Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why people observe but don't see Lean

Why people observe but don't see Lean

I've wondered for a long time why people seem to ignore or not seek to understand Lean. I got some insight last week when management writer
Jeff Angus wrote on why humility works. His subject was Terry Ryan, a little known, understated but highly successful executive from Minnesota. Here's the salient summary of Jeff's observations:

There's also intellectual humility. He [Ryan]works very hard to make [success] look ordinary. That, of course, is a competitive edge...competitors in any endeavor figure anything easy must not be a very important differentiator (bass-ackwards of course, but the erroneous mental algebra is that if it was important and easy both, everyone could/would do it and since they're not doing it and it's easy it, therefore, must not be important. Goofy but widespread thinking). As long as Ryan and his team make this seem like luck or just simple stuff, others won't feel like they're being outfoxed (which is not an incentive to deal with the fox again).

And the managers[who work with Ryan] know that they can make acting and being humble, they never get too comfortable with problem --> solution automation, continuing to practice self-examination, continuing to see if their decisions are working. A further side-benefit: this knowing-you-can-make-a-mistake diminishes (not eliminates) the office politics of assigning blame -- everyone knows that mistakes will happen and it defuses a lot of the harsher toxicity of office blame.

Jeff writes about a management principle in general. But it hit me that this is a reason for the dominance of folks who can really drive a Lean system. Those who do it well make it look very easy. The improvement efforts, the involvement of associates, the self-funding of new products; it all seems to flow. And the usual reaction is “Yeah, it’s common sense.”

As Jeff says it takes intellectual humility to get it. My colleague Kevin and I talked about this late this afternoon. It takes a willingness to accept the utterly elegant simplicity of a Lean mindset to make it work.

I hope you can find that humility. And “get it” even better.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve, 2005

Christmas Eve, 2005

Once a year, I take the opportunity to make some personal comments. Thanks for indulging me a move away from what I hope is normally a professional approach!

It’s fascinating to look at my comments on Chrismas Eve of
2002, 2003, and 2004. Things progress and grow. And some things remain the same.

We were thrilled in late July to have our son David return safely from his tour of duty as an Army medic in the Sunni Triangle in western Iraq. Words don’t really capture what we felt to have him there and the joy of his return.
He, Susan, Nathan and Andrew are now together, stationed in Colorado Springs, spending their first Christmas together in three years.

Our middle son
Nathan is really finding a niche in Human Resources in Portland, Oregon. Hard to believe our youngest Matt is deep into planning for college. But I guess the math works, as Gretchen and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year. Oh my.

I remain very grateful for my
Dad, who died 12 years ago today. The values and insight I learned from him will never leave. I hope I’ve passed those same values on to my sons. I’m a very fortunate guy.

Where will 2006 go? Don’t we wonder about that every year?! To the degree that we each focus on others, apart from ourselves and seek to serve in the worlds we find ourselves, we will have opportunity.

I’m grateful for Immanuel, God with us, as we celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow. This faith undergirds everything for me. It is an exciting and humbling journey.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Project Kaizen: Day Five

Project Kaizen: Day Five

Wow, quite an amazing week of blogging on Project Kaizen. I was discussing this exercise over supper with my mother-in-law tonight. In her early 80s, she is very up on technology and has been following our discussions all week on-line. “It is a pretty amazing world,” she commented “when such a cool thing can happen. And it has been neat to learn about kaizen!”

She’s right…it is amazing. And let’s not take it for granted. From any background or perspective, anyone who wishes can learn. And the seven of us owe a debt of gratitude to all of our readers.

Hal will soon be posting some compilations of our postings. You can catch this announcement on
Reforming Project Management; I’ll mention it here as well.

I’d welcome any summary comments from our readers. Post them here in the comment section or feel free to
email me. The input from our readers is wonderful.

Thank you for listening and having a mood of optimism and inquisitiveness.

Project Kaizen: the Kaizen Blitz

Project Kaizen: the Kaizen Blitz

The Kaizen Blitz or Kaizen Event is a technique that our own
Norman Bodek was instrumental in demonstrating for the first time here in the US. At that time, they called it “Five Days and One Night”, indicative of the fact that four of the five days of work allowed for no sleep, at least symbolically.

I first learned how to do a Kaizen Event during a fateful week at Wiremold’s Brooks Division in Philadelphia. They invited me, an outsider, to fully participate with them as “fresh eyes” for the event. They did far more for me and my company than I did for them…it was truly one of the most influential weeks of my entire career.

I’ve since participated in and led a lot of Kaizen Events. I always (and I do mean always) learn something new and significant. And the more I do them, the less I realize I know. This business of relentlessly eliminating waste is a very humbling exercise.

I have thought a lot about how to describe a Kaizen Event in the context of a project team. I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be close to impossible to do in a
loosely coupled team as Hal described one. I had the chance to do this once. A very talented leader took us through a week-long event with four different companies, all involved in sequential supply to one another. We documented, conservatively, $11M of cash savings to be had in six months with no capital investment. And it went nowhere. There simply was not the shared belief or trust or dependence to make it happen. A major disappointment, to say the least. The lack of “coupling” between the parties destroyed any chance of success.

