Monthly Archives: November 2012

Confronting Leaders About Their Decisions

How is the culture in your organization when it comes to confronting upper management about decisions or direction that may hurt the company?  Does your culture allow employees to push back on upper management about a decision?  Or does your culture shy away from pushing back afraid the manager will get angry or upset and hold it against them for bringing it up?

We can’t allow our cultures to be afraid to bring up decisions that may be costing the company money.  We have to have the fortitude to raise the question and challenge it appropriately.  I’m not suggesting to confront leadership with every decision or to do it in an emotional way because you have passion about the decision.

There is a proper way to raise an issue.

  1. Understand the Current State – Understand what the decision was and how it is understood to help the organization (grow revenue, cut cost,etc…).  List the ways the decision is affecting the organization in a negative manner (Causing cost in another area).
  2. Gather the Facts – Once you have the list of the benefits and negative impacts you need to quantify them.  How much revenue is the decision actually generating?  How much cost are we saving?  What is the cost in the area being impacted negatively?  How much rework is the decision causing?
  3. Make a Recommendation – If you believe a decision is not what is best for the organization then that suggests you have an idea of what would be better.  What is the recommendation you have?  Quantify what you believe the results would be?  Why do you believe that?
  4. Get Your Ducks in a Row – Think of different angles upper management could take.  What are the facts around those options?  Would they say, “Become more efficient in the other are.”?  If so, how would you become more efficient?  What would it cost to implement the efficient way?  What would be the savings?  When would it pay back?
  5. Present Your Case – Set up a meeting with necessary people and present your findings.  Do it in a business-like manner and stick to the facts.  Don’t let emotion control the discussion.

I have found over the years that approaching situations in this manner usually brings out a great discussion and upper management respects the way you handled the situation.

Nobody likes to be lectured about how the decision they made was wrong.  It can be disrespectful.  Show them it isn’t emotional.  It is factual.  A lot of times they may not have known what their decision was doing to another area or that it was actually costing the company money looking end-to-end.

I have approached different leaders in this manner several times over the years and all but one case the leader changed their decision once they saw the facts.  The other time they still stuck with their decision which was their choice since they were the leader and the decision maker but at least the facts were presented.

How does your organization handle situations like this?


Twinkies GONE!!

Hostess is filing for bankruptcy and going out of business.  There will be no more Twinkies.  I know this news is over a week old now.  I am behind.

My first thought when hearing the news was, “No Twinkies! No Cupcakes! No Ding Dongs! Ahhhhhhhhhh!”  I absolutely love all of those.  My daughter was distraught because the mini-donuts are a staple for our family as we travel on vacation.

I will miss those snacks.  I’m sure someone will buy the rights to the recipes and the brand names.  All will be good probably sometime next year.

My second thought was, “That company must have been horribly mismanaged!”

The Hostess brand of snacks were consistently much more expensive in the grocery store than comparable snacks.  Yet, people bought them up…me included.  Every time I went to the cash register to pay for some Twinkies I thought, “Wow!  They have got to be making a ton of money.”  Then to find out they aren’t.  What a shame!

With the brand recognition and the price they charged, how could you not make money.  I was going to dig into it a little bit but before I could I read Anatomy of a Twinkie by Bill Waddell over on Evolving Excellence.  It was a great post and answered a lot of questions.

From the post:

  • 57% of their costs: Administrative, Overhead, Selling, Distribution, Depreciation, Other
  • 28% of their costs: Ingredients, Packaging
  • 15% of their costs: Factory Labor

I think that answers all the questions about mismanagement.  It is a shame.  Cut out the waste and leave what only adds value for the consumer and I bet they would have made a ton of money.  I bet whoever buys the recipes will be more efficient and make a great profit from Hostess’ demise.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  A day to stop and give thanks for things in life.

I would like to pause and thank Joe Wilson for joining Beyond Lean this year as an author.  He has made great contributions.  Here are just a few of my favorites:

I also want to thank all the readers.  Without you, Beyond Lean wouldn’t be here.  Thanks for taking time out of your day to read what we post here.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Listen to the Customer Input

The main tenet of lean is to deliver value for your customer.  The customer is someone that uses the product or service whether it is internal or external.  The customer helps to define if something is value added or not.  It is critically important to listen to the customer and understand their needs and how to deliver that value.

Sometimes the designer of the product/service can get too caught up in what they want to deliver to the customer or what they believe they need and miss what the customer needs.  When this happens the customer can become frustrated and will not adopt or use the product/service.  This leads to less credibility of the designer.  Over time people will go around or cut out the designer.

An example.  A group of designers build a process without input from the users of the process.  When rolled out the users don’t use the new process because it is not a process that can not be executed in reality.  The designers should have had the users of the process in the sessions helping to build the new process.  During this time, the designers should be listening to the users and asking questions to gain clarity of what would work not trying to convince the users of how they should work based on their thoughts.

