Monthly Archives: June 2012

Blogging Sidetracked

In order to get the disappointment out of the way early, I’d like to let you know this is more of a house cleaning post.  There isn’t any new (or old) Lean thinking or discussion.

You may (or may not) have noticed that my posts have been pretty sporadic lately.   For those of you that have noticed, I would like to apologize (or tell you “You’re Welcome”…depending on how you feel).  I’d also like to apologize to Matt for my craziness.  I have recently gone through some pretty major life moves…the details of which are inconsequential.  However, getting to the other side has left me with some space to really think openly about what I may have to say and how I may want to say it.  Looking at the next year, for 52 weeks at two posts a week I believe I have 104 topics/ideas/responses that I can effectively fill out.  Looking 5 years in the future, do I have 520?  I have no idea, so I probably won’t worry about burning up my words too quickly.  What will those posts look like?  I’m not sure.  I think some of my themes and concepts have lots of room to expand.  I think that there are some practical and tool based  topics that I can explore.  I think Matt and I have some very fertile ground in exploring different topics either in tandem or in debate.

What does this mean for my contributions here?  Until I run out of things to say, I’ll keep typing.  I’m going to try to focus on things I feel passionate about or where I feel like I can add some unique perspective.  This may mean the posts will be really short or really long.  It may mean I have to face some of my personal ‘elephants in the room’ that I have chosen not to confront out of fear of controversy.  However, I don’t need to stir the pot for attention or to chase page views, so it will be done as respectfully as possible.  In short, I’m going to continue to push myself to share what I have learned and I’m going to do my best to make it worth your time to check the site.  As a reader, all I can ask is your honesty.  If you want to contribute, comment, or debate, please do so as I would like to learn from you, too.  If you think I’m wrong or that something I’m doing stinks, please tell me.  My email address is JoeWilsonLean at gmail dot com.

Thanks for reading.  Here’s to a great second half of 2012.


2012 Lean Reading Update

Earlier this year, I posted a blog about not reading any lean or business books this year.  Choosing to spend the year putting into practice more of what I have read already and trying to understand how it pertains to my work.  I have been pretty successful so far although I have read three ebooks (1 was a group study at work and 2 I was asked to review).  I still have read one book per month that has not pertained to lean or business.  I thought I would share them with you at my half way point reflection.

JanuaryLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – This is the autobiography and recount of the lone survivor of a S.E.A.L. team member that got caught in a fire fight deep in Taliban territory.  It is an amazing story.

February It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan – The autobiography of Guns-N-Roses bassist Duff McKagan.  GNR is my favorite band of all time.  Duff now writes for ESPN’s Page Two website.  He is a really good writer and the book is a great recount of his life and view of the GNR rise and fall.

March11/22/63 by Stephan King – This a fiction story about a guy who has a chance to go back in time and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy.  Long book, but very enjoyable.  A fun read.

AprilAmerican Sniper by Chris Kyle – Chris Kyle is a S.E.A.L. sniper that at the time of the writing was credited with the most confirmed kills in American military history.  This is his recount of his time in the S.E.A.L.s.

MayFifth Avenue by Christopher Smith – A thriller novel about two of the most wealthy mean in New York City and the extremes their grudge will go to.  Good book.

JuneLife by Keith Richards – This is the autobiography of Keith Richards the guitar player for the Rolling Stones.  I love the Rolling Stones and I was traveling the the UK for work…seemed like a good fit to read at the time.

I think the list gives a little flavor of my interests.

Here are the three ebooks I have read for work during this time:

What have you been reading this year?

Work and Personality Types Redux

In my previous post, I dipped in to my highly unqualified opinion that a difference in introvert and extrovert skill sets may be holding back some Lean progress.  This post again is me drifting out of my lane to discuss this topic.  This time, I want to offer some ideas on how to help bridge the gap.

As a point of clarification, I don’t really think there is such a thing as a true introvert or true extrovert.  We all have tendencies to behave at different points on the scale for different behaviors.  There are social introverts and shy extroverts.  I’m mostly focused on the behavior of deeply reflecting and sharing of communications.  I think we all have experience with the Lean “salesman” type who seems to be good at whipping people in to frenzy, but doesn’t really deal with things past the surface or visual level.  On the other end are those that are the Lean “bookworms” who can critically produce and analyze any of the systems and their impact, but don’t seem to get much buy in or engagement.   The “salesman” types tend to get a lot of attention because they best fit in to the culture of American management because they share similar traits.

