Category Archives: Leadership

Failure Is Not An Option…

…it is Mandatory!

I tell my kids that if they haven’t failed then they aren’t learning.  Because if you succeed the first time all the time, then you are only applying what you already know.

Where has that gone in the business world?  Companies can’t be afraid to try a new product and not fail with it.  Or a new process to create the product.  Or anything that can create new learning.

Part of the reason is people still don’t know how to fail.  I’m not saying all in on one thing and only go live with the new after having it “perfect.”

Companies have to learn how to put something new out there.  Learn from it quickly and then make changes to improve it.

If companies won’t put a truly new product out there or use a creative new process, then what are they learning?

The better question may be, “When are they going to get passed?”

Fail and learn as quickly as possible so the learning can used and the company can be in better place.


Collaboration Does NOT Equal Consensus

Two words that seemed to get interchanged in business are consensus and collaboration.  These words are not the same.  Definitions pulled from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Consensus: a general agreement about something : an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group

Collaboration: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

Consensus means getting everyone to agree.  This is what happens when a jury goes to deliberate on a case.  They must come to a consensus or it is a hung jury.

Collaboration is working together towards a common goal.

People can work together towards a common goal without agreeing on the method.

In today’s world, collaboration is a must for much of what people do.  People must work together to understand a customer’s needs and then develop and manufacture that product.  If consensus had to happen before any work was started, work would never get completed.

Have you ever worked on a team where someone tried to get consensus before moving on?  It can be painstaking.  Especially, when there are varying opinions.  This is where a leader steps in and makes decisions that sometimes are very tough.

Good leaders know the difference between collaboration and consensus.  They know when consensus is important and when it is not needed.

Do you interchange the two?

What Experiences Are You Giving Your Employees?

People behave based on their experiences at work and in life.  If a person has been mistreated by someone close to them, it may be hard for them to trust others.  If a person is being told how valuable they are to the company, then people may have a positive attitude when going to work.

I worked with a group a few years ago during an improvement event that had bad experiences with past managers on trying new things.  The team had no problem identifying a lot of great improvement ideas.  When I said it was time to start working on implementing them, they sat and stared at me with confused looks.

The team refused.  Thy said it was not their place.  The manager would not allow it.  After five minutes of discussion and no progress, I called the manager into the improvement event.

I asked him, in front of the team, if it was alright if the team tried the suggested improvements.  The manager said, “Absolutely.  We can test anything the team believed would help.”

It still took a few minutes to convince the team, but in the end they made the improvements and started becoming more engaged.

The team had so many bad experiences they were guarded and didn’t trust the new manager.  The team finally got a new, positive experience and mindsets slowly began to change.

What experiences are you giving your employees?  Are they experiences to exhibit the behavior you want to see out of them?

What Direction Are You Heading?

It’s really hard to get anywhere if you don’t know where you are heading.

Every organization needs a direction.  A true north.

True north is why the organization exists.  It is it’s purpose.  When everyone in the organization understands aligns to that purpose it becomes very powerful.  Everyone pulling towards that true north creates better, faster results.

A true north is not something that changes annually or  even every few years.  A good true north is something that doesn’t change for 20 or more years.  The graphic below is from Joe Murli.  It shows how true north guides your business.


To develop a true north, the organization has to understand what and how it’s customers, employees, investors and community view the organization.

Ask, “What do we aspire to be that will differentiate us in the marketplace?”

That marketplace could be the consumers or it could be another internal department that is served.

Is everyone in your organization heading in the same direction?  What is your true north?


Toyota: Deliver the highest quality, lowest cost automobile in the safest manner while demonstrating respect for people and society.

Internal department of a company from my past: Internal manufacturing is the supplier of choice for product A and product B.


Introverts or Extroverts as Continuous Improvement Leaders

Today’s post is from a guest blogger.  Connie Tolman has a career that has spanned the aerospace, military, medical device and biotechnology industries in Southern California.  Her career has been in Manufacturing Engineering until last year.  She implemented lean manufacturing practices in the 80’s, moved to Six Sigma with GE Healthcare in the 90’s, Lean Sigma in the early 2000’s and was introduced to Toyota Production System Lean in 2007 which is her current passion.  Connie is currently working as a Continuous Improvement Manager at a biotechnology company in San Diego.  

A friend of mind just got a job at Simpler, a very well thought of Lean Consultant Company.  To get the job he had to go through a very thorough and intense process which included Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment personality tests, giving a speech to a group of professionals and review of his technical knowledge.

A brief summary of Myers-Briggs personality test  is that  it looks at these different aspects of the personality:

  • Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I),
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N),
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

He scored high on the extrovert aspect.  She said “if you had scored as an introvert, I don’t think you’d be good at continuous improvement”.  This struck me hard since right now I’m in the middle of evaluating those qualities in myself which started with reading the book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  She now has a revolution on her hands after her TED talk by the same name – here is her website if interested  To determine where you are in the continuum, the most basic question is “How do you get energized?  From being alone in nature/reading a book or being with a group of people at a party?”

