Monthly Archives: January 2012

Understanding the Learner

It surprises me sometimes how much writing these forces me to confront what I don’t know.  Unbeknownst to Matt, he sent me for a loop with his New Year’s Resolution post about not reading any Lean books in 2012.   I have known Matt for almost 10 years and worked directly with him for close to 5, literally sitting right next to him for 3 of those years.  With all of that, I came to understand more about how he learned in 3 paragraphs than I knew in the previous decade.  Matt wasn’t downplaying the quality of Lean books or reading in general.  He was just acknowledging that he learns best by practice and experience as opposed to internally processing theory.  Personally, I’m pretty much the opposite.

I consider a big part of what I do and who I am as a person is being a teacher.  That applies for me not only in formal training activities, but through most of my personal interactions including working with my son’s basketball team.  Fortunately, being involved with Lean and problem solving allows me some great opportunities to do something I love to do.  I put a lot of effort in trying to focus, tailor, or even re-package the information I’m trying to deliver to get the best impact.  What I’m not so sure about is that I’ve really thought about the best way for people to utilize what I’m delivering.  I thought I was doing that, but now I’m seriously reflecting on how well I’m helping people close the gap between understanding and executing.

Matt’s plan for himself has indirectly given me a new challenge for 2012.  My challenge is to be much more intentional in understanding not only the impact of the message itself, but how people can get the most out of what they may be learning.  I could also take it a step further and try to figure out better ways to communicate with people teaching me so that I can become a better learner.  I can’t seem to recall the exact origin, but I’ve heard over and over the adage that “if the learner hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”  Now my eyes are a little more open to seeing that learning has at much to do with executing as it does understanding.


Building a Foundation Can Produce Great Results

I am amazed sometimes how companies or parts of companies can even operate.  I am asked to help them improve their processes which sounds great.  A close examination shows they really have no process that even exists.

I do believe that everything has a process.  So, what I mean by no process is the current one is not organized, inconsistent, unstructured, anything goes and just plain shoddy.

Some might say, you can’t improve something that is inconsistent because you need consistency to establish a baseline to improve from.  I believe establishing consistency is an improvement.

There have been times when all I have done is helped the organization develop a standard process to adhere to.  This standard process was used consistently by everyone in the process and great gains were achieved by nothing more than gaining high agreement on what was going to be done and how it was going to be done.

There is always one best known way to execute a process.  That may change as improvements are made.  If there can only be one best way, then by definition everyone that starts to follow this best known way will become more efficient.

What still surprises me, is how many processes still are not standardized.  This change alone can increase efficiencies across the process, gaining better results and making the person who standardized the process look like a genius.

Always make sure the foundation is laid before you start jumping to improvements.  And look at laying the foundation of a process as a big improvement.  Don’t underestimate the power of standardization.

Lean Epiphanies

As part of joining up a little more permanently here with Matt, I am going to be switching gears on the way I approach things.  Hopefully, I can continue to find different ways to approach some topics that I find engaging and contribute to the overall dialog.  As I’ve said before, I love that he named this place “Beyond Lean”.  It provides both of us a pretty big window on how we can observe and comment on our experiences and the world around us.

With all of that being said, I’d like to introduce a recurring episode I’m going to refer to as “Lean Epiphanies”.   I’m going to highlight some smaller points, quotes, or ideas that I have picked up in my ongoing studies or in my everyday life.  These are going to be those little “Aha” moments where you find a concept explained slightly differently than you’ve heard it before or small reminders of details of lean enterprises that suddenly click better than they have before.

One of those epiphanies came while reading the book “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother.  Some others have written some very good reviews and I have no desire to match their words.  My only ‘review’ is to say that I can’t recommend the book highly enough.  While Rother is describing the Improvement Kata , he goes in to some detail on the planning of improvement and describing how to find the first step.  In discussing the delays associated with trying to find the biggest obstacle or the right place to start, he writes, “such delay is easy to avoid, because it matters more that you take a step than what that first step is.”  With that phrase, pieces of a Lean culture fell in to place in my brain more completely than ever before.  Framed against the background of a big picture Value Stream Mapping activity that I was working on at the time, the contrast of this phrase stunned me.  Not that the VSM wasn’t valuable, but I immediately started thinking about how many lost opportunities there were waiting for a clearer signal for what the biggest problems were.

Sure…I understood what Kaizen meant  and what it entailed.  Sure…I understood and had executed the what’s and how’s of PDCA cycles.  For the first time in my personal journey, I began to put those two pieces in context.  They weren’t just pieces of an executed Lean culture.  They were the culture.  If I had people willing to make small steps every day (Kaizen) and knew their business well enough to know where they should try to make changes and how to measure the impact (PDCA), any other pieces would fall in to place as solutions learned through this process.  The end result of those efforts would be orders of magnitude more “Lean” than all of the effort spent on tail-wagging-the-dog activities like premature Kanban boards and 5-S blitzes and so on.  This becomes the answer to the how question that hangs over every Lean effort.  I recognize that there are a some other aspects that are mandatory and I don’t mean to oversimplify.  But, for me, this changed the way I think about the Lean.

Epiphanies are by definition personal events, so I don’t expect that everyone (or even anyone) got the same inspiration from the original chapter or the original book.  But I do believe that these little nuggets are out there for everybody to find as long as we’re open to them.  I don’t expect that my epiphanies will become your epiphanies.  I just hope that as I add to this, you might be able to find some new moments that refresh your thoughts and your journey.

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.

Dedicated Series on a Lean Topic

Have you ever read something and thought it made sense?  Then later you read something else on the same subject.  It has a different viewpoint or thoughts on the subject.  So you start to search the internet for other viewpoints so you can become more educated on the subject.  It gets irritating spending so much time looking for information on the topic.  What if you could have several viewpoints in one place?

This year Beyond Lean is going to try an experiment.  In a few weeks, I will be posting blogs from 4 to 5 different people on the same lean topic.  Each day would be a new blog post from someone who you may recognize or you may not.  People working in industry trying to implement the concept and work with it.  Or consultants who teach the concepts to help others improve.

I would like your help in determining the first topic to cover in a week long series.  Please take a second to vote (or write in a vote) on a topic below.

Dilbert Deals with Budgeting Issues

Have you ever seen your company play with budget numbers?  Cut in one area but pay out of another area and name it something different?

Well the Pointy-Haired Boss is playing the game to perfection in this Dilbert Cartoon by Scott Adams.

My favorite part of the cartoon is the Pointy-Haired Boss saying, “If we reduce the training budget this year, we’ll get less next year.”

If I had a dollar for every time I have run up against that statement I would have enough to fund the Pointy-Haired Boss’ Contract Employee budget!

People shouldn’t be given less money just because they used less one year.  That may have been good for that year but it may not be even close to what is needed for the next year based on the current circumstances.

In the end, it all comes out of the same pocket.  Companies still don’t realize they are spending a lot of time managing minute details of their finances.  Sometimes it is just best to take a step back and take a look at a bigger picture.

I try to imagine my own finances.  There isn’t a detailed budget for every line item money could be spent on.  Groceries, gas, cable, electric, etc…  It is cut into bigger slices like Food/Entertainment.  That could be eating out, groceries, going to the movies, etc…  Each item is budgeted in detail.  It is known this is the amount and how it is spent among the line items can vary from month-to-month.

Why can’t companies say this is how much will be spent on Research and Development.  R&D can decide if that is on salaries, contractors, equipment, etc…  But what the money they have is all the money they have so use it wisely.

Be smart with the money and always manage costs appropriately.  In the end, what is best for the company needs to be done before anything else.  In Dilbert’s case, it is paying the contract employee.


