Monthly Archives: July 2011

Guest Post: 4 Tips from Historic Leaders

Today’s post is from a friend I have met through starting Beyond Lean and a fellow Purdue Boilermaker.  Christian Paulsen helps companies optimize performance. He is a Lean – TPM facilitator and adds value to organizations by driving continuous process improvements and bottom line cost savings.  Christian is a Consultant who brings 20 years of manufacturing leadership experience and Lean Manufacturing expertise.  He authors Lean Leadership and is a regular contributor to the Consumer Goods blog.

Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City and graduated from Harvard.  He studied law at Columbia but dropped out when asked to run for public office.  Roosevelt was a NY State Assemblyman, a Dakota Cowboy, New York City Police Commissioner, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He left the Navy at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. Colonel Roosevelt found volunteers among cowboys from the West and Ivy Leaguers. He led these Rough Riders into history and won the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Colonel served as Governor of New York, Vice-President of the United States, leader of the Republican Party and founder of the Bull Moose Party. He also served as the 26th President of the United States, survived an assassination attempt and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt led an African safari and South American Expedition as a former President.

Roosevelt’s success was not dependant upon favorable circumstances or the right culture. Nor was it not limited to a particular organization or field of expertise. He was successful in an amazing variety of roles because he was an exceptional leader.  Roosevelt is just one of the historic leaders that Doug Moran draws on in “If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st Century Leaders.

Jen Weigel brings out 4 leadership tips from the book in the Chicago Tribune. Lean leaders can learn from these lessons as well:

1. Know yourself – Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt both had the ability to be authentic in all situations. Lean leaders need to be authentic and straightforward with your team. You won’t be successful in the long run if people don’t trust you.
2. Know what you want – Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. knew what they wanted. Dr. King crafted precise language to convey his vision. Lean leaders need to convey their message frequently while catering the terminology to the audience.
3. Make yourself someone that others want to follow – Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa had such winsome faith and passion that others wanted to follow them. Lean leaders need to show their faith on the process with their actions.
4. Earn the privilege to lead daily – George Washington got people excited about following him yet he was also able to keep them following without overreacting when disasters hit. Lean leaders need to celebrate success and be the stabilizing force when things go wrong.

Have you seen leaders who have executed any of these well? What was the result? Which of these principles would help you on your lean journey? What will you do differently today?


Influencing Through Role Modeling

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.

Who Drives the Price? Consumer or Customer?

In the lean community, many times we talk about how the consumer drives the price of  a product or service.  The price is not driven by some sense of entitlement we have to a certain profit margin.

Traditionally, the thought was:

Price = Cost + Profit

We find out what our cost is and add our profit to it and that will be the selling price.  Things have not sold because companies price things higher than what the consumer is willing to pay for it.

The lean mindset is:

Profit = Price – Cost

What’s implied is the consumer sets the price.  The company has a cost and can work to reduce the cost or leave it but that is what determines the company’s profit.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have worked with a large group of people on their innovation process.  How new ideas are presented to leadership and the decision making process on whether to proceed with the idea or not.

What I was pleased to hear was all the division agreeing that the consumer sets the price of the product.  Not what profit we want to make.  Finance to Supply Chain to the Creative directors and staff all agreed on this.  Yet, there were times when the decisions being made on a product were only pursued if the price could change or the cost cut more.  I understand wanting to hit a pre-determined profit margin but raising the price when the consumer is not willing to pay for it is just a waste of time.  It generates zero revenue if not sold no matter what the cost is.

All the divisions agreed with this but knew they needed to put it into practice.

There was an example that was tricky that came up.  In our business, we make consumer goods and then sell them through mass channels (CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc….).  Our research says the consumer is willing to pay price X for a product, so we design and innovate around that knowledge.  Then we show a retail partner, like Walmart, and the say they like the product but their customers will only pay Y which can be 50% less then what consumers told us directly.

So now what?  Sometimes that makes the product unfeasible to produce without losing the integrity of what the consumer insights have told us it is they love about the potential new product.  It can put us in a predicament because we can sell the product without Walmart but we feel we are losing revenue if we go by their insights.

All the divisions agree that we don’t get to set the price, but who does?  The consumer (person buying the product off the shelf)?  Or the customer (Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc…)?

What do you think?

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.

Stop Improving and Start Eliminating

I am re-posting a blog that I wrote for the Lean Blog, hosted by Mark Graban.  This was from a year ago.  I wanted to post it here at Beyond Lean to revisit the discussion.

