Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Be Prepared

Be Prepared is the motto of the Boy Scouts and most likely the simplest method for productivity improvement. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement, coined the motto for all scouts to be prepared in mind and be prepared in body. Scouts who do their best at living by this motto would be in position to do the right thing at the right time. In other words, when the moment arrives, a scout is ready for anything.

How does this relate to productivity and the lean approach?

On a tactical level, take machine changeovers or set ups for example. In my experience, the single biggest element that takes time in a typical changeover is collecting everything you need like tools, fixtures, dies, clamps, sheet up sheets, materials, gages, etc. I would certainly not be surprised if 50% of current set up time is consumed in just this activity.

If we want to make a significant impact in reducing set up time, work on designing a system or process that ensures everything we need to change over is at hand prior to the set up change, every time! A person or persons performing the changeover should never have to leave the machine or wait on any item.

No capital spending required, just planning, practice and discipline to “Be Prepared” when the set up time moment arrives. Discipline is the key ingredient which can be harder to find than this year’s hot Christmas toy on December 24th.

Go to gemba and watch any machine changeover. How prepared are we when the machine is stopped?

Using this same “Be Prepared” motto, are we prepared for meetings, kaizen events, daily production, material delivery, customer requests, etc? How much smoother and efficient would all our activities be if we spent time on being prepared?

Here is another simple example, getting ready for work in the morning. How much time do we spend? How about bathroom time, dressing time, eating time, etc? If we were to select, iron and layout out our clothes the night before, would we save time the next morning? What about shoes, car keys, laptop, or those notes needed for this morning’s meeting? If we had all our grooming items, towels, etc ready to go the night before, would we save time? What if we filled up our car with gas the night before? What are all the things we can do the night before to “be prepared” for getting ready for work in the morning?

But being prepared is more than just having things ready ahead of time, it means to “be prepared” for anything. To be mentally ready, knowing what we should do in case different events should occur and be ready to face difficulties and challenges.

Going back to the morning work routine example, what do we do if the power goes out in the night? What do we do if we have no power in the morning? What do we do if we break a shoe lace? What if bad weather hits? We could prepare for all these events ahead of time and be ready when the time arrives. (Sounds like the beginnings of a FMEA – Failure Mode and Effects Analysis).

As lean thinkers, we might consider adopting the same motto, Be Prepared. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do our Customers Really Benefit from our Lean Effort?

One of the principles of the lean approach is long term thinking with focus on adding value to our customers and society. We are taught to eliminate waste, things that don’t add value to the customer.

We improve flow, reduce set up time, improve productivity, eliminate waste and reduce cost. Kaizen events successful hit targets and employees are trained. 5-S activities are done daily, audits are conducted and our facilities look better. We create value stream maps and work hard to transform our company to our future state.

Somewhere in all this lean activity, our customer focus can be lost. We do all the things that we believe will make us leaner. But have we truly adding value to our customer? If not, why not?

Do our lean efforts hit the bottom line and stop there? Is our lean effort all about improving our margins? Is our lean effort all about head count reduction?

It is not enough to just eliminate waste and reduce cost. Our customers don’t care about our 5-S audit scores, the number of kaizen events we conduct, if we use ERP or Kanban, or the number of our inventory turns. Our lean efforts must add value to the customer. It must be seen and felt by our customers.

Bottom line: Are we giving our customers what they want, when they want it, at the highest quality and affordable cost? Is our lean system effort supporting this mission?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank You God for Giving Me Problems

I just finished reading an inspirational book “Play to Win, The Make a Difference Gameplan” by Tom Karbowski , a co-worker from Southern Indiana. In his book, he wrote the follow prayer, reprinted with his permission:

Thank you God for giving me problems.
When I am at work and get frustrated, thank you for giving me a job. There are many people who need employment and would welcome the opportunity to confront the challenges I face.

When my customers complain about problems, thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet the needs of others. My competitors would love to be in my shoes.

When I am frustrated with my career, thank you for allowing me to live in a country that has a vibrant economic system. I can always do something else or start my own company.

When I am unhappy about the pace of change in the world, thank you for allowing me to live during such incredibly exciting times. The possibilities for improvement are endless.

When I am exhausted because I have too many things to do, thank you for giving me such an interesting and full life.

And when I am annoyed with my spouse or children, thank you for giving me a loving family and for all the happy times when they make me laugh with joy.

When I am sick, thank you for allowing me to live in a country with such a wonderful health care system.

When I am unhappy with elected politicians, thank you for allowing me to live in a democratic society. I can change the future with the power of a vote.

When I do not understand something, thank you for giving me the ability to learn and the curiosity to search for a better way.

When my prayers go unanswered, thank you for providing me with patience until I understand your will.

And when I have a true problem, thank you for giving it to me. All problems present an opportunity for me to enhance my character and deepen my faith. When I resolve this problem, I will be a better person.

Becoming better problem solvers is part of the lean way. How we go about solving them is part method (scientific method) and part attitude (positive). Regardless of our opinions on politicians, our economic system, our health care system, our companies, our jobs, etc, even if we are currently facing money problems, loss of a job, family problems, etc, we all have the same choice that only we can make, are we going to face our problems with a positive attitude or a negative attitude?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lean is Good

I recently stumbled across a new lean blog called “Lean is Good” posted by Bruce Baker with added insights from Bryan Zeigler and Scott Maruna with recent posts like “5S Shadow Boards are Bad”. I hope to learn more from reading his lean insights. Check it out.

Thanks Bruce for sharing your lean thinking with us.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What is Lean?

What seems like an easy, simple question may turn out rather difficult and complex to answer. If we are to embrace the lean approach isn’t it critical that we understand what it is we are embracing? If we don’t agree on what is lean, how do we know what action to take in becoming lean, determine if we are making progress and align everyone in the same direction?

Wouldn’t our definition of lean be important in a lean transformation? Determining scope, objectives, metrics?

If we asked the lean experts, consultants, practitioners, the CEO’s or our shop floor associates, what would be their answer? I bet each person we ask would give us a different answer. It seems to me that our answer to this question is highly dependent on our experiences on the subject. Our understanding on lean is formed by many factors including the influence of others, what we are told, what we read, along with our personal hands on experiences. In our mind, we collect all these inputs to formulate our viewpoint of lean.

Some would answer that lean is a set of tools to identify and eliminate waste. Waste (muda) elimination is the prime focus to shorten the leadtime from customer order to receipt of cash. Head count reduction and cost cutting can become the face of lean for many.

Others would answer that lean is improving the flow or smoothing work by eliminating unevenness (mura). Value stream maps will lead us to the promised land of the perfect work flow.

Another answer would be to simply focus on making all jobs easier and better by eliminating overburden (muri). Perhaps we think automation is the key to making jobs easier and we get the added bonus of head count reduction.

Some may say that we need to focus on all three (waste elimination, unevenness and overburden) together.

Another prospective is the only making what the customer needs, when the customer needs it, in the quantity the customer needs using minimal resources of manpower, material and machinery. This is the classic just-in-time thinking.

Some would say that instead of describing lean as a production system, it is better to describe it as either a business system or enterprise system. This is the beginning thoughts of a whole system approach to becoming lean. From there we could expand our thoughts to the entire supply chain including our customers, our suppliers, our supplier’s suppliers, etc. along with all transactional processes included.

Added to the mix is the focus on people development (we build people), quality focus, safety focus, problem solving, scientific thinking, long term thinking, A3 thinking, morale, kaizen events, kaizen mindset, lean accounting, new product development, contribution to society, customer focus, being flexible, being agile, being nimble and so on.

Beyond this we still have the culture and leadership of the company to consider.

With all these difference prospectives on what is lean, is it any wonder why so many stumble, struggle and eventually fail in becoming “lean”?