The “bookworm” types have half a library available to them.  Frankly, they could pick anything up from Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, or a dozen other authors.  I think the key here is the mental filter and realization that it is going to take some practice to build those skills.  I don’t think there is any value in trying to take a reflective, pensive introvert and turn them in to a clone of Robbins.  It seems like an inefficient use of talent.  However, it is very necessary for those with the skills to learn how to move the needle with other people.

The “salesman” types could use a very slow re-read of the works of Ohno, Imai, or one of Liker’s fine texts.  This should be done with the purpose of understanding before completion.   If practicality is more the goal, they could create their own Ohno circle type activities and force themselves to practice looking deep.  Again, it shouldn’t be about changing the underlying personality as much as it is about adding to the technical skill set.

In both cases, it may help to partner up with someone who may be seen as being a polar opposite to your style.  They may not even need the exact skill set that you are looking for, as long as they can share some of their tips and help coach and reinforce the behaviors.   If it helps, think about it as small scale mentoring to help spread the Lean message.

Cities in the U.S. Copy Solution Without Understanding

The city in the U.S. that I live in has started installing more and more roundabouts.  The reasoning is it is “easier” for traffic flow.  I don’t find that to be the case at all.  I find them to be a pain to maneuver around and a hindrance to traffic flow.  Many others that I have discussed this with believe the same thing.

But they are used in Europe to help with traffic flow is the argument I get back from time to time.  “Who cares!” was my reaction.

Now imagine my chagrin when I discovered I was spending 2 weeks in the United Kingdom on business.  My buddy and I spent a lot of time driving around the UK.  To my surprise, the roundabouts were quite helpful and did help traffic flow.

Change in attitude?  No.  Change in reason.  Yes.

In the U.S. for the most part the roads are set up in a grid pattern and most intersections crossed perpendicular to each other causing 4-way stops.  In the UK many roads would come together with anywhere from 3 to 7 options of directions to go.  When there were 4 choices the streets were almost never perpendicular to each.  A stop sign or light would be very difficult so the roundabout was used.  See the pictures below:

Roundabout in the U.S.

Roundabout in the UK

As I drove more and more in the UK, I noticed how the roundabout did help traffic flow when streets weren’t perpendicular.  When streets were perpendicular stop lights were used with turn lanes just like in the U.S.

Cities are copying the roundabout as a solution for all traffic flow issues without understanding what it can be best used for.  This is why it is best to understand why solutions or countermeasures are put into place so you know when and how best to apply that learning.

Don’t copy solutions.  Learn from them.

Lean Personalities

I often think that the reason that continuous improvement isn’t more institutionalized in business in general and manufacturing specifically is a leadership problem.  I don’t say that as a means to “point fingers”, although I realize it reads that way.  I mean it more in terms of the types of people and personalities that go into positions of management and the people and personalities that hedge towards Lean/Six Sigma/CI positions.  In looking back at one of Matt’s old posts, I made a connection that I hadn’t really drawn before.

I’m of the opinion that one of the most underrated aspects of Lean as a mindset is the concept of ‘hansei’.  The in depth reflection on what worked or didn’t work requires a certain mindset or skill and an organizational culture that allows that type of reflection to occur.  The talent/skill of reflection is what makes everything from Ohno Circles to Socratic teaching to a 5-Why analysis work the way they do.  This goes beyond trained problem solving and critical thinking to an area of practiced mental deep dives on subjects.

I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I’m inclined to think these behaviors are hallmarks of introverted personality types.  In contrast, extroverted personality traits tend to be the ones that are identified and promoted to management positions.  Companies seem to seek out (consciously or not) the more outspoken, action first types to promote or hire.  Companies tend to like their heroes straight out of a Hollywood movie shooting first, maybe asking questions later, and topping things off with a fiery quote.  This either leads or perpetuates cultures that marginalize the methodical reflection that asks the tougher questions.

