Tuesday, November 30, 2004

More on Coaching

More on Coaching

I've had some very interesting feedback on my recent post on coaching.  It has largely been in the vein of  "Yeah, but how??" 


It is not easy.  Not everyone wants to improve or is interested in helping others improve, at a substantial level.  And not everyone has the skill set to help improve.  Yet, improve we must. 


Last night, while looking for something else in my stack of HBR, I came across a Harvard Business Review article from the September 2004 edition that speaks to this.  Entitled Deep Smarts, by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap, the authors explore just how knowledge transfers from person to person in an organization, particularly the seemingly intuitive knowledge that comes from experience and pattern recognition.  It runs pretty deep and goes far beyond the usual list of job descriptions and knowledge databases.  They deal deeply with the progression from story telling to Socratic Teaching to Guided Observation to Guided Experimentation. 


If you have access to HBR, you may find the article useful.  If not, you can download the article for $6 and it may be well worth it.  I know I'm exploring it with some colleagues here.


I hope this is helpful.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Lean companies (gasp) working together??

Lean companies (gasp) working together??


My good pal MaryPat Cooper just pointed me to this article on The Buddy System--helping others achieve Lean in the current issue of Industry Week. 


Is this a path to figuring out the coaching dilemma I wrote about a few days ago?? 


Is this a next step for our local lean network?? 


What does it mean for you in your area? 


I hope this is helpful and thought provoking.  And thanks, as usual, to MaryPat!!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Why Coaching

Why Coaching

An important fact I thought I knew, but realized I didn't really know, hit home on a cold, rainy Saturday morning in a store this morning.

I've been fighting a nagging achillies tendon problem for the past several weeks that has hampered my morning runs. Since the tendon only flared up after I bought new shoes in mid-October, I thought the footwear may be the culprit. So, I went to Athletic Annex with the express purpose of having a trained shoe fitter try to figure out what my feet were doing and getting me in a more appropriate running shoe.

There I met Margaret, an experienced runner and sales professional. She sat and listened, asked a number of useful questions and pondered my situation. Only then, did she start to think about which shoe I might need. Pair after pair came out. We laced and talked and looked.

But the key was when she took me outside and set me off to run down the 40 yard long covered porch along the strip mall where the store was located. She stood, arms crossed, pondering my gait, as I lumbered down and back with each pair of shoes. "Those make you roll in." "Those are awful." "Those work."

Why was this important? And why do I bore you with this drivel? Here's the deal:

I can't watch myself run. I'm busy running. I can't see my feet, how they hit the ground, what my ankles and knees do as I'm going downt he road. I needed another person, another qualified person, to watch me run. Only then could I begin to understand what was really going on.

I can't watch myself lead a kaizen event. I can't watch myself do a performance review. I can't watch myself leading an operations meeting. Why?? Because I'm busy leading the kaizen, the performance review, the ops meeting. I have to "keep my eye on the road." And while I can do a self-critique at the end, I will miss many things. I need someone else to watch and then tell me what she/he sees. Self-diagnosis doesn't always work. Ask my wife.

I need a coach to watch me do my job, just as I needed Margaret to watch me run. But not just anyone. A non-runner, a non-trained person would understand the interaction of shoe fit with pronation, arch height and gait on my ability to run injury-free. A non-lean person won't be able to understand how a kaizen event should run, or how I should approach an ops meeting.

And it isn't easy to find such a person. And it isn't easy to figure out how to pay such a coach. And it isn't easy to submit oneself to another's teaching, as I submitted myself to Margaret's expertise. And I sure don't have it figued it out. Yet this is important if I'm serious about developing genuine expertise. It is important for you too.

I'd welcome your input. And I hope you find this helpful as you seek to improve your own skills.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Monday, November 22, 2004

How do you price your Excess Capacity?

How do you price your Excess Capacity?


Those of you who understand Theory of Constraints or Lean realize that, at the macro level, all improvement efforts must increase the capacity of the organization.  What few talk about after that is "So what do you do with that capacity?" 


In many cases, the capacity is still with you.  You still have a part of a building.  You still have staff.  Unlike extra machines or equipment, you just can't sell off a quarter of your building and laying people off who have participated in improvement efforts is remarkably stupid and self-defeating. 