And would this also affect our opinion on what is not lean? Would this indeed influence our opinion on an individual’s knowledge of lean and determine how we rate a company’s leanness?

Is leanness measured only in results or does it included how we achieve results? Does the speed of getting the results impact our measure of leanness? Do we measure leanness on the number of lean tools being used? Let’s see, 5-S check, Kanban check, Regular kaizen events check, A3 no, TPM no, VSM no, (add as many tools to your checklist as your experience tells you)….sorry you are not lean.

Maybe we make things too complex and the answer is really simple.

What’s your viewpoint on what is lean and does it affect your effort on becoming lean?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Poka Yoke The Office Style

From the popular comedy show, The Office, Dwight give us some potential poka yoke advice on mistake proofing, also known as idiot proofing from the early lean days. I wonder if anyone has practiced this thinking?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Management Improvement Carnival #82

I am quite honored and excited to once again host a session of the management improvement carnival started by John Hunter through his awesome blog site Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog. On to the good stuff, here is a sample of some of the great posts on improvement from some of the best lean thinkers.

The Kipling Method vs. the Ohno Method by Jon Miller “Are you a Kipling person, taking the accepted tool or situation as given, or are you an Ohno person, constantly challenging the norms and looking for better ways?”

Lean is about More than the Myths by Tim McMahon “It’s important when you are starting out your lean journey to understand what lean is really about.”

17 Lessons I learned from Japanese Consultants by Jeff Hajek “Over the years I have worked with some premiere lean consultants from Japan. Here are some of the many lessons I learned from them.”

When the Neck Bone Isn’t Connected to the Head Bone by Bill Waddell “There’s a reason why the best manufacturers tend to be pretty vertically integrated. They take core competence to mean everything in the chain of creating value for the customers-not everything that is easy or cheap.”

Lean Inventories Do Not Excuse Failing to Deliver by John Hunter “The retailers need to design their system with lean thinking in mind (not lean-as in cut expense without thinking).”

Keeping Lean Japanese by Brian Buck “There is a trend towards removing the Japanese language or jargon from Lean transformations in the U.S. I understand why organizations would want to make lean thinking and the corresponding tools easier to digest, but I think we should seriously consider keeping it Japanese.”

Helping Make A3 Work, Part 1 by Jamie Flinchbaugh “I’ve been spending a good amount of time lately helping leaders from various organizations improve their lean thinking by utilizing A3 problem solving. In the following few blog posts, I’ll answer some of the common questions people have about A3 and it’s use in organizations.”

My New Stand Up Desk by Ron Pereira “Now, you might be wondering how I increased the height of my desk. Well, my goal was to not spend a cent on this project so I got creative”

A Problems First Culture by Mark Rosenthal “Problems first” is one of the mantras used by Phil Jenkinson, the CEO character in The Lean Manager by Michael and Freddy BallĂ©. Now that I have had a few weeks to let it sink in and synthesize with my mental models, I am seeing a concept that is so fundamental I would think it would be hammered into students in every management and leadership course taught in the world.’

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Flows Collide

Originally, I was not going to post about this issue but the more I thought about it, the more we can learn from it. The issue deals with lack of communication, poor customer service and colliding flows.

I recently rented a car at the Jackson, Mississippi airport from a well recognized, national rental car company. The experience was typical up until the point of returning the car at the end of the week. Normally, I just pull up to the proper return lane, get scanned in by the attendant, mileage and fuel levels checked, receipt is printed and off I go to catch my flight. Not this time.

I pull into the proper return lane and no attendant is in sight. I patiently wait and look around but no attendant showed up. Strange, I never had to wait before at this airport.

Finally, I see an employee from this car rental company pull up in one of their rental cars. He tells me that they got rid of the attendants in the return area as part of cost cutting and I need to go inside to their airport counter to return my car.

As most frequent travelers do, I plan some time for delays and problems but not too much since I dislike sitting around the airport any longer than I need to. In this case, I had a few minutes to spare however the clock is ticking. Stress levels start to elevate.

As I swiftly walk to the airport entrance, I happen to notice a small sign that states we need to return the car keys at the rental car counter inside the airport. The sign is small and located near the walking exit to the airport.

I rush to the counter only to find a line of customers waiting for service by only one attendant. This is the point where flows collide. Both customer picking up cars and returning cars are in the same line. Aghhh!

I feel the stress rising higher and try to push it back down. If worse comes to worse, I will just drop the keys on the counter and head quickly to the security line. I can always get a receipt online later.

After what seemed like forever, in reality just 15 minutes, I get to the counter to return my car. I got through security and made it on-time for my flight home.

Does it have to be this way?

Where was the customer communication when I first rented the car to tell me to allow time to return the car at this counter instead of the usual return attendant?

What about the sign? Could it be placed closer to the entrance instead of the exit? Could multiple sign be placed in several spots? Could the sign be larger and easier to see?

Could the colliding flows be separated at the counter? Should return customers get priority over pick up customers? Can a drop off box be used with an offer to email the receipt directly to you-no effort on the customer’s part?

Based on this situation, where in our processes do we fail to communicate properly and create colliding flows?

What about shipping and receiving? What about loading and unloading trucks? What about picking and putting away material on racks or shelves? What about work flow in cells?

What about patients checking in and checking out? What about receiving and dispensing supplies? Are there colliding flows in the ER?

Go to gemba and see the flow (or lack of flow). What colliding flows can we see and improve?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Lean Thinking

What is our standard?
What is our current?
What is our gap?
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
What is our current state?
What is our future state?
How will we get there?
Are we ahead or behind?
What are the countermeasures?
Please try.
What if we fail?
Please try again.
What if we succeed?
Please try again.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

AME Kentucky 2009

It’s just around the corner, in a couple of weeks the “Journey to Greatness” begins. The AME Kentucky 2009 Conference runs from October 19 thru October 23 in Covington, Kentucky. This world class event is a great opportunity to learn, network and understand more about the lean journey. Listen and learn from 8 keynote speakers, 60 practitioner-to-practitioner presentations, 30 workshops and 40 plant tours.

Our Batesville Plant is on the tour list and I will be speaking on our Kaizen approach on Wednesday, Oct 21 at 10:00 AM. I hope you can make it and welcome the opportunity to meet face-to-face with fellow lean practitioners to share and learn.

The Lean Manager Book Review

I have just finished reading the newly published book from the Lean Enterprise Institute, The Lean Manager, written by Michael Balle and Freddy Balle. The Lean Manager is a business novel about a lean transformation and a sequel to their international bestseller, The Gold Mine.

The format of a business novel has been popular for several years with some done well and others not so well. In general, I am not especially fond of the novel format due to poor story lines, poor dialogue, extra noise in the story line, and poor pace that drags the story along or slaps together the ending. If done well, I love the novel format.

In the case of The Lean Manager, it is hands down the best business novel on lean transformation that has been written yet and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Michael and Freddy did an outstanding job on all accounts providing a strong story with outstanding dialogue and many, many powerful insights into the lean transformation.

I started highlighting and taking notes of many of the best points which ended up being too numerous to list but I will share just a couple with you. I will not reveal all the golden nuggets found in the book so you can explore it on your own.

“People are natural problem solvers. Once we understand the problem, our mind will follow seamlessly to adopting a solution.”

“When a solution is forced onto us where we do not see a problem, chance are we will fight tooth and nail against it, no matter how clever the new approach.”

“There are very few operational experiments which cannot be reversed quickly, and hence, a bias to action is perfectly reasonable in routine process.”

“Requires radical transformation of managerial behavior.”

1. Problems have to be solved one at a time.
2. Managers need to remain close to people as they conduct experiments.
3. Managers have to be maniacs about check.
4. Drawing the right conclusions from the experiment is often really tough.

