Blog Archives

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  A day to stop and give thanks for things in life.

I would like to pause and thank Joe Wilson for joining Beyond Lean this year as an author.  He has made great contributions.  Here are just a few of my favorites:

I also want to thank all the readers.  Without you, Beyond Lean wouldn’t be here.  Thanks for taking time out of your day to read what we post here.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Lean Series on Visual Management Next Week

Back in March, Beyond Lean hosted a week long series on standardized work.  Joe and I posted about standardized work (Lessons Learned and Foundational to Continuous Improvement).  We also had guests post from Christian Paulsen from Lean Leadership (SW and Your Packaging Line) and Tim McMahon from A Lean Journey (What It Is).

The week went over very well with readers so next week we are bringing the series back.  The lean series will be focused on visual management.  Joe and I will have our contributions as well as new guest bloggers Danielle Look and David Kasprzak.

The lean series is a way to get a concentrated dose of information on one subject by only having to go to one site.  I hope you enjoy it.

Use Data that is Meaningful

A couple of months ago, Joe wrote a great blog on Problem Solving Pitfalls.  I have read that post  few times.  Partly because Joe and I made some of those mistakes together.  Partly because I think there is another to add to it.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just because data is being collected does not mean it is useful.

Too many times I have watched people (including myself) use data because it was available.  It was not the data that would tell the story of the process.  You may have to decide what data would be helpful and devise a way to collect the data.  he data does not have to be what is available in a computer.  Having it captured by hand is a viable way to collect the data.  The data may only need to be collected for a specific amount of time during the problem solving process.  Once the problem has been solved, there may be no need to collect the data.

This can be difficult but it will be well worth the effort in the long run.  You will get a better picture of the problem you are trying to solve and in turn this will lead to an easier time getting to the root cause of the problem.

Lean Series Week A Hit

I want to thank all the readers of Beyond Lean.  This week was our first Lean Series Week where we concentrated all the posts on one particular topic.  This week it was Standardized Work.  The purpose was to invite guest bloggers as well as Joe and I to provide view points on a single topic so everyone could learn about the topic in an efficient manner.

As a quick summary, here are the posts from the series this week.

Welcome Joe Wilson to Beyond Lean

I have had Beyond Lean up and running for a year and a half now.  I have learned a lot over that time about blogging and running the site.  It has been a great experience.  As with anything else, Beyond Lean can not stay stagnant.  The blog must improve and continue to deliver value to the readers that visit as well as draw in new readers.

With this in mind, I have decided to add a new author and contributor to Beyond Lean.  Please welcome Joe Wilson to Beyond Lean.  He has been a guest blogger over the last year and now he will be a full time contributor.  Joe has written some great posts and brings a perspective that challenges my thinking and I hope he will do the same for you.  Below are a few of the posts from Joe this past year.

This can give you a taste of what Joe will bring to Beyond Lean.  You can click on the tag Joe Wilson below to see all of his guest posts.

Tomorrow will be Joe’s first post at Beyond Lean as a full time contributor.  I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Guest Post: Lean and Guitar Building

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.  His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla. 

Every now and then, you find someone singing the praises of Lean in a place you’d least expect them.  That happened to me last week.

I was reading called “Guitar Lessons” by Bob Taylor.  Taylor is the co-owner and for a long time main guitar builder and designer for the company that bears his name, Taylor Guitars.  The book is partially an autobiography but more so a history of the 35 plus year old guitar company.  I was reading along about the early days of the company when I hit a passage on page 84 that nearly knocked me out of my chair.  Here’s an excerpt in his words describing a conversation that he had with another luthier, Augie Loprinzi:

    “We were talking about production flow and the fact that I was having difficulty getting my guitars done on time.  He explained how he made his guitars ‘one at a time’, so to speak. In other words, every day he’d set up the jigs and make the parts he needed for that guitar that day.  I argued with him that it was more efficient to set up the jigs once and make all the parts for a batch at a time-heck, even to make enough for six months.  I told him how we made our guitars 10 or 12 at a time to take advantage of the setup times.  He cross-examined me and got me to admit that we never actually finished those batches of guitars on time….

“Augie asked me, “Bob, which would you rather have, one done guitar or 10 half done guitars?”

“It only took a moment for me to get the idea….I immediately recognized this as being a way to help solve everything from cash flow to training new craftsmen.  I would be able to go home and make guitars every day rather than every week.  This became the backbone of the production at Taylor Guitars.”

He goes on to add:

    “Everyone is exposed to some truth, some solution to the puzzle, some overarching concept that could change their working lives, or some idea that they could make their own in order to drive a lifetime of fruitful work habits and improvements.  That is the role this particular principle assumed in my life.  Since then, I’ve had other guitar shop owners ask for advice and I tell them about this, but I haven’t seen anyone take the bait.”