It turns out that there is a bias towards extroverts in our society.  I have found that I am mixed between the two – that is what my Meyers Briggs score says and my astrology chart also (if that means anything to any of you science types).  So, I felt inferior right off the bat.  If I can’t go in there and be aggressive and forward with people, maybe I’m not good at continuous improvement, operations excellence, whatever you call it.  If I can’t lead a kaizen with flair and good old fashioned pushiness, maybe I’m not good at lean.

Susan Cain says we are all a combination of both, but those who take a little time and think things through have great value.   It is important to be able to be the big, noticeable person but as or maybe more important to listen to others, to think things through and come up with the brainstorm that changes the way things are looked at.  We emphasize empowerment in lean which requires listening and giving away power, not taking the spotlight all to yourself.  All of these things are the qualities of an introvert.

So I think that both are needed and it is our goal as lean professionals to stretch the side that isn’t our natural strength.  Extraverts need to listen more.  Introverts need to be more of a cheerleader and be able to energize groups.

How Do You Help Leaders See the Change That Is Needed?

For today’s post, I am wanting the readers’ responses to help fill in the gaps on this topic.  It is one that I struggle with and thought a discussion here might be good.

What do you do when change is needed but no one will change?

I know.  The question seems pretty simple, right?  Leave the situation because it won’t get better.  People can be so stubborn so why fight it.

It isn’t that simple.

An organization is struggling mightily.  Going the way of GM in the early 2000’s.  Everyone in the organization sees the need for change and agrees that change is needed.

Not small change.  Big change is needed.  A different way of seeing and executing the business.

Lean is being “implemented” in the organization, so the leaders sanction a team to review a process and come up with a better way of doing the work.  The team develops a “new” process.  The process is the same as they are doing right now but with a technology fix.  When pushed by lean change agents to look for bigger change the team says they are good with what they have described themselves as “how we do it today, but with a central storage location.”

This one idea is a great one and on that is much needed but it won’t change the way the organization does business.

The concerning part was doing an interim report out the leaders who sanctioned the work were good with this.  They couldn’t even see all the waste that was left on the table to eliminate.

During the final report out some of the other leaders pushed on some bigger changes, but most of that was due to the lean change agents prepping the leaders to ask the harder questions.

So.  What do you do when everyone agrees dramatic change is needed but no one can see or envision what that might even look like?

I understand that not everyone can see it, but usually they are open to suggestions.  I see this as a leadership issue.  Leaders need to be able to see the change and help build the burning platform.  Some can see it.  But the extra push isn’t there.

What would you do?

One Man’s Lean Journey: Discovering Lean for the First Time

My time at Thomson Consumer Electronics came to an abrupt end as the company went from 2,000 people in the U.S. to 250 people in a years time. I got a job with Guardian Automotive. The facility I was hired into specialized in exterior plastic trim. Guardian’s customers included almost everyone during the five years I was there: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Harley-Davidson, BMW, International and Freightliner to name a few.

The first few months was very frustrating. My manager and I were trying to make process changes that made since to us in order to reduce WIP. We wanted to move assembly next to the paint lines so there was no paint inventory, but people fought this at every turn.

Then a big change happened. Guardian got a new VP of manufacturing and he brought in his director of lean. We were going to be a lean company. After years of studying Shingo and using lean tools, this was the first time I had heard the term “lean”.

Everyone got pulled off-site for an intro to lean and a hands-on balloon simulation showing pull vs push. During the simulation, I leaned over to my manager and whispered, “This is what we have been trying to do for months with the paint lines.” I was anxious to see how things would go now. The couple hour simulation was the extent of our lean training. We were told to “go do”.

Talk about ‘deer in the headlights’ after that. No real training and being told to “go be lean”.

The first thing my manager and I did was re-establish the idea of connecting the assembly area to the paint lines. We discussed it with the plant manager and how it would be like the balloon simulation. We had his support and were able to complete the work within a few weeks.

Over the next few years, the facility became a lean playground for myself, Joe Wilson (who also blogs on Beyond Lean), and our manager. We learned something, tried it, screwed it up, fixed it and made huge progress.

Our time was a huge success in that the plant went from $500k in the red on $120 million sales to $8.5 million in the black on $90 million sales in three years. But it was a huge failure as well. We had phenomenal support to make the changes we did, but we didn’t change the leadership’s thinking. After we all left the plant was back in the red in about a year.

I don’t say that to too our own horn, but as a lesson in how important it is to change people’s thinking and behaviors in order to sustain the change.

I will be diving deeper into my experiences at Guardian moving forward.


  • It is critical to not only have the support of leadership but to change their mindsets and behaviors in order to maintain the changes during a lean implementation
  • Top down support makes an enormous difference in the work you can accomplish and the time to accomplish it

One Man’s Lean Journey: Creating a Pull Factory…EPIC FAIL!