“Improve Management Practices”

“Only way to be more competitive is to improve management practices continually.”

“Managing by problem solving”

“Develop people by kaizen so that they know more.”

The major themes in The Lean Manager include: Kaizen Spirit, Go and See, Teamwork, Mutual Trust, and Clear Direction. Each theme is strongly woven into the story line with added company politics, disappointments and frustrations as the fictional plant manager, Andy Ward, struggles to save his plant from pending closure.

Although The Lean Manger is an excellent book, there are a few points that I did not like. For starters, it uses the crisis of plant closure to create a sense of urgency and drama to the lean transformation. Why does it take always take crisis to drive the motivation for a lean transformation?

Second, I absolutely love the character Phil Jenkinson, CEO in this story. Where are all the Phil Jenkinson’s in this world!!!! I have never meet a super CEO like this that is a master coach, long term thinker, lean knowledgeable, shop floor comfortable, hands on leader yet keeps his ego in check and lets his people learn by doing. He is as close to perfect as a CEO can get for a lean transformation. This makes a great story and provides an outstanding example however this character is far from the norm.

In addition, there was just one mention of using six sigma in this story during a dialogue between Amy Woods (consultant) and Andy Ward (plant manager) which is less than positive. The story portrays the six sigma approach as “one guy working in a corner and looking for brilliant solutions”. In my experience, this is not a true application of six sigma. Those few paragraphs could have been eliminated to remove the negative swipe at six sigma and the lean transformation message would still remain powerful.

One important point to remember while reading this story is not to turn it into a roadmap in a lean transformation. It would be easy to pick up many points in the book and turn it into a roadmap which would not guarantee success. Look at the problems you are facing in your company and determine your own path. Use the story as a discussion platform with other leaders in your company on what it takes in a lean transformation and how are we going to head there.

Despite my few critical points of this story, I highly recommend this book to all of us working on lean transformations. It captures the true essence of a lean transformation in all its accomplishments and struggles with eloquent emphasis that we cannot force a lean transformation and we cannot do this alone.

Disclaimer: Thanks to my friends at The Lean Enterprise Institute for providing a review copy of The Lean Manager. This book review is my personal opinion and I was not compensated nor obligated to provide one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Batesville Casket Winner 2009 Assembly Plant of the Year

It was announced today that our Manchester, Tennessee facility has been awarded the “2009 Plant of the Year” by ASSEMBLY magazine and The Boston Consulting Group. Our Manchester Team has been very successful in applying and sustaining the lean approach on a daily basis. We pause to celebrate this honor within our entire organization and then it’s back to kaizen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Check out the link for a cool blog site, Unclutterer, dedicated to getting and staying organized. Plenty of information for both work and at home. The staff of writers led by their Editor-in-Chief, Erin Doland, provide some great organizational ideas in the spirit of 5S.

Lean Horse Race

Most companies want to get results fast. There is a strong push to get results quickly or more importantly to impact the bottom line immediately. If the results are not achieved quickly, we may rush into actions to get the results. This more than likely includes reorganizing, moving people around or taking short cuts like layoffs for quick impact. Other commonly used tactics for getting quick results include plant shutdowns, outsourcing, budget slashing (travel, training, R&D, etc), playing cash flow games and financial shuffles to polish the numbers.

Unfortunately, prevalent management thinking seems to be locked into short term thinking mode. Just look to the business news.

The lean approach is a proven way to get results but it is not easy to implement nor is it as fast as many would like. Many companies that turn to the lean manufacturing approach want to get lean fast.

Even among those who promote the lean approach, there are differences of opinion on the best path, the right focus and on speed. Some of us look to get the low hanging fruit with kaizen blitz while others of us preach the slow and steady approach by building the foundation first. Some of us push the use of lean tools first while others push the thinking behind the tools first. Some of us consider the value stream map as the center of the lean approach while others view it as just another lean tool.

We even see cycles where certain lean aspects are hot topics. This happened with kaizen, 5S, Kanban, lean office, hoshin kanri, lean accounting, value stream maps and A3 thinking. These cycles do not change their value only their buzz factor.

No doubt that results are important but which way is best?

There is an old Japanese saying by Matsuo Basho, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” We need to find our own path that works for us while heading in the right direction.

As for speed: Which is better, a fast horse or a slow horse?

It all depends on whether you’re headed in the right direction or not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Purpose of Lean Tools

What is the main purpose of lean tools?

What is the main purpose of 5S, Kanban, Visual Management, Glass Walls, hour-by-hour charts, Pareto Charts, Cause and Effect Diagrams (Fish Bone), Takt Time/Cycle Time Bar Charts, Spaghetti Diagrams, Concentration Diagrams, Value Stream Maps, and so on?

The main purpose is to immediately make problems visible.

Then we must focus our effort on solving them daily.


Every day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Last week, I learned a new acronym for remembering the 7 deadly wastes of manufacturing, WORMPIT. It certainly provides a more vivid image of “deadly” wastes than the acronym TIM WOOD, wouldn’t you agree?

Over Production
Rework (defects)
Processing (over or excess)

Worms have long been a symbol of decay and death. In nature, worms are attracted to decaying organic matter and dead vegetation. If the environment is also dark and damp, you don’t have to wait long and soon the worms will appear.

Using WORMPIT to help describe 7 deadly wastes may bring to our minds many images of something dead. Our businesses will most certainly face the same fate where wastes are allowed to exist in our processes.

If our business processes are full of waste, don’t allow it to become a WORMPIT. We should change the environment, by shining a bright light on all our problems. We must look for all the wastes and work to remove them every day. To begin, “all you need to do is follow the worms”.*

*(Lyrics from “Waiting for the Worms” by Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3).

Friday, August 07, 2009

The 7 Flows of Healthcare

1. The flow of patients
2. The flow of clinicians
3. The flow of medications
4. The flow of supplies
5. The flow of equipment
6. The flow of information
7. The flow of process engineering

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The 7 Flows

“All problems can be solved by looking at and understanding the 7 flows.” Chihiro Nakao

In the book, Lean Thinking, authors James Womack and Daniel Jones, outlined lean thinking in terms of focusing on clearly specifying “value”, lining up all the value creating activities along a “value stream”, making value “flow” smoothly at the “pull” of the customer in pursuit of “perfection”. Following these deceptively simple concepts, many of us struggle on the path to becoming “Lean” as we constantly get stuck in the muck of waste, status quo and egocentric leadership.

Let’s look at just the concept of flow. Sounds easy enough to understand, right? Most of us know what is meant by flow and what is not flow. Flow is going down the highway at full speed with little or no traffic whereas getting stuck in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam is not flow.

But how do we make value “flow” smoothly?

Many years ago, I was taught by one of my Japanese sensei, Nakao-san, the 7 flows in manufacturing.

1. The flow of Raw Material
2. The flow of Work-in-process
3. The flow of Finished goods
4. The flow of Operators
5. The flow of Machines
6. The flow of Information
7. The flow of Engineering

We must first observe each of these flows to gain full understanding. In our observation, take notes and sketch out the seven flows as we see them. It is very important not to skip this step and actually sketch out the seven flows regardless of our artistic skills. Why do you think it is important for us to sketch them?

As we are sketching the seven flows, what are some of the things we should be observing?

To help us think more of flow, here are just a few things to look for while in gemba.

Raw material, WIP and Finished Goods Flow
What is the standard work? What are the locations and distances? What are the container types and sizes? What are the packaging materials and what do we do with it? Are there any machine cycle times? How is the transfer of material accomplished? What are the conveyors, carts, forklifts being used?