To do a Kaizen Event in a workgroup or a closely coupled team, however, would be much like doing an event in single work cell. It takes some planning and leadership. And there is no way to learn to do this without actually being a part of it in practice.

George Koenigsaecker, along with Norman, is one of this country’s most seasoned Lean leaders. In his recent article
Leadership in Lean Transformation, (thanks again to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers for this publication) he describes how one learns to lead a Kaizen event. In short, you have to watch it and do it. And do it. And do it. The article will help you understand it.

Why is it hard to learn to lead a Kaizen event? Because it turns most conventional logic on its head. You have to experience it to grasp it. You can make big changes quickly. It is exciting. It is boring. You will freak people out. You will threaten others. You will learn more than you ever imagined you could learn. It is a project that accomplishes so much in so little time, you will be breathless. And others, being threatened, will seek to undermine it. And you.

If you have been involved in a Kaizen event, you are smiling and nodding now in a knowing sort of way. If you have not, you are probably looking for a hyperlink to click and move away from this senseless text. But if, by chance, you are still with me I encourage you to read what my cobloggers have to say on the subject. And, then see if you can participate in a Kaizen Blitz. Somewhere. Somehow. I wish I could make it easier for you. But I can’t.

And your project team will never be the same.

Read my friends’ comments on this today.
Bill Waddell
Chuck Frey
Hal Macomber
Jon Miller
Mark Graban
Norman Bodek

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Project Kaizen: Day Four

Project Kaizen: Day Four

I’ve tried to put together a summary of our Gang-of-Seven’s inputs each evening for you. Today, though,
Chuck Frey already did it! His is a great summary, so enjoy it!

I have to go dig out of six inches of snow…see ya tomorrow!

Project Kaizen: Rapid Improvements for You!

“My life is a pain. How do I make it better?”

No, this isn’t a lonesome lover’s blog (just in case you were wondering…). Our discussion on Project Kaizen moves today to the individual.

The most significant work on this topic comes from
Norman Bodek, particularly captured in his excellent book subtitled Quick 'n Easy Kaizen. I got this book when it came out a few years ago, applied it, verbatim, and it is superb.

The essence of Norman's work is captured by writing down the completion of two simple and then taking two simple actions:

I currently have a problem with …

I could improve this if I ….

Write it down.

Show it to others.

And this is the kicker. Lots of our folks know how to improve their work, to make it more enjoyable. Yet, writing it down is downright difficult.

So, I humbly present my Top Ten List of Why to Write Small Local Improvements.

1 Writing forces you to think.
2 You capture the problem or at least a part of it.
3 You learn to see more clearly by writing.
4 You help others see your world.
5 You find a practical, incremental improvement.
6 You show that saving 30 seconds a day is a good thing.
7 You build a history of improvement.
8 You can measure your focus on improvement.
9 You learn from the attempts that don’t work.
10 You get involved in your work world, rather than just passively accepting life as it is.
Make it a habit:

1. Make a simple, half-page form with these questions on it.
2. Write two local improvements today.
3. Show both of them to two co-workers. Today.

Read my friends’ comments on this today.
Bill Waddell
Chuck Frey
Hal Macomber
Jon Miller
Mark Graban
Norman Bodek

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Project Kaizen: Day Three

Project Kaizen: Day Three

Three days down on this exercise on Project Kaizen. I mentioned handoffs as key in understanding a workstream. Bill Waddell took this concept much further, describing
handoffs in the workstream, using a track example.

And, lest we forget, people matter most. From Tuesday’s postings, Jon Miller examines just how well (or not) we seven bloggers
practiced what we preach. This type of robust conversation is an example of what a good project team gets to. Kathleen offers another take on networked conversation and the key role they play in improvement.

On Thursday…individual kaizen. I’m looking forward to that!

Project Kaizen: Making the Workstream Flow

Project Kaizen: Making the Workstream Flow

Our week-long study of Project Kaizen gets tough today: How do we regularly improve a workgroup that spans different companies?

The workstream is different than the workgroup. It usually involves people who don’t know each other, work for different companies, have very different allegiances and are united (often) only by the project. Hal Macomber wrote well on
the distinctives of a workstream last week if you want to understand the distinctives better. .

Examples abound. Most outsourced issues are workstreams. Building maintenance and cleaning. Most construction projects. Many contract technical evaluations. Funded research. Very different from the workgroup. Yet, often the source of a lot of cost to a company and a basis for improvement.

In very large companies, many projects also become workstreams for similar reasons. Mark Graban speaks on this phenomenon from personal experience.

My fellow bloggers (
Bill Waddell, Chuck Frey, Hal Macomber, Jon Miller, Mark Graban, and Norman Bodek) will cover this well. These guys see it more than I do. I’ll simply contribute some of my observations from my experience.

Workstream kaizen is much harder than workgroup kaizen. Deal with it. Don’t have expectations that things will happen as fast or as well or as deep as workgroup or individual kaizen.

The relative size of the organizations have a big impact. If you work with a vendor who really, really needs your business, you can make some headway. If you are a twig on the end of a stick on the tip of a branch at the split of a trunk of a very big tree to the other entity, well, it’ll be tough.

