and overall work area cleanliness.

1.) The key to every area of improvement was to "Reduce Walk-Time". By analyzing the walk routes by each employee for each cycle, they built carts, racks, etc. to bring the components closer to the employee. This increased the ergonomics as well as decreased Takt times.
2.) Team leaders as well as hourly employees seem to take pride and ownership in their ideas & programs making the implementation process easier.
3.) The supervisors meeting held every 2 hours to update build-off boards. Every employee knew at any time where they stood with the daily build schedule.
4.) The continuous training and retraining of new as well as experienced employees. As well as the diverse cross-training to cover days off. There was complete documentation, so a team leader knew who could cover a particular area in certain circumstances.
5.) Overtime was scheduled on a daily basis at any particular time of the day. No job was left incomplete to "catch-up" the next day.
6.) Every area of the facility was clean and orderly. Every cart, bin, or tote was properly identified with a tag as well as location number so everyone knew exactly what it was and where it went.

1.) Some of the simple things that caught my eye were the availability of information to EVERYONE. Rather it was the info posted in all the meeting rooms in each department, the defect lists in the CIV area, the lighted boards with production info (today, present, goal), the ANDON board with lights and music for immediate problems, or simply the bulletin boards with info posted. Very visible and widely available. Who keeps all this info up-to-date?
2.) The very simple and inexpensive labeling of the kanban racks. We struggle to keep our tags in place. The addition of a tube (we have plenty) with a label covered by one of our clear plastic leg sleeves would work wonderfully.
3.) The absence of corrugated. They used a lot of reusable containers. Much more durable and neater appearance. No disposal issues.
4.) Color coding of kanban cards by department or process.
5.) Ratio of support personnel (material handlers, quality inspectors) to manufacturing "associates".
6.) TIEM had estimated approximately 25% of trucks were built to order or customized. We are in a different situation with 99% of our product "custom" build to order. How would they address the unpredictability of product requirements?
7.) They did mention one of the steel vendors that delivers every 2 hours. How many vendors do they have and how many of them have at least a daily delivery. Do they use their own trucks? How many of their suppliers are related companies? How often do they receive product from Japan and in what quantities?
8.) Incentive programs for associates involved with the lean reduction projects. There is a payback. Not all lean projects result in someone losing their job. They specifically stated where they "reduced" associates, they were not let go, they were simply relocated to another area.

1.) “Insourcing” rather than “outsourcing”. Developing ways to bring in work rather than send it out by reducing costs.
2.) Actual sample parts are on the production floor for the QA inspections. A solid reference point for each person.
3.) Getting and implementing ideas. Consider any idea a Kaizen opportunity. Last month, 712 Kaizens were received. Average is 95% completed / implemented.(This is with a facility of 500 people.)
4.) Move materials into an area rather than store materials in the area. By moving the materials in to the production area, work space was neat, orderly and quantities of WIP were avoided,
5.) Constantly look for ways to improve production. The emphasis is on the flow of the materials and products.
6.) Lists are kept of the “annoyances” and posted in the department or work cell. This provides the opportunity for people from other departments or work cells to offer their ideas, opinions and comments.
7.) Emphasis is on ergonomics. Reducing fatigue has a value in increased output. Although some of the improvements are incremental, the belief is a combination of small improvements will provide a large benefit. (Long term viewpoint.)
8.) Constantly train and retrain people. Use the training records as a basis for advancement into other jobs as they become open.
9.) Job rotation on a two hour basis within the work cell.
10.) Post information on the boards (4’ X 8’) in the work areas. Postings are kept neat, orderly and up to date.
Gary and friends, thanks for your permission to share this!! I hope it is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Friday, October 03, 2003

Four Quick Stories of Lean

Here are four useful illustrations of Lean I've come across in the past week.

  • A Lean Barber Shop? Yes, indeed. My thanks to my friend and alert reader Brian McCorry for this story, derived from recent Wall Street Journal reports of a lean barber shop. Note how many lean tools this entrepreneur used.

