Like so many that started learning and implementing lean in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I started applying lean principles and concepts in manufacturing. I spent nearly 15 years applying lean thinking in a manufacturing environment. I absolutely loved seeing the immediate change in material flow or the feedback from operators that someone listened to them and they were able to make things better.
It is no secret. A manufacturing environment is a tangible environment to see the improvements and get quicker feedback back on how you are applying lean thinking because of the immediate visual results.
A couple of years ago, I moved from the manufacturing environment to the office/project management environment. This was quite a change and one I looked at as a new challenge. I took it on. I have worked with product development and retail management teams. Not even thinking twice as to what I was doing…until recently.
This summer I took on the role of project manager. I am managing the deployment of technology to our retail environments. The changes are not as immediate and not as visual as a manufacturing environment. After a while, I questioned whether I was still applying lean principles to my work. Finally, I took a step back to have a serious reflection and what I discovered is my previous 15+ years have engrained the thinking and principles without realizing it.
I have been directly observing the work as activities, connections and flows by sitting with the teams developing and testing the technology. I see how the work and how the product works. I have gone to a few retail stores to see the technology being used so I can bring those observations back to the team. I also went to other retail stores using similar technology and talked with the store managers about what is working and what isn’t working for them.
The principle of systematic problem solving comes to light with using visual boards to status the project and highlight the problems that need to be worked on in the next 24-48 hrs. We are trying to surface the problems quickly, so they can be resolved. We have broken the issues down into categories to know which are the highest priority.
Systematic waste elimination comes from defining new processes that will continue once the project is launched. We are working to improve and make them as efficient as we know how today.
Each day at standup, we are establishing high agreement on what we are going to be working on and how we will go about working on it. This establishes clear ownership of the work and an expected due date.
Finally, we are learning about the product, the technology and our processes with every iteration. Getting feedback incorporated into the product as quickly as possible.
The reflection helped me understand how I am using the lean principles everyday even if it is not in a tangible manufacturing environment.
How about you? In what type of environment are you using the lean principles?
In an earlier post I mentioned the similarities in agile and lean from a problem solving perspective. Lean and agile are also the same when it comes to the learning cycle.
One of the principles of lean that I have learned is Create a Learning Organization through Learn-Apply-Reflect. This principle helps drive home the importance of reflection. Many people and organizations do a great job of learning something new and then trying to apply it. Where most people and organizations fail is forgetting to reflect. The reflection step is where all the learning and applying comes together to understand how what was learned can best be applied in the organization. What worked? What didn’t work? What should be kept? What should be changed?
A sign an organization is doing this well, is the reflection is planned and not a reaction because something went wrong. The reflection is part of the project plan and will is scheduled upfront with no agenda but to learn and improve.
Agile has a methodology and a term it uses for this reflection and learning. It is retrospectives.
Agile uses planned retrospectives, usually once a week, to take a time out and gather the team to understand what is working and they should continue doing. As well as what is not working and should be changed or thrown out. It takes a monumental act to cancel a retrospective. These retrospectives are ingrained in the methodology and help the agile teams continue to improve on their process and work.
This is a great of example of Lean-Apply-Reflect. The agile team takes the learnings from the week, apply them and then have a planned reflection time a week later. The agile methodology does a great job of fostering the principle of creating a learning organization.
Do you have any examples of planned reflection in your organization?
Continuous improvement and driving out waste is a fundamental part of lean. The constant pursuit of driving waste out and not letting it creep back in sounds great. We should all do it.
This weekend was a great case of why we forget about waste and a method to help focus on waste. My wife and I decided to clear out the garage and get it better organized. We don’t do a great job of 5S in our garage and it is really apparent after we do a major project. We end up with tools not put back in the same place, plus the addition of new tools to do the project. In the last year we have completed 4 big projects (built our kids a swing set, replaced all the railing on our second floor deck, gutted and remodeled our master bath and installed cabinets for a craft area). Our garage was a mess.
I have mentioned before that my wife runs her own business on top of us doing all this. During the clean out, she asked one simple question, “Why can’t we move the business stuff up by the door for of the third garage?” Brilliant!! Here is a drawing of the third car garage and what is stored in it.