Pay close attention to the handoffs in a workstream. What happens when the project work shifts from one group to the next? There is your prime opportunity for improvement. Simple meetings, clear statements of satisfaction, declaring a job finished, metrics for handoffs; all of these work.

So how can you improve the workstream if you are the twig and not the tree trunk? Try what I call a “one-sided” kaizen effort. Make things happen for your side of the transaction. Don’t expect any reciprocation. Do pull, even if they don’t cooperate. Do mistake-proofing, even if they don’t ask about it. Do visual management, even if they don’t see.

My good pal Ken Kellams and I learned this approach with a number of vendors during my days at
FBi Buildings. What was amazing to us was that, after a year or so of consistent effort (solely on our part), several of these outside entities said “Hey, you guys are doing something different.” We explained. A couple actually adopted our lean practices. Ken told me a month ago that one vendor adopted lean tools and increased his total inventory turns from 5 per year in 2002 to 14 per year in 2005. Given that this vendor was landlocked in his facility, this nearly tripled his capacity. With no capital expenditures. Guess who gets good service from that vendor?? Ken’s a happy man.

It is possible to improve workstreams. Read up from my blogging pals. Try something and measure the results. You may well surprise yourself!

Make it a habit:

1. Identify one or (at the most) two workstreams.
2. Identify two handoffs for each.
3. Find some improvement on each of the handoffs.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Project Kaizen: Day Two

Project Kaizen: Day Two

Lots of awesome input today. Two things really grabbed me from today’s posts and links on Project Kaizen.

First, Bill quotes my web pal
Karen Wilhelm On Project Kaizen. Karen works at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, is a frequent commenter on this blog and tolerates my poor grammer and weak logic in a very patient fashion. Karen edited a marvelous paper on Quickening the Pace of Product Development which is worth your read. Among other things, this paper includes a wonderful example of what project metric displays should look like. I’ve been searching for this and it only came to me today. Thanks Karen…you are welcome to make my blog look that good any day!!

Second, I discovered Kathleen Fasanella’s wonderful blog
Fashion-Incubator. Those of you who know me will think it a good thing that I read a blog on “fashion.” Alas, the mismatching shirts and pant will continue. Kathleen is a marvelous writer on how systems and people interact in her world, the production of clothing. She wrote last week the most marvelous description I’ve ever read on why improve a process that is working OK. Complete with illustrations. Go read it. You’ll get it. Thanks, Kathleen, for jumping in. I learned a lot.

Gotta head for bed…more projet kaizen on workstreams tomorrow.

Project Kaizen: Single Piece Flow in the Workgroup

Project Kaizen: Single Piece Flow in the Workgroup

A workgroup is just that; a group that does work. More importantly, though, a workgroup is usually a somewhat constant group. The individuals likely know each other, are often get paid by the same entity and have some generally shared objectives. It is one of the most obvious contexts for project kaizen. Examples are easy to see: A research group, a purchasing department, a construction crew, a software team, a maternity ward staff.

Projects happen in this context. Complete a research paper and submit. Find a new vendor for welding rods. Improve on-site safety performance. Add two new features to version 4.5. Find a way for siblings to visit Mom and new baby.

A project in this setting has the advantage that the people are already there and may have a shared interest. The problem is that these people also have regular work to do. They also have history, good or bad, with each other. Project success has to account for each of these things.

Kaizen here means;

Identify the project
Account for loading
Eliminate multi-tasking
Communicate simply.

I remain fascinated at how many projects workgroups take on without even knowing they have done it, almost as if they contract a virus, unawares. It is in stating, clearly, the name and objective of a project that success starts.

Which leads to loading. Just how many projects does a work group have? Does anyone know? All too often they don’t.

I mention “Lead” third, because it is only after identifying the projects and being aghast at the subsequent overloading that Leadership can really happen. Before that, most of us consider it only so much meddling. But who else can help a workgroup better than the leader? And who else can really say “we will do this” and “we won’t do that?” And then, by making that declaration stick, who else can truly communicate priorities?

The most crucial task for the Leader is to rid the group of the curse of multi-tasking. The Leader must replace it with single piece flow. I believe this is the most foundational priciple of workgroup improvement strategies.

And you laugh.

Most folks in workgroups simply do not believe they can ever get to single piece flow in the project setting, that sweet spot where they see a task through to completion, without interruption, without pause, without distraction. Kaizen begins when the workgroup leader declares “Yes, we can get to single piece flow. What is the first step?”

How do we get rid of multi-tasking?
First, decide to do it.
Second, break big tasks into smaller tasks.
Third, make each individual task for a person something that can be done in 90 minutes or less…preferably 45 minutes. This may make for a long list. Stay with it.

Describe each task in the form “Verb the Noun with Tool by Date/time.” For example: “Write the supplier specification in MS Word by Tuesday noon.” “ Mail the proposal to Marcie at Acme on Friday by 9am.” Don’t list the task as “Supplier Spec” or “Proposal finished.”

Discover when, each day, individual work group members can best concentrate and work. Some are morning people, some late night candle-burners. Accept this as part of the joy of a diverse workgroup and embrace it.

