Monthly Archives: March 2012

Opportunity is Dressed as Hard Work




“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”

                                         —Thomas Edison



I found this quote awhile back and have kept it close ever since.  It is one that reminds me that if I want to make a difference I need to work hard for it.

From a lean lens, this means digging in and finding the true root cause of the waste.  Not putting a band aide on the issue or treating just the symptom of the problem.  It is hard work to take the time to dig deep and find the true root cause.  It is hard work to have patience to continue to understand the problem when everyone around you is jumping to conclusions and solutions without understanding the problem.  It is hard work to do things right.

But if we do put on those overalls and do the hard work, in the end we create better change and better improvements.  That will also help us standout from the crowd who mostly is looking for the easy, shiny, magic silver bullet so they don’t mess up their clean suits.  That can be very rewarding.  That is what can keep us motivated and moving along.



As I’m sure a lot of self described “Lean Thinkers” have, I have had a bunch of discussions about where to start at with Lean.  My mostly philosophical point of view is that 5-S isn’t the best place to start because you can’t do the Sort step until you define what is really needed in a work area.  Taking that a step back, you can’t define what is needed in a work area until you have defined and somewhat smoothed your production/demand.  I have seen several points of view that 5S is a great place to start because “If you can’t do 5S you won’t be able to do anything else.”*

I have come face to face with the harsh reality again that what matters most is that you are committed to it, not where you start.  I realize that this isn’t news or even a question for most Lean folks.  Sometimes in our journey of preaching the Lean gospel, we are confronted with people who aren’t at all ready to change who they are to follow the Lean path.  They may want to overlay a few tools for show or toss terminology around as the latest buzzwords.  At most levels of the organization, people that think like that can be worked with, developed, or, at the very least, worked around for a while.  When the lack of commitment is at the top, it makes you wonder why they even pretend.

For the record, I don’t mean this as any sort of contempt for those that don’t want to do Lean.  I have no problem with people that aren’t interested in Lean and are honest about it.  My concern is for people that fake an interest and only want to toy around with Lean.  That type of activity does a great disservice to not only Lean as an effective way of doing business, but to the people that work under them and are forced to take part in things that are clearly unimportant to their managers.  The whole charade is a giant waste of resources.

In the situation that has brought this brush with reality, I could just simply back out and not “help” this person any more.  But, I do worry about how many extremely bright, talented, and capable future Lean leaders are stuck in situations that they can’t get out of as cleanly for whatever reason.  The concept of wasted human potential has long been a fundamental of true Lean.  I wonder how much potential has been wasted by the fake committed.


*I believe this quote or something really similar was in the book, “The Gold Mine”, but I can’t seem to find it. I try to not use unattributed quotes or statements, but I couldn’t find exactly where I first heard this.  I apologize if I incorrectly assigned credit for this.  If anyone remembers or can source the origin, please let me know and I’ll correct it.  Thanks.

U.S. Companies are an Accessory to Theft

That’s right an accessory to theft of jobs in the U.S.  Companies make too many excuses as to why manufacturing is cheaper in China.

  • High labor wages
  • Medical costs
  • Retirement benefits
  • Fleixibility

And the list could go on and on forever.

These are nothing but excuses for not taking the time to look at the total cost of a value stream, including:

  • Cost of quality
  • Transportation
  • Higher inventory levels
  • Discards/Obsolescence
  • And more that I have not mentioned

We need to stop making excuses and better understand the true cost issues that are occurring.  Then put in place countermeasures to lower the overall total costs.

There is no need to discuss how to hold companies like FoxConn accountable for all the mistreating of employees if companies are manufacturing in the U.S. instead of China.  The mirror should be turned on ourselves.  We should be asking how do we produce close to our customer and have the best total cost possible.

Excuses are easy.  Let’s start solving for true lower total costs and stop being an accessory to theft.

Harvard Business Review Blog Talks U.S. Manufacturing

If you are a regular reader of Beyond Lean, you may know that I am a very big supporter of U.S. manufacturing.  I believe it is the foundation for economic prosperity for our country or any country for that matter.  Lean thinking and principles can help guide any business to success and overcome many economic and governmental situations.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review Blog has had posts talking about much of the same.  Here are a few of the posts.

The U.S. Needs to Make More Jobs More Creative

The authors break jobs into two categories.

But we were able to classify all jobs as either creativity-oriented or routine-oriented. And within the routine-oriented classification, there are three distinct types: routine-physical (e.g. an auto assembly plant worker); routine-service (e.g. an accounts payable clerk); and routine-resource (e.g. a coal miner).

The authors explain that creative-oriented jobs pay more and pose a great question.

…the real challenge for the U.S. economy is what to do with routine-oriented jobs in dispersed industries.

