Category Archives: Training

My Half Full Glass of Studying

Last week I began really applying myself to my studies for the ASQ CSSBB (Certified Six Sigma Black Belt) exam.  On a personal level, I’m pretty opposed to doing this because I really feel like I am chasing this certification for the piece of paper and no other reason.

My first thoughts in looking at this were pure dread.  I haven’t forgotten what DMAIC stands for, nor have I forgotten what the steps entail.  I haven’t forgotten what the statistics mean or how to interpret them, even if I let software do most of the heavy lifting.   I still remember the quotes from famous quality people in the study manual and can recite the punchline in the Dilbert that is placed in the beginning of the book.  What I did forget was to send in some paperwork on time.  I’ve already taken and passed the test once, but let my certification lapse out of ignorance and inattention.   In that sense this is more of a personal rework loop than a doing-it-right-the-first-time kind of step.

However, once I got past my selfish whining, I realized I could look at this completely differently.  Instead of just trying to cram in enough tidbits to squeak by, I could give myself a personal “Ohno Circle” to study from.  What I’ve found is that I’m not really tied to having to learn the material the same way I did the first time around, so I’m free to focus and explore some of the smaller details I may not have thought through before.  I can try to seek out some new knowledge out of an “old” source.  I guess it’s sort of like me trying to look for new ideas for improvements after the kaizen event report out, except there really is an exam at the end.

I realize I’m stretching the metaphor a bit far, but once I switched the way I looked at my personal learning in the same way as a manufacturing process it opened some new lanes of thought for me.  I am now itching to dig back through and re-read some of the books on my shelf from Ohno and the Toyota Way series and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to see what may be in there.  I’m sure there are things in each book I didn’t pick up the first time or that have slipped from my mind since I first read them.  I really wonder what is out there in the material I already have.  It’s almost too bad I have to wait to get there until I’m done with this test!


Tailoring the Message

I was paging through some comments and found this one about a post I wrote a while back.  I was going to reply directly to the comment, but my response tended longer than the comment section and I thought I’d post it by itself.  The intent of my original post was how to work in Lean with people who were against it. The response was that I might have been asking the wrong question in asking how to sell Lean.

I totally agree with the idea that everyone wants higher quality, lower costs and better delivery.  However, the willingness or individuals and groups to try ‘new’ ways to get there is at the very heart of why there are thousands of lean resources out there.  It’s like saying lots of people would like to climb Mt. Everest, but not many are willing to put in the time, money and physical effort to prepare for the climb.  The disconnect between an interest in the destination and a willingness to undertake the journey is often huge.  That’s before even getting in to the many corporate cultures that smother or punish the different, regardless of results.

The other aspect of this that I have found over time is that not all areas are interested in the same benefits, at least on the early part of a Lean journey.  The point that excites the plant manager may not have the same weight with a front line supervisor.  The benefits that an accountant might find would be mostly irrelevant to the team members on the shop floor.  Or, put a slightly different way, what group of people are directly affected by reduced lead times through the plant or reduced inventory?  Those things as stand-alone benefits don’t really provide much interest for many people.  The side effects of these like the reduced inventory allowing the existing inventory to be better organized and easier to store/find/retrieve are what a lot of people will actually feel.  Just as the solution has to be right for the problem, the message has to be tailored to the audience.

The comment did make me reflect on the overall delivery of my message.  It is a great point to make sure that the overall business value of the effort is clear.  I’m sure that I can lose sight of bringing concepts back to the big picture when I’m working on some of the finer points.

I do appreciate the opportunity for dialog that this outlet creates.  Hopefully we can all continue to help each other think more deeply or more broadly.

Self Directed Work Teams?

I wrote earlier about one of the Lean lessons that was learned when I read Toyota Kata.   I had another interesting epiphany later in the book that I thought I’d share.

This revelation was about the dismantling of the autonomous worker myth in TPS.  There are a lot of resources touting suggestion system data and the concept of the team members on the line making the improvements to their process.  I’ve heard or read variations of this narrative dozens of times and, frankly, never gave it much thought.  Although, I have been around people that were completely taken in by the thought and invested a lot of effort trying to figure out how to make it happen.  I hear people from time to time asking what has to be done to develop self directed work teams that manage themselves, make process improvements and don’t need an ‘indirect’ employee like a lead or a supervisor to be a part of the process.

The thing about this misconception is that it doesn’t make any sense at all.  If you have an area staffed with the correct amount of team members working to takt time, where is the excess labor capacity to make improvements?  Who responds to issues that fall outside of the standardized work?  Who is looking at the bigger picture needs as well as upstream and downstream impacts?  Those are all logical (some might say obvious) questions that I had never asked myself before.  Author Mike Rother points out that there is involvement from the front line workers, but not at the level that some resources may lead you to believe.

I had been involved with and studying Lean for over a decade before I gave this concept any thought at all.  I didn’t blindly accept it, it just wasn’t anything that I invested time or energy in to.  Looking back, that’s kind of unfortunate.  Had I taken a bit of time to understand this point, I could have helped save some of the effort spent working towards this goal and redirected it to where it would be more beneficial.