Operator Flow
What is the standard work and operator’s cycle time (determine pace of the line slowest to fastest). What are the operator’s body movement..arms, hands, head, eyes, legs and feet . Observe the “go gets” of operators getting things to do their tasks.

Machine Flow
What is the machine cycle time? What are the set up requirements? What is the machine process and is it right sized only for what is required? Are there unused features in the machine? What steps are required to operate the machine? What are the requirements of properly maintaining the machines? Are the machines purchased or in-house built? Observe the machine wastes (collection, disposal, size and shape, recycle coolant).

Information Flow
Observe the transfer of information. What information is needed? What is the path of information? What are the decisions made by the operator? How many decisions are made by the operator? What does the operator do when a problem occurs or has a question? How does information of problems get passed on? Who responds to the operators needs? What information is on production control boards, production schedules, kanbans, manufacturing plans, etc?

Engineering Flow
What is the tooling required? What are the process controls and quality checks? Are there “go-nogo” gages? Observe any hanedashi devices (means the mechanisms to automatically eject a part from the machine to free up the operator to only load the machine).

Can you think of other items in observing the seven flows?

In each of the seven flows, observe the stops, the hesitations, the delays, the re-dos. We should also consider all seven flows working in harmony to improve flow. From these detailed observations of the 7 flows and our gained understanding of the process, we will see how to make value flow smoothly.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

You Don't Have to Be a Rocket Scientist

During our summer family vacation to the Grand Canyon last month, we took the opportunity to see Meteor Crater about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Flagstaff, Arizona. Both my children like dinosaurs, space and nature, so it was on their list to explore during our vacation.

Meteor Crater is the first proven crater site in the world. The crater is an impressive size of about 4,000 feet (1.2 kilometers) in diameter and 550 feet (168 meters) deep. It is estimated to have been created when an iron meteorite about the size of a school bus hit the Arizona desert about 49,000 years ago.

With a highly unique surface of rock and moon-like terrain, it is considered one of the prime locations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct lunar testing. Since the mid 1960s, NASA regularly visits Meteor Crater to test rovers, spacesuits, communication systems and other equipment for space missions.

One of the stories that our guide told us as we hiked along the crater rim was about the first testing conducted by NASA in 1968 at Meteor Crater. According to our guide, the most important geology lesson taught to our astronauts was that in the formation of the crater, the impact shoots the core rocks to the surface. That means to take core samples; you don’t need to drill and should focus on collecting the rocks on the surface rim. That piece of valuable information certainly changes the action plan on collecting moon rocks.

The other interesting story was about the space equipment testing, in particular the spacesuit. Since no human has ever stepped foot on the lunar surface up that time, our NASA scientists had plenty of things to consider in designing and testing the spacesuit. Things like pressure, temperature, oxygen deliver systems, and even mobility to bend down to pick up moon rocks. Of course, safety of our astronauts is the prime concern and failure is not an option.

As the story goes, while moving about the Meteor Crater in the testing of the spacesuits for our first moon landing, one of the astronauts falls down and tears his spacesuit on the rocks. As you can imagine, a tear is considered a catastrophic failure and most likely caused the NASA team to jump into rapid problem solving mode. As a result, successful modifications were made to the spacesuit before sending astronauts to the moon.

I have not been able to confirm all the facts of this spacesuit tear story so I will speculate here. I will assume our NASA scientists most likely had developed some form of FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) to list all the potential failure modes of the spacesuit and planned countermeasures. These countermeasures would have been considered in developing the spacesuit design specifications.

Even with an excellent FMEA competed by rocket scientists at NASA, a tear in the spacesuit occurred due to a simple fall over the rocky surface.

I consider this an important lesson in the value of going to gemba. Even if we can’t actual go to gemba, in this case, the moon, we should simulate the gemba conditions the best we can to see what happens. And most importantly, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it all out. Even rocket scientists can’t think of everything and need to see by testing things out first to get the facts. To see and understand, go to gemba.
(Photos by NASA)

Friday, July 17, 2009


“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

There are many traits we add to our leadership list to help us on our lean journey and courage is one of them. It takes courage to turn plans into action. It takes courage to experiment. It takes courage to try something new by removing the warm blanket of comfort that the status quo provides.

It takes courage to admit we don’t know everything, say we made a mistake and make problems visible.

It takes courage to speak up and voice our ideas or thoughts especially if they do not align with the thinking of others.

It takes courage to make decisions and do what is right.

It takes courage to keep trying, get up when we fall down and try again.

It takes courage to stand firm with our principles and values when pressured act against them.

From my all-time favorite movie “Braveheart” with outstanding soundtrack, Sir William Wallace (Mel Gibson) states “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” A title of President, VP or Plant Manager does not make us a leader, only our words and actions grant us that privilege. More importantly, it is not just our prepared speeches or written memos that reveal our courage in leadership, it is in our daily actions and simple comments. It is the little things we say and do every day where our courage can be seen.

Without courage, we cannot improve.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Toyota's Two Primary Job Demands

While recently visiting the Toyota Georgetown plant, I learned that there are only two primary job demands on all Toyota Team Members:
1) Come to work on-time everyday.
2) Pull the andon cord when there is a problem.

Interesting, think about that for a moment.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Raise the Flag

During a recent kaizen event at our Chihuahua, Mexico plant, the team observed one of our interior associates repeatedly walking back and forth from her sewing station to a line side station to check on material levels. She walked over 30 steps one way and was responsible for sewing and delivering these parts along with sewing parts for the cell next to her. She was given this added sewing operation to fill in some of her available time but the process was not set up to make it easy for her to do both.

Seeing the opportunity for improvement, several of the kaizen team members worked with this associate and the line side associate to come up with a better process. The result was a simple flag made from paper and scrap wood.

The new process is simple. When the material level reached a pre-determined point, the line side associate would raise this flag to signal the need for more parts. From her sewing station, the associate can easily see the flag prompting her to sew the parts and deliver them. Once the parts are delivered, the flag is taken down.

This is another example of simple visual management to make jobs easier and better.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

To be Vertically Integrated or not to be Vertically Integrated?

One thing that is pretty noticeable when touring any of the major automotive assembly plants (GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan or Honda) is the lack of sub-assemblies being built on or near the final assembly line. Except for a parallel engine final assembly line which consists mainly of pre-mounting hose and framing, the majority of non-painted frame components are all shipped in from the outside.

When observing the automotive assembly line in action, the associates on the line assemble components directly to the moving vehicle. There are no sub-assemblies like seats, steering wheels, instrument dash boards, etc being built to the line. All these sub assemblies are delivered to the line ready for installation.

At first glance, this separation appears to make it easier to flow the final assembly process. So basically, automotive final assembly consists of delivering parts to the line, picking up parts as car passes by and installing the parts on the car. Please excuse my oversimplification; I am sure it is far more complex and challenging. Aisles are straight and wide given free access to deliver parts on both sides of the line. Is this assembly heaven?

But what about the inventory created by this separation? How far does the supply chain expand? What level of Muri (overburden) is created with the extra communication and coordination for this subassembly supply chain? If this concept works so great, why does Boeing have such difficulty in their supply chain?

By contrast, many assembly plants I am familiar are the opposite in that we are highly vertically integrated. Our assembly lines are not as straight nor do we have spacious aisles however we put as many of the subassembly processes closest to point of use as possible. This eliminates much of the WIP inventory and leadtime in the supply chain but we have our own challenges with this approach. As an example, we cut the material, shirr, sew and stuff a pillow for every casket all line side to our assembly line to the exact order by color, by fabric, by style within pitch. No inventory, no semi truck needed, and no computer system.

During the early days of automotive manufacturing, Henry Ford was extremely vertically integrated all the way back to the iron ore mines. He believed in controlling as much of the supply chain as possible to reduce the cost (waste) as possible. Over the years, the automotive companies retracted from this thinking thereby expanding their supply chain. I guess if you can find someone who can produce it cheaper than you can; it made perfect financial sense to let them make it for you so you can focus your attention on your core competencies.