And their response to this:

There is no quick fix for this problem. But my view (and Richard’s) is that we have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy.

…But I believe that America can influence the slope of the line of increasing creativity-oriented jobs by leaning toward creativity; giving workers the encouragement and space to innovate; utilizing the most of their brain, not the least of it. That would be the grass-roots way out of America’s economic doldrums that everyone is looking for.

I interpret this as engaging everyone in the organization, even those doing what is considered a routine-oriented job, in innovating the business.  Innovating is also about how to change the process to be better.  Engage the minds and hearts of the employees not just the hands and feet.

Unglamorous Freelance Manufacturing Could Boost U.S. Competitiveness

The U.S. competitiveness debate too often devolves into a cry for more Apples and more Ciscos on American shores, when what the country really needs is more Hospiras.

More what?

Hospira is an advanced contract manufacturer.

The author talks about the importance of manufacturing for innovation.  Something I believe to be true and how we must open our mind to what the definition of innovation can mean.

In the U.S., “innovation” typically means just one thing to people: novel gadgets. Few policy makers realize that much of the innovation that has propelled China’s economy, for example, is of the incremental or process type. Many of us admire Apple for its originality but tend to forget the importance of its power-supply innovations, all of which were done in China by a Taiwanese company.

When it comes to process improvements, American companies are stagnating at best, and in many cases slipping backward. Policy makers need to appreciate the value of keeping incremental and process innovation in the United States.

I don’t agree that the U.S. needs policy makers to give tax breaks and help U.S. companies realize the importance of manufacturing to all types of innovation.  There are U.S. companies that have realized that on their own.  I’m sure even Apple has realized the importance of the innovations from their suppliers.  It is the companies that need to realize the benefits of this and make the effort to change their thinking around this.

It’s Time to Bring Manufacturing Back to the U.S.

A growing number of executives of U.S.-based companies are repatriating their manufacturing capabilities — moving some production operations back from overseas.

Many companies have been moving manufacturing back to the U.S.  In fact, enough have done it the movement has a name…reshoring or onshoring.

The post talks about governmental help to support this movement.  While, the governmental help would be nice it is not necessary.  There are plenty of companies that have made the move without help from the government.

Here are three bullet points the author says the governmental help recognizes:

  • Companies compete on cost and responsiveness, and this balance shifts dramatically when labor costs rise and the locus of demand shifts.

Labor cost has nothing to do with responsiveness.  Quick lead times and location has to do with this.  When total cost is looked at from end-to-end companies usually find that cheap labor really isn’t lowering their cost either.

  • Local talent and skills are essential to productivity and innovation. Long-term depletion of manufacturing skills will make it hard to reverse the trend.

I think this is right on.  It will be hard to reverse the trend but I think with more companies bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. this is helping to keep the skills from depleting.

  • Research and development incentives provided by the U.S. government must be tied to manufacturing operations. Otherwise, whatever is developed with taxpayer money could easily be moved to other regions associated with low-cost manufacturing.

I don’t agree with this.  This comes down to a company’s morals and beliefs.  If they want to move some innovation out of the country they will do it.  Their are companies innovating and manufacturing in the U.S.  It just may not be the high profile company like Apple.

It is great to see more and more discussion about the importance of manufacturing in the U.S.  That was not the case just a couple of years ago.  Especially on a high profile site like HBR.  The authors there are still spouting off too much about how the government needs to change regulations.  They need to start asking how all the companies that have already moved manufacturing back to the U.S. did it.  If they did, they might start writing more about Lean and end-to-end value stream thinking.

Tailoring the Message

I was paging through some comments and found this one about a post I wrote a while back.  I was going to reply directly to the comment, but my response tended longer than the comment section and I thought I’d post it by itself.  The intent of my original post was how to work in Lean with people who were against it. The response was that I might have been asking the wrong question in asking how to sell Lean.

I totally agree with the idea that everyone wants higher quality, lower costs and better delivery.  However, the willingness or individuals and groups to try ‘new’ ways to get there is at the very heart of why there are thousands of lean resources out there.  It’s like saying lots of people would like to climb Mt. Everest, but not many are willing to put in the time, money and physical effort to prepare for the climb.  The disconnect between an interest in the destination and a willingness to undertake the journey is often huge.  That’s before even getting in to the many corporate cultures that smother or punish the different, regardless of results.