Let people work odd hours, when it is easier to be uninterrupted.

Turn off email for a period of time. Yes, you heard right, turn it off. There is life without email. My grandfather told me so. Turn it off while you are working on a project. It will all be there when you come back. If the task or sub task takes only 90 minutes, you won’t miss much.

In the workgroup that is physically located together, a great tool is the Project Poster. This is a visual tool at which the project team who are can interact.

Make it big. At least 3 x 4 feet. Yes feet
Make it change. Add something new, daily.
Meet, with your project team, standing, next to it. Frequently. Daily, if possible.
Put names on it.
Make project metrics clear. An easy one is “finished 90 minute tasks.” You can make this a Plan to Actual metric as well. Then look at the percent plan complete.
Don’t make it “nice”…do it in hand writing.
Encourage others to write comments on it.
State when the project is done. Then take it down, replace it.

By focusing on a single project, breaking down tasks and making it visible, you can see better how to get to single piece flow. And dramatically improve both the performance and the results of projects in the context of a workgroup.

Get in the habit:
List the projects in your workgroup.
Buy a “science project display”, the tri-fold sort of thing that kids use. Set it on a table near your work group. Populate it.
Measure how many times in a day you and your workgroup finds interruption to single piece flow. Reality hurts…and it is a beginning.

Check out what the rest of my co-bloggers have to say:
Bill Waddell
Chuck Frey
Hal Macomber
Jon Miller
Mark Graban
Norman Bodek

Monday, December 05, 2005

Project Kaizen: Day One

Project Kaizen: Day One

Our Gang of Seven is off and blogging on project kaizen. Several emails reminded me I’ve left some folks in the dust!! Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “continuous improvement.” In practice, it is about a steady flow of small changes to make work more enjoyable, smooth and waste free. You can apply it anywhere (as my kids groan, having noticed). Our intent in this coblogging exercise is to apply it to the world of projects.

Two things strike me this evening, as I reread today’s entries.

Hal wrote on a familiar theme to us who know him:
being mindful of your surroundings and, importantly, being mindful of how to improve those surroundings in the project setting. Mull on this one a bit.

Norman produced a very useful piece on
Running Effective Meetings. Oh my, how projects could improve with just this discipline!

Tuesday, we all take on kaizen in the workgroup. Join us!

Project Kaizen: Why improve Projects?

Project Kaizen: Why Improve Projects?

Marie had a problem. Why was the supplier slow? Why did they miss promised delivery dates? Why were there quality problems with this vendor? How could she get the design improved? How could she evaluate alternate designs? To do this, she had to involve the vendor, sales people, engineers and production staff. She had a project. She could apply project kaizen.

Scotty had a problem. Organizational changes meant a product previously made elsewhere was coming in-house. How did he locate supplies? How did he modify standard work? How did he let end-users know where to order? How did he find the manufacturing space? To do this, he had to involve production engineers, customer service and sales folks, shipping team. He had a project. He could apply project kaizen.

We often solve problems by initiating a project. And since there seems to be no shortage of problems, we are surrounded by projects. Even in a process based system, projects are everywhere. So, why not get better at them?

A project is different than a process. A project is a one-off event. It has a start and an end. It often involves a variety of tasks. Many depend on other. Often, the project has multiple performers. It almost always affects multiple people.

Projects originate from multiple headwaters. Most often, they come from a) top-down demands (the big guy issues a declaration) or b) bottom-up “gotta improve this” demands (this process is impossible to do).

Often, we don’t see projects for what they are; one time, time-consuming events. Instead, we pretend they are a potted plant in the corner, there, but of no real significance. So we pile them on top of other, regular work. And then we wonder why we feel overloaded.

Projects are central. No less a guru than Tom Peters wrote a book The Project 50 to show just how crucial our projects are. While Tom ranted well in this book, we can do better in making them work better.

Projects happen in four settings. We’ll talk about each. But get started now.

Get in the habit:
1. Identify, in writing, three projects for you or for others that you come in contact with in the next four hours.

2. Write down 4 things about each one: The start date, the end date, the person responsible and the person who has the power to say “I am pleased, the project is done”.

3. Use this short list as your context to understand what my cobloggers and I will discuss this week on improving projects.

Check out what the rest of my co-bloggers have to say:

Bill Waddell
Chuck Frey
Hal Macomber
Jon Miller
Mark Graban
Norman Bodek

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Project Kaizen: A Co-Blogging Adventure

Project Kaizen: A Co-Blogging Adventure

This week, I’ll be joining six fellow bloggers to discuss one topic: How do we apply lean principles to improve the process of projects? How do we bring kaizen to projects?

All of us are deeply involved in continuous improvement. And while kaizen is reasonably well known (if not well practiced) in processes, it is very much unknown in the project setting.

There are four settings in which projects happen; each of them have a context in which we can improve them. On Tuesday through Friday, we’ll discuss each of these settings. On Monday, we’ll all lead off with asking “why bother with kaizen in projects anyway?”