My favorite part is the timing of this conversation…it took place in 1978.  At the time, Taylor was making on average 8 guitars a week.  Taylor refers to the importance of Lean several times (he actually uses the term, although more as a common language point than a technical one), as being critical to their survival and growth to now producing 900 guitars a day in two factories.

I wanted to re-tell his example for a couple of reasons.  First is that it can give us all another example of a company that has adopted Lean to help it survive and grow and become something bigger than it may have ever become without it.  The second reason is that it helps provide a simple reminder of what a Lean mentality should do for us…help us find better ways to do what we do so we can keep doing it.  For academics who want to debate which is the correct 9th waste, the information won’t be satisfying.  But for the more pragmatic, it’s a nice reminder of the value of Lean and the magic of the moment that it became the truth that changed their working lives.

Guest Post: Selling Lean to People That Don’t Want It

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.  His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  

How to sell lean to people that don’t want it.

Here’s a disclaimer to start this one.  I’m probably not going to really answer this question.  I wrote that sentence down in my notebook and when I came back to it, I had a couple of thoughts.  First, I really don’t know that you sell Lean to people that don’t want it.  As many people much more eloquent than I have said, Lean has to be pulled, not pushed.  Maybe the pull comes at a different level of the organization than the people you may be directly dealing with at the time, but it has to be pulled to be truly Lean.   My second thought is, given the first answer, sometimes there are situations where the Lean ‘toolkit’ can give the framework to answer questions where the enterprise isn’t looking for it.  Lean can help people who don’t want Lean to help them.

What kind of situations am I talking about?  It could be several.  Maybe you are a fervent member of Lean-nation, but for whatever reason you are working for a company that has moved on from the flavor of the month or just never believed in the value of Lean.  Maybe you have a holdout area of your plant (or company) that just doesn’t want to take part because they are entrenched in the “old way” of doing things.  Maybe you have a group of people that think their jobs require too much creativity, too much variation, too much specialized skill or just aren’t in the factory and Lean can’t work for them.  I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons that Lean allegedly doesn’t apply or work for people.  What can we do?  Here are some thoughts.

  • Focus on the local area you are working with.  If people aren’t interested (or aren’t capable) of seeing things from a big picture view, don’t waste time trying to paint the picture they don’t want to see.  Sometimes trying to paint too big of a picture just muddies the message anyway.
  • Find ways to strip the lingo out and meet people with the verbiage that they need.  Words like kaizen, takt time, single piece flow, waste elimination and even Lean itself can bring confusion or carry stigmas that get in the way of the solutions they can provide.  Spend a few minutes trying to create a description of Lean and even individual tools that don’t use any of the familiar words and phrases.  Try those descriptions out next time people aren’t interested.
  • Always remember that Lean implementation is about solving problems to meet goals.  Just because Lean Thinking didn’t create the goals, doesn’t mean that Lean Thinking can’t help reach them.  The people you are working with may not be interested in the intricacies of A3 reporting or a PDCA cycle, but they can tell you what the process should look like.  There you go…the beginning of a gap problem statement before they even know what hit them.  If they don’t know what the ‘ideal’ or goal state is, you can start the dialog there by working on painting a picture of how it should be.
  • Be willing to take small steps.  Or, put another way, accept the small victories as they come.  It’s human nature (at least in the U.S.) to feel like we control our own destiny and we have a tendency to reject other people’s plans for us.  That can be fine.  Sometimes people don’t need to buy in to the whole future vision up front.  Remove one thorn at a time that is irritating them and move on to the next one.  Small steps over time can add up to big gains.  The adding up of the small victories helps build on the relationship that can let you move on to big swings later on.

Is this a roadmap?  Absolutely not, nor is it intended to be.   I just hope it can lay out some different thoughts in how to get past some obstacles.  They won’t always work, but there isn’t always a blueprint to get where we are going.  Are there any tricks and tips that you have to add to the list?

Guest Post: Leadership Lessons from John Mayer

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.  His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

Sometimes a song can highlight something better than anything else is able to.  (Which makes sense if you think about it.  Songwriters make money on being able to convey an idea, thought or emotion in an extremely concise and memorable way).  It happened to me the other day as I was listening to the Continuum album from John Mayer.  Probably my favorite song on that album is “Belief” and the lyrics hit me in a different way than they ever had before.