What you can do is to price the excess capacity at a price that only needs to exceed your direct costs. 


And here is one of the coolest examples of selling excess capacity. Jeff Angus, in his excellent blog Management by Baseball, writes of how the Minnesota Twins are selling extra seats in the Metrodome by a most creative season-ticket plan that is not a season ticket plan. 


A further lesson from the Twins' experiment is that "all of us is smarter than any of us."  The Twins are trusting (gasp) that busy people in the Twin Cities know how to use their own time better than Twins management does.  And they have set up a structure to achieve this. 


This lesson builds on a most excellent recent book I'm still working through titled The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by Jim Surowiecki.  It also builds on a great topic Hal Macomber blogs on today about just enough leadership. 


We are stuck with so many assumptions.  And breaking out of them is hard.  And our people will help us do just that, if we only ask.  The Twins demonstrate this, in spades, on pricing excess capacity. 


I hope you find this helpful.



Sunday, November 21, 2004

Kaizen, Real Time, Part 2

Kaizen, Real Time, Part 2

Finished up the Kaizen event on Friday. I think a lot about these things. What worked, and why? What bombed, and why? Who connected, who didn't? What did I get close on and just need to tweak next time? What is so bad that I need to start all over, from scratch?

One thing that worked was the Management Review. This is a little-discussed part of a Kaizen event but I have come to view it as one of the most distincitive and crucial parts of a Kaizen event and is a distinguishing mark of Lean. In short, at the end of the event, the Kaizen team presents a short (literally 15 mintue) presentation of their goal, what they did and what they found. Then, invited guests who are affected by the outcome of the event are welcome to ask questions, scrutinize the outcomes and offer coaching. In a well-developed Lean firm, this is also a time for significant coaching.

When we gathered on Friday, we chose not to tell about one development of standardized work, but to let the assembled guests actually do the standardized work, with virtually no instruction. It was a test of our proposed improvement. Since we held the Management Review in the actual part of our facility that we were improving, they had to walk only a few feet to test the process. And, in three mintues, literally, we had tested our new system 11 times (because 11 people were there for the review!).

What was cool was that it worked 10 out of 11 times. And one member of mangement found a mistake.

And the moment of truth arrived....how would we respond to an error??

It provided a moment of coaching and teaching. First, we thanked the man who identified the error. We realized it had happened in the haste to finish up. And we realized how to avoid it in future. Exactly what a management review should do. Cool.

The big error in this kaizen was my poor estimation of the time it would take us to implement the changes we were proposing. Like I only allotted half the time it required. Yeah, 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound bag...it just wasn't possible. In my optimism in planning, I botched it. We have a too-long list of to-do's...I hope we can get them done in the next week. But it messes up the schedule for the next Kaizen (which is linked to this one) as we work around the holiday schedule coming up here in the US.

Never a time to stop learning. I hope this helps you to learn a little as well. Thanks for listening.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Kaizen, real time

Kaizen, real time


My brain is half-fried and I'm tired and I couldn't feel better.  We are partially through a kaizen event, which I am enjoying along with four eager-to-contribute colleagues.  What a day. 


And here are 6 reasons why the fatigue feels so good.


1.       We blocked out time and focused.  Which is what a kaizen event is.  We said "no" to a hundred other things and did one important thing.

2.       Kaizen makes a rich seedbed for learning.  By doing it in a different place, in a different way, we saw things we hadn't seen before.  In a familiar setting, we would have missed some profoundly simple things we saw today.

3.       I have a greater appreciation for others' example.  I'm a very, very fortunate fellow, to have had the gift of many others teaching me, directly or indirectly.  As such, at several times today, I could apply others' learnings and mistakes to help direct our efforts.

4.       We learned about each other, as people.  I had a marvelous conversation with one colleague as we worked at an assignment all afternoon.  This builds trust, ever so necessary in the high-change environment required to move to world-class manufacturing.

5.       It all happens in the workplace.  I have learned to never hold a kaizen event in an office.  And we didn't...we gathered and worked in the exact place we targeted for improvement.  Wow.  Forget the donuts and soft chairs and woodwork.  Gimme hard plastic chairs and makeshift workplaces anytime.