There is a fine line (or grey area) though.  The designers should ask questions and push for improvement where they think it can happen, but with input from the users.  If you are taking the time to improve something then push for all the improvement you can get.  The designers should help to do this.  It is a fine line to walk but when the designer crosses over it is usually easy to tell.

The customer input is the most important part of designing anything.  A product.  A service.  A technology.  A process.  Anything.  Listen.  Ask clarifying questions.  Understand the customer needs.  Deliver value for the customer.

Guest Post: The Manufacturing Institute

Today’s guest post is written by The Manufacturing Institute, an independent charity in the UK. They deliver a wide range of high quality education, training and consultancy services to build operational excellence in manufacturing companies – whether its through innovative thinking, lean transformation or skills enhancement. They also deliver charitable campaigns such as Make It and Fab Lab which help to improve the image of manufacturing amongst young individuals and drive grassroots innovation. You can visit their website at

Typically, I don’t have guest posts promoting a business or organization. This one I felt was a good fit because it is a non-profit organization focusing on developing manufacturing. It is UK based, but I think what they are doing could be used by other countries to help their manufacturing efforts as well.

Companies Can Inspire, Educate and Develop Their Workforce with the Manufacturing Institute

The manufacturing industry is one which obviously demands a strong work ethic from its members, with some tasks being extremely laborious and highly skilled. With dangerous machinery, long hours and a hazardous environment all playing their part in many areas of the sector – it is of paramount important for employers to find staff who are motivated, inspired and proactive.

Training Programmes

With this in mind, the Manufacturing Institute plays a key role as an independent charity established to aid this process via a system of courses and programmes. Their work has been instrumental for firms across the United Kingdom as they look to improve, inspire and appropriately educate their workforces. The comprehensive range of training programmes available build operational excellence by encouraging pragmatic thought process, lean transformation, skills enhancement, the improvement of process and leadership development.

Make It and Fab Lab

In addition to this the Manufacturing Institute promotes operational excellence through a number of charitable campaigns such as Make It and Fab Lab. These encourage skilled youngsters to help improve the image of manufacturing as a vocation and promote grassroots innovation.

Manufacturing Careers

The Manufacturing Institute website contains a wealth of information for any individuals interested in their work and training. Whether this is youngsters looking to get into manufacturing as a career or existing manufacturers wanting to develop their already existing skillsets – the videos, documents and content at will make an enthralling read. One such news item which has been gaining a lot of exposure of late is the Six Sigma Green Belt, a hands on course focused on eliminating waste and increasing efficiency across the whole operation and along the supply chain.

Shingo Model & Prize

TMI are also the only UK educational partner for the Shingo Model and Prize. This outfit provides manufacturing companies with a blueprint to achieve the best possible operational excellence and also promotes the drive lean transformation, going hand in hand with the wider Manufacturing Institute ethos.

Further background to the kinds of work undertaken at The Manufacturing Institute can also be followed via the site’s comprehensive news section. This is updated on a regular basis with up to date news on the goings on at the charity as well as wider news in the manufacturing industry across the United Kingdom. Manufacturing enthusiasts can also subscribe to the TMI newsletter to ensure they do not miss a single news item.

This article was written on behalf of independent charity The Manufacturing Institute from the UK.

Great Direct Observation…A Quirk?

Last season a favorite TV show of mine had it’s final season (House).  This season a new show has started that I am enjoying quite a bit (Elementary).  The common thread in both shows is the main character is enthralled with solving the mystery.  The main tool they use is direct observation.  They are incredibly keen with what they see and what it means.

A trait both main characters share is the lack of social grace.  They can be considered jerks with the way they ask questions.  Yet, people overlook this because they solve the mystery.

I know these are TV shows, but to be that great at directly observing work, do you have to forget about social grace?  Does it allow the person ask more direct questions easier?  I don’t think so.  I may not be Dr. House or Sherlock Holmes but people can observe without losing their social grace.  I just find it interesting how TV portrays people with a keen skill for directly observing.

What are your thoughts?  Do you believe a person can ask questions and directly observe without being a jerk and do it at an extraordinary level?

Process Before Technology

Before I start, technology is a wonderful thing.  It has helped to make processes more efficient and work to be done much easier.

With that being said, before technology is used or put into place, the processes that technology will support should be examined.  Take the time to create a value stream map or a process map and examine the process for waste.  Design the future state of the process.  Then define what are the changes where technology is not needed and what changes where technology is needed.

The technology should be designed to support the process.  Not the process designed to support the technology.  This is an issue that occurs quite often.