Why did it hit me so differently?  Probably because it feels like lean transitions are so much more about arguing about belief than tactics.  Lean transformations are littered with conflicts about the value of reducing inventory to highlight problems or push backs of ‘command and control’ vs empowering team members or even how single piece or small lot production can be more cost effective than traditional economies of scale thinking.   Even within the community of improvement thinkers, we spend time debating whether Lean or Six Sigma is the best or if Lean Six Sigma fixes the ills of the other two…always over beliefs.

I realize when I ask someone to do something that is more a Lean (or SS or LSS) method than a traditional manufacturing method, I am asking them to believe what I believe or at least suspend their own disbelief.  I also know that for any example I want to pull out about a success that Toyota has had, somebody who really wanted to do their research wouldn’t have to look hard to find other very successful companies who don’t use these tools.  It’s tough, but sometimes you just need to lay enough examples of collaborated successes in front of people to show the value of your beliefs without attacking theirs.  Give them something to believe in about you and what Lean can do for them.

Guest Post: John Wooden Quotes Relating to Lean

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  

I have spent the first part of 2011 with my John Wooden “Page A Day” calendar taking up real estate on my desk.   It’s filled with quotes, stats, and other random info about  the former UCLA Men’s Basketball coach who was about as successful and universally liked and respected of a person as you will ever find.  (I’ll skip the full bio, but a quick Google or Amazon search will show the extent of his influence.)  Here are a few of the gems that have popped up so far:

“No matter how fine a person is at anything, he can always improve.  No one ever reaches maximum potential.”
“A good banker isn’t careless with pennies; a good leader isn’t sloppy about details.”
“What is right is more important than who is right.”
“A player who makes a team great is much more valuable than a great player.”
Wooden’s Four laws of learning:  Explanation, Demonstration, Correction, and Repitition

Pretty much any of those could have been just as at home in a Lean text.   In addition to the similarity in phrasing to lean texts, I’m struck by the similarities in those who emulate the behaviors.  There are bunches of companies ‘working’ on Lean, but very few approaching the level of success of a Toyota.  Similarly, you can find hundreds of coaches and managers who claim to utilize Wooden’s principles, without replicating his sustained success.  Some have tried to piecemeal add aspects to their own way of doing things without understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Some have tried to copy other people’s visible actions without the understanding of why things work.  Surely others have latched on to a ‘brand’ because it was a trendy thing to do.

I think there is another piece of the puzzle that seems to be left out.  Ultimately there can be no way to document everything that goes in to making someone or something successful.  There is also no way to codify the reasons for all of the visible aspects of a system.  There is no way to look in the rear view mirror and make sure you have accurately weighed the impact of the ‘little things’ that altered the paths.  Even if we think every aspect of a history has been written about, it still doesn’t mean that the right things were weighted correctly.  That is true no matter who’s story is being written.  The best we can do is study success stories like Coach Wooden and Toyota and use that knowledge as pieces of the puzzle as we set out to write our own story of greatness.

Guest Post: Serenity Now

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  

One of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld is ‘The Serenity Now’.  In the episode Frank Costanza yells out the phrase “Serenity Now” every time he feels his blood pressure rise as a method of dealing with the stress.  I’m sure many people are aware of the Serenity Prayer in which people ask for the “serenity to accept the things that they cannot change.”  I sometimes find myself needing to do one or the other (and sometimes both) because of the way that Lean has focused my view of the world.

Lean thinking seems to me to be a mindset that you have to go all in with to be effective.  You can’t sort of think Lean.  Once you have learned to go through the cycle of identifying gaps, seeking out the waste and problems and implementing countermeasures, it becomes very hard to go back and not think that way with everything you do.  The thought process colors not just how you work, but how you process the news, how you order your coffee, how you view your government operating and on and on.

There lies the challenge for some of us.  We want everyone to seek out waste and eliminate it with the same passion that we would attack it.  We want all of data we get to be presented in the proper context.  We see the waste, the inefficiency, the lack of direction and can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see the world in the same light.  We become like the kid in The Sixth Sense, except instead seeing dead people everywhere, we see waste everywhere.  The frustration can drive you crazy or make you angry if you let it.

What can I do about it?  Here’s the challenge I’m placing to myself.  Every time I sense my frustration with a situation because of the waste I see, I ask myself if there is anything I can do to help change it.  If there is, I make the effort to change.  Sometimes that means helping other people and sometimes it means that I have to put myself in a different situation.  If there isn’t anything I can do, I just yell out “Hoochie Mama” and move on.  Sometimes we have to accept that there are only so many things that we can change.  That there are only so many things we can control.   There may come a day when everyone sees the world through Lean eyes.  Until then, I’m going to work on trying to make sure that my lens doesn’t unfairly color the world.

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