Monthly Archives: April 2012

Learning A3

I am always looking for inspiration to improve myself, my work and my processes.  A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine caused a bright light bulb to go off.  The colleague mentioned developing an A3 to show the progress of learning for the people I am teaching and coaching.

Simple right.

A3s are used for solving problems, developing proposals and everything else.  Why not for laying out a plan to show what people are expected to learn during a project or coaching session.  Layout a standard or plan so expectations and progress becomes visible.

My colleague provided me with a format to go about developing an A3 for the learning to transfer to the person being taught.  Right away it made my thoughts clearer.  It allowed me to communicate easier what I was hoping the person would learn over the next year and how I expected to get them there. We were able to have a good discussion about expectations and a plan to get to the target.  Now we have something to use as a guide when we meet.  The plan also helps me ask better questions when we meet.

I plan on doing more and more learning A3s.  It is something I can also use before a kaizen event.  Layout what I would like the team to learn while improving the business.  There is no better way to learn then teach something and apply it right away on something that is a problem for you and then reflect.  A kaizen event is setup to do that perfectly.

A3s….it’s not just for business problems.


Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma

I had a conversation recently with a very smart and talented consultant.  He is a Lean Six Sigma consultant.  He knows the tools of lean and Six Sigma backwards and forwards.  The consultant also talked ab out the importance of having leadership buy-in from the top all the way to the bottom to be the most successful at both lean and Six Sigma. Overall, he was a very astute about both lean and Six Sigma.

During his presentation, there were two misinterpretations that stuck out to me.  I found them to be quite a difference in thinking.

1. Six Sigma is focused on the customer while lean is focused on elimination of waste.  I find this to be a significant difference in thinking.  Lean’s #1 tenant is to focus on the Customer first and foremost.  By focusing on the customer, an organization can learn what the customer finds of value.  What is not of value can be considered non-value added (waste) or non-value added but necessary (government regulations).  These should be eliminated or at least reduced.

Most people focus on the elimination of waste and miss why eliminating the waste is important.  It is because it is of no value to the customer which is the main focus.  Once the waste is eliminated it frees up resources allowing an organization to grow the business without having to invest in more resources.

Thanks to Mark Graban. This picture was borrowed from the Lean Blog.

2. Six Sigma focuses on making the product right while lean just focuses on making the product.  The consultant mentioned the 7 types of wastes.  One of the 7 types of wastes is directly solely at making the product right.  That is the waste of defects. Not to mention the concept of building in quality (jidoka).

As mentioned above, when a company focuses on the customer first it will recognize quality is very important.  This is why building in quality is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System.

After the presentation, the consultant and I had a very good discussion on these points.  I admitted to being raised in the Lean House.  I wasn’t arguing that Six Sigma was wrong or companies can’t benefit from it.  Just that I have a different perspective of lean on the points mentioned above.

Toyota Just Really Good Problem Solvers

Through the years of learning and implementing lean, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Toyota.  At first, it is easy to get really excited about the tools (kanban, 5S, flow) and how well they use them. After the initial excitement the understanding of how to use the tool with people systems starts to gain clarity.  This is great, but it is still what is best for Toyota and not necessarily what is best for someone else.

Dig deep enough and what Toyota is really good at is problem solving.  Toyota really understands where they are and where they want to go and develop a countermeasure that helps them close that gap.  Toyota looks at both the technical and human side of the system when solving the problem.

Toyota didn’t develop 5S to straighten the place up.  They realized by putting things in a designated place they could see and understand the problems they were having at a glance.  This allows them to address the problems quickly.

Kanban was not put in place to reduce inventory.  Toyota had a problem of not enough cash or space for lots of inventory, but wanted to be able to have enough inventory on hand to build what the customer wanted when they wanted it and also make visible any problems in flow they were having.  The kanban was a countermeasure for this.

Years later others have the ability to learn from Toyota’s lessons.  Instead of understanding the problem trying to be resolved, other companies just copy the solution from Toyota without understanding why or if it fits their needs.

Organizations need to become really good problem solvers and if needed learn from Toyota’s lessons, not copy them.

Lean Lesson from the Book of Proverbs

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”

Proverbs 12:15 (New American Standard Bible)

During service last Sunday, our pastor used this verse during his sermon.  It struck me as a great verse about lean leadership and learning.

Too many times I have seen someone rush in with the answers without asking questions because they believe they have the right way.  Quite honestly, I have done it myself.  That was hard lesson to learn.  And in the end, I did feel like a fool.

Helping someone solve their issue means a person must listen and take counsel in order to learn.  This learning will help provide better teaching to the person that is being helped.  I have found this to be true in my own work.  My help to resolve the current issue  is appreciated and more complete when I deeply understand the current condition through listening and taking counsel from others.

As we lead organizations through lean transformations, it is much better to be seen as wise and not the fool.

Importance of Sponsorship

One of the most common tools used in lean is the kaizen event.  This is where a group of people supporting a process, as well as the customers and suppliers of the process, are sequestered for 3-5 days to improve the process.  There is a facilitator that leads the team members through the improvement process.

There are many important aspects of a kaizen event that have to be done correctly to make it as successful as possible.  The most important of part of preparing for a kaizen event is making sure you get the correct sponsorship.  It does not matter how much you improve the process, without the right sponsorship the implementation plan and sustainment can fail miserably.

There are two types of sponsorship that I usually work with: executive and primary.