  • Lean Product Development. Thanks to my colleage Ken Kellams, we discover no less a prestigious group than McKinsey & Company producing this paper on product development using standard Lean tools. Eliminating batch and pursuing flow in product development?? Yes, indeed.

  • Lean means changes and how we manage change governs how well (or even if) we can transform. For a delightful look at managing change check out this blog by Jeff Angus. His key point:
    As in most smart efforts to squeeze out process time, you start with waste. And in a human-intensive process like baseball, you don't try to wrench it out all at once -- you tweak, see what happens, repeat.

  • Tom Peters Group walks the talk as I found out this week. On Tuesday, I got an email notice of an early purchase opportunity of Tom's new book. Wanting to take advantage of the offer, I clicked on the Tom Peters Group link. But, for some reason, the page wouldn't load and I couldn't execute the request via the web. I noted a toll-free number and called it.
    • I encountered the most appealing and friendly voice mail greeting I've ever heard. Try it yourself at 1.888.221.8685 if you are in the United States.
    • I pressed the right number to talk to a human. Explained my web problem and she happily took my order over the phone...without getting transferred again.
    • This morning, exactly 48 hours later, I had the two books on my desk here in Indiana.
    The experience was, in a word, remarkable. And, I'm telling you about it.

    On top of all this, my mind is racing from all I saw yesterday at Toyota. Stay tuned for more on that subject.

    I hope this is helpful. And, that you will make your own lean stories.

    Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

  • Wednesday, October 01, 2003

    Learning About Lean at Toyota

    One indication of the interest of Lean in our area will happen tomorrow. Our local group of lean manufacturers, the Wabash Valley Lean Network, is sponsoring a field trip to Toyota's fork truck assembly plant in Columbus, Indiana. We have two big busses booked full...100 people in all are signed up for the tour, sold out quickly. We had to limit each member company to only five people. Interest in Lean? You betcha.

    I'm hoping to see more on implementation. What happens in that culture? What work group leadership happens? How is improvement organized?

    Look ahead to reports on what we see. I hope it will be helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Monday, September 29, 2003

    Opening Our Eyes to Value

    When Jim Womack and Dan Jones wrote the seminal work on Lean, Lean Thinking, their key first point of Lean is to understand value, as the customer would describe it. Then, any activity that does not add value is target for removal.

    So, what would you do if 50,000,000 of your customers said they did not want something you were offering? Wouldn't it seem to give you a clue about value, or lack thereof?

    It would for most of us, but this fact seems to be lost on telemarketers. So, the President just signed into law legislation granting authority for the No Call List to go into effect.

    And the telemarketers are screaming.

    And all the rest of us are smirking.

    But, I don't think we should be so smug. Why try to remove the proverbial "speck" out of the telemarketers' eye without first finding the "log" in our own.

    The sobering part of this ongoing saga is that each of us are probably missing similarly loud and conclusive statements by our customers. And while those statements may not attract the attention of the public, Congress and the President, they are every bit as significant to our own company's future.

    Customers will tell us what they value or don't value. Will we listen? Will we grasp our customers' view of value any better than those folks who still seem bent on interrupting our supper?

    I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    More on Sustaining

    Many thanks to my friend and alert reader John Kelly of Valspar Corporation who mailed me a tear sheet from an industry magazine of painters and coaters.

    The article describes the 5S experience of a company and is titled. "Getting Started in Lean Manufacturing. A solid intro to the aspect of keeping the place clean.

    Thanks, John. This is helpful to me and I hope helpful to others as well. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Saturday, September 27, 2003


    My pal Frank Patrick wrote a crisp blog last week on the futility of multitasking...some very good stuff, which I endorse fully.

    So, I laugh as I sit in my basement on a Saturday afternoon, blatantly ignoring Frank's counsel, being a poster-boy for Multitasking instead. One radio has the Cubs playing the second game of a double-header against the Pirates in which they can clinch the division title. On a different radio, I'm tuned into the Purdue-Notre Dame football game, a personal special each year for me since I went to Purdue and my father played football at Notre Dame. And, as I do this, I sit at the computer, writing this blog.

    Sorry Frank!! I promise not to do this at work this week...but it sure is fun when both the Cubs and the Boilermakers are ahead!!