But isn’t manufacturing suppose to be a core competency of a manufacturing company?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Simple Visual Management at Home

Like probably most of you, we have pets at home. In our case with the benefit of living in a rural Indiana area, we have several pets both inside and outside of our home including 4 cats, 4 dogs, 2 horses, fish and even some chickens for fresh eggs.
Our kids do an excellent job of making sure all our animals are properly taken care of on a daily basis regardless of rain, sleet or snow. But basic chores like feeding can become chaotic if you don’t plan a routine.

One of the challenges we faced was making sure all our pets are feed on regular schedule without missing a meal or over feeding. As we know from our lean thinking, both missed cycles and over production are equally undesirable. What a perfect challenge for creating a visual aid.

With the help of our creative kids, they made a simple visual indicator to help us see each mealtime: breakfast, lunch and dinner. After each meal, we simply turn the heart to show which meal was completed. Any one of us can see if the meals are on track with this visual aid. More importantly, visual aids do not need to be fancy, expensive or complex to work. Simple is better.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Honda Greensburg Plant Tour

Earlier this month, I had my first opportunity to tour the newly operational Honda plant in Greensburg, Indiana referred as HMIN. After recently touring Toyota Georgetown and Nissan Canton in the past couple of months, I was excited to take a look inside Honda. As you can image, it was an excellent adventure.

All of these plants are extremely similar in design and layout which may not be much of a surprise to some of us. All are crystal clean, highly organized and quite disciplined. Each plant has spacious aisles acting as main arteries supplying material to each station to the heartbeat of pitch.

In the Honda plant, the material along the assembly line is designated into three categories: working cart, full cart and empty cart. The working cart contains the parts currently being used and the cart is designated by blue corner tabs on the floor. The full cart contains the parts next in line for use and marked with green corner floor tabs. The empty cart is well just that, an empty cart. These parts were just consumed on the line and the cart is moved into the red corner tabs location on the floor.

All the material is delivered on carts and individually segregated by use of foam, cardboard slots or trays. Forklifts are restricted to the dock area and tugger carts deliver the material line side.
Each workstation had a posted sheet with the workstation layout of material showing part flow. Also included on these sheets are three contact names and numbers in case there are materials problems. Quite interesting is that there no other posted instructions line side…no standard work charts, no job instructions. I was told that these documents are kept in a notebook at the team coordinator line side station and standard work is audited every station, every day by the team coordinator.

Honda does practice it’s version of built in quality as part of each team member’s standard work. In short, these steps were posted on several team boards.

Step 1: Parts confirmation (confirm you have the correct part and confirm quality of part).
Step 2: Perform Process (follow all quality points to operational standard).
Step 3: Confirm quality to ship (check your own work visually, or by touch and feel).
Step 4: Prepare for next unit and abnormalities (prep parts and put abnormal parts on straggler cart).

Part of the culture at Honda Motors Indiana (HMIN) includes ALL employees wearing the same white uniform and green Honda ball cap. No one has their own private office, instead all desks are grouped in large rooms. Interestingly, every desk was completely void of personal items, paper, etc. When I asked about it, I was told that personal items on the desk are allowed however one of the work rules is to completely clear the tops of desk nightly of everything (except desktop computer monitors). Laptops go into desk drawers along with the personal items. It was strange to see so many desks with nothing on them!

In such a short time, I was only able to get a glimpse of the Honda Way. I hope to develop a deeper understanding each time I get a chance to visit in the future.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back from the Edge

After several kaizen weeks in June, I took my family on a trip out west to explore the Grand Canyon. It was amazing to stand on the edge of this wonder of the world and realize how tiny we are in comparison. More on this and plenty of catching up to do on our lean journey in the days ahead.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Haiku Mission Statement

Simplicity has been one of the important characteristics in my life in the last few years, both professionally and personally. It is actually liberating seeking the path of simplicity. It is also a huge undertaking to shift towards simplicity so I take daily steps.

When I read Kevin Meyer’s post Twitter, Haiku and the Simplicity of Mission last month, it hit home. I love the simplicity of Haiku poems. Haiku uses only 17 syllables arranged in lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables to describe simple ideas or events, usually connected to nature. It is also a great format to focus your thoughts concisely. Using this format, I tried to develop a Haiku to reflect my personal business mission statement. Here goes:

My Business Mission Statement
Develop leaders.
Live the lean philosophy.
Teach it to others.
Simple words but extremely challenging, especially "live the lean philosophy". Just as I try to embrace simplicity, I will take on this personal business mission in daily steps.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Management Improvement Carnival #64

Moore’s Law and Lean by Brian Buck-“I think it is easy for people in Lean organizations to get stuck in the mode of always going after PERFECT instead of focusing on 50% BETTER.”

Japanese CEOs and Leadership by Mark Graban-“When do you ever hear a Western CEO say “sorry” or “we were lacking”?”

8 Ways to Get Total Involvement by Jon Miller-“In a true high performance work culture we should aim for total involvement in daily improvement activities.”

Total Company Involvement by Pete Abilla-“When the hearts and minds of everybody in the organization is moving toward the same end then you know the companies’ mission has became a living and breathing inspirational catalyst for good.”

Leadership & Standard Work by Jeff Hajek-“The more you can standardize the routine processes of leadership, the more you can use your rime for the high impact things leaders want to do.”

How Interruptions Drain Productivity by George Ambler-“Time is a leaders most valuable resource. The way a leader uses their time demonstrates to the people around them what’s really important.”

Daily Scrum against the Board by Xavier Quesada Allue-“A good way to know if your team is using their taskboard to really manage their work is to look at their daily standup meeting.”

Mapping a Path to the W.O.W. Side by Gianna Clark-“Consistently delighting customers and providing exceptional handling of issues and errors using the R.A.P.I.D. methodology are two ways to create customer with W.O.W. (What’s needed-On time-With value).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Leading by Example

“Preach the gospel at all times; only if necessary use words.”
Saint Francis of Assisi

It is not what we say, it is what we do. Leading by example is a powerful method for success on our lean journey and in life, probably our most powerful. It removes doubt, builds trust and strengthens our message. It helps others to better understand and inspires action. It even helps us gain a deeper understanding. It shows what is important.

Can you guess who is shown in the pictures above? This is the President of a company in Japan participating in their daily 5S. Each morning the entire salaried management team works side by side to clean and organize their plant. From washing floors, trimming hedges to cleaning bathrooms, no task is left undone.

What kind of message do you think this sends to his employees?

The simple truth is that you don’t have to be a CEO or President to lead by example. Every day, each of us has the opportunity to lead by example and it is our choice to take advantage of this opportunity or let it pass us by.

Do we preach 5S and yet our own desks are disorganized and piled high in clutter?

Do we preach daily continuous improvement and yet we don’t want to change how we do our own tasks?

Do we preach standard work and yet we avoid creating or following any standard work in our daily tasks?

Do we preach elimination of all waste and yet we can’t imagine giving up our one-sided, color paper copies of our monthly policy deployment even though we have access to the digital copy?

Do we preach establishing a no-blame environment and yet when there is an error made, the first question out of our mouths is “Did you write the employee up?”

Do we preach about the benefit of using outside eyes and yet we don’t want any outsiders (especially corporate) messing around in our area to look for improvement opportunities?

Do we preach make all problems visible and yet we kill the messenger of any bad news or hide problems from others?