Obviously I’m using generalizations to make a point, but I think there are quite a few people that could identify with the strawman here.  I’d love to dig deeper in to this subject and understand if this is cultural or if there is some other driver.  As an example, are the behaviors associated with introversion reinforced in Japan the same way extroverted behaviors are taught in the US?  Or could it be that the variance is more company to company than that?  While the different personality types may not be polar opposites, they are certainly at different places on the continuum.  The two types don’t necessarily need to move to one side or another, but I think seeking more middle ground could be a big factor in helping drive more cultures to engage in their chosen CI path.

Error Proofing the Gas Cap

I recently spent some time in the United Kingdom.  It was my first time traveling to Europe.  During my stay I had a rental car.  The first time I went to fill the car with diesel fuel I found a great error proofing method for making sure you put the gas cap back on after fueling up.

See the pictures below.

The key has to be used to unlock the gas cap.  When  you pull out the gas cap the key is locked into it and cannot be removed.  It will not turn or unlock unless it is in the gas tank.  Try sticking your key in the ignition with the gas cap on it!

In the U.S. we have the gas cap tethered to the car so we don’t forget to take it but it does not mean that it will be on the gas tank when the car pulls away.

I love the simplicity of this!  I had to share this.

Fun With Charts

I’ve kind of talked about some of these things in other posts, but I felt like adding a visual.  Here is a chart of a metric that is currently in use.  The actual scale and what it is measuring is blanked out (for obvious reasons) but this is an actual data run with the required linear trend line added in Excel.  The relevant context is that this is a time based chart (x-axis) and that zero is better (data points closest to the bottom of the chart area).

First a question:  Is this process getting better or worse?

According to the trend line (and several people’s understanding of it) this process gets kudos for being “on a downward trend”.  Now, what if I just asked you to look at the last 10 data points?  Is it getting better or worse?

While it doesn’t quite pass the SPC chart test for number of points in a row in one direction, something clearly seems to be drifting in this process.  While it may just be in the realm of normal or explainable variance, it certainly requires a second look and the last 4 points are higher than all but points 2 and 3 in the first chart.  Now, what if I told you the data for the 2 highest points in the first chart were from an explainable, corrected special cause?

I am throwing this up here to highlight some of the more common issues in data analysis and communication.  Here are a couple of the key points to look for:

  • Overuse of the linear trend line in an Excel chart – Honestly, very little good can come from this function.  Skip it unless you have to use it.
  • Letting the overall behavior picture be clouded by a few special cause points – try cutting them out if you can to run a parallel look at your data…they shouldn’t be ignored, but their impact shouldn’t muddy the whole picture.
  • Having the pre-determined time period confuse the analysis – if a chart of data is based on something like a fiscal or calendar year or month, sometimes it loses or gains data points that make the current performance unclear.  Context is important, but the right context is critical.

Real Life Lean

I live in a part of the United States where houses are made of board siding which requires the siding to be painted every 5-7 years.  This is new to me because the parts I have lived in prior the houses were made of brick or aluminum siding.  Both do not require any regular maintenance.  So a few weeks ago, we had our house painted.

I had watched paint crews take a couple of days or so to paint neighbors’ houses.  The crew we hired painted the house in 1 day.  The process was amazing.

Most crews were 2 people.  This was a 4 man crew.  When they started, two men started taping off the windows and fixtures on the front of the house.  The main painter started mixing the paint and hooking up his spray gun.  The main painter started painting the house the base color and following the tapers around the house.  When the tapers finished, the main painter was on the back of the house and the front of the house was dry enough start painted the trim a different color.  The tapers started painting the trim while the sprayer was still working around the rest of the house.  When the sprayer finished the two working on the trim color got help from him.  Then one member broke off and started taking off the tape and then started doing the touch ups.

The fourth crew member was a runner.  He mixed paint, brought paper and tape to the tapers, relieved painters during breaks and anything else that was non-value added work.  He was the support system that kept everything going.

1 day.  10 hrs.  4 men. 1 custom painted house.

It was incredible to watch.  They get paid by the job so everyday can be a payday but not if you take more than one day to do the job.

What real life examples have you seen?

Micromanaging…Or Lean Leadership?

