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Art Byrne’s Response to My Book Review

After writing the review of Art Byrne’s The Lean Turnaround, I sent him a copy of the review before posting the review.  That is my standard work.  Not because I want the author to have editorial rights (by the way, no one has ever asked me to change my review), but because I think it is a courtesy  to let them have a preview before it posts.

As part of my standard review, there is a section where I talk about what was missing from the book in my perspective.  Art read my review and responded.  He DID NOT ask me to change anything about the review.  In fact, he was pleased with the questions I posed.  Art  asked if he could respond to my questions and what was missing.  I said absolutely.

As a recap, here is the section from my review:

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

This is a really good book, but I do see one thing missing.  Art speaks from a CEO or executive viewpoint, which is great, but what if you aren’t an executive?

One question I would like to see answered is how do lower level employees help executives want to do a lean turnaround?  Sure, one answer could be give them the book, but that probably won’t change everyone’s mind with just a single read.  How do you help an executive that seems to want to do it, do it?  Give them that final push and really start to see the benefits?

The book can also give the feeling that if you don’t have an executive leading and doing everything in the book then you might as well not go through with lean because you won’t be successful.  Art does not say that explicitly.  The book just gives that feeling.

With Art’s permission, here is his unedited response to my what’s missing from the book:

Matt, first of all let me thank you for your excellent review of my book, The Lean Turnaround. I really appreciate it and I was very happy to see that you got the main points of the book very well. You also had a couple of good questions that I would like to respond to just for clarity. Let’s take the softball question first. This wasn’t really posed as a question, but you say that I imply that if a company does not have the CEO (your term was “the executive”) leading the lean turnaround, then it might as well not start at all, since it won’t be successful. And my response is that your conclusion is correct. If the CEO won’t actively lead lean then my advice is don’t start with lean at all. That’s because you won’t get very far, and also because the entire campaign will just confuse everyone. There will be a huge gap between the things that are publicly said—and the actual commitment to lean and the actions that are taken. This has been a constant message of mine since way back in my Danaher days.

I’m going to respond now to what I believe is the basic question contained in your next comments—which, believe me, is a very good question that I get all the time in one form or another. To be more specific, I can’t remember a presentation that I have done to a national conference on lean where the first question from the audience is along the lines of “gee, that was great, but how do I get my management team to embrace lean, which I really believe is the right way to go?” This is of course a shame because it just serves to highlight the fact that most of the people attending the conference are mid-level managers or engineers who couldn’t get their senior management to attend in the first place. My answer to them is always the same. You have two choices. One, you can implement lean aggressively in the plant, division, product line or whatever you are responsible for. Go about it quietly though—you don’t want anyone above you to hear about it too early as they might try and stop you. While I was at Wiremold I introduced one of GE’s Aircraft Engine Plants to lean, and to the Japanese Consultants that I had been using (and that they are now using). At the time GE was all about Six Sigma, a very unfortunate diversion in my mind, and as a result, although they had great success with lean and became the best plant in Aircraft Engine, they were very careful to never mention the word lean and to just swear up and down that they were getting the results through Six Sigma. Once you have achieved great success and have a model line or model factory then you can show it off. Use that as leverage to get the CEO and the rest of the company to adapt it everywhere. Seeing success in your own company makes it harder for the CEO or the rest of the management team to say, “oh that lean stuff will never work here”.
Now, if this doesn’t work then your second choice is easy: quit and go work for a company that is really interested in lean. You’ll recognize this easily since the company will be aggressively pursuing it from the top down.

As to the other part of this question, “ how can I help an executive who seems to want to do it, do it?” Part of the answer here of course is exactly what I just said. In addition, I would recommend that you start by reading several key books on lean such as Lean Thinking by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno, A Study of the Toyota Production System by Shigeo Shingo, Better Thinking, Better Results by Bob Emiliani, Real Numbers by Orry Fiume and Jean Cunningham, and Gemba Kaizen (2nd Edition) by Masaaki Imai. Then go visit some lean companies in their area, and ask to participate in their kaizens. You should also contact a high level lean consultant who teaches the Toyota approach and have them come and do a walk about in your company, and then share what they saw and what the opportunity is. Next, you should run a few kaizens in your facility (with you on the team of course) so you can start to see the opportunity and how people react; and then, and of course….take the lean leap. You can only learn by doing so at some point you have to start doing.

Thanks so much for giving me a chance to share my thoughts.

Regards, Art.

WOW!  My respect for Art grew even more with the response.  He took the questions, head on and didn’t hold any thoughts back.

What are your thoughts about Art’s response?  I am interested in hearing any feedback you have on it.

Book Review: The Lean Turnaround

Art Byrne is an execute that has been implementing lean in several companies around the world.  He started our with GE and gained experience with Danaher Corp before becoming the CEO of Wiremold where their lean turnaround is featured in the book “Better Thinking, Better Results“.  Since leaving Wiremold Art has used lean to turnaround companies as a partner with J.W. Childs Associates.  Art brings his vast experience to the readers.

Lean_Turnaround_CoverName of the Book:  The Lean Turnaround: How Business Leaders Use Lean Principles to Create Value and Transform Their Company

Author: Art Byrne

Publication Date:  2012

Book description: what’s the key message?

