Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Difference Between Kaizen and kaizen

Big K vs. Little k has different meanings depending on what you are talking about.  In baseball, big K means you struck out looking and little k means you struck out swinging (some use a forward k or a backward k too).  But in implementing lean thinking, my colleagues and I have used it to refer to the different types of thinking regarding continuous improvement.

‘Big K’ kaizen refers to the type of continuous improvement where everyone improves their work everyday.  Every employee is working to drive waste out of their work in order to improve the business on a daily basis.  This is the ideal state of lean that we would like to achieve.

While ‘Big K’ kaizen is a great future state, most companies starting a lean transformation do not have much employee engagement.  This is where ‘Little k’ kaizen can help.  ‘Little k’ kaizen is what most people refer to as a kaizen event.  An organized event where a cross functional team including people from the process, suppliers of the process, and customers of the process are sequestered, typically a week, to work on improving the process.

Most organizations have not had much employee engagement in the past.  This is usually due to many reasons that usually can be placed back on the shoulders of leadership.  The event based ‘Little k’ kaizen allows a way to kick start the employee engagement by gathering employees together to work on improving a process.  The key is to listen to the employees and let them implement their ideas with leaderships support.  ‘Little k’ kaizen is not a forum to push management ideas out onto the employees and have them execute it.

I have seen the ‘Little k’ kaizen process be very successful as I have helped organizations kick start the employee engagement.  The pitfall is treating ‘Little k” kaizen like it is the same as ‘Big K’ kaizen.  Most organizations are so happy with the ‘Little k’ kaizen process results and the employee engagement from the event that they plan more of them.  They continue to get these great results and before you know it they set a goal to have X amount of ‘Little k’ kaizen events per year.

The events are not what are important.  It is engaging the employees in problem solving.  The trick is to know your culture and build on the momentum from the ‘Little k’ kaizen event.  As leaders we must continue to engage our employees after the ‘Little k’ kaizen event and push them to make changes to improve the process as they come up with the ideas every single day, this is ‘Big K’ kaizen.  Don’t wait until the next ‘Little k’ kaizen event.  When employees are looking for ways to improve the process everyday and not waiting for the next event or management to make the changes, then you are getting to true ‘Big K’ kaizen.  It isn’t easy, but it is well worth it when it happens.


Mentors Are Important – A Tribute to My Mentors

The lean community and Toyota talks about everyone having a mentor (or sensei).  A lot of people may understand this as having one mentor for most or all of their career.  I don’t believe that has to be the case.  Having several mentors can be a good thing depending on what you are trying to learn and what point in your career you are.

I have been fortunate enough in my career to have had three great professional mentors at different stages of my career.  They all have taught me something different.  This post is a tribute to them and what they taught me.

As a college intern and then very early in my career out of school, Michael Hunt taught me confidence and humbleness.  RCA had a lot of interns come in throughout the year over many years.  Mike was the leader for the interns in our group.  While most interns worked on very small projects, Mike gave me very meaningful projects and instilled confidence in me to be able to handle them.  As a 21-year-old college student, he selected me to work with him and 2 others on a confidential project to design the layout a brand new manufacturing facility.

Mike always treated all the interns with respect and as if they were his own kids.  Even meeting with us outside of work to play golf or shoot some pool.  We were his equals in his eyes.  His humbleness was genuine.  I was too young to realize this until a few years later.  I don’t think Mike realizes the impact he made on me during those 3+ years (I did an internship there every 3 months for 4 years).

A few years later, I met Dennis Mouser.  Dennis was a retired Shainin Red X Master.  My company hired Dennis to mentor myself and two others in using the Shainin methodology.  Dennis taught me the importance of adhering to a process.  If I trusted the what I believed to be a very good process then the results would come.  And they did.  I ended up solving problems that had been in existence for nearly 40 years.  Another engineer and I solved a problem that no one else could.  They were looking in the wrong spot.  The defects weren’t created in our process but from a leaky roof thirty feet in the air.

Dennis also started to show me how to mentor others.  He taught me how to teach others a process and then get them want to follow it, not force them to follow it.  The lessons I learned helped me understand how using standardized work can give people the framework to think of unique and creative solutions on their own if we give them a chance.