Do we just talk about the lean philosophy or are we trying to live the lean philosophy?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Positioned to Seize Opportunities

For another insider view of a lean initiative, check out the Industry Week article on “Lean Initiatives Help Sealy Prepare for Market Rebound” using a Q&A format with my friend and former boss, Mike Hofmann, Executive VP of Operations at Sealy. Despite the significant impact the current economic crisis has on their business, Sealy is looking to the future guided by their lean philosophy.

Are we thinking to the future during this current downturn?

Are we positioning ourselves to seize the opportunities ahead when the market rebounds?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wisdom of the Week

A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner.

“Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.”

When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean?

I just finished reading an excellent, new book written by Jeff Hajek, “Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean? Building the bridge from job satisfaction to corporate profit”. Most business books are written for executives and managers which makes Jeff’s book unique in that it seems to be written more for team leaders and team members. This book provides an excellent format to answer many questions that people have at the start of a lean journey beginning with what’s in it for me.
Chapter 4 on “What is lean?” is one of the best overall descussions of lean I have read in quite some time for those wanting to understand the basic concepts without adding details that only end up confusing people.
Chapters 8 and 9 are filled with outstanding, useful answers to real problems or situations on the lean journey with suggested actions that are spot on. I especially loved Jeff’s positive responses to each of the problems that help bridge the conflicts that might become obstacles to success.

Even the experienced lean practitioner can learn from these examples to improve their coaching and influence skills.

Nice job Jeff on providing so much valuable information on the human side of implementing continuous improvement all in one book.

Jeff Hajek the founder of Velaction Continuous Improvement, LLC. Please visit his website at for more information.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Get Your Boots On!

At the Printing Industries of America Lean Conference in Lexington, Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, I learned a new saying, “Get your boots on!” According to Mike Hoseus, co-author of The Toyota Culture and former Toyota-Georgetown (TMMK) manager, this is how “Genchi Genbutsu” is affectionately known by among the team members at TMMK.

As most of us have learned, Genchi Genbutsu, is Japanese meaning roughly “Go and see the problem”. This values practical experience over theoretical knowledge and places emphasis that we must go and see the problem to know the problem.

During the morning session on “Building and Sustaining a Lean Culture: The Quality People Value Stream” presented by Mike Hoseus, currently Executive Director of the Center for Quality People and Organizations, a little more about the Toyota Culture was revealed. One of the first points is that culture starts with values and beliefs which drive our behavior. Toyota places critical emphasis in establishing its values and beliefs as the foundation of its culture. Another key point was the alignment of company goals and employees’ goals under a common purpose of long term mutual prosperity.

To this point, Mike compared vertical organizations to horizontal organization. A vertical organization focuses on production, budgets and SOPs, just make the numbers, leaders are separated from the work, people’s ingenuity is used to beat the system and supervisors manage people. By contrast, a horizontal organization focuses on the process, the common purpose of long term mutual prosperity, makes problems visible, people’s ingenuity used to improve the system and supervisors work with the people to solve problems.

One of his examples to describe our actions to a goal was weight loss. Suppose we want to lose 25 lbs. Which courses of action do we pursue? Do we buy a digital scale, set up a process to take daily measurements and chart the results on a computer program and call it part of our visual management system? Or do we set up a daily exercise process with a diet program?

Mike also emphasized providing an environment to think and establishing a culture to make problems visible. All the lean tools are primarily focused on making problems visible. We must learn to admit to having a problem and commit ourselves to solving the problem. Mike told us that at TMMK over 6,000 andon pulls occur daily that make problems visible. Even with this incredible number of andon pulls, the line only stops about 7% of the day (93% uptime). The 6,000 daily problems are overwhelming to say the least. When asked how does Toyota go about solving all these problems and Mike simple said “one at a time.”

According to Mike, there are three stages to problem solving.
1. Reaching: Problem solving that results in getting to the goal.
2. Maintaining: Problem solving that focuses on maintaining the goal.
3. Raising: Problem solving that focuses on increasing capability beyond the goal – “kaizen”.

Mike Hoseus described the Toyota leadership model as an inverted triangle with team members as the largest base on top all the way down to the company president on the pointed tip on the bottom. He described the servant leadership approach that leadership develops the capacity that allows team members to improve what needs to be done.

Standards were another key topic of discussion. Without standards, there is no problem. The first question should be, what is our standard? Followed by, does everyone see the problem? And, what are we going to do about it?

In summary, Mike Hoseus stated that connecting the product and people value streams is the key. Lean can only be effective with both and Lean can’t be sustained without both. At Toyota, they believe that their competitive advantage is people and problem solving.

So what values and beliefs do we need to start with to drive our lean culture? Maybe we can start with this: Another problem? Life is good! Let’s get our boots on!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Lean Synergy

Paul McCartney and John Lennon
Abbott and Costello
Ben and Jerry
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Kiichiro Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno

These are great examples of synergy. Each is extremely talented individually but put them together and WOW! It is a thing of beauty, pure magic. Just stand back and prepare ourselves to be amazed by the result.

Synergy is the interaction of two or more forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects, or simply put where 1 + 1 = 3.

In a true lean system, there are several synergies.

Just-in-Time and Autonomation
Continuous Improvement and Respect for People
Production Flow and Information Flow
Team Kaizen and Individual Kaizen

You may recognize the first two as the pillars to the Toyota Production System (TPS) and pillars to the Toyota way. Taiichi Ohno uses an analogy in explaining the relationship between the two pillars of the Toyota System in his book, Toyota Production System, “A championship team combines good teamwork with individual skill. Likewise, a production line where just-in-time and autonomation work together is stronger that other lines. It is in the synergy of these two factors.”

Each is worthy on its own however working together the resulting effect is far greater. Many companies make the mistake of concentrating on just one aspect of lean, or in using some of the tools, or narrowly focusing on only one of the pillars on their lean journey. Some improvements can be gained but this is not REAL lean and there is no WOW. Only by combining these components in a total business system is when lean synergy is realized.

It seems like just “yesterday”, we started traveling down “the long and winding road” of our lean journey. It is a constant struggle to become lean, nothing short of a true “revolution” is needed. We put in many “ a hard day’s night” to get where we are today. At first our associates told us to “let it be”, and there were many crisis moments of uncertainty when we need “Help!” from our lean sensei and would cry out “Hey Jude”. Our lean sensei would only respond by saying “Tell me what you see”.

With the power of synergy, one day it will all “come together”, but we know that we are “getting better” everyday. One day maybe waste will be “nowhere man” and we can shout “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. Just “imagine”.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Root Beer Game

During our Logistics District Managers meeting this week, we incorporated the Root Beer Game into our lean training session. The root beer game is a supply chain management simulation game hosted online by Harvard Business School derived from the classic “Beer Game” originally created by MIT in the 1960’s.

With this computer simulation game, we broke into teams of four and assigned each member a role of retailer, wholesaler, distributor and factory. Each role had the mission of satisfy their customer demand while keeping cost at a minimum which was measured by inventory carrying costs. In our session we simulated 40 weeks of production to see the effect. The total time to run the simulation, report out and discuss key learning took almost 3 hours.

The main focus of the simulation is to demonstrate oscillation in the supply chain and how variability increases up the chain which is described as the “bull whip” effect. Discussion also includes the effects of forecasting, lead time, information flow, batching, impact of promotions and uncertainty.

It was pretty cool watching the reaction of the teams and individual responses as the game progressed. Some of the comments heard included:

“I don’t know why it is doing this.”

“Oh, what an idiot!” (Gently reminders to the group of respect for people and the no-blame culture aspect of lean were needed.)

“We didn’t buy that ERP module.”

“We used the roll-the-dice strategy.”

“That was fun, can we do it again.”