I know the title will probably send a lot of lean thinkers into cardiac arrest.  Typically, we talk about how companies need to stop eliminating people and start using them to improve the process.  I want to take a look at this phrase from a different lens.  I want to look at it from the continuous improvement process side.  Traditionally, companies have looked at driving improvement by demanding people work harder or by making the value added steps faster.  As lean thinkers, we want organizations to look at all the waste that is surrounding the process and eliminate it.

A typical process is comprised of several activities, some of which are value added and many that are not value added.  A color coded gant chart might look something like the one below, where the orange blocks are the value added activities and grey blocks are the non-value added activities.

In my experience, the above chart represents the balance of value added to non-value activities most typically seen.  For now, lets say that split is 20% of the overall process time is value added and 80% of the process time is non-value added.  If I were to group all the value added activities to one side and the non-value added activities to the other side, I would get a chart like the one below.

Traditionally, continuous improvement has been centered on improving the value added steps.  We are asked to improve these steps by 50%.  For years, we have been driving to make this value added work as efficient as possible through the automation of work, speeding up presses and machines, and upgrading equipment.  We have gotten so good at this; the next steps are to buy untested or overcomplicated technology or to ask our employees to work harder and faster.  The first is can be very capital intensive while the second is free.  Asking employees to work harder around processes with a lot of waste is not showing them the respect they deserve.  As an organization we are directly violating the respect of people pillar of lean and in the end, we might only get a 10% overall process improvement.  See chart below.

Lean looks at continuous improvement and the respect for people as equal and balanced parts of the equation.  In doing so, this approach flips the traditional approach of continuous improvement and asks the question, “How can I eliminate the waste in the process?”  Again, we are asked for a 50% improvement on these activities.  By eliminating waste, instead of speeding up value added activities, we know have a 40% overall process improvement.  See chart below.

Reducing the waste also shows a respect for the people involved in the work.  The waste is what causes the headaches for employees during the day.  It isn’t the value added activities like taking care of a patient or running a press.  It is looking for tools and instruments needed, refilling out paperwork, or any other non-value added activity that distracts the employee from doing the value added work.  When you involve the employee in eliminating these types of headaches, you are getting their engagement in the improvement process, making their job easier and less stressful and gaining a larger overall process improvement.  It shows respect for the person doing the work as well as for the stakeholders that need improvements to maintain the appropriate cost levels.

Lean is not a zero sum equation where someone wins and someone loses.  It is about everyone getting a positive sum on both sides.  So we should stop improving value added activities and start eliminating waste.

My Continuous Improvement: Outside the Lean Circle

In January, Karen Wilhelm did a blog post for John Hunter’s Management Improvement Blog CarnivalIn the post, Karen talked about setting time aside to learn by reading other blogs.

At the end of the post, Karen pointed out, with a fantastic graphic, how much the lean community is circling back around and reviewing itself over and over again.

I was part of Jamie Flinchbaugh’s Blog Carnival for John’s site and I am very appreciative.  I had been blogging for less then a year and it gave Beyond Lean some more exposure.  But, Karen’s post got me thinking about the blogs I read (and still do) and learning.  If I wanted to expand my learning circle I needed to read some blogs that weren’t lean related.

I found some about business and leadership and decided to give them a try.  A few blogs I didn’t find all that interesting so I moved on to others.  I thought I would share some of the blogs with my readers.  If you want to give them a try…great.  If not, no problem.

All Things Workplace by Steve Roesler – A great blog from an executive management consultant.  There are a lot of posts that relate to the respect for people part of lean.  Practical advice for different situations.

My Flexible Pencil by David Kasprzak – His blog tag line is “Observations of workplace behavior with an eye for waste and value….and anything else that comes to mind.”  David mentions waste and value which lean readers are all over but the blog isn’t about lean.  It is great observations of people and behaviors.  David does a great job of giving examples for his personal life to bring the ideas to life and make them hit home.

SmartBlog on Leadership – The posts are from various people on different aspects of leadership and culture.  The site also posts survey results to some interesting questions like “Does your organization have good alignment?”.  There are some interviews with leaders from companies from time to time also.

Seth’s Blog by Seth Godin – Seth has written a few books about marketing and is well known.  I just finally got around to trying his blog.  His blogs are short and interesting.

Some of these may strike a cord with you or they might not.  It can’t hurt to try new blogs and see what learnings we can get from someone else.

Waste Elimination’s Missing Ingrediant…Hatred

Waste.  That is a primary focus of lean implementation.  Find it.  Eliminate it.

Sounds easy, right?  So, why isn’t it being done more effectively?

One word:  Hatred.

