Saturday, April 24, 2004

Laugh a little

You Don't Have to Sing, but ...

Had occasion to fly on Southwest Airlines last week. I realized it has been 8-9 years since I've flown Southwest. A few things had changed...I kind of missed the multi-colored plastic reusable boarding passes. But it was still a cattle-car approach to loading the plane and the peanuts were pretty ordinary.

Yet, they did one thing well. They made the awfulness of business travel a bit less awful by having fun. There was just a lot of joking. All the way from the folks at the gate to the flight attendants, to the pilots who wore really goofy looking ties along with their official looking shirts with the thingies on the shoulders.

As one leg of the four-part journey ended, a flight attendant came on and actually sang this ditty to us (to the tune of the "Barney" song):

We love you! You love us!
We're much faster than a bus.
And we hope you've enjoyed our hospitality.
Marry one of us and you'll fly for free!

I know, it looks really stupid there in print on a computer screen. But, I'm telling you, a plane full of otherwise serious adults all laughed and cracked up! She did it in a wonderful lightened the load considerably.

Which got me the midst of onerous tasks, why can't we just add some fun? A lot of jobs are just plain tough. So why not make it a bit more bearable with some "play"?? Shoot, travel is hardly a game anymore. It is tough to live through and tough for the folks who staff the planes and airports. Yet, Southwest makes it fun. And it helps.

Not a strong suit for me, yet I see a need to inject more fun. I hope you can do the same.

I hope this is helpful...and maybe a little bit funny.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


Learning About Lean from My Friends 

It’s great stuff when your friends teach you.  Three examples from just today.

Al, on obviousness 

My colleague Al read yesterday's post and said “You haven't stated the obvious with your observations, but after you make those points I'm thinking, "Well yeah, that makes sense......of course." “

Which got me thinking.  Lean is simply a system of thinking that gets you to the obvious point quickly.  In retrospect, it is obvious, common sense.  But, when encountering a job site or an office or a messy garage or a welding shop, things appear chaotic.  Using Lean tools get me to the “Ahaaaa” stage faster. 

But I hadn’t put it that clearly until interacting with Al earlier today. 

Thanks, Al.  

Ken, on slogans 

I had an issue come up today with another colleague, Stan, involving a process breakdown; one of our folks knowingly passed along a defective product to the next stage.  Bad News.  What do we do? 

Ken has, over the past couple of years, typed up and laminated several key Lean principles and posted them next to his desk in clips.  In this case, I realized I could review with Stan the four key actions to take in this setting, (the principles of autonomation or jidoka, in lean-speak)  which Ken had laminated:

1.       Detect the abnormality

2.       Stop.

3.       Correct the immediate problem

4.       Find root cause and install a countermeasure.

I pulled down the card and read through it with Stan, applying it to the situation.  We had a great conversation.  Clarity followed. 

I’m not all that big on slogans, inspirational posters and the like.  But Ken did our company a big service with these cards.  And I learned a lot from it.

Thanks, Ken.  

Sean, on advance notice 

Late today, I received an email from a former colleague, Sean.  He had also read yesterday’s post and offered observations on why “some don’t get it.”  He suggested a possible cause from his own experience:

If I feel like someone has intently listened to what in put I have to the subject, and has had an open dialogue of discussion with me, I feel like I have some effectiveness and involvement. This makes me want to work harder with or for that person in any given situation.”

Great point.  It is altogether too easy to throw off the phrase “some just don’t get it”.  But this, in itself is an abnormality (see Ken’s chart above).  What’s the root cause?  Countermeasure?  Sean suggests earlier and deeper involvement in goal development.  I learn from that.

Thanks, Sean. 

And I hope you learn from this too

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Kaizen Process, Lived Out

Have had sparse blogging lately, due to getting work done. Most significant was a recent four-day kaizen event with a vendor. I don't think I've ever been on an event where I didn't learn something very useful. This one was more chock-full of learnings than most.

The kaizen's objective was to construct a value stream map of a particular family of products. Which we did. And so much more came out while trying to do a thorough job on that one task. The high points of learning:

  • A kaizen requires focus. If it isn't focused, it isn't rapid improvement. It picks up the pace of change. It says "let's try it now and see if it works. The sooner we know, the sooner we can get to something even better."
  • A kaizen requires a clear goal. We actually had three groups running in parallel. Two of the three came pretty close to hitting the goal. The third missed it by more. IMO, due to a much fuzzier goal.
  • A kaizen requires a simple goal. It seems we are often happier going broad and shallow than narrow and deep. The kaizen method drives to the latter. It seeks clear results and full implementation. A simple goal forces depth.
  • Some people get it; some don't. I'd like to say this more delicately but can't. Some kaizen participants grasped that change can happen and get into it. Others just resisted, declined to participate or, at times, become downright ornery. Is it the clarity that emerges that threatens? Is it the fact they didn't volunteer but were asked to be on the kaizen? Is it worry about retribution? I don't know...but it happens on almost every kaizen event I'm on.
  • Follow up determines success. What do kaizen participants do with the "to do" list at the end? Ignore it, just glad it is over? Drive hard to completion? Follow up determines what will happen.
  • The closeout, management review session is crucial. I saw one of the best ever on Thursday. The CEO of our host company was intently involved and asked very good (and very hard) questions at the review, while affirming the results and efforts of the teams.
It was a great four days. I hope you can benefit from this description.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me


And so why aren’t hospitals lean? 

One simple answer…incorrect assumptions.  If you are interested, check out this extended piece by Jeff Angus .  It illustrates just how hard it will be to lean out health care.  Assumptions that were once valid become the unquestioned reality of the day.  Even when the assumptions no longer apply.  It is an insidious and difficult issue for us all.   

One of the great contributions of Theory of Constraints is it’s disciplined approach to questioning assumptions.  It is a huge breakthrough when encountering thorny problems or seeming dilemmas.  The application in Lean environments for this is significant.   

I hope this is helpful.


Lean in the Hospital? 

In case you missed it, Friday’s Wall Street Journal (fee required) had a front-page article on applying Lean to Hospitals.  It flowed from a frustration by Pittsburgh-area companies at the rapid rise in health care costs.   

The essence of the article resonated with me in controlling costs that originate outside of our own companies.  Nothing seems quite so distant and non-controllable as health care.  So many layers exist between the payee (a corporate health care program), the user (the employee) and the price setter (the hospital/physician).  So many conflicts of interest exist.  Can a waste-free system exist? It seems impossible.  It was encouraging to read of the effort. 

I hope this is helpful