    I hope this makes you smile...and please, do as I say, not as I do!! Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Talking in Public

    One of the most useful things about blogging is the public nature of the discussion. Anyone with web access can drop in and comment; as such, learning happens more quickly.

    So it goes this week. Earlier this week, I commented on earlier blog by Jeff Angus. Jeff wrote me privately, explaining his point further. He then published the substance of that letter in a subsequent blog.

    Is this just a bunch of blather by geeks playing with their computers? Some would say so. But, cynics aside, what is going on? Two crucial things strike me:

    • Jeff clarified his excellent point, which was that the only choice a manager has to do more with the same or the same with less...never more with less. Check out the very instructive pseudocode he wrote for this process in his post.
    • I can clarify my main point which was not about "more with less" at all; yet that wasn't clear in my blog. My point was about making a habit of scrutinizing assumptions whenever an apparent conflict arises.
    See what happens in a public discussion? This is the verbal equivalent of visual management in a lean environment. Just as we make metrics and processes very visible to any passerby, so we should make our discussions public. The size of that "public" will obviously vary...company matters need to stay in the company, not on the web. Conceptual issues like this can happen in a wider setting. And we all benefit.

    Thanks, Jeff, for your excellent insight. I hope this is helpful to all of us. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Tuesday, September 23, 2003

    Beware the Assumptions when Conflict Arises

    Thanks to my friend Frank Patrick, I recently began following Jeff Angus' excellent blog Management by Baseball. Those of you who know me will immediately recognize it's appeal; two of my favorite subjects, linked closely together!

    Thus, I was very surprised and disturbed to read the September 22 post in which Jeff blasts any manager who believes that it is possible for an organization to achieve "more with less." He has some pretty inflammatory language there, ranging from one's disease status to political beliefs. And then linked all of this, by example, to Nomar Garciaparra, the great shortstop of the Boston Red Sox!!

    Jeff is an excellent writer; the piece was pretty disturbing; there was conflict. When I see conflict, I immediately start to look for assumptions, knowing that it is usually an assumption, stated or unstated, that gives rise to the conflict. I found it and I think it is insightful for those of us learning about lean.

    The assumption Jeff made is that any organization which attempts to do more with less will do so by forcing its existing staff to do all the things the company used to do before, but with fewer people. This drives multitasking, which drives up stress and drives down productivity. If this assumption was true, I would agree fully with Jeff.

    In a lean organization, however, one is continuously looking at doing only value-adding steps. All of our companies have tons of waste which the customer does not demand: rework, poor quality, extra movement and transportation. So, when we get rid of these, we stop doing activities and change nothing for the end user.

    Can you get more with less? Yes. But only by applying the correct tools. And assumptions. Which is what makes the Lean paradigm so powerful.

    I hope this is helpful. Could it even help the Cubs pull out the NL Central this week? Let's hope so. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Saturday, September 20, 2003

    The Pace of Improvement

    In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that blogs might be less frequent due to a lot of efforts on kaizen events here. For once, my prediction was correct. Before I let this go to my head and move to a career on The Weather Channel, here are some of the things I've learned in the last few weeks.
    • It takes practice. Most individuals and nearly all companies are not set up to change rapidly. The same can be said of an exercise program; you start to jog, your leg muscles let you know something is different. We have paced this recent move to stretch, but not break, our resolve. Not anywhere near world-class yet; sure are moving beyond our usual pace.
    • Adapt to local conditions. One practical example: what the rest of the Lean community calls a "kaizen event", we call a "blitz." I don't know why, but our folks here are a lot more comfortable with the Germanic term than the Japanese one. It works; we use it.
    • It reshapes your expectations of change The rapidity with which kaizen events can bring about change has affected many of our folks' perspective. "Gee, maybe we can implement that sooner!"
    • How do you handle the "rest" of your job? Each event generates things to do. We are starting to see how that impacts each person's "regular job"...Especially mine!! Don't have this one figured out yet, and if you looked at my office you'd agree.
    • Goal clarity is crucial. The one thing I've been thrilled with is the simplicity and clarity of the goals of the individual kaizen events. As a result, we've hit almost all the goals. Simple is good.
    • Simple, real-time documentation is essential. Simplicity extends to the documentation of the outcome of the events. We're not as good on this as we need to be yet.
    • Visual tools are critical here too. We're setting up a separate scoreboard just to be visual about our progress (or lack thereof) in doing events. Whereas scoreboards in most of our work areas are tactical in nature, this is more of a strategic scoreboard. Public. In the middle of our office area.
    Lots going on. Lots of hours of work. Lots of progress. A brutal business environment. I remain convinced the Lean strategy is central to serving customers well.

