Category Archives: Tools

Try Q-Storming Instead of Brainstorming

Have you ever been stuck on a project?  Don’t know where to go?  Looking for ideas?

A common tool people will use in groups to help with get things moving will be to brainstorm.  The problem with brainstorming is it helps people converge on a particular answer.

People will put up any and all ideas they have already thought about.  Then ideas are voted on to narrow the field.  When finished the group ends up with a handful or less of ideas from the person with the strongest voice in the room.  Typically, these ideas are along the lines of the current direction of the work.

What if you don’t want to limit yourself in your thinking?  Come up with idea(s) that haven’t been thought of yet.

Have you tried Q-storming?  Instead of ideas, think of as many questions as the group come up with.  In a recent exercise, the group came up with over 30 questions about the work to be done.

It caused the group to dig in more and find answers to some very good questions.  The door was opened to several different ways to attach the problem.  Some of which were not even on the radar before the q-storming.  The team was able to shatter some assumptions.  Allowing them to work in a new way.  It was very freeing.

If you want your thinking to diverge from norm then try Q-storming.  Or if you have a need to converge your thinking use brainstorming.

How to Observe

Last blog, I talked about the most important lean tool being the eyes.  The eyes allow a person to the reality of what is happening and gather facts.

So, if direct observation is important then how should a person go about doing it?

Here are a few pointers I have picked up along the way:

  • Have a purpose before you go out to observe.  Are you going out to see a particular problem?  Are you going to audit a specific process?  Is there a process you trying to improve?  A specific type of waste you are looking for?  Whatever your purpose, understand it before you go out to observe.
  • Explain what you are doing.  People get cautious and worried when someone is just standing to the side watching their every move.  Tell them why you are there and ask them to explain anything they feel is important.
  • Be in the moment. Don’t answer the phone.  Don’t start other conversations.  Just observe.  Stand in one area and watch what is happening with scrutinizing intent.
  • Ask clarifying questions.  If you need to better understand something, ask the person doing the work questions.  Don’t leave without having answers to your questions.
  • Take notes.  You are there for a purpose, so write down what you need to remember.  Notes of what you observed are your facts.
  • Take prompt action.  Don’t wait days to do anything with the facts you have gathered.  Things change quickly so use what have you seen before the facts become outdated.

Good luck and happy observation!

Error Proofing the Lights

What are some of the biggest wastes in a hotel or a resort?  The first answer that comes to mind is the waste of water.  Washing towels that may not need to be cleaned.  Many hotels and resorts reduced the water used to wash towels by asking guests to put dirty towels on the floor and hang ones that are clean.  It has become a fairly common practice.

So, what is the second biggest waste for a hotel or resort?  How about the consumption of electricity?  Have you ever left your room and left a light on or the TV going?  Earlier this month, I was on vacation at a large beach resort with over around 1,000 rooms.  Imagine if half of them left a light on in the room for 3 hrs extra a day.  That is a large bill.

The resort I was staying at found a way to error proof this and cut down their electricity consumption.  The picture below shows how they did this.

Light Switch

The slot on the right is for the room key card.  You have to slide the key into the slot to activate the electricity in the room.  The guests could then use the lights, TV and ceiling fans.  You always need your key when you leave the room (unless someone is still in the room), so you pull the key out and the electricity in the room is deactivated.

It was simple to use and made the right thing easy and the wrong thing very difficult.

Have you seen any other error proofing methods to save electricity?

Everything You Need to Know About 5S

Tony Ferraro, a friend and fellow blogger, at Creative Safety Supply has created a great resource for 5S.  It is a single source to learn about 5S. Here is a link to the website: 5S Study and Research Page.

There are several sections to the page:

  • What is 5S?
  • Origins of 5S
  • Why 5S?
  • Employee involvement
  • How to get started
  • Common misconceptions
  • Each step of 5S defined
  • Understanding the sixth S – safety
  • Tools for 5S

Tony reached out to many in the lean community to help build the page.  I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to give input into this great resource.

I would recommend it for anyone learning about 5S as a great place to understand what it is and how to get started with implementation.  There are plenty of great visuals as well.  Here is the link again: 5S Study and Research Page.

Take the 10 minutes to watch the lean parody posted on the page as well.  It is very funny.

Great work, Tony!

Error Proofing Swedish Style

I was at IKEA the other week and saw the best error proofing for cart safety.  If you haven’t been to an IKEA store, it is massive.  The parking for our store is ground level and the store is on the second and third levels.  Elevators are used to help get the carts down to the ground level as well as an escalator.  The shopping carts have suction cups on the wheels that engage as you get on the flat escalator.

For safety reasons, IKEA does not want customers to take the flatbed carts down the escalator.  Products could slide off and cause an accident.  In line with the traditional mindset, there are signs posted showing a normal shopping cart is OK to take down the escalator and the flatbeds are not.