Overall, it was a great learning experience for all. It does require a license based on the number of participants which cost $37.50 per license. We also need a bit of help from our IT staff to link the computers together and connect to the Harvard server during our allotted time window, but it was not a major problem. If you are looking for a good supply chain game as a teaching aid, this one does an excellent job.
For another write up on their beer game experience, check out the great post by Pete Abilla at Shmula called The Bullwhip Effect.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Upcoming Continuous Improvement Conference 2009

Next week, I’ll be traveling to Lexington, Kentucky to attend the Continuous Improvement Conference 2009 hosted by the Printing Industries of America to speak about Batesville Casket’s lean journey. This conference dates are April 5th - April 8th at the Lexington Downtown hotel and Conference Center by Hilton.

As a general observation, the printing industry has just started looking to lean manufacturing to raise performance however the case studies should prove extremely educational in their adaptation of lean. One of the highlights at this conference is Mike Hoseus, co-author of Toyota Culture, teaching how to build and sustain a lean culture the Toyota way. Attendees will also have the opportunity to take a plant tour of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK) in nearby Georgetown, Kentucky.

I will certainly pass on lessons that I learn from my experience at the conference next week. If you are looking for another opportunity to learn and network with fellow lean practitioners, please join us in Lexington.

Added Bonus: If you click on the Printing Industries of America link above and have about 65 minutes to listen, there is access to a pre-recorded webinar with Scott Redelman from Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM), forklift manufacturing facility in Columbus, Indiana (or click here). The webinar is in a Q&A session called Talk with Toyota. Some of the questions cover the basics for those new to lean and there are a few select points that can help those of us further down the lean path.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick

One of the lessons I have learned while on the lean journey is that there is not a single, clear path to success. Each company must struggle to find the best path for them. We can’t just copy Toyota and expect it to work. In most instances, there are no wrong paths on the lean journey as long as we stay true to the principles, only perhaps just better paths than the one we have chosen.

Yet, in my experience, how we choose to go about trying to implement a lean manufacturing business system is critical and some ways are clearly wrong and dangerous. One such way is not so much a path rather the means of traveling down the path. We may focus on the right goals, using the right tools and understand the right principles yet we chose a steam roller as the means of travel.

This is the top-down, drive the change, my-way-or-the-highway, Leader-is-the-Law, autocratic style of management. A tell-tale sign of this Management By Intimidation (MBI) mode on the lean journey is the “Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick” approach where we use fear, manipulation or threats to get results or force change. It is a favorite approach used by many consultants and so called change agents.

Here are just a few examples of this autocratic style in action to drive change:

“Do as I say or else…”

“Do it my way because I am the boss.” (Parent-Child relationship)

“Do it my way because I know more about lean than you (Classic my lean experience stick is bigger that yours!)

“You have no choice; I already cleared it with your boss” (The go-over-the-head move)

“I have the blessing of (insert the name of our company President, Owner, VP, Big Cheese, Big Kohuna, Top Dog, etc) to do whatever it takes.” (Organizational Trump Card move)

“You are doing it all wrong, you don’t know anything about lean” (Public ridicule is an especially powerful tool)

“With your understanding of lean, I bet you think a prime fishing spot can be found on a value stream map?” (Ridicule with sarcastic wit)

“I learned from ex-Toyota Leaders, so I know what’s best.” (Show me your Toyota lineage papers)

“Get on the bus or …..” (Jim Collins fan)

“You did a good job but…” (Insincere praise followed by criticism)

“That is a horrific cell, no material flow. Either you are incompetent or stupid, which is it?” (Forget using insincere praise followed by criticism, get right down to it, baby)

“I may be harsh but at least I have the guts to say it” (Tactless Truth Trap usually used to justify harsh criticism)

“We don’t have time for nice, we need results NOW!” (It’s not my fault, blame the clock or calendar)

“We have material flow issues, I want you to put in a Kanban system here” (Make the decisions and give the solutions)

Have you heard any of these on the lean journey? Have you caught yourself saying any of them yourself?

Back in my first days of learning the lean approach, our Japanese sensei was persistent in getting us to change and came across quite rude and obnoxious in his manner. This did not help us see the waste any better and caused immediate friction. One of my fellow engineers became very vocal in challenging our Japanese sensei and his new ‘lean” ways. The next day our team, minus one vocal engineer, had a meeting with our Senior VP to tell us to we must get on board with lean or suffer the same fate. No doubt, this was a powerful message (big stick) to all of us at an early stage of our lean transformation. It certainly set the tone however at what price?

We may argue that the Theory X approach is efficient. Just look at the great results gained especially in a short period of time. The end justify the means right?

In my opinion, we can rationalize this type of management style to get to sleep at night however it will still be wrong when we wake up in the morning. Before rationalizing that I am perhaps too soft or not demanding enough, I only ask that you please consider a few questions first.

Is this “Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick” approach inline with respect for people?

Which approach works better long term?

What happens when the autocratic leader leaves the company?

When we don’t involve people in making decisions, do we get buy in?

What about employee empowerment?

By establishing our command and control style, how can we expect people to have local ownership?

Are our associates following us because we built trust, understanding and teamwork or are they just more fearful?

Are we making people think and grow?

What kind of culture do we want to build in our company?

Do results matter more than people?

Each of us must decide what works best for us and our company, just choose wisely.


I found a profoundly simple excerpt in Taiichi Ohno’s book “JIT for Today and Tomorrow” that was part of an essay called “What are Techniques?” written by Soichiro Honda.

“Life comes from three types of wisdom: seeing, hearing, and trying. I think that among these three, the most important on is trying. Yet most technicians emphasize seeing and hearing and neglect trying. Of course, I, too, see and hear, but try even more. It may seem obvious, but failure and success are opposites. As happiness and sorrow coexist, so do failure and success. We seem to succeed more often than we fail. Everyone detests failure, so there are fewer opportunities to succeed. People seem surprised with Honda’s success, but the only secret is that we know what we are doing. My intention is stronger than that of other technicians because I try harder. There is a big difference between reading a book and giving instructions, and attempting something first and then giving instructions. In the latter case, we feel confident. That is why I think trying is the most important factor.”

How often do we try things? Do we limit our success by avoiding failure? Do we promote and reward failure avoidance over error recovery? How can we influence more trying? When we talk with our fellow associates, do we ask them “What did you try today?”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Blame Thinking

It's not who's wrong, it's what's wrong. It's not who's right, it's what's right. All other thinking leads to hiding the truth, distorting the information and covering up the problem. Our focus should be on solving the problem as a team.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interesting Lean Thought of the Day

I heard this one today at the conference, "Sometimes you have the lock the team in a room and not let them out until they get past the denial stage."

Sounds a lot like an intervention program step to me.

Lean Lessons at Autoliv

After arriving at the AM Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina today, I made a point to attend the afternoon presentation by Mark Newton, Plant Manager of the Autoliv Tremonton, Utah Facility. Mark certainly packed a lot of information in a short 2 hours all about their lean journey.

Autoliv is a global automotive supplier that designs and manufactures automotive safety systems like airbags and seat belts. The Autoliv Tremonton facility (known as the ITO plant within the Autoliv family) manufactures the automotive airbag initiators.

They have had some great success on their lean journey along with some top recognition by achieving the 2005 Shingo Prize and the 2007 Industry Week Top 10 Plant. Here are a few gems that I am taking back with me to Batesville Casket.

The first point clearly shown in Mark’s presentation was the emphasis on teams at Autoliv. They have a functional organization structure in the plant with a Plant Manager, Controller, Quality Manager, HR Manager, Production Control Manger, etc called the AMO (Autonomous Manufacturing Organization). Under the AMO are three AMC (Autonomous Manufacturing Centers) which are cross-functional product line teams with an AMC Leader, Supervisors, Engineers, Quality, Maintenance, Logistics. Under the AMC are several AMT (Autonomous Manufacturing Teams) which are line/work cells. Although a quality engineer reports to the quality manager, he/she is also part of the AMC. The AMC team all share one conference room as a group office. This is to promote open and rapid communication within the AMC team. All the kaizen activity is done through all these teams.