Understanding the Learner

It surprises me sometimes how much writing these forces me to confront what I don’t know.  Unbeknownst to Matt, he sent me for a loop with his New Year’s Resolution post about not reading any Lean books in 2012.   I have known Matt for almost 10 years and worked directly with him for close to 5, literally sitting right next to him for 3 of those years.  With all of that, I came to understand more about how he learned in 3 paragraphs than I knew in the previous decade.  Matt wasn’t downplaying the quality of Lean books or reading in general.  He was just acknowledging that he learns best by practice and experience as opposed to internally processing theory.  Personally, I’m pretty much the opposite.

I consider a big part of what I do and who I am as a person is being a teacher.  That applies for me not only in formal training activities, but through most of my personal interactions including working with my son’s basketball team.  Fortunately, being involved with Lean and problem solving allows me some great opportunities to do something I love to do.  I put a lot of effort in trying to focus, tailor, or even re-package the information I’m trying to deliver to get the best impact.  What I’m not so sure about is that I’ve really thought about the best way for people to utilize what I’m delivering.  I thought I was doing that, but now I’m seriously reflecting on how well I’m helping people close the gap between understanding and executing.

Matt’s plan for himself has indirectly given me a new challenge for 2012.  My challenge is to be much more intentional in understanding not only the impact of the message itself, but how people can get the most out of what they may be learning.  I could also take it a step further and try to figure out better ways to communicate with people teaching me so that I can become a better learner.  I can’t seem to recall the exact origin, but I’ve heard over and over the adage that “if the learner hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”  Now my eyes are a little more open to seeing that learning has at much to do with executing as it does understanding.

How to Use Group Learning Effectively

Group learning is becoming more popular today.  There are different forums for this such as consortiums, networking groups, non-profit organizations, conferences and symposiums to name a few.  At the beginning of the year, I highlight the Smith County Lean Consortium as an example of work being done and the range of organizations that can be involved.

In order to make this type of learning successful, a couple of elements and structure have to be there.  First and foremost, the companies have to be very open.  Open to letting other companies see the work they are doing.  Open to presenting the truth of what they are doing, not a dog and pony show.  Open to honest and candid feedback from outside eyes.  Open to accepting the candid feedback in order to help them improve.  And finally, open to giving honest and candid feedback when they visit another facility.

In short, a safe learning environment needs to be present.

Once a safe learning environment has been established, then the learning process needs to be followed.  Spend some time learning about a concept, a problem, or an organization.  After learning about it, go to where the work is done and understand how to apply the concept in that environment, come up with potential countermeasures for a problem, or give suggestions to move an organization forward.  Finally, discuss what was observed with the host organization.  Help them to improve.  Then discuss how what you learned and saw will help to improve your organization.

I know this sounds simple, but too many organizations create a dog and pony show where they just show off what they have been doing and don’t really address a problem when a learning group visits.  Or they will make it an unsafe learning environment.  Usually it is unintentional.  You will hear comments like, “But our business is different.” or “Great idea, but you haven’t seen the whole picture.”

Group learning can be very effective if done correctly.  It can be cost effective too.  So the next time you want have multiple organizations learning from one another make sure to provide a safe learning environment and follow the learning process.

PowerPoint Can Be Wasteful

Have I taken my lean thinking too far?  I don’t think so, but there are others that do.

PowerPoint is a useful tool for presentations, but is WAY overdone.  Everything needs to be done in PowerPoint in order to have any validity anymore.  People put things in PowerPoint that are seen once and never referred to again.  Most of the time the PowerPoint slides do not add any value to the conversation.

Anything that does not add value is waste.  So why do people spend so much time creating PowerPoint slides?

I have gotten away from the waste of creating needless PowerPoint slides.  During kaizen events, the team has the maps on the way and we take the management group out to the floor to see the changes.  You can’t get that from a slide.  If it is information to digest, I make the original file (Excel, Word, .jpg) as readable and easy to understand as possible and use that to illustrate my point.  I love to use pictures to show people.

Unfortunately, not everyone I work with agrees.  More importantly the upper management doesn’t agree.  I have received feedback from a few that I nail the project deliverables, bring great data analysis to the table, do great work, BUT it doesn’t feel quite finished.  When I ask what is missing I get the prettiness factor, the PowerPoint slides.

Really?!  I get dinged for that?!

When I ask what value it adds I get the run around.

There are times when PowerPoint is very useful.  Training is a great example.  I am not encouraging to but a novel on a slide.  In should be some bullet points to highlight your point.  Adding a visual to re-iterate your point is powerful too.  People learn in 3 ways: reading (bullet points), visual (picture), or auditory (hearing the explanation).  There is the learning by doing, but there usually is an explanation before the doing and that is what I am referring to.

PowerPoint can add value if you are having to give a presentation in a large room where not everyone can see a flip chart or when you have to give the same presentation multiple times.

Whether you use PowerPoint or not always prepare for the presentation.  When you have the chance challenge the value of using PowerPoint slides to convey the message.  And