My buddy
Hal Macomber, a regular referent from this blog, initiated all of this out of his passion for excellence in project management and recognition of the need for kaizen in the project setting. I’m really humbled to be included in this discussion group, as some outstanding writers and thinkers will write along with me. I’ve added links to this “gang of seven” on the side of my blog here. I’ll include links with each posting as well. Our objective is that the mix of writing on one topic from seven points of view will add significantly to the understanding (and more importantly) the practice of improving projects. I urge you to follow the links each day. Please comment at any or all of our postings. If you have a blog, feel free to pick up on any theme that strikes you; include the words “Project Kaizen” in your blog title and folks can follow it as well. Hal promises a compilation of our writings and relevant comments in the next month or two.

Here’s a list of the other contributors and Hal’s introduction of each:

Hal Macomber, Project Reformer
Norman Bodek, Godfather of Lean
Mark Graban, Lean Commentary
Bill Waddell, Lean Provocateur
Jon Miller, Lean Leader
Chuck Frey, Innovation Maven

And…we’ll add one more blogger each day. It might be you! We’ll scan the other blogs keying off of our posts and one will be included in the Gang of Seven.

Hope you enjoy this exercise…and more importantly, it moves your projects along better, with less waste.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Starting, Finishing


Starting, Finishing

It's easier to start a project than to end one.

It's easier to dream up a Quality Circle than to implement its results.

It's easier to take off than to land an airplane

It's easier to break ground than to finish the last piece of woodwork in the corner of a room.

It's easier to start a trip than to get home again.

It's easier to schedule a kaizen event than to finish the last day with results.

It's easier to start the season than play in the World Series.

It's easier to have a baby than raise a teenager.

It's easier to quit smoking than to never smoke again.




And the rewards go to those who finish the job. 




So, figure out how to finish well. 






Sunday, November 27, 2005

Making a Plant Hum

Making a Plant Hum

A week ago Friday, Wayne Reisinger of our local Economic Development group and I had the privilege to tour a nearby manufacturing plant about two years into a Lean transformation. They are in a brutal market environment and have a number of local factors working against them. The Plant Manager framed the situation to us as "a street fight for our very survival." And they are succeeding.

Here's what I saw as their keys.

On a foundation of 5S...

The plant was clean and orderly. Despite some inherently "dirty" processing steps, the floors shined, the equipment was in order, and tools were where they needed to be. Their tooling shop was spotless, as was the (gasp) boiler room!

On inquiry, one of their process specialists described the way in which they do monthly 5S audits. Managers rotate the parts of the plant they inspect and score each month. As a result, the habits are growing.

The result? Two key metrics flowed from this. Equipment uptime had improved substantially. Clean equipment works better. When you clean equipment, you find little problems sooner.

Safety also improved. Dry, clean, uncluttered floors are hard to trip on. The discipline of keeping a workplace clean is the same discipline that prevents unsafe actions.

Morale also goes up. Who wants to work in a dirty, unorganized pit??

...they pursue continuous flow.

The central theme uniting all their efforts was flow. How could they keep an individual order progressing through the facility, adding value?

To do this, they moved entire departments, so that, if process A fed process B, they physically moved the work group doing process A right next to process B. The product then flowed on a simple set of rollers or simple, special cart from A to B. There was remarkably little forklift traffic in the plant.

Rather than layout equipment by type (all the presses together, for example) they laid out the plant by product line. This thinking leads to understanding flow. From this foundation of thinking first about flow, managers cleared the fuzz from their vision and could then see the physical and organizational blocks to flow. Their improvement efforts centered on achieving flow.

I can’t say enough about the impact of looking at flow as an organizing principle. I’ve known this for a while but saw it in physical space in this tour. It all starts, though, with thinking differently.

I hope you can change your thinking and then improve some flow, today.

Waste We Do Not See

Waste We Do Not See

Seth once more brings me up short. This time with the waste of newspaper stock price listings. No value. Added cost. The customer doesn’t use them. Why force her to pay for the ink and newsprint?

overprocessing waste.

me open my eyes wider. What else am I missing?

Friday, November 25, 2005

You want 'em to do what?

You want ‘em to do what?

Did my patriotic duty yesterday, Thanksgiving Day. After hosting the in-laws, they left, we cleaned up and Gretchen and I sat down to conclude the day by watching some football on TV.

West Virginia was pounding Pittsburgh pretty hard. As the teams left for halftime, the sideline reporter corralled Pitt head coach Dave “not a contender for the Nobel Prize” Wannstedt to ask him about adjustments for the second half. Wannstedt responded in the same manner that cost him his job with both the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins; excuses and lack of clarity.

“We just have to run faster” was his summary of his plans for the second half. Huh? Just run faster? Like these college players could dial in more speed, on command?

While comical in a sports setting, it hit me that many managers (including me) often do a similar thing. We confuse an outcome with a method to achieve the outcome.

“We just have to cut costs.”

“We just have to get more sales.”

“We just have to boost productivity.”

No more helpful than the Pitt coach.

A leader can see what the outcome needs to be AND then articulates how to get there.

For example, a better comment by Wannstedt would have been “Our team speed can’t keep up with West Virginia. We’re going to have to adjust our defensive alignment to get our guys in better position.”

The lean perspective knows cutting costs and boosting productivity is there to be had by eliminating waste. Not expecting our staff to “run faster” but rather putting them a position where they don’t have to run as far.