Executive Sponsorship is usually a senior level leader or leaders.  Usually, a director level or higher but this may very depending on your organization.  The responsibilities of an executive sponsor is to:

  • Initiate and drive the case for change/improvement
  • Have the authority to approve the future state and implementation plan
  • Actively and visibly participate in the change
  • Promote the change with their subordinates
  • Partners and links with other Senior leader to ensure the change is approved & implemented across the entire process

Primary Sponsorship is usually a middle to senior level leader who is vested in the process.  These are sponsors that the kaizen event facilitator will work closely with to ensure it is successful.  The responsibilities of the primary sponsor is to:

  • Implement the future state within the stated time frames
  • Actively and visibly participate in the change
  • Promote the change with their subordinates
  • Authorize the change
  • Provide resources to enable and support the change
  • Link with other middle and senior level managers to ensure the change is approved & implemented

Sponsorship of the kaizen event is critical in order to gain buy-in and help sustain the improvements made by the team.  So be sure you have the sponsors’ buy-in to support the kaizen event and the changes that come out of it.


Domino’s Employee Creates New Product

Here is a Domino’s commercial that has been running lately.  I thought it was a good example of getting everyone in the organization involved in continuous improvement by listening to the customer.

The Parmesan bites were created by an employee at a local store.  He is someone who interacts with the customer everyday as well as works hands on with the product.  He is in the best position, even better than the test lab that is mentioned, to understand the customers’ needs and likes.  He can quickly try the new product and get it out to customers and hear first hand their reactions.

I also applaud the Domino’s leadership for listening to the idea and spreading the new product to all of their stores.

What other lean like behaviors may be present from the commercial?

Go To Where They Are At

Leading change from a traditional way of working to the lean way of thinking can be very frustrating.  When you have seen how efficient and profitable an organization can be you want them to be there RIGHT NOW.  The problem with this thinking is we can’t get there right now.  The other organizations that have had great success did not get there instantly either.  It took time and hard work.

All of this can be frustrating if it is allowed to be.  As change leaders we can’t let it be.  We have to remember to go to where people are at mentally and emotionally with the change.  We have to bring them along one step at a time.  Before you know it, you will start to see the change to lean thinking and results will follow.

Unfortunately, the bigger the organization you are working with the more time and the harder work it will take.  Like steering a cruise ship, a large organization will not turn quickly.  Sometimes the organization is so large you are not seeing the change occur even though it is happening.

Remember to have patience.  Patience is not an excuse to go slow.  Patience is pushing to move forward as fast as they can stand without alienating them even though they may not be moving as fast as you believe they should or could.

From time to time, remember to step back and look at all the positive changes that have taken place.  Moving forward is something we should remember to celebrate to help keep the perspective.

It’s…It’s…It’s a Kaizen Blitz

While looking for material about a kaizen event on the internet I found this great video on YouTube.  It is a song about a kaizen blitz (event) set to the music of Ballroom Blitz by Sweet.

If you have ever been a part of a kaizen event (or blitz), I bet a lot of this really hit home.  The guy did a great job of catching all aspects of the kaizen in a very funny way.  I plan on showing this to the kaizen teams I lead in the future at a point where a break in the tension is needed.

Lean Positivity

In my previous post I wondered about wasted human potential within a pretend Lean system.  Today, I want to share a second hand story of the exact opposite.

I have a colleague that has had the opportunity to be a part of a pretty successful Lean journey.  As I talked to him, I became less interested in the mechanics of the change to Lean and more interested in his personal story.  The things I’ve heard from him reaffirmed my faith in the Lean process and reminded me why I am so passionate about it in the first place.

At first glance, this guy normally appears to be a bit on the grumpy side.  But, when talking about the effect of Lean on him and his workplace, his face literally lights up like a kid at Christmas.  When he tells his story, he talks about how the process changed him from being frustrated to loving his job.  And about how much fun he had coming up with new ideas to solve problems.  He spoke with optimism, not despair, about how to continue finding the waste and savings opportunities after the initial activity took care of the “low hanging fruit” we all talk about.  I heard his story about being involved in his first kaizen report out and having Jamie Flinchbaugh in the room.  He told of being initially intimidated by Jamie, but then being excited about sharing what he had done and learning from what Jamie said.  He spoke of the challenge and commitment involved and of the lasting impacts that being a part of the whole process made on him.

It was in this conversation that the light bulb flickered back on for me.  I enjoy being a part of making a business more successful and solving complex problems.  But, the real deep down motivator for me is that someone may be able tell a story of the impact that a Lean journey has had on them and that I may have had a part in that process.  At our best, we aren’t just transforming processes or balance sheets.  We are transforming people.  I’d like to thank my new colleague for reminding me of that.

(For the record, I have no connection to Jamie Flinchbaugh or LLC other than owning his book.  I was just really impressed by his role in this story.)

Strategy A3 Downloadable Template

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.

My intent is not for it to be a template just to fill in but a way for people to learn.  I want it to be a tool that can be helpful to understanding lean and facilitate conversations.

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

  • SWI – Intent of Use – This is meant to explain the best way I have learned to use the strategy A3.  It tries to answer the questions of what is the purpose of the strategy A3 and how to use it.  It also, gives a standard operating procedure to go about using it.
  • Strategy A3 – This is the template to start with.  It leads you through several discussions on what is your mission, metrics, targets, current business conditions and actions to take to reach your targets in the upcoming year.
  • Goal 1 Tactics – There are 6 of these sheets.  Only use the ones that you need.  It is based off the number of high level goals you have on our Strategy A3.  These sheets help take the initiatives from the Strategy A3 and go another level deeper to develop a tactical plan to complete the initiative and achieve the goal.

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