(click on image to enlarge)
This is brilliant because the truck you see part outside the door is used for her business outings. Now I can just open the door and load her stuff into the truck with very little movement. Before, I had to move my car out or squeeze by it and carry her stuff to the back of the garage and never opened the third car door. It eliminates motion/transportation waste of me carrying and my back really appreciate it.
Two years of doing this and it never occurred to either one of us until we stepped back, observed the area and really thought about it.
As lean leaders, we ask a lot of people to drive out the waste in their work. Make it a little better everyday. But if we don’t give them time to step back, reflect and ask questions then this is not as easy as it sounds. A process has to be established that allows the employees to do this. we can’t make grand statements and just expect things to happen.
It may seem easy to just reduce/eliminate the waste but when you are knee deep in the work you need the time to step back. Don’t undervalue it.
I often think that the reason that continuous improvement isn’t more institutionalized in business in general and manufacturing specifically is a leadership problem. I don’t say that as a means to “point fingers”, although I realize it reads that way. I mean it more in terms of the types of people and personalities that go into positions of management and the people and personalities that hedge towards Lean/Six Sigma/CI positions. In looking back at one of Matt’s old posts, I made a connection that I hadn’t really drawn before.
I’m of the opinion that one of the most underrated aspects of Lean as a mindset is the concept of ‘hansei’. The in depth reflection on what worked or didn’t work requires a certain mindset or skill and an organizational culture that allows that type of reflection to occur. The talent/skill of reflection is what makes everything from Ohno Circles to Socratic teaching to a 5-Why analysis work the way they do. This goes beyond trained problem solving and critical thinking to an area of practiced mental deep dives on subjects.
I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I’m inclined to think these behaviors are hallmarks of introverted personality types. In contrast, extroverted personality traits tend to be the ones that are identified and promoted to management positions. Companies seem to seek out (consciously or not) the more outspoken, action first types to promote or hire. Companies tend to like their heroes straight out of a Hollywood movie shooting first, maybe asking questions later, and topping things off with a fiery quote. This either leads or perpetuates cultures that marginalize the methodical reflection that asks the tougher questions.
Obviously I’m using generalizations to make a point, but I think there are quite a few people that could identify with the strawman here. I’d love to dig deeper in to this subject and understand if this is cultural or if there is some other driver. As an example, are the behaviors associated with introversion reinforced in Japan the same way extroverted behaviors are taught in the US? Or could it be that the variance is more company to company than that? While the different personality types may not be polar opposites, they are certainly at different places on the continuum. The two types don’t necessarily need to move to one side or another, but I think seeking more middle ground could be a big factor in helping drive more cultures to engage in their chosen CI path.
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. Always doing the same type of things. Getting bored with what we are doing and wanting something different. Too often we wait for someone to give us a new challenge or a new project or a new job assignment. This usually becomes very frustrating because no one else notices or can’t help right away with providing a new opportunity for us.
It’s not easy making your own path. It means extra work or venturing into a space we haven’t been before. This can make us feel uneasy and can stop us from taking the initiative. The only way to grow and take on new challenges is to overcome that fear and start making your own path.
Below I have listed a few things that have worked for me over the years.
- Create a Proposal – Determine what you want to do. What is the next challenge you want to take on? What experience do you want to gain? Then create a proposal to gain the experience or take on a new challenge and present it to your manager. Sell them on what your group would get out of it as well as what you gain. The risk is your manager saying no.
- Just Do It – Go out and take on a new challenge without asking your manager. Volunteer to be on a work team or to do a project. Don’t discuss it with your boss. Just take it on. The risk is managing your time for that work in with your other duties. You still have to meet all your normal obligations. I have done this several times and so far it has worked out very well for me. In the end, my manager is appreciative that I did the work and I gain the experience.
- Start Something New – Pick something new to start that would give you the challenge you are looking for or gain the experience you want. Two personal examples are starting a lean consortium in Texas and this blog. It has helped me achieve many objectives I have had.