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Peter Drucker Perspectives

More Peter Drucker Perspectives

If you are interested in Peter Drucker perspectives, you can do a search. A couple I have found insightful are on
800-CEO-READ Blog. Here’s one by Michael BallĂ©; scroll both ways for more. Two friends independently passed along Farewell, Peter Drucker: A Tribute to an Intellectual Giant from the Wharton School of Business.

This is a useful time of reflection on the passing of a true leader.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Overprocessing Waste, an example

Overprocessing Waste, an example

Of Taiichi Ohno’s now-famous
7 Wastes, the one I’ve always had the hardest time explaining is “Overprocessing,” sometimes called “inappropriate processing.” It always seems to glass people over. While it is easier to understand why excess motion or transportation is a waste, this overprocessing waste seems to many to simply be giving the customer a little extra.

So, I give you an example.

It’s getting cold here in Indiana and, reluctantly, I’m needing to add some insulation to my legs for my early morning run each day. Last weekend, I ordered a new pair of sweat pants and they arrived today.

Here’s exactly how I opened the package this evening. The box was fine, the sweatpants were fine but Styrofoam peanuts??? In a shipping container that only had a pair of very unbreakable sweatpants??

This is classic overprocessing. An extra step that adds cost but no value. Note that this example not only adds cost to the vendor but cost and hassle to me, the consumer. I have to get rid of the silly things. They cling to everything. And are notorious for being environmentally unfriendly.

Perhaps their shipping department thinks they added value. Perhaps they did this mindlessly. Probably they were sincere. But, clearly, no one there is thinking about waste.

Go find some overprocessing to stomp out. It’ll feel good.

The Products of Inattention

The Products of Inattention


From The Daily Drucker this morning:


The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction, malperformance.


Go fight these today.



Monday, November 14, 2005

But it oughtta work!!

But it oughtta work!!


David Allen wrote yesterday about simplicity.  The key sentence that struck me:


            Lots of great ideas work in your head, but in your hands they die a sure death.


Yeah, that can sure be me.


And the solution is clear and very consistent in a Lean, learning environment.  Try it.  Now.  In a small way.  Don't bet the farm; just try it in a small corner of the farm.  Now. 


I overheard a conversation in an airport recently as one businessman described a seminar he had just attended.  "Yeah, it was pretty good, I got some great ideas.  I'm going to build them into my schedule in the new year." 


He'll never do it.   


If an idea is going to work, get it working now by trying it.  If an idea is not going to work, find out now by trying it and then flush it from cluttering your brain.  Kind of a 5S exercise for mental clutter.


I hope this is helpful. 



Sunday, November 13, 2005

Better Persuasion

Better Persuasion

Why do Lean Implementations fail? Why, when we give a compelling presentation, does nothing happen?

Seth has an idea
on being a better persuader. It’s worth reading.

Let’s face it; most of us in the Lean community are engineers or other technical types. We think and live in a logical world. Which is great when solving an engineering problem.

But most operational issues are not engineering issues at all. They are people issues. And, to persuade people to change something, there has to be a deeper resonance, a (gasp) emotional connection. And most of us engineers are not all that good at this.

Yet we can learn this. And Seth gives us a start.

I hope this is helpful.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Peter Drucker 1909-2005

Peter Drucker 1909-2005

How do you describe a dear friend whom you have never met? Further, how do you explain the pit in the stomach when that dear friend dies?

Which is what I feel this evening upon just learning of Peter Drucker's death earlier today (
news report, official announcement ). Sad. Yet profoundly grateful.

As I've told many people, I learned more about management from Peter Drucker than any other human. A supervisor gave me "The Effective Executive" early in my career, in 1979. Drucker's writing resonated with me in an amazing way. I've read most of his books since. I have a copy of "The Daily Drucker" sitting on my desk, from which I start each work day with insight from this great thinker.

And now he is gone.

Drucker's unique combination of clarity and consistency of thought drove his passionate pursuit of excellence that put people first. His was a constant theme that good management was key to the social order in that it enabled people to advance and grow and contribute. While firmly grounded, he was keenly aware of the changing of the world's economy and contiued to be relevant, even to his last months.

About four years ago, I was invited to address a group of general contractors in the the commercial building industry on applications of Lean principles to their world. Following the session, a participant pulled me aside and said "You know, you sound just like Peter Drucker. Have you ever read his material?" I had not metioned Drucker at all, yet his complete influence on my thought came through. This remains my most cherished compliment I've received in business.

Much more can be said. For now, we can simply be grateful for this great man and that his writings are with us.

Thank you, Peter. May you rest in peace, my friend, my mentor.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Attended a Lean seminar today and a speaker asked the assembled group "How many of you have completed your Lean work?"

The troubling thing about this question was that the speaker felt she had indeed completed the work at her company and simply wondered who else was at this level.

This is akin to asking "Have I become a good parent?" "Have I become a good person?"

You never arrive. And to think you have is delusional.

There is always waste to find. The customer would always be pleased with better value, more help to solve her problem, better pricing for his budget.

It is the relentlessness of the journey, not the destination, that is the joy. To think we have arrived is to miss the bus completely.