Last but not least, Jamie Flinchbaugh.  I met Jamie about 4 years ago when I was developing the lean program for Trane -Residential.  If you know Jamie, you probably can see his influence in my lean thinking and I have mentioned him a lot on the blog.  I am not trying to sell his services, but it is hard to not mention him with all the mentoring he has given me.

Jamie has taught me how to think of lean as a set of principles and behaviors and how to recognize them wherever I may be.  He has helped me to understand where my customers are and how to deliver to their needs while still trying to push them forward a step or two in their thinking.

At Trane, he helped me learn how to influence leaders at higher organizational levels than where I was at.  I have become a better teacher, coach and leader because of Jamie’s mentoring.

All three really influenced my thinking and it very different ways.  All three were the right person at the right time.  To them I say, “Thank You!”

Always keep your mind open.  You never know where or when you will find someone to mentor you.

The Importance of Respect for People

Sometimes lean thinking and behaviors are being used without being known.  Common examples are Subway or Zappos.  But it can happen in our own work too.

I have been implementing lean for 10+ years now and just this morning it hit me about a time when I was putting good lean thinking to work and had absolutely no idea.  Fifteen years ago, I was a 21-year-old college student doing an internship with RCA.  At the time, I had heard of Shingo and read his book The SMED System, but I had never heard the term lean.

I was put in charge of running a production area for a couple of months.  My team consisted of 10 union employees.  The management – union relationship in this facility was terrible.  On my first day, I gathered the team together and laid out our production goals and time frame.  I asked how they wanted to set up the area for the best production.  We spent the first day or two experimenting and getting our process down.  By the third day, the team was really doing well.  The team’s production numbers weren’t that good the first week because of the experimenting that we were doing at the start of the week.

In very traditional management fashion, I never saw my supervisor the entire week until Friday afternoon when he came out to let me know not hitting our goals was unacceptable.  I tried to explain the setup but he didn’t want to hear it.  I think the only reason I got some latitude was because I was an intern and he would only have to put up with me for a few weeks.

The next week the team was familiar with the process they had designed and executed very well.  We hit our goal on the nose, so I didn’t see my supervisor at all that week.

The following week they came to me and wanted to tweak the process.  I thought that was a great idea, so they did.  And boy did they.  For the next 4 weeks they exceeded the weekly target by close to 30% each week.  I could not stop praising them during that time.  Every morning and afternoon, I made sure to let them know how much I appreciated their work.  I brought in donuts for them a couple of times and one afternoon, I let them have an hour break.

Of course, my supervisor is now coming out wanting to know what I am doing to get this productivity.  It was the highest productivity the area has ever seen.  I said I was doing nothing.  The team designed and executed the work and they even started holding each other accountable which I have never seen in a union environment.  While the team was really working hard, I would take care of the odds and ends.  For example, they forgot to put a remote control in one of the TV set boxes, so I grabbed some tape, ran out to the finished goods area, opened the box, put the remote in, and taped it back up.  I would also help carry parts in so there wouldn’t have to be so many trips.

WHOOOPS!!!!  These things were a HUGE no-no in a union shop.  I had a union shop steward come out and just light into me right in front of the team over these things.  Being young and dumb at the time, I got right back in his face about yelling at me in front of the team and so on and so forth.  It got to the point my team (all union members)  jumped in and defended me to their shop steward avoiding a grievance being filed.

The team finished the work 2 weeks faster than any team had done it.  This was something they gave a lot of interns so they had quite a few years to compare it with.

I’m not bring this story up to say, “look at how good I did.”  I bring it up because I did what I just felt was right and treated everyone with respect.  OK maybe not the shop steward.  But as I think about it now, it highlighted the importance of the Respect for People pillar of lean.  By respecting the team’s talents and knowledge and letting them use it to define the process the results came.  The time I spent working with the that team is one that I reflect on quite a bit.  It was a huge learning experience about lean before I knew anything about lean.

There are a lot of companies that respect and engage their people.  They just may not call it lean.  It may be just the way they do business.  As lean implementers, shouldn’t our ideal state be the word ‘lean’ is never used again because it is just the way all companies do business?