With all three ways, you have to do some self reflection and understand what it is you want to do. What is it that you want to accomplish or develop? This self reflection is what can make it so hard to make our own path. Sometimes that answers aren’t easy, but if we are true to ourselves we will definitely benefit by making our own path to something better.
As part of my personal reflection and quest for learning I decided to sign up for a business Book Club offered through the local university. The ‘club’ would meet once a month and discuss books chosen by local business leaders as a way to share among the business community. Unfortunately, not enough people signed up to fill this session, so I’m a little bummed out. For me, I was hoping to use the ‘club’ as a way to stretch my mind a bit on the type of books I seek out. Unlike Matt’s break from Lean books, I am more looking for new things to balance the Lean material.
Let me explain my thinking…
I recently took an inventory on the last 20 or so books I have read. Every book I read was either directly a “Lean” book or a book that ended up dovetailing with some aspect of Lean. This reflection really frightened me. My worry is that I am stuck in a groove where I’m not really seeking material to stretch my thinking, but more to repeat what I already think in different ways. My book selection seems to be part of an ongoing confirmation bias where what I am reading echoes what I already think.
I guess there are two ways to look at this. The first is that I am picking from too shallow of a pool of books and keep ending up with more of the same. The second is that there is a common thread among the stories of the people and companies that also flows through Lean thinking. I guess you could say I want to run an experiment where I am using the first way as my hypothesis and trying to prove or disprove it.
Here’s where I could use some help. I’m looking for recommendations of non-fiction books that aren’t related to Lean. Preferably ones that you would recommend that seem to be an opposite or counterpoint to Lean. I’ve heard a saying that the most interesting books in the library are the ones that haven’t been read yet. The unknown provides a blank canvas that could teach us anything or nothing at all. I am hoping one of you can provide some inspiration to me or a fellow reader to grow.
Thanks and happy reading.
For the last couple of weeks I have debated whether I should write this post or not. I feel the topic of role modeling is important but writing about myself in this manner seems arrogant. The topic won out and I decided to write the post. Please understand my intent is to illustrate how role modeling can influence people, not brag or pat myself on my back.
Over the last few months, I have posted blogs about my own continuous improvement that have been inspired by others. Some of the topics have been reflection, stand-up desk, and personal kanban (here and here). I tried some of these things out to improve and change my work. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was role modeling behaviors of continuous improvement that others at work were noticing.
People started asking me about things I was trying out. It wasn’t long before I noticed a couple of more people with stand-up desks. Then others with personal kanban boards being tried. Lastly, seeing others doing more reflection at the end of meetings or at the end of the week.
It felt good to see others trying new things because of what they saw me doing. My intent wasn’t to change others but to improve my own work. As I did, others picked up on it little by little and started trying some of the same things.
It re-enforced the need to always be aware of my actions because you never know who is watching and will pick up on them. As leaders, we want to send the right message.
As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers. I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me. I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.
I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better. It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else. I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.
A few years ago, I took a class at the Lean Learning Center. The class taught the lean principles as presented by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh. One of the five principles is to “Create a Learning Organization Through Experimentation and Reflection.” The point that resonated with me was the importance of reflection. Without reflection, there can be no learning. Reflection is the time when we take what we have learned and applied and decide how it has worked or not worked for our situation as an individual, group, or organization. The difference isn’t reflecting after the fact, but planning the reflection in as part of the process.
It resonated so strongly with me that I block off one hour every Friday morning (or last day I work in the week) to reflect on the previous week. I have been doing this for almost four years now. There have been weeks when I have missed the reflection time, but that is OK. It signaled that something was different. It is such a habit for me that co-workers have stopped interrupting during my reflection time. I look back at the work done over the last week and how to move forward the next week. I make note of some of the challenges and mentalities I have encountered over the week so I can reference them if need be at a later date.
I still have room for improvement in how I reflect and the content to make it even more meaningful, but there is no doubt that doing this has helped me understand how I have handled different situations over the last few years.
It’s not the learning and doing that makes us better. It is understanding how and why the learning and doing makes us better.