I hope this is helpful.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Socratic Method at the Dinner Table

Socratic Method at the Dinner Table


I've written recently about the Socratic Method as a central practice of many Lean companies.  My son, Matt, age 17 and a junior in High School, gave me an opportunity to explore it further last week when he posed the following question at dinner:


"So why does the US have military bases in other countries, but no other countries have military bases here in the US?"


Great question.  I almost answered directly but then decided to see if I could teach by asking questions.  Here's how it went, a pretty accurate transcript.



Joe:  Good question.  Do you think folks in other countries like having a US base there?


Matt:  Boy, I sure wouldn't want a foreign army here.


Joe:  But what about people living in another country?  Would they like it?


Matt:  (confused) I don't know, I don't live there.


Joe: (realizing I started down a poor path with initial questions; take a new path) So, just what countries are you thinking about?


Matt:  Well, like Italy or England.


Joe:  So, what do we know about Italian people reacting to a US base there?


Matt:  Well, it seems to be pretty peaceful...not like they are throwing rocks at it.


Joe:  So, why would the Italians not be upset? 


Matt:  I don't know, I'm not Italian. 


Joe:  How about the British?  Are they upset?


Matt:  Don't appear to be.


Joe:  So what's our history, militarily, with the British?


Matt:  Well, we defeated them and became independent.


Joe:  (I'm still not connecting...have to refocus a bit) Let's not go that far back...more recently, what was our military connection with the British?


Matt:  Oh, well, we were allies. 


Joe:  Geographically, what is England near?


Matt.  (pausing) Germany? 


Joe:  Yes.  And what is the US near?


Matt: (smiling) Canada!


Joe:  So why would the US have a base in England?


Matt:  Because it was near an enemy in the two World Wars!


Joe:  And why didn't England place troops in the US? 


Matt:  (laughing) Canada isn't about to attack us!!


Joe:  So that explains part of it.  But the wars are long over and Germany is now an ally.  Why are the British not still upset?


Matt:  (pausing) Because the base buys stuff.


Joe:  Like what kind of stuff?


Matt:  Well...just stuff.  I don't know.


Joe:  (shift gears again...trying to make it less abstract) Think of a solider or airman stationed in England.  What would he or she buy there?


Matt:  Oh.  He might go to a restaurant or a pub in the town. He's spending money.


Joe:  And what does that do for the area around the base?


Matt:  Well, it helps businesses make money.


Joe:  So why would people not be upset about the base?


Matt:  (pause, then big grin) Because the presence of the base is mutually beneficial!!


Joe:  Yeah.  Make sense?


Matt:  Yeah.  May I be excused?


Joe:  (I finally answer a question...)  Sure. 



Several observations about teaching using the Socratic Method.


Like swimming, you don't learn how to do this by reading blogs or thinking about it.  You have to try it.  Jump in and try it. 


It's hard to teach by questions a topic you don't know yourself. 


The reason is that you never really know what series of questions will resonate with the other person.  So, you have to be very alert to what is working and what is not.  And be willing to shift gears, several times.  If you don't know the subject, you won't be able to make the gearshifts.


It seems slower.   But it lasts longer.  Why?  Because the questioning technique gets the learner deeply involved in learning.  In this example, Matt himself came to the realization that "mutual benefit" was the core of the answer.  He'll likely remember that a lot longer than had he endured yet another rambling lecture from his Dad. 


And this is at the key of any lean system.  Substance and stability trumps speed. 


I hope this is helpful.  Rather, I should say; Do you find this helpful? 



Thursday, October 27, 2005

So how DO we coach??

So how DO we coach??


It's easy to criticize.  But it is more important to offer a way to improve. 


So, if we are to beware the coach who sneaks up from behind, what instead DO we do when a situation calls for coaching?


A difficult question and depends on one's strengths and the context of the situation.  Yet, in the Lean setting, one common denominator of effective coaches is consistent use of the Socratic Method.


The Socratic Method is simply an approach that does not tell the student what to think but rather leads the student by way of well-crafted questions towards discovering the answer for herself.  It is very much the opposite of our usual method of training and Western style education in general.  But, it works.


Steve Spears observed this in his key articles on the Lean.   Jim Collins found use of the Socratic Method a common practice in his study of Good to Great companies.  Womack and Jones cite this as normal.  I've seen it repeatedly myself. 


The best source of understanding of the Socratic Method I've found on the web is from Rick Garlikov.  In his paper The Socratic Method, Rick shows us how to use this method by example.  He includes a transcript of his questions to teach a group of third graders binary numbers by ONLY asking questions.  In his companion piece Using Questions to Teach Better he builds deeper on what questions work and which ones don't.


If you are interested in not being a "Coach Dan", read Rick's papers and then, within 24 hours, try it. This is a method that you truly learn by doing.  Email me with your results and let me know what you discovered; about yourself, about your subject matter, about the method of teaching. 


I'll post a recent Socratic experience of mine in my next blog. 


I hope this is helpful.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Beware the coach that sneaks from behind

Beware the coach that sneaks from behind


I ran the Indianapolis Half-Marathon last Saturday and, as is often the case in such events, found a group of similarly-glacial-paced participants by the 2 mile mark.  Our spontaneous group of 7 found a comfortable rhythm and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather as we galumphed along.