People can be trained to see waste.  People have been shown how to observe a process and identify all 7 types of waste and can do it well.  The next step is to take action against.

This is where hatred comes in.  Think about something that is slightly annoying.  Are you likely to take action against it?  Maybe.  In most cases, probably not.  It continues to be an annoyance and that is it.

Now think of something that bugs or upsets you so much that you would use the word hate.  Now do you live with with that?  Maybe.  But in most cases, the emotion is  built up enough that you take action against.

Have you ever seen something so wasteful but so simple to fix that you would be willing to stand there until it was fixed?  That is the level of hatred for waste that needs to be reached.  If we aren’t willing to stand and educate and correct the waste no matter the time it takes then in the end waste wins.

I know hatred is a very strong and powerful word, but that is the feeling we need to have if we want to show how important it is to drive waste out of the business.

The next time you encounter one of the 7 types of waste, ask yourself, “Is this annoying or do I hate it?”

My Continuous Improvement: Second Try at a Personal Kanban







Yesterday, I was a guest blogger over at A Lean Journey blog hosted by Tim McMahon.  The blog post is about my second iteration at a personal kanban board to understand the flow of my work.  I have re-posted the blog below, but I encourage everyone to check out Tim’s blog if you haven’t already.


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.

About three months ago, I posted a blog about my first attempt at a personal kanban.  It was not successful at all.  With some encouragement from fellow blogger Tim McMahon, I reflected more on why it didn’t work and then learned more about how to apply personal kanban.  “Personal Kanban” by Jim Benson and Tonianne Barry was a helpful resource for me.

At the end of my previous post, I talked about digitizing the my kanban board.  I almost fell prey to a common error…..looking for a technology solution when a process has not even been established.  I was tempted by the dark side, but resisted.  A digital format may be what I need in the future but first I must establish a process that works.

The second try at a personal kanban board has been very successful.  Here is a picture of my board.  It isn’t very clear, but I think it will help with the discussion.

My value stream is Ready (my queue of work), Doing (what I am working on), Pen (items I have worked on but waiting for input), and Done.  I have set my max for Doing and Pen at 3 items.  I move items for Ready to Doing after I have moved all items from Doing to Done or Pen.  This prevents one thing from sitting in the Doing column for a long time because I move the other two items and avoid the third.

Down in the bottom right-hand corner I have a color key.  The color of the Post-It notes is related to a specific area of work.

Also, I have blog posts that I do weekly.  It doesn’t matter what day the posts are written but I would like to write 3 a week.  It would get monotonous if I used Post-Its for writing three blog posts every week. Instead of using Post-Its, I put up three check boxes.  I put a check after in th box after I finish a blog post.  The section below it is a place I can put an idea for a blog post.  When I want to write a post, I can grab one of the ideas from that section.

The board has helped me keep track of my work and made it visual to my boss all that I have going on.  It has helped my boss understand where I am spending most of my time.

One of the keys is to choose the correct work chunk to put on a Post-It.  Too small of a item is a quick to-do.  An example of something too small would be to send an email or make a call.  Too big of a chunk and nothing will ever move.  XYZ Project would be too big.  There is a middle ground.  Breaking the XYZ Project into smaller chunks has helped me.  Create charter for project.  Study the current state of the process.  Update action item list.  These are examples of the middle ground that I have found.

I hope this helps others looking at trying a personal kanban.  It isn’t easy, but when it works it feels good and keeps the work flowing.  Now I get to go check a box for blog posts!

Using Reviews to Highlight Your Talents

It’s that time of year when employers have their managers do mid-year performance reviews.  The discussion usually centers around what work has been accomplished so far this year, what are the plans for the second half of the year, and have any of the priorities changed.

One question asked on our mid-year review form is, “Name one to three strengths and how we can use them better.”

I hated this question, because what I think are my strengths, I have others tell I need improve on.  For example, I usually don’t have an issue speaking my mind and giving my point of view.  I think that is a good thing.  Others have an issue with it.

Everything I came up with sounded so generic.  It didn’t feel like it was actionable or added any value.

After reading Now, Discover Your Strengths I realized I could use this as an opportunity to help my manager understand my talents more fully.  I used some examples from the Talent Assessment to show how my natural talents could be utilized in the context of my work.

I felt like the pressure of coming up with something generic and non-action driven was off of me.  It was an opportunity to give my manager a better insight into what makes me, me and fulfill the requirements for my mid-year review at the same time.

Review time always seems to be a dreaded time.  Use the time to give your manager more insights to your talents and help them see ways to utilize you in an expanded capacity.

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?