Art really drives home the message about a company can only be truly lean if the leaders are setting an example and leading the way.  A lean executive does not dictate what others need to go do.  A lean executive does it himself.

Also, the executives have to transform the people.  Get everyone to buy-in from the shop floor to the executive suite.  There is no room for people that won’t buy-in.  In order to do this, as the leader you need to engage in the change and lead it.  Not support it.

Art lays out his principles to follow to becoming lean:

  • Work to Takt Time
  • Create one piece flow
  • Utilized Standard Work
  • Connect Customers to Work by Using a Pull System

What are the highlights? What works?

Art does a fantastic job of giving multiple examples of how he engaged employees and led the change even as a CEO.  This brings to life how it can be done and the thought isn’t some dream a consultant made up.

I really like how Art lays out obstacles to achieving his lean principles.  Accounting and standard costing is the biggest obstacle because it can show a negative result or cause bad decisions when doing things that are helping.  He then explains the changes that are needed and gives examples of the changes and how the finances would look different.

There are more examples of other metrics that Art recommends for a lean company.

Another powerful section of the book is how he used lean to grow businesses and profits even during tough economic times. Art even lays out a strategy for looking at companies when thinking about acquisitions.

The real life examples as a CEO and board member of companies really drives how a lean turnaround can be achieved.  A CEO must do a 180 from the traditional methods to do it and a leap of faith will be needed, but the reward is very high.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

This is a really good book, but I do see one thing missing.  Art speaks from a CEO or executive viewpoint, which is great, but what if you aren’t an executive?

One question I would like to see answered is how do lower level employees help executives want to do a lean turnaround?  Sure, one answer could be give them the book, but that probably won’t change everyone’s mind with just a single read.  How do you help an executive that seems to want to do it, do it?  Give them that final push and really start to see the benefits?

The book can also give the feeling that if you don’t have an executive leading and doing everything in the book then you might as well not go through with lean because you won’t be successful.  Art does not say that explicitly.  The book just gives that feeling.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

I recommend this book for anyone but especially high level level executive or CEO.  Art lays out a great game plan and a compelling case for the executives to transform their work and create a lean turnaround.  Read the book straight through and then re-read it as you develop a plan to change your company.

I would also recommend it for more Wallstreet and finance people.  It would enlighten them on how to look at companies that deliver long term value to their customers.  Not just short term gains.

Respect for People on the Harvard Business Review Blog

I am way behind on a couple of great blogs I saw on the Harvard Business Review Blog. One of them is Get Your Workers to Disrupt Their Jobs by Brad Power.

The blog is about engaging employees to improve their processes.

…start process innovation by asking front-line workers how to improve their jobs. Competition and customer demands mean that the most efficient and effective process should always be sought — but finding it requires contributions from the people doing the work. The benefits of the front-line driving improvements include pride of ownership that sustains the changes, less worry for managers about whether the changes will be adopted, and reduced costs for outside consultants. Changes that are imposed are at best accepted grudgingly and at worst sabotaged.

Bingo! I think Brad nailed it well. Then a friend of his asked a good question that I have also gotten in the past.

But a friend was skeptical that workers will identify radical, cross-functional changes to a process that will step on others’ turf or could eliminate their jobs. Is it really possible he asked, to create the conditions where workers will disrupt or even eliminate their jobs and the jobs of co-workers?

Short answer is yes, if there is no fear of losing their jobs do to continuous improvement. I have worked for companies that have made that promise and it has worked to engage the people. When I worked for an automotive supplier, three employees came to management and said they could get the work cell from 3 people to 1 person and meet the demand. The management said do it. It worked beautifully and the other two people were assigned to other work cells that needed help.

Brad got the same opinion from Orry Fuime.

Consider Wiremold, a manufacturer of cable management systems. In 1992 the company was in cost-cutting mode, and, as former CFO Orry Fiumetold me, it was consequently offering an early retirement package designed to reduce headcount. But the company also needed to make its processes more productive, and didn’t want employees overly focused on headcount reduction, so immediately following Fiume’s announcement, the new CEO Art Byrne told employees that nobody would lose employment due to process improvement activities. He felt this was necessary to encourage employees to identify all the changes the company needed, including those which might disrupt their jobs. W. Edwards Deming, the guru of total quality management, called this “driving out fear.”

But most CEOs will strenuously resist making a qualified job guarantee like Art Byrne. Why? Because they believe that nobody can guarantee employment. Notice, however, that Wiremold did not guarantee employment. It assured employees that they would not lose their job as a result of their participation in continuous improvement activities. It didn’t say their jobs wouldn’t change, or that the company wouldn’t lay off people for survival in the event of a major economic downturn, or that individuals couldn’t lose their job due to poor performance.

I found the blog interesting because all but one company/person mentioned were well respected lean companies/people (Orry, Art Byrne, Dr. Deming, Wiremold, Parker-Hannifin, Lantech). The overriding theme was the respect for people. Ask for their ideas to improve, share the big picture with them don’t hide it, reward them for their help. These all have to do with respecting the people of the business and organization.

I hope this blog gets circulated around. These are the behaviors to look for within a company. These are behaviors a lean company exhibits whether they use the term lean or not is not important. Respecting the people is. With their engagement in the continuous improvement process a company can make great strides in productivity and growth.

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