In a lean error proofing mindset, IKEA made it impossible to take the flatbeds down the escalator.

IKEA_CartsThere are two poles that are four foot high as you enter the escalator.  The normal shopping cart fits through the poles with a couple of inches to spare.  The flatbed cart is made to be angled out wider so it can’t fit.  The poles are also positioned so neither cart can enter from the side.

It was a great system that a lean person can truly appreciate.

One Man’s Lean Journey: My First Kanban System

Working for the automotive supplier, I had moved from industrial engineer to program manager and now into the lean group. The lean group comprised of just myself and one other, Joe Wilson who has contributed here at Beyond Lean.

One of our first assignments was to implement a plant-wide kanban system in 4 weeks. It was a mandate that came down from our Vice President to all the plants. In that short time, Joe and I had to learn about kanban, devise a system, create a simulation to teach 500 employees and implement the system.

Good thing we were young and full of energy back then, because I don’t know how we did it but we did. We developed kanban cards by color signifying which department the card need to return to in order to place the order for more parts. We then created a very simple Lego simulation. The simulation was good for 5-6 people at a time and allowed each person to be hands in order to create better learning. We also used the exact kanban card that we were going to put on the shop floor for the simulation so the employees got used to seeing them and could give feedback on them. We then trained 500 people on the simulation, five at a time across three shifts.

One rule we stressed the employees was, “Do NOT violate the kanban!” If you don’t have a card, you don’t build. Even if you know cards are in the internal customer’s hand and haven’t been brought to you. That holds the customer accountable for “ordering” the parts from the supplying department.

Everyone was ready to go live on our due date and we nailed it. Not saying there weren’t problems, but we hit the date and people were trying their best to follow the new procedures.

Then it happened. Our go-live date was mid-June. If you are familiar with the auto industry, everyone shuts down for retooling for a week or two around July 4th. So one week into the kanban system, our management was telling everyone to violate the kanban in order to build the bank of parts for the few shipments we have during the two week shutdown.

Yep. Violate the Number 1 Rule right out of the gate. It caused Joe and I a lot of rework after shutdown to get the kanban system back up and running. In the end, it worked well thanks to the great employees and the management support, but the false start didn’t help.


  • Building the bank of parts for shutdown was the correct thing to do at July 4th. What we need to be more conscious of is when we start something. It would have been better to start the kanban training after shutdown so we didn’t have the false start and have management telling everyone to violate the number 1 rule right off the bat.
  • We made kanban cards that were small. 4 inches x 3 inches or so. Cards were get dropped and lost quite a bit. It is better to make larger kanban cards (8 inches x 6 inches). It is harder to lose these because they are easier to see and don’t fit in pockets without folding a laminated card.
  • Creating a simulation that allowed everyone to be hands-on and using the actual kanban card from the floor really helped to create learning, understanding and good dialogue with the employees.

My Continuous Improvement: Personal Kanban – 5th Revision a Success!

In the past, I have posted several times about my experiments with kanban boards for my personal work.  Below are the links to past posts.

The last post shows my failed experiment using Trello.  I kept hearing other people say how much they liked Trello and how it well it worked for them.  It has been about a year since I last tried Trello, so I thought I would give it another shot.

First, I reflected on why Trello didn’t work the first time so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.  There were two things that caused me quit using Trello.  The first was how I separated my work.  I had a board for each project.  I had three projects so that would put my total WIP at 6 (max of 2 for each project).  I had a hard time prioritizing my work and I was flipping between boards constantly.

The second thing I couldn’t work out was a way to include my weekly blog posts.  I got tired of writing the exact same kanban card every week (“Write Blog Post”).

If Trello was going to work for me, I had to be able to deal with these two situations.

In the end, I realized I was making it too complicated.  One board and using the labels would work for me.

New Trello Kanban Board

New Trello Kanban Board – Click image to enlarge

I create five columns to organize my work.

  • Posts to Be Written: This is a list of blog posts with the idea for the post written on each card.  I can move this over to my Doing column when I am ready to write.  It is a visual reminder to mix in my blog posts with my other work.
  • Queue: A list of work to be done.  The color labels in the top left-hand corner signify the type of work or the project.
  • Doing: This is what I am currently working on with a WIP limit of 2
  • Pen: This is a kanban card that is blocked from moving because I am waiting on work or information from someone else.  I put a WIP limit of 3 on this and it seems to work for me.
  • Done: When the work is complete the kanban card goes in this column.  I archive the cards at the beginning of every week.

It’s not fancy, but it is effective.  I now have access to my board at anytime, either on my computer, phone or tablet.  So, if I remember something I can add it right away.

Are you using personal kanban?  If so, how do you have yours set up?

Kanban for Your Desktop

Many of you may know that I have experimented with personal kanban boards, traditional and digital.  In fact, I will have another update in a few weeks.