Balancing the Roles of an Internal Lean Consultant

For several years, I have played the role of internal consultant within four different companies.  While have the same type of role, my responsibilities have changed quite a bit.

In the first two companies I was asked to execute lean tools and concepts and drive business results directly.  The influencing only occurred when the business partner had natural curiosity and wanted to learn.  My scale was heavily tipped to the “Do It” side, which at the time was great.  I was learning myself, so this allowed me to make mistakes, learn, and then correct them.

The third company had a Six Sigma culture that was very strong and asked me to help them incorporate lean into their program.  It was a corporate position.  Having been heavy on the “Do It” side, I had to learn how to influence and move to the other side of the scale.  For two years, I pretty much abandoned my “Do It” skills and moved to “Influence” causing the scale to tip in that direction.  I wanted to learn how to influence well so I overcompensated.

My current company would like to see a balance of the two.  As great as it sounds, I had to realize that by reading between the lines and then learn how to balance them.  It hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes the customer thinks they want a person to execute something when they really want an influencer or vice versa.  Once I learned  different parts of the company want different roles, it allowed me to be more direct and upfront.  I can now ask questions getting to the type of role the customer wants.  Once I have an understanding, I can ask directly if they want a “do it” person or an “influence” person.  Now we are setting expectations upfront before the work starts.  It has made for better results and less confusion between me and the customer.

Does anyone else struggle with this?  How do you handle it?

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.

Help Your Lean Implementation By Winning the Lottery

I was driving down the interstate on my way to work a few days ago when I caught a glimpse of the lottery billboard.  It was advertising the jackpot to be $200 million.  My mind wondered to what it would be like to walk away with $50 million of that money after the one time payout and taxes.  A house on the beach, playing lots of golf, enjoying time with my kids…..becoming bored out of my gourd.

As much as I would just love to retire, I know myself and only being in my 30’s I would get very bored.  I need to keep myself busy.  Lean is a passion so what better way to stay busy than to keep working and help others continue to implement lean.

Next I started thinking about my current job.  What would it be like to have absolutely no worries about money?  I am sure there would be different discussions I would have with people at work than I do today.

Be completely honest with yourself and ask if you would go about everything the same way you do now if you had not worries about money.

I know in the ideal state we would say financial security doesn’t change the way I do my job.  We want everyone around us, especially at higher levels of management to be open and honest.  Be able to accept coaching and candid feedback from people reporting to them.  Not hold a single thing said or done against us because we know everything is done with positive intention.

But lets be honest, that isn’t reality.  I am able to have a lot of open and honest conversations, but I also have to be political and go about things within the culture of my company.  There is an underlying concern to make sure that I continue to receive a paycheck and grow my career so that I can provide for my family, send my kids to college, and put a roof over their head.

Having to watch how I say when talking to certain people so I am honest but political and tip-toeing is very draining.  Having to understand and try several methods to get a message to senior leadership without concern for what may happen, real or imagined, is hard to do and takes more time and adds waste to the process.

Take out the risk of needing to maintain financial security and some conversations get more direct and to the point.  If you didn’t have to worry about money, would you worry about trying to make sure people though well of you because you need to keep a paycheck coming in, especially in the current economy?

Think about Bob from “The Gold Mine.”  He was retired and didn’t need any money so he said freely what he needed to say.  He wasn’t worried that he might get fired, because if they didn’t want his help, so what.

Would your conversations be different in some cases if you had financial security?

Now go buy a lottery ticket.

My Continuous Improvement – Stand-up Desk

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.

One idea that I have gotten from others like Jamie Flinchbaugh (here) and Kevin Meyer (here and here) is the stand-up desk.  I read about the benefits of a stand-up desk.  It is healthier.  It makes it easier to drive the ‘go and see’ behavior.  It makes you more accessible to your employees and so on.

When I was assigned to a manufacturing facility, I got myself a stand-up desk out in the middle of the production area I was working with.  It was great.  I could see what actually was happening at any time.  The employees liked having access to me without having to leave their production area.  People who came to see me to chat didn’t stay long because they didn’t like to stand, so I also became more productive.