Let’s have fun with this post. See how many things we did wrong in starting this new manufacturing facility and circle them. Hint: circle the entire post.

To this day, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this work because of all the learning that I didn’t come to realize until years later.

I was a 21-year-old intern and had been selected by my manager to help design a brand new manufacturing facility in Mexico. There are only three people involved in this “top secret” plan. My manager, a consultant with an extensive computer simulation background and myself.

The goal was to design the first pull manufacturing facility in the company based on Demand Flow Technology (or DFT). DFT is one person’s interpretation of lean and how production lines need to be flexible enough to run every product at any time. Studying DFT would serve me well later in my career. I also gained a lot of experience in computer simulation of facilities.

I designed a spreadsheet that calculated the storage space required for every component and finished good across the facility based on production rates and size of components and product. This was an input into the simulation to help determine the size of the building.

We finished the design, ground was broken and I went back to school for a semester.

The new facility was opened a couple of weeks before I returned for another session of my internship.

(Pay attention here because this is my favorite part)

The Mexico facility was replacing a local U.S. facility. The company shut the U.S. facility down on a Friday and started up the new facility in Mexico on the following Monday. No ramp up for the new facility. It started it’s first production after the other facility was shutdown. There was no training of management or employees on what a “pull” facility meant and how it would be different. It was a “here is a new pull facility go run it like you ran other facilities.”

Within a month, there were over 115 tractor trailers on the parking lot storing components and finished goods. Inside the facility, finished goods were piled in any opening they could find. Television sets that were supposed to be stacked three high were six high and leaning over about ready fall. It was a complete disaster.

My manager and I were called to the floor. We were told our design and space requirements were wrong and we needed to go to Mexico and fix the problem.

I spent two days pouring over my calculations and could not find a single thing that was wrong. We got to the facility and spent a few days watching production, examining the inbound and outbound process and locating parts in the facility and in the parking lot. It became very clear that no management practices had been changed and the facility was operating in traditional batch push system.

We spent a month helping to change a few processes and get the inventory under a manageable control, but the overall solution from the high powered executives was to expand the building and keep operating as is. Not change the management practices and improve the processes.

I can’t understate what a disaster this was. Truly an enormous cluster. It was a few years later when I was leading a lean transformation in automotive that I realized how valuable that experience was.


  • Having only three people involved in the design of a new facility, especially going from push to pull, is a very bad idea. It should be a larger collaborative effort. This will even help with buy-in a when the changes are made.
  • Simulations are an incredible tool, but are useless when you simulate one set of assumptions and another is put into practice
  • Absolutely no ramp up time for the new facility…Really!?! I am still speechless on this one.
  • If you are switching from a push to a pull system, you have to train everyone from the plant manager down on how this is different and how to manage in the new system. This is crucial.
  • There must be knowledgeable support for the entire facility when going from push to pull. Help everyone work through the kinks of the new processes and not allow them to fall back on old ways.
  • Most important, when something goes wrong, learn and change to improve don’t fall back to old ways just because it is comfortable. In this case, it cost millions to expand the facility instead of learning new processes.


As a person helping others implement lean, there is no better feeling than knowing things have been sustained and benefits gained.

I recently had a walk through with a team I have been working with for 10 months.  The most rewarding part of the walk was seeing that 90% of the things we have talked about and the team implemented has not faltered. 5S to daily metrics to visual management.  It all has sustained.

What is different about here vs other places I have been?

1. The leadership commitment.  The managers have been involved and leading the effort.  Not supporting the effort.  This does not mean they are making all the decisions and doing all the work.  They are getting people involved and auditing to make sure the improvements are sticking.

2. Leadership is involving the employees.  Leadership is asking what improvements the employees need and what they feel is most important.  Then clearing a path so the employees can help make those improvements.  Showing the employees their ideas and thoughts do matter.

3. Leadership is hungry to learn and improve.  The leadership wants to understand more and learn themselves.  They do not think lean is for “someone else to do.”

It sounds simple, but if it was everyone would be doing it and doing it well.

How are you sustaining your lean improvements?

Always Be Improving

“If it’s not improving, it’s degrading”
— Toyota

This is a quote that I found a few years ago from someone at Toyota. I find this to be a very powerful quote.

The quote implies there is no status quo. As an organization, a process or a person, you are either improving or degrading.

Some will make the argument that their metrics are holding steady and haven’t moved; therefore, they are holding in a constant state or in status quo. And that may be true, but while you are holding there are others that are improving. This is degrading your status.

A great example of this is GM. The maintained what they were doing for years, while Toyota kept improving, slowly degrading GM’s status over time until Toyota passed them.

We should be working to improve at all times. Being satisfied with where we are at does nothing but cause problems down the road.

How are you pushing to improve everyday? Every year?