The philosophy of the APS (Autoliv Production System) can be described by the 5 hows:

How to exist continuously?
“Must make profit”
How to make a profit?
“Reduce cost”
How do we reduce cost?
“Eliminate waste”
How do we eliminate waste?
“Make waste visible”
How to make waste visible?
“Visibly Managed worksites”

Which is another strong message, make the workplace visible in that we can see at a glance abnormal from normal and focus your time on the abnormal issues. As part of Mark’s daily standard work, he walks the entire shopfloor and can see the status (abnormal from normal) all in 12 minutes. Can we walk our entire shopfloor and see the abnormal from normal in only 12 minutes?

Can we see how effective internal material deliveries are at the moment? Can we see the status of problem solving? Can we see the equipment failures and status of the countermeasures? Can we see the rate of production by hour?

Another interesting point was the lack of tradition 5 day kaizen events at Autoliv. They conduct something called kaizen workshops with big goals that run anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks. The kaizen workshop is still team focused but on a part time basis until completion much like a work project. The goals are typically double digit like lead time reduction 50%, reduce part handling 25%, or cut set ups by 85%. They had zero workshops in 2003 which has grown to 188 kaizen workshops in 2008. Many of their kaizen implemented come from these workshops.

Autoliv has an exceptional employee suggestions system that promotes getting ALL members of their team involved in improving their processes. Are you starting to see a common theme? Each cell has a suggestion board where you can see all the new suggestions, in process suggestions, completed suggestions and not accepted suggestions. In their first year (2002) of the employee suggestion program, they implemented 227 ideas. In 2007, it was 15,078 ideas implemented!

The Autoliv story is full of great lean lessons beyond just the few I highlighted. Check out the Autoliv Industry Week Top 10 Plant profile for additional information. Thanks to Mark Newton for sharing Autoliv’s lean success story.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Joe and Dave Herbert with Free Doritos!

By chance, I stopped by the Batesville Kroger store last Saturday for a few items before heading home where I found Joe and Dave Herbert signing “free bags of Doritos” as a promo. And I didn’t even need a crystal ball! (In picture: Dave Herbert, myself, Joe Herbert)

For those of us that did not see the last Super Bowl, Joe and Dave Herbert won the Doritos commercial contest and won big! Their commercial titled “Free Doritos” ended up being voted #1 on the USA Today Ad Meter, knocking off Anheuser-Busch’s 10 year reign of Super Bowl Ad Meter top commercials, and taking home the $1,000,000 grand prize. Two brothers from Batesville, Indiana (population a little over 6,000 people) rocked the world of advertising with this win, reminding us all that creativity can be found anywhere. The rest of the world may not be aware of all the talent and creativity found in Batesville, but locally it is common knowledge.

Despite living in this area all my adult life, I have not been fortunate enough to meet Joe and Dave until last Saturday. As I expected, both were extremely grounded, easy going and enjoying their moment of success. They are, as you can imagine, a bit busy with all that goes with their recent success however we plan on getting together again so I can ask them a few questions on creativity. I hope to share more on what I learn from Joe and Dave in a follow up post.

From a lean perspective, we teach creativity before capital and the importance of engaging all our associates (and others in our supply chain) to work together in kaizen. Why?

Joe and Dave are great examples of creativity before capital. A great commercial using eBay bought props and equipment, local actors and comedians and lots of creative brainstorming. They even make it a habit to keep notes on all their ideas even if they don’t end up using them right away.

We see a great 30 second commercial however what we don’t see are the months of work that were put into creating this commercial. As in kaizen, much of the hard work required for success is not readily seen by others.

Finally, creativity is not found exclusively with just a few key players, top executives or large companies. Creativity can be found everywhere, we just need to learn to see it and let it free. Look within our own companies for the Joe’s and Dave’s. If we really take a good look, we will find that everyone has creativity. Like the bags of Doritos, how are we going free our creativity? Please try this without using a crystal ball!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mutual Prosperity

Is it kaizen, change for the better, if the company benefits but another party (employees, suppliers, customers or society) is negatively affected? Even if it was unintended? Does it have to be a game of winner take all or a win/lose situation? Wouldn't a path of mutual prosperity be a better path long term?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Giving ERP Systems the Finger

Anyone of us in business today that has to deal with ERP systems knows that while these systems are meant to make life simple for us, it more times than not works in the opposite direction. We are constantly battling to schedule our work to match our customer requirements based on the output of our computer system. To borrow a quote by Japanese NUMMI leaders as reported on Curious Cat blog, “computerized inventory systems lie”. Regardless of all our efforts to keep current and accurate information fed into the mouth of the computer ERP system beast, our computer system never matches the dynamic, real (physical) world. In my experience, it’s true that computerized inventory systems lie.

This is a visible problem. What are our choices?

We could run through the PDCA cycle and put as many countermeasures into place as required until the problem is fixed. We could improve the training of all our associates to insure that we follow the system as designed. We could buy another ERP computerized system that is more adaptable, flexible or customizable to fit our needs. Or we can just give our ERP system the finger and try a different approach.

The latter approach is exactly what we are trying to do as seen in the picture above from our lumber fabrication facility. Of course, by finger I mean just a visual indicator of our FIFO flow. Not the other finger as I may have intentional led you to believe. It is just part of our lean focus in making our parts flow using simple visual means instead of using ERP solutions within the plant.We even have started using the whiteboard scheduling approach in our dry lumber storage before cutting. The whiteboard approach has been recommended many times in the past by Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence. (Hey Kevin, so far, so good!) The goal is to make it simple and visual. It is still early so I’ll wait to share the results until after we stabilize and sustain our new process.

Although we have been dabbling with Kanban systems and other visual management techniques for many years, we have never really committed to pushing ourselves to making this visual management system of material scheduling and inventory control a major part of our culture. No excuses, we just had other improvement opportunities to go after that we thought were simply more important.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

AMExpo Charlotte 2009

I have several conferences and engagements on my schedule this year to share lean experiences and lessons. The next up is the AMExpo held in Charlotte, NC on March 11-12, 2009 where I'll participate in a roundtable discussion on creating and sustaining a continuous improvement culture. Please attend our session if you can make it to the conference.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


One of my favorite sources on leadership skills, Dale Carnegie, a master of the positive, wrote timeless principles on influence and leadership in his famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Although Mr. Carnegie died in 1955, his legacy continues through his work which is just as relevant today as when first written in 1936.

Here is an excerpt from his book.

“Principle 1: Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain

Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment.

Benjamin Franklin, tactless in his youth, became so diplomatic, so adroit at handling people, that he was made American ambassador to France. The secret to his success? “I will speak ill of no man,” he said, “and speak all the good I know of everybody.” Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Here are some of Dale Carnegie’s points on influence and leadership

“Don’t point out when people are wrong. Respect differing viewpoints.”

“When you are wrong, admit it emphatically and move on.”

“You will get more in business with honey than vinegar. Be friendly and gentle.”

“Let the other person talk more than you do. Listen fully.”

“Lead people to the conclusion you want by making suggestions, but ultimately let a person feel the idea was his or hers.”

“Believe people are inherently good and honest.”

“Use questions to lead people instead of giving direct orders.”

“Be supportive and make mistakes seem easy to correct.”

“See the best in people and then they will rise to your expectation.”

According to Gary Convis, a piece of key leadership advice was given to him by Kan Higashi (Both were senior NUMMI leaders), “lead the organization as if you have no power.”

The ability to influence is one of the core skills we need to master on our lean journey.