I am a couple of weeks behind on this one, but I thought it was a good blog and worth mentioning.

If You’re Not Micromanaging, You’re Not Leading” was the title of a blog post by Michael Schrage at the Harvard Business Review blog site.

The title hijacked me right away.  Title alone goes against everything lean is about.  Then I read the article and found Michael was actually advocating for lean leadership behavior without calling it that.

…this vignette affirms my belief that leaders need to “go to the source”even before they turn to their best people. Seeing the data raw instead of analytically pre-chewed can have enormous impact on executive perceptions.

Sound familiar.  Michael is talking about directly observing the work.  A foundational principle of lean.  He gives a second example of why directly observing is important.

At one global telecommunications giant, for example, a critical network software upgrade was not only slipping further behind schedule, but the bug density was slowly creeping up, as well. The program managers’ key performance indicator dashboards showed nothing alarmingly unusual except the seemingly usual slippage and delays associated with a complex project with moving parts worldwide. The executive responsible for the deliverable (but not the software engineering itself) felt something amiss. The error rates felt too high and the delays too long, given the clarity of project milestones. He wasn’t technically sophisticated enough to read the code or analyze the testing, but he asked several project managers to share how their code was being documented. The raw material astonished and appalled him. The code was both hastily and poorly documented; the result was confusion and ambiguity that not only created delays but introduced errors into the software. The deadline-driven programmers, unfortunately, thought nothing of improvising just-in-time documentation via email, and misunderstandings and typos quickly propagated program-wide. The result was a worsening mess.

The executive intervention — making documentation a priority, streamlining version coordination, and changing the testing protocols — didn’t get the complex program back on schedule, but stopped things from getting worse, and dramatically improved both product quality and post-launch maintainability. It could never have happened unless leadership had the courage and competence to go to the source.

Great examples to bring drive home the point of how important directly observing the work is.  But, I do disagree with Michael on one thing…

Is this micromanagement? You bet! But real leaders are constantly called upon to create new contexts for people to succeed. Sometimes holding people accountable is the path of least resistance rather than what’s best for the organization.

I don’t think so.  Understanding current reality is not micromanaging.  It is necessary to be a great leader.

Micromanagement is telling your employees how they should be doing their job.  Worrying about how each detail is done which is different than worrying about what are the details and understanding the current reality.  There are quite a few comments below the blog mentioning similar thoughts also.  Micromanagement is more than just understanding the process and current reality.  Micro-managers fret about HOW you got the raw data or HOW you completed the work and try to tell you HOW to do the work.

Overall, a very good post.  I just hope it does not lead people down the path that understanding is micromanaging and then it carries over to be a black mark for lean.

What do you think?  Directly obrserving work or going to the source, Micromanaging?  Or not?

The Illusion of Customer Service

I had to share a recent customer service experience that left me questioning where the customer focus had gone.

Last fall, I was scheduled to travel on business.  At the last minute, I had to cancel the trip.  My flight was booked on American Airlines.  I was given a $500 credit for my next flight, but must be used within the next year.  I don’t travel much for my job so I was hoping it wouldn’t go to waste.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  I am traveling for work to the United Kingdom.  American Airlines is the airline of choice for the company, so we booked a flight with them.  After a couple of days, I noticed the $500 credit that I had was not applied.  I called the travel agency and asked about applying my credit.  The answer I go was they won’t accept the credit now.


If the credit is not applied at the time of booking the flight then it cannot be applied.  I asked why the credit wasn’t applied in the first place since American can see it is on my account.  The answer I got was, they are sure if you would want to apply it to that flight or some later flight.  So, why didn’t they ask?  It isn’t their responsibility was the response.

I was left speechless.  I just have this illusion of credit hanging out there with a bunch of ifs attached to it.  There is no focus on the customer from American and trying to make their experience a pleasurable one.  They are solely focused on what makes it easy for them, not the customer.  I can’t believe a system/process was designed that can’t handle a credit added to it after booking a flight.

People wonder why the airline industry is struggling.  It isn’t hard to see when you have a focus on customer first, not profits first.  The airline companies don’t seem to understand that by focusing on making the experience great for a customer the profit will come.

Enough venting for today.  Have a great day!