The other aspect of this that I have found over time is that not all areas are interested in the same benefits, at least on the early part of a Lean journey.  The point that excites the plant manager may not have the same weight with a front line supervisor.  The benefits that an accountant might find would be mostly irrelevant to the team members on the shop floor.  Or, put a slightly different way, what group of people are directly affected by reduced lead times through the plant or reduced inventory?  Those things as stand-alone benefits don’t really provide much interest for many people.  The side effects of these like the reduced inventory allowing the existing inventory to be better organized and easier to store/find/retrieve are what a lot of people will actually feel.  Just as the solution has to be right for the problem, the message has to be tailored to the audience.

The comment did make me reflect on the overall delivery of my message.  It is a great point to make sure that the overall business value of the effort is clear.  I’m sure that I can lose sight of bringing concepts back to the big picture when I’m working on some of the finer points.

I do appreciate the opportunity for dialog that this outlet creates.  Hopefully we can all continue to help each other think more deeply or more broadly.

Definiton of Value – Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the definition of value that I use.  James Lawther posted a great comment about that post with some good questions.  I felt the questions were good enough that it warranted a blog post to highlight the questions and give my thoughts in response.

With James’ permission here is the comment he left:


Not sure I agree

1. It must be something the customer finds valuable and is willing to pay for


2. It must change the form, fit, or function of the product/service

(If it doesn’t why would I pay for it?)

3. It must be done right the first time

(If it wasn’t, why would I be willing to pay for it?)

Am I being a pedant? Don’t I only need one definition? What am I missing?


My thoughts on James’ comment are below.

I see all three points as one single definition with three parts that must be met.  I agree with your assessment on points 2 and 3 of “If it doesn’t, why would I pay be willing to pay for it?”

The issue comes up when discussing value added activities during an improvement event or discussion.  Having a stringent definition helps make the discussion less personal and more objective.  Two examples that I run into are inspection and finance (or any support function).

With inspection, I have heard the argument that people will pay to have the product right.  I would disagree but can understand that argument.  With the stringent definition though inspection immediately fails point number 2.  Inspection does not change the form, fit or function of a product or service.  People tend to agree with this and the discussion ends.

When the discussion becomes about someone’s specific job like finance, people can get very defensive.  Again, a support job like finance fails point number 2 and does not change the form, fit or function of the product or service.  People will argue that it is necessary to run a business.  I completely agree with so at this point we start to discuss necessary versus pure waste.

There are things that are necessary like reporting the company’s finances or even transportation but it is still not value added and it should be made very clear.  Waste is stuff that can be completely eliminate like extra motion or rework.

Point three about doing it right the first time is part of the definition because sometimes the rework has been so engrained into a process that people think it is normal.  This helps to reinforce the notion that anything that is being redone is not value added and should be scrutinized.

What are your thoughts?

Trust Fear and Options

I often get inspired to write based on conversations with other people about what they are seeing or experiencing.  This is one of those times.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend where he talked about ‘Trust’ being the big buzzword where he works.  He was talking about trust in the sense of management starting a slogan campaign saying that ‘we all need to trust each other to be great’.  I asked his thoughts and he told me that the only thing that he trusted was that if he made a mistake he trusted that he would get yelled at for it.  Almost as an aside he also said they were starting to talk about implementing Lean.  I guess I should be excited that another company is “going” Lean, but this seems doomed from the start.

I’m always struck by how prevalent the culture of management by fear really is.  It strikes me because it almost always comes from one root cause high enough in the culture who treats people like crap and this behavior gets emulated by others in the organization.  The weirder part is that the behavior is usually poorly copied by people who fall in to sort of a groupthink of treating people like disposable widgets and reinforcing a culture that very, very few people would ever say they want.

Why do I think this is even remotely relevant?  Mainly because it seems to me like the root cause of a tragedy of inefficiency.  These cultures have a tendency to becoming self-sustaining because those that remain to be promoted either have the same inclination to disrespect others or give up their opposition in order to fit in.  Those that can’t go along end up leaving for a better fit.  These companies run off some potentially fantastic talent because they aren’t aware of the need to change.

What I told my friend is that he has 3 choices:  he can spend the rest of his time there waiting for things to change, he can let the culture kill his natural temperament, or he can leave.  I realize that not every culture is a fit for every person, but these shouldn’t be the main options.  Maybe that’s the ongoing incentive to companies who have a strong culture of people being treated well.  They will attract the best talent who value that type of behavior.  The rich will get richer and the rude get ruder.

New Downloadable Section on Beyond Lean

If you look at the page links above you will see that a new page that has been added labeled Downloads.

This page will have files you can download to keep and use.  The initial thought is these will mostly be templates that can be used, but I am not limiting it to just templates.

Currently there is only one file there with plans to add more.  The first file is a skills matrix template.  My intent is not for it to be a template to fill in skills for people learn.  I want it to be a tool that can be helpful to understanding lean and facilitated conversations.

Here is the template.  There are five worksheets in the template.