6.       Do it now.  At mid-day, we needed some physical supplies for a task.  Boom, I ran out over lunch to a local store.  15 minutes and $20 later, I had all the stuff we needed.  Forget the long ordering process...go do it.  Now.  Kaizen builds this.


I'm tired and happy.  A good way to go home. 


I hope this is helpful.   

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

No, this is not Jidoka

No, this is not Jidoka


After reading Saturday's entry about Jidoka, my old pal Matt Gudeman emailed me with this tongue-in-cheek counterproposal:


Enjoyed learning about Jidoka this morning.

I don't know though. There must be some merit to the conventional way:

1.    Detect an error
2.    Blame someone
3.    Cobble something up to get by "just this once"
4.    Talk to someone about how stupid employees really are these


Indeed.   That's how it usually goes and it sounds silly when written out.  Yet it is true.  I hope you can find a way around the usual method and use Jidoka properly!


I hope this brings a smile. It did to me...thanks Matt!


Saturday, November 13, 2004




"Jidoka" is an odd term, one which many Lean practioners don't understand well, making it difficult to practice.  Yet, along with "Just in Time," it is one of the twin pillars of Lean, both resting on a foundation of Standardized Work.


Jidoka is often translated as "autonomation" or "automation with a human touch", yet that still doesn't help much. 


Jidoka, in action, is best known as the famous line-stop cords in Toyota factories, whereby any associate can pull the cord and stop the entire line when she sees a quality problem or a non-conformance.


I began to understand Jidoka better a couple years ago when I read a paper by Mark Rosenthal (now at Kodak) who summarized the four key points of Jidoka as:

1.       Detect an error

2.       Stop.

3.       Install a countermeasure.

4.       Find the root cause of the error.


From that, I've come to describe this pillar of lean as "the rapid detection and correction of errors.".   Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, I know, but it seems to communicate.


Why do I bring this up?


Because its application goes way beyond just the manufacturing floor.  And I saw it, in spades, yesterday. 


Around 5:45pm yesterday, Friday, a former colleague, Ed, phoned me and we talked about a construction project he was trying to sell and was giving Ed fits. As we talked and rolled around in facts of the situation, it hit me that Jidoka applied.


You see, Ed's project was doomed in that it had a very weak set of construction drawings to utilize as a basis for planning and pricing.  The only way to get it right for his (potential) customer was to:


1.       Detect the error.  Ed recognized, based on his experience that the drawings were just not robust enough to allow either him, as the contractor, or his customer to move ahead with confidence. He knew there was a problem

2.       Stop.  This is the hard part.  Ed realized he had to have the conversation with the customer to stop the current bidding process.  Yes, stop.  Cease.  No further action.  Don't build on a weak foundation.  Shut it down.  "Pull the cord."  It takes guts and strong leadership.  Did I say it was hard?  Yeah, it is tough. 

3.       Install a countermeasure.  We threw ideas around and realized Ed needed to find a way to develop an accurate set of prints.  After some brainstorming, we realized there were some very do-able ways to do this.

4.       Find the root cause of the error.  More complex, but necessary.  On further reflection, Ed realized this customer had a pattern of "ready, fire, aim" when it came to developing construction drawings.  He may have an opportunity, in future, to offer these services earlier to the customer.  He may also be able to apply this with other customers.


My point is that this pillar of Lean applies far beyond the manufacturing floor.  I hope you can find a way to do these four steps of Jidoka today. 


I hope this is helpful. 

Friday, November 12, 2004

What Hal Says

What Hal Says


My friend Hal Macomber has emerged from a self-imposed quiet stretch and blogs  today on getting ideas from the team.


Hal's experience on this topic is similar to mine.  Ideas are out there for the having.  But it takes leadership to gather them and implement them.  And, even more, it takes a long-term effort to keep them coming, to the level that they become a strategic advantage. 


And this "sticktoitiveness" seems to be so difficult.  Another guru speaks, daily.  Another demand lurks, hourly.  Another distracting email arrives, each minute. 


Thus we need an overarching paradigm to make sense of it all and slice through the clutter.  Which is what I find a Lean view of business so helpful.


I hope this is helpful.  And not a distraction.