Around mile 7, we heard some odd talking coming up behind us.  I turned and observed two lumpy middle-aged guys accompanied by a young fellow who looked right out of Central Casting for the physical fitness industry.


"Hey, folks, meet Coach Dan!!" one of the Lumpy Guys exclaimed to our little pack of runners. 


Being a basically friendly group (hey, this is Indiana, after all) we greeted Dan from Central Casting and his associated Lumps.  What followed surprised us. Dan took our sociable greeting as an invitation to immediately shout instructions at us.  


"Get off your toes!!  You're asking for an injury."  


"Get some orthotics in those shoes, your knees will blow out!"


The tension started to pick up.


"Hey, Pink" he yelled at one of our fashionably-dressed pack members, "drop your hands!!  Get 'em down, even with your waist!!"   As if to mock him, she clenched her fists and raised her arms higher.


"Relax!!!  RELAX!! RELAX WHEN YOU RUN!"  Coach Dan yelled at all of us.  Woo boy. 


At which point, another member of the klatch had had enough.  "You can just keep on running, Dan.  You're faster...get on ahead...I'm not listening." 


One of the Pair o' Lumps muttered "Dan, let's back it off" and they drifted away.  But the interchange soured an otherwise wonderful run.




The Lump Brothers had obviously requested Dan to coach them.  It must have worked.  In their excitement, they introduced Dan to us, thinking that everyone would welcome his helpful input.  Problem was, we hadn't made that request.  And didn't welcome the intrusion.  He burst in the door, rather than knocking, waiting for the reply and responding to an invitation. 


I can be Dan at times.  In my excitement about some new plan to eliminate a waste or improve a pull system, I can bark at someone who isn't ready to listen.  And, surprise surprise, the response is the same as Dan got from our pack. 


The Japanese have a saying I really like: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."  Whether I'm a student or a teacher, I have to be aware of this.  As we Learn About Lean.


I hope this is helpful. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"The Gold Mine" by Balle and Balle

"The Gold Mine" by Balle and Balle


For the third and last element of my promise fulfillment, I report on The Gold Mine: A Novel of Lean Turnaround by Freddy Balle and Michael Balle.


The authors intend this to not be your typical business book.  And they succeed in this aspect.  Balle, a sensei himself, describes how Lean works to save a collapsing hypothetical manufacturing company.  He does a good job of describing lean, the tools and, more importantly, the people-aspect of Lean. 


Their model for the writing style was The Goal, the now-famous book by Eli Goldratt, in which the author uses the novel as a method of talking about Theory of Constraints.  A noble objective, but they fell short.


I found The Gold Mine a difficult read, hardly a page-turner.  While the author clearly knows his stuff as a Lean guru, he's not an writer.  I felt at many points he quit writing and started typing.  The book is at least a third longer than it needs to be, perhaps twice as long.  "Lowering the water level" of the inventory of words would have helped.  


I didn't finish the book...I just got bored.  In reading comments on Amazon's site, I see I'm out of step with others' views, so look at those as well.  But I found the book disappointing, simply because it was poorly written.  The first time I read The Goal, I sat up till 2:30am to finish it, I could not put it down. I've read it through twice since and still refer to it.  No problem laying The Gold Mine down, however.


I hope this is helpful.



Monday, October 17, 2005

"Lean Solutions" by Womack and Jones

"Lean Solutions" by Womack and Jones


Continuing my promise fulfillment, here is my take on Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together by Jim Womack and Dan Jones.


Womack and Jones speak from their vantage point to ask what a Lean mindset can do to a number of common problems in society: Healthcare, air travel, auto repair.  They observe, correctly, that even though we are manufacturing things with less and less waste, we don't find our lives becoming less and less complicated or wasteful.  Using these common experiences as examples, they examine what COULD happen if Lean thinking was applied to the entire chain from manufacture to consumption.


I ran into this over the past 10 days as I tried to get a high-speed Internet connection to my home and set up a Wi-Fi node.  Oh my.  There was no way to integrate this process and each provider was sure that it was the other provider's problem.  My time, my wife's time, my weekend was of no value to anyone. 


Long-time reader of this blog and lean thinker Karen Wilhelm commented recently on this same phenomenon as she grappled with an "improvement" in her IT system.  She wrote that the solution "...eliminated some duplicate data entry for the IT person, but the user now has duplicate data entry."  In other words, the total system now has more waste, not less. 


In both of these cases, we see pure waste surrounding "productivity increasing technology."  W&J discuss this phenomenon extensively.  But rather than just griping about it, they bring a systematic Lean perspective to analyze and propose solutions.  Their methodology is useful.


Overall, I found the book good for long-term thinking and probably useful for strategy.  However, it did not have the urgency or the punch that I distinctly recall the first time I read "Lean Thinking".  Nevertheless, W&J are just plain good writers.  They appeal to me with their clarity and ability to explain and tell a story.  So the book was an easy read...I finished it in two evenings. 


Useful to read and will get you thinking.  But probably won't change your life.


I hope this is helpful.