Improving the process first creates a better understanding what is truly needed from the technology.  A company can save a lot of money by improving the process first because technology may not be needed at all or fewer components may be needed than originally thought.  Also, if your put technology into a bad process all you have done is make a bad process go faster.  That means you are throwing away money faster than you before because of the waste in the process.

The key to remember is the technology should support the process.  We shouldn’t be putting in technology as a substitute to better the process.

Technology is here to stay.  We should use it to our advantage, but we should use it correctly to support our processes, not to define them.

Guest Post: The Role of Protection in Preventing Injuries

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

Many businesses, factories and corporations are picking up on lean manufacturing processes. Lean manufacturing focuses on cutting waste and other unnecessary parts of production to efficiently build a product that is focused on providing value to customers. This involves looking at a product from the consumer’s perspective and removing anything that is not necessary for a good user experience.

Overall, lean manufacturing is designed to save money while still delivering a valuable final product. However, it is very important to note the difference between lean manufacturing and “cutting corners.” Lean process promotes removal of waste for the sake of efficiency; it does not promote the cutting of vital parts of production. It could be argued that the most vital part of any production line is safety. Good safety ensures the health and well being of factory workers and saves manufacturers money in the long run by preventing injuries. With a necessary investment upfront, good safety measures can become a central part of any lean operation.


Technology continues to advance, which not only makes the work done within factories easier, but also allows factories to be safer places for employees to work. Certainly, robotics has made production quicker and safer, as robots can complete jobs that may be dangerous to humans. Protecting those human employees has become easier, as well. New developments in the equipment employees wear allow them to be kept safer on the job while improving functionality. Safety goggles are becoming increasingly stronger while still allowing clarity, and flame retardant suits are continuing to evolve in safety standards. While these innovative technologies evolve, they are not in all cases becoming more expensive. In fact, new technologies can sometimes come in the form of cheaper materials, providing greater safety at a lower price point.


Of course, preventive measures and practices play a significant role in making a work environment safer. Having protective equipment onsite at all times is necessary to providing safety. To keep with lean practices, it may be necessary to establish a vendor-managed inventory system so that you never run out of any protective equipment you require. Once a vendor establishes the inventory system, you can implement lean 5S tactics—Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain—to keep everything in proper order. Using 5S to establish a good inventory system provides safer environments by preventing clutter and saves employees time in their search. That said, properly training employees on where to get the protective equipment and how to properly use it is also important.


Lean processes put an emphasis on the streamlined design of a plant. Given the number of specific machines and other tools needed to complete projects, factories and plants can easily become cluttered and poorly designed. As employees need to move through other parts of a plant in order to complete their jobs, they are increasing the likelihood of injury. By creating a smooth transition from one piece of a job to the next and organizing each area, employees are less likely to run into hazards when on the job.

Do you have your own safety guidelines that also work to help your bottom line? Do you have questions about implementing cost-effective protection and prevention measures? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

You Must Teach a Man to Fish

“Give a man fish and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

This quote comes to mind when thinking about my role as a lean transformation leader.  Lean is about how we think and behave.  I don’t want to just do things differently.  I want to teach and coach others how to think and behave in a way that aligns with the lean principles.  There are two major reason for this.

Reason 1

I want the changes that I make to be sustainable.  If the people involved in the changes don’t think in a lean way then at some point the changes will not be sustained.  The metrics/results/process will slide backwards.  In my experience, it slides at least to the previous state if not even further backwards.

The best example is a manufacturing facility that Joe and I worked at together.  At one point, the facility was in the red with revenue over $100 million.  The company decided to “go lean”.  Joe and I, as well as another friend of ours, were tasked with leading the lean initiative in our facility.  We became part of the plant staff.  The plant manager and the department managers listened to what we had to say.  They let us lead the lean initiative. Joe and I did a lot of great things from a lean perspective.  In three years, the plant was in the seven figure profit range while revenue had dropped 25%.

This was a collaborative effort to use lean.  Everyone played a part in the success.  But in a big way, Joe and I failed.  We both moved on to bigger and better opportunities.  During the turnaround of the facility we did not change the way the plant manager and department managers thought.  When some traditional mindsets started to creep back in, we were there to guide back to a lean mindset, but we never really changed their beliefs.  We hadn’t taught them to fish.  Within a couple of years, the facility was back in the red and back to traditional batch-and-queue mass production manufacturing.  The results were not sustainable.

Reason 2

The second reason overlaps with the first.  When you transform another person’s thinking, not only will results be sustainable, you have another person who can educate and transform the thinking of others.  The lean thinking allegiance starts to spread.  Instead of one person trying to transform thinking, you now have two.  And so it spreads.

Transforming people for traditional ways of thinking to lean ways of thinking is not easy.  The better the support system that is built the easier it is to continue to transform people’s thinking.  There are times when a great support system is very reassuring.

These are the two biggest reasons why transforming the thinking is just as important as delivering the changes, driving results.