    I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Friday, September 19, 2003

    On Sustaining

    I wrote recently about the challenge of sustaining process improvement and an example I saw recently in a painting plant. This morning, I gained further insight. And, as so often happens, the simplicity of it astounded me.

    At a steering committee meeting of the Wabash Valley Lean Network, the topic of sustaining process improvements came up (and will be a major focus of our programs in 2004). Jim Clark, of Toyota's Fork Truck Manufacturing facility in Columbus, IN described how they do it.

    1. Process improvements are written and documented.
    2. Workgroup leaders monitor the conformance daily.
    3. Managers audit the area weekly.
    4. Executives audit one area of the plant monthly.
    Boom. Have a system. Audit it daily, weekly, monthly. And, a walk through their plant indicates that this really does work.

    I suspect most of us are not anxious to a) clarify the improvements that well and b) do the walk throughs that regularly. Then again, most of us are not anxious to audit our diets all that closely either.

    I'm working on some simple forms and visuals to try to make this happen. I'll update this piece on how it goes.

    I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Saturday, September 13, 2003

    One Year of "Learning About Lean"

    I was surprised to observe that tomorrow marks one full year of this Blog. A few quick thoughts about it.

    I first learned about blog technology about three years ago and was immediately fascinated by blogging's promise of rapid-fire, low-cost web publishing. I toyed with the idea for some time and was finally provoked by my friend Hal Macomber into starting it last fall.

    What we have here is simply an experiment in learning. I find that when I can write about a subject, I understand it better. Nothing too complicated there. I've kept a personal journal for years...they are stacked up in my basement and may provide some humor for my grandchildren years from now.

    The particular experiment of the blog was to see if a broader audience cared to eavesdrop on my musings about the practical issues of implementing Lean systems. I doubted it would be of much interest but decided to try it and open it up to my colleagues, vendors of our company and anyone else in the wider Lean community.

    I continue to be amazed that these entries seem to have some interest, way more than I ever anticipated. Just a couple hours ago, the 101st person signed up for an email subscription via Bloglet. Thank you , "broyal at a company known for reliability"!! Plus, there are another 200 hits each week on the site. I don't hear much from anyone about it (except from my friend and colleague Al Schambach...thanks Al for not drooling through these!) yet I hope it is helpful. It certainly is to me.

    I chuckled this morning when I reviewed my first entry. It was a humble attempt to capture some thoughts of a long-time friend of our company, Dwight Stoller, on the subject of dealing with change. In a way, I've continued to try to capture useful thoughts on implementing a Lean system. I guess that was a precursor of things to come.

    Thanks for reading! Thanks for letting me learn about Lean. I hope you are too.

    Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Friday, September 12, 2003

    Keeping a Painting Plant Spotless

    On Tuesday this week, I had a wonderful opportunity to tour Precoat Metal's Northgate Plant near St. Louis. Precoat is a vendor of a vendor of ours; they put paint on the steel that becomes the roof and sides of our suburban, Equine, and agricultural buildings.

    John Gardner, the plant's operations manager, gave us the tour. He's a 20 year veteran of the business and exhibited a contagious enthusiasm for his job and his plant. I've seen a number of steel handling facilities and this plant was, hands down, the cleanest, best organized, visually appealing one I've seen. And, mind you, painting steel coils that zip along at over 600 feet per minute with multiple shifts running 24/7 is no small task. Keeping all the material in order and producing a quality product is a mind boggling job.

    I complemented John on the organization of the plant. He shrugged and, not surprisingly, gave full credit to his people. He also pointed out it was a journey, not a one-shot deal. "We've been doing 5S for several years now. It sure helps." And it showed.

    "But the 5th S, Sustaining, is always the hardest" I commented to him. He agreed fully. "And without everyone involved, you never sustain anything," he added, the voice of experience coming through.

    John did get people involved, though, and it showed. I strongly suspect his personal example and involvement also was crucial.

    I hope you can pursue 5S in your surroundings. Check out this article on sustaining a 5S effort from a recent SME newsletter.

    I hope this is helpful. And that it doesn't clutter your desk. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Monday, September 08, 2003

    More on Leveraging Constraints

    One of my avocations is baseball. So you can imagine my enjoyment when I recently came across the blog Management by Baseball written by Jeff Angus. If you like sports, you might want to bookmark this one.

    In his post last Thursday, Jeff wrote about the folly of linear thinking. While not specifically speaking about constraints, he illustrates a crucial point that constraints also handle. Each system has some "leverage points," places where a little bit of effort brings about a very big result, disproportionate to the effort extended.

    Understanding constraints leads you to ways to find those leverage points where a little effort and attention pays off big.

    I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Saturday, September 06, 2003

    More on Numbers

    While we're talking about financial calculations, take a look at this excellent column on identifying key metrics from Inc Magazine. It is by Norm Brodsky, a great, practical thinker. His summary:
    Indeed, the best businesspeople I know all have key numbers they track on a daily or weekly basis. It's an essential part of running a successful enterprise. Key numbers give you the financial information you need to take timely action. Business moves too fast to wait for the monthly, quarterly, or annual statements. By the time you get them -- weeks or months after the end of the period -- you're already dealing with the consequences of whatever problems may have arisen when you weren't looking. You've probably missed out on a number of opportunities as well.

    Thanks to my friend and reader of this blog Brian McCory for this link. Brian is an expert on sales and marketing. If you need some help in that area, email me and I'll hook you up with him. He is currently available for consulting or employment.

    Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Concrete Forms as a Constraint, Chapter 3

    I wrote on August 18 about a construction site near my home in which progress seemed slow. I followed up with a post on August 21 in which I discovered the constraint, the limiting factor of this site's progress, was the fact that the concrete subcontractor owned only 45 lineal feet of concrete forms.

    Well, today I happened by the site again and noted that they finally completed pouring the entire basement wall. However, they never did get any additional concrete forms; instead, they poured 45 feet at a time, all the way around the basement wall.

    What do we do, practically, with this thing called constraints? I propose that we move with simple calculations to figure the value of one day's improvement in speed at the constraint. Stay with me here.

    1. From local press releases, I can roughly estimate the value to the owners of the new building, a medical device manufacturer.
      • I'm guessing the expanded facility will generate sales of about $1 million per month.
      • From my prior experience in the medical device industry, I would conservatively estimate their gross margin rate to be about 40%.
      • This means they would generate about $400,000 to cover fixed expenses each month from the new facility.
      • With an average of 21 business days each month, this works out to about $19,000 per day.
      • Therefore, every additional day the plant is operating will be worth about $19,000 for the firm to cover fixed expenses.
    2. This figure can guide the contractor in how to spend money to speed the process. In this case, is it possible to rent concrete forms for less than $19,000 per day? Yes! At the high end, they could have doubled the number of forms for $1,000 per week!!
    3. As it was, it took them 20 work days to complete the basement walls.
    4. So, had they had 90, rather than 45, feet of forms it could have taken 10 work days to complete the basement.
    5. This would have sped the completion of the building by 10 days, allowing the company to make $19,000 times 10, or $190,000 in gross margin dollars. The cost to the contractor would have been $2,000.
    6. The decision is obvious.
    DISCLAIMER: All of these numbers represent my estimates. They are not official. However, they DO illustrate how you would go about this process. If my assumptions are wrong, you could arrive at a different conclusion. But don't throw the baby out with the bath. I want you to understand clearly that this is one way we move the seemingly theoretical understanding of constraints into rapid, effective decision making. Note the process.
    • It requires clear conversation between the provider and the customer. Somehow, these rough calculations have to come out in the open. But, by using these calculations, the conversation is easier.
    • The value of speed can be quantified.
    • It only makes sense to do these calculations at the constraint! Speeding up nonconstraining steps will not generate the value to the customer.
    • The numbers don't have to be perfect...they only have to be reasonable.
    • This framework is marvelously simple and allows a clear framework for decision making.

    I sure hope this makes sense. Try it out sometime and see for yourself.
    Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Monday, September 01, 2003

    Labor Day Thoughts

    A cool, rainy, fall-like Labor day. Some thoughts on the workforce, from a Lean perspective.
    • Why does a company exist? Each has it's own reasons, but I believe there is a common reason.
      To make money now and into the future.
      If a company does not make money, it cannot pay its staff. It cannot innovate. It cannot devote any resources to improvement. To lose sight of the centrality of current and future profits is naive and shortsighted.
    • So how does a company make money? By delivering value. That is, a product or service that is worth more to the end user than the price paid.
    • So how does a company deliver value? Through its people. And this is where Labor Day comes in. Only when a company sees its people as the vehicle for delivering value does it start to understand how it can excel. Machines don't deliver value...only people. Companies miss this.
    • So how does a workforce or union thrive? Same thinking...by delivering value. When a worker or a union sees its longevity linked to how well it delivers value to the end user, the battlelines disappear and the end user wins. Many unions and workers miss this.
    • Eliminating non-value adding activities unleashes real value. And it takes a gutsy management and workforce to look at this with a dry eye.
    I ran into an acquaintance this weekend whose core political and economic assumptions are considerably left of mine. After the predictable trashing of several of my values, he asked "So, Joe, how many people has your company laid off in the past few months?"

    I quietly looked him in the eye and said "None. And we're hiring...just concluded the latest hire two days ago."


    A Lean workplace should steadily be adding value. It esteems deeply the contribution of each associate. And, as in most ways, it turns conventional wisdom on its ear.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Friday, August 29, 2003

    "The Knowing-Doing Gap"

    Just finished up the book "The Knowing-Doing Gap" by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. Published in 1999, I missed it when it first came out but picked it up recently on a recommendation. A good tip it turned out to be.

    The authors point out numerous factors which cause people and companies to not take action on what they already know. Their finest chapter, IMHO, is the one entitled "When Talk Substitutes for Action". Wow. The title alone is a rifle-shot at ineffectiveness. Decisions, Presentations, Mission Statements, Planning; all will substitue for and tranquilize against effective action. Not that any of them are bad; they just can slow action.

    This is a huge issue in a Lean effort. All too often, we see and talk about the tools of Lean (kanban, visual management, 5S, lower inventory) and don't actually learn from trying to actually do any of these things. They are far harder to do than to talk about.

    This is, by the way, a huge risk in me producing this blog and in you reading it!!! I can substitute writing for doing; you can substitute reading for doing. Ouch.

    How do the authors suggest we fight this tendency? They offer 8 prescriptions, which I paraphrase below.

    1. Build a philosophy of action.
    2. Knowing comes from Doing, especially teaching about Doing
    3. Action counts more than Elegant Plans and Concepts
    4. Doing will lead to Mistakes; will we tolerate them?
    5. Fear fosters inaction; Drive out Fear
    6. Fight the competition, not each other
    7. Measure the few key parameters; take quick action on those metrics
    8. How leaders spend their time matters

    Please try something today and learn from it. I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Thursday, August 21, 2003

    More on the "One Trip"

    On Monday, I wrote about a trip to two construction sites. One worked well..the other did not. Here's more of the story, which is very instructive.

    Late yesterday, I ran into a friend who is a manager at the general contractor running this site. After some pleasantries, I eased carefully into what I saw at his site on Monday afternoon; activity but no progress.

    He sighed. "Yes, that's what you saw. And you know why? The concrete subcontractor only owns enough forms to set 45 lineal feet of concrete wall at a time."

    Indeed. That was exactly what I saw. One end wall of the basement was about 70-80 feet long and only half of it was formed up.

    This is a classic illustration of constraints. The crew I saw working aimlessly had a physical constraint limiting their ability to create value for the customer; they had a fixed amount of concrete forms. What do you do when encountering a constraint? You expoit it (have I wrung all possible out of it?), subordinate to it (do all other decisions take a back seat to maximizing the constraint?) and then elevate it (how can I get more of the constraining resource?)

    In this case, my friend and I quickly got to the "elevate" question. Can we rent more forms somewhere? Can we borrow them? Can we use alternate ways to make forms? Concrete forms are not brain surgery. Can we get more, since we seem to have enough labor available to set them if we had them?

    For those going deep, we might ask if there is a policy constraint sitting underneath this physical constraint. For instance, did the subcontractor have a stated or unstated rule that said "We never rent forms."? Is there some accounting policy that makes rented forms appear much more expensive than company-owned forms?

    I don't know the answers to these issues. But, standing on the dusty job site on a hot August day, watching good people walk around in a deep, newly-dug basement, making no progress at all made me want to scream. This is why understanding constraints is so crucial to any Lean implementation. The constraint is where you apply the tools of lean to make the system improve. We have limited human and financial resources...let's put these limited resources to work where they matter.

    Long-time readers of this blog may remember a series on Theory of Constraints that my friends Frank Patrick and Hal Macomber and I did last spring. If you find this topic interesting, start here and follow the links to learn more.

    I hope this is helpful. And pay attention to the constraint. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Tuesday, August 19, 2003

    Not the news...just the index of the news

    A few quick thoughts during a blisteringly hot stretch of weather in the Midwest.
    • Toyota Along with three colleagues from the Wabash Valley Lean Network, I had the privilege of taking my third tour of Toyota's fork truck manufacturing facility in Columbus, Indiana last Wednesday. Not only is it fascinating to see a factory that hums with precision, it is also fascinating to see how it is such an organic, growing, changing enterprise. I'll write more on this.
    • Focus Spent two days last week and all day today in kaizen events here at FBi Buildings. I've seen it many times before, but it never ceases to amaze me what can happen in a short period of time with a clear goal and other clutter out of the way. So why do I continue to accept other clutter?
    • Gratefulness Seeing colleagues with relatives facing major, life-threatening surgeries, seeing businesses collapse nearby, seeing the fragility of an economy dependent on electrical power; every day is a gift.
    I hope this day is a gift for you. And that this has been a little bit helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

    Monday, August 18, 2003

    One Trip, Two Sites, Three Thoughts

    Mondays bring surprises and this one is no different. My colleage Jim asked me to make a run to a job site this morning to see a material problem. While in the area, I stopped in at another nearby construction site.

    There is nothing like getting into the action to see things more clearly. I elaborate.

    The first site was a simple building. One of our four-man crews were working on it, under the leadership of one of our experienced foremen. Nothing flashy...in fact the building was back in a woods and will hardly be visible except to the owners, who obviously want some privacy. Yet, during the 20 minutes I was on the site, the four guys were working as a team. Nothing frantic, yet each guy had a role, plugged at it and as I backed out, I was amazed at just how much they had done in a third of an hour. I could sense a simultaneous pace and calm...a job site clearly under control.

    The second site was a more complex building, but the task for the day was simple; setting forms in preparation for pouring a concrete basement wall. Six men were at work for a concrete subcontractor. Turned out I was there for about 20 minutes as well. The guys were moving about but it struck me that they moved without purpose. In the 20 minutes, I saw no rebar tied off, no forms set, no visible progress made. There was not a sense of pace.

    This very unscientific observation is not meant to extrapolate either crew's performace from my mere 20 minute sample to a general trend. However, three things did strike me.

    • Being there tells you more than reading a report. Anyone wanting to offer leadership in process improvement has to be at the place of work.
    • Knowing what needs to be done is central. Jim Womack's first point of the Lean process is "Value". That breaks down to being able to answer the question "Just what do we need to get done today?"
    • One need not be frantic to get a lot done. Calm resolove and measured movement clearly wins the day in the real world.
    I hope this bit of reality is helpful. And that your Monday is a good one. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me