Today, I wanted to share with you an idea I saw but have not tried.  It is using the desktop screen on the computer as a kanban board.

You can save a .jpg file of a kanban board as your Desktop background.  This creates a permanent background to move Post-Its around on to show your flow of work.


Click on image to enlarge

You can then use the Post-It program that comes on Microsoft PCs now as your kanban cards and move them around, like you would on a physical board.

If you are a person who likes to have a lot of shortcuts on your desktop, then this can present an issue, because the Post-Its will cover up your shortcuts.

Another pointer I got from a different person, was to use the color of the Post-It to signify if you have completed a weekly task for this week.



For the first week, you can have the Post-It in blue and move it across your board.  When it is time for the second week, you can change the Post-It color to green and move back to the queue.

If someone has tried this or does try it, I would love to hear about it.  Leave a comment below or email me through the Contact page.

On my Downloads page, you can download the .jpg file of the kanban board pictured above.

Visual Board for Production Standards

I have been working with one group on how to make there work more visual.  Show production goals versus actual production.  Make safety standards clear.  Highlight any problems to help them improve.

The supervisor of the area was on person leave when I was helping the area.  Upon her return, she liked what we had done.  In fact, she liked the idea so much that she made a visual board for another area where she is the supervisor.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

What was the problem she was trying to solve?  Employees were always asking what their goal for the day was.  Employees would leave their work station and abandon their work to find the supervisor just to ask what the goal was.  The supervisor posted this board in the work area.

This reminds of Gwendolyn Galsworth’s book Visual Workplace Visual Thinking.  One of the questions of the visual workplace is “What do I need to share?”.  Goals and standards were something this supervisor needed to share with her team.

The board is simple and effective.

What have you made visual? What do you need to share?

Book Review: Value Stream Mapping

Karen Martin and Mike Osterling are consultants that have been helping companies with seeing their business through a different lens.  Karen and Mike have co-authored two books in the past: The Kaizen Event Planner, a well written how-to guide for planning, executing and following up after a kaizen event and Metrics-Based Process Mapping, a how-to for using key metrics to analyze and improve processes.  Value Stream Mapping is their third book together and again they have done a fantastic job.

Name of the Book:  Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation

Author: Karen Martin and Mike Osterling

Publication Date:  December 2013

Book description: what’s the key message?

Karen and Mike explain the in’s and out’s of understanding and completing a value stream map.  They discuss how a value stream map is a tool that can help senior leaders and executives see their business in a new way.  A transformative way.

Karen and Mike take the reader through all the steps.  They explain the importance of setting the stage prior to the starting the value stream map in order to enable success in changing the business.  Karen and Mike also walk the reader through the best ways to understand the current state of the business and the importance of understanding the current reality no matter how sobering it is.  Next they walk the reader through developing the future state and then the transformation plan.

This book is not just a “Go do it this way,” book.  The book is very complete and explains why the process they describe works.

What are the highlights? What works?

Most people miss the main point of value stream maps.  They are about changing the mindsets of an organization through building a strategic direction with a lean lens.  Karen and Mike do a great of reiterating this point throughout the book.

If you have never seen or been through a value stream mapping session this book is a great guide.  The explanations are spot on.  Karen and Mike hit on the most important metrics that can be used on a value stream map in order to get the most out of it.  They explain how the map is not complete without the metrics, which is something a lot of people will leave off when doing the map.

The examples of value stream maps in the back of the book can help a reader with guidance in building their own.  I know they are in the appendices but it is worth it to study all the examples.

The book also has a link to a downloadable charter and transformation plan templates.  I found them to be very helpful.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

The book is very well done.  Not only a step-by-step but a great explanation of why for each step.  There is one thought that I believe is missing in doing a value stream map.  That is the concept and discussion around ideal state.

When doing a value stream map, I find invaluable to have a discussion on the difference between ideal state (perfection) and future state (somewhere between current state and ideal state).  Usually, this discussion takes place after building the current state map.  The team writes out bullet points of what the ideal state would look like.  After that is completed, then build the future state.  The ideal state discussion helps to stretch the thinking of the team and as Karen and Mike put it “help change the DNA of the organization.”

Having a direct conversation around ideal state is a step that I feel is important and I wish Karen and Mike would have spent some time on in the book.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

The book can be used in two ways.  One way is by someone that has been tasked to help an organization create a value stream map.  It can be used as a learning text book.  It can help the reader learn the in’s and out’s of creating a value stream map and give them guidance.  Or even as a refresher for an experienced value stream map facilitator.

Another way for the book to be used is as an education piece for executives and senior leaders that want to change their business.  It can help them understand their role in the value stream transformation process and how they can help the facilitator before, during and after a mapping session.

Kudos to Karen and Mike for another great book.