Then I transitioned to our corporate office.  I am now working with more office environment processes.  After a couple of months of sitting in a chai I was going nuts.  I asked for a stand-up desk.  There was some crazy red-tape to get through but a couple of months ago I got it.  I have a nice sized cubicle, so I took a section and had it raised with the help of our ergonomic expert.

It isn’t pretty but it works very well.  I am able to get some of the antsy-ness out from spending so many years in manufacturing and walking on the floor.  I noticed more of my colleagues stopping by to ask questions.  More importantly, I got off my lazy can and now go seek out people to ask questions.  I don’t just pick up a phone and call people that are 50 feet away.  And finally, as you can see I can enjoy the nice view out the windows.  Even if it is the aluminum siding of another building.

I get some crazy looks and sometimes my cubicle neighbors can feel uncomfortable because they don’t know if they should be saying something to me.  I have even been used as a landmark.  “I sit in the cube next to the guy standing.  You can’t miss him.”  That might be because I am 6’2″.

I have enjoyed it and it shows that it can work in an office environment as well as a manufacturing environment.

“Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil”

“Squeaky wheel gets the oil.”  That came to mind the other day when someone was making a bunch of noise about wanting a team to reschedule a meeting because the “squeaky wheel” would not be able to attend.  The group almost caved but decided against it.  The person missing the meeting was not vitally important to the content of the meeting.

What came to light was how disrespectful a “squeaky wheel” can be.  This person couldn’t make a meeting so they wanted everyone to change their plans and reschedule over a meeting held by a person that is considered “more accommodating.”

As a lean guy, I noticed how disrespectful this was to the person who doesn’t make a big deal out of things and is more concerned about the whole and not the individual.  With respect for people being one of the pillars of lean, I was taken aback by the “squeaky wheel” continuing to make such a mountain out of a mole hill.

The group realized the wheel was just making a lot of noise but wasn’t going to fall off.  The “more accommodating” person told the “squeaky wheel” the meeting was still going to take place at the scheduled time and if they could make it great.  If not, there would be plenty of people there to have a successful meeting. The situation was handled with respect for everyone’s time and schedule and in a non-confrontational way.

I understand there are times when people have legitimate reasons to speak up or be the “squeaky wheel,” there are times when it is disrespectful.  So the next time you hear a “squeaky wheel” ask yourself if they are being disrespectful?  Or legitimate?  Then, how do we handle it with respect for everyone involved?

Dilbert – Exceed Performance….Don’t!!!!!

I read Dilbert everyday.  In fact, I downloaded an app for my Blackberry so I can read it anywhere.  This one caught my eye a few weeks ago and thought I would share it.

(click on image to enlarge)

 Does this sound familiar?  Every year we sit in a chair with a blank stare as a boss tells us in order to get an Exceeds rating we need to go above and beyond.  Only to have your boss see you go above and beyond and ask themselves, “Do they have too much time on their hands?”  So then more work comes your way.  The boss considers the extra work normal.

The next review comes.  You go through the same process.  Eventually, the employee becomes disengaged and dissatisfied with their job.

Another reason that performance reviews are waste in the system.  Can you imagine the amount of time for continuous improvement that would be gained if your company eliminated performance reviews?  Would it help or hurt employee engagement and satisfaction?

Highlight Problem Areas For Data Input

Visual management is one of my favorite concepts.  I never cease to be amazed at discussions, ah-ha moments, and alignment that happens from making things more visual.

A group I worked with is responsible for entering  data into the master system.  This data has to be right for the planning, allocating, and production of the product to happen smoothly.  The area was responsible for about one-third of the total errors that were occurring.  In true Pareto fashion, there was one error that accounted for 85% of their errors.

A team of employees that enter the data was formed to find out how to reduce the errors.  The employees get their data from a hard copy of a sheet shown below. (I do have to black out some information on the pictures.  Sorry about that.)

As you can see there can be a lot of data and a lot of distractions for the eyes.  It can be very easy to enter the wrong data by pulling it off the wrong part of the sheet.

So how did they go about it?  The employees came up with a template.

The template takes away all the eye distractions and allows the employee to focus in on the areas containing the data.

When the template is laid over the form, the data is much easier to find.  The arrows and instructions help keep it visual.

The errors have dropped significantly since the templates have been used.  It is a great example of an employee generated idea showing creativity over capital.