  • SWI – Intent of Use – This is meant to explain the best way I have learned to use the skill matrix.  It tries to answer the questions of what is the purpose of the skill matrix and how to use it.  It also, gives a standard operating procedure to go about using it.
  • Profile – Skills – This sheet is a place to list the different roles in an organization across the top and set the goal for the ideal rating for that role against the skills listed down the side.  This will help to describe the gap to be closed during the learning process.
  • Assessment – Skills – This sheet is where the names of the individuals are listed and rated for each skill.  Just shade in the appropriate boxes to rate an individual.
  • Ratings – Skills – This sheet has a definition of what the ratings are.
  • Development Plan – This sheet is where you can list the skill to improve, the target rating to achieve, and a plan to achieve it.  Under the Name column, either a specific person’s name can go there or you can enter ‘Group’ that shows this is something the entire group is working on improving.

Please feel free to download and use it.  Any feedback on the ease and clarity of use would be appreciated.

Letters to Me

As I have written about previously, I really enjoy music in general and guitars specifically.  The other day I was riding to work listening to one of my favorite players, Brad Paisley, when his song ‘Letter to Me’ popped on.  For those without the time or interest in listening to the song, it’s about an adult thinking about what he would tell himself as a teenager.  In my never ending search for new themes, I thought I’d rip off the concept for a few posts and think about some of the things I wish I could go back in time and tell myself as I learned about Lean.

The first letter I would send would be back to college me.   (Don’t worry…this is work/business related.)  I took a class as part of my major called ‘Total Quality Management’ taught by Dr. Kenneth Ragsdell.  Honestly, I can’t say enough about the professor and the class.  Looking back, I feel like that course was the foundation that I have built most of my career path around.  It was my first in depth discussion of the quality tools, especially in looking at SPC as something more than a statistics class exercise, and Deming’s playbook.  I still have and refer to a summary page of notes from the class that I used as part of my preparation for the final.

Like so many formative experiences, I look back at the class and especially the professor and wonder if I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have at the time.  I would love to be able to tell myself to pay better attention to the subtlety of some of the discussions.  To study the material a little bit harder.  To ask more and better questions.  I don’t think that regret is necessarily the right word, but it is definitely one of those experiences that I wonder if I couldn’t have squeezed some more out of.

Maybe the lesson is different anyway.  Maybe I shouldn’t spend time thinking about things that I can’t re-do.  Then again, maybe there is hope in thinking about the lessons from the past and comparing it to the unexplored present and future.

Getting Lean Buy-In

A few weeks ago Industry Week published a great article by Jamie Flinchbaugh entitled “Securing the Elusive Lean Buy-In.”  I wanted to build upon his article.

Jamie’s first strategy was “Treat them like an customer, not an opponent.”

He couldn’t be more right with this one.  When meeting with an executive or anyone you are trying to get lean buy-in from it is important to view them as a customer.  Ask them what their needs are?  What are some issues they are having?  Use lean as a way to help them resolve their issue.  Work with the person so they see the benefits from a customer’s point of view.  Once people see the benefits they usually become supporters and give the buy-in.

The next strategy was “Have a multistep strategy.”

This ties in with the first strategy of viewing the person as a customer and not an opponent.  Ask yourself, “What does my customer need to understand what I am talking about?”  Part of that strategy can be to show results through solving a problem for them.  While solving the problem look at taking them on a benchmark trip to see something that relates to the problem but will expose them to other aspects of lean.  Let the person see how other leaders are using lean and let them get the questions answered that they want answered from another point of view.  Inject teaching about how you are solving the problem using lean so the person starts to understand how you are using lean in their world.

You may have one central approach where you are injecting other approaches to make it seem like you aren’t attacking them from a hundred directions.  When learning something new teach it 7 ways, 7 times.

The third strategy was “Overcome the valid “no.””

Jamie is right.  There is a valid concern or baggage that causes someone to say no.  It is our job to dig deep and find what the issue.  It is natural for people to be resistant to change.  A lean transformation is a change.  We should be aware of their concerns and try to help them through it.

The last strategy mentioned was “Call in reinforcements.”

This can be a difficult thing to do.  This does mean being able to have the humility to know when you need help getting the buy-in.  This does not take away from you as an individual.  In fact, it shows more character, strength and security.  I have called in consultants to help reach executives or peers to reach people because there was a better relationship there.  To get buy-in at an executive level, I had to get a director to agree to meet with a consultant.  Then work with that consultant for a year before starting to talk about getting the consultant to work with executives.  It took over two years to get there but it is happening.  It takes patience and others to help sometimes.

I’m sure there are other strategies to gaining buy-in, but these really rang true to me as I read them.  What are your thoughts?