It was very difficult to blackout the sites on so this is my blackout for SOPA today.

A video with more info.

No More Lean Reading!

I have decided to try something different for 2012.  I am not going to read a single lean or leadership book for the entire year.  I read my first book on lean and/or leadership about 5 years ago.  The Hitchhker’s Guide to Lean by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino was a gift to me as I left one job for another.  Being the avid learner, I was hooked.  I kept reading more and more books on lean.   As I’m sure many of yours are, my completed reading list on lean and leadership is a mile long.

So why stop reading books on the subject this year?

Not because of burn out or because I want to stop learning.  On the contrary, I want to learn but by putting more of what I have read into practice.

I have used some of what I have read over the years when the time was right, but recently I seem to have read so much especially about leadership and lean that I am jumping from on thing to another without giving anything a serious try.  This year is going to be dedicated to trying to put some of what I have learned about into practice without diluting it with more information.

I plan on continuing to read blogs and non-fictional and a few fictional books this year, but my lean book reading will be on hold.

My learning is going to come from doing.  I will have to dig back through some of my books to refresh myself and I am looking forward to that.  I am looking forward to the challenge and seeing the results.

Is there anything from your past reading that you want to learn more about?

Guest Post: Can Measures Be The Enemy Of Improvement?

Today’s guest post is from Bernie Smith.  Bernie is a measurement specialist who has helped his clients deliver surprising levels of improvement across a wide range of industries over the past 15 years. His mission is to help clients with a repeatable, practical and jargon-free method for generating insightful and clear KPIs and management reports. He understands that most people don’t get excited by KPIs, but believes it’s a curable condition.
Most people seem to agree that measuring things is a crucial part of improvement. But this can all go horribly wrong very easily. Why? Because humans are clever and it’s easy to set up terrible measures. Here’s an example:
A favorite in the UK Financial services industry is “number of complaints”. This is encourage by the regulator, the FSA. This sounds like a reasonable measure, until you realise a complaint can be anything from “You used the wrong title on my bank statement” through to “You lost my life savings and made me go bankrupt”. Either of these would count as “a complaint”. What do bank complaints departments do? Of course they focus on the root cause of low-impact and easy to solve cases, at the expense of the difficult high-impact complaints. The raw “number of complaints” figures give no indication of the severity of the issue, so the banks focus on minimising the complaints count, not the impact on customers. What does this do to the reputation and popularity of banks? I think we already know the answer to that…
There are two things you can do to avoid this kind of trap:
1) Ask yourself, what is the stupidest thing a person could do to make this score go in the “right” direction?
2) Ask the people that you are measuring what problems they could see with the measure (and ask them question 1 while you are talking)?
If you take these two steps with any new measures you might just achieve the improvement you are looking for.

Necessity Can Lead To Action And Change

No matter how hard people try they can not build a strong enough case to create change.  Sometimes it just has to come from within.  Situations can arise that cause people to take action and make changes.  People trying to drive change must be patient and when the opportunity comes then take full advantage of it.

Sometimes the language of lean can frustrate people and cause people not to want to participate.  Then a situation comes up making it necessary to change.  This would be a good time to help the person but do it without using the lean language and continue to support the new actions.

For instance, you may have been trying to get someone to understand 5S, but they don’t want to hear about sort, straighten, shine, set, and standardize.  One day the person is so frustrated with the work area they decide to clean it up.  When doing so they ask themselves questions like, “How often do I use this?” and “Do I need this much of this?”

These are all questions we would ask in relation to 5S, but if you tell the person “See you are doing 5S.” you can shut them down immediately.  Keep encouraging them without using any of the 5S language and ask more questions that will help them with their goal.

The objective of lean implementers is not to get everyone to speak lean but to act with lean principles and behaviors in mind.  In order to do this, sometimes patience is needed.  Wait for the opportunity that will drive the person to take action and create change.  When that happens take full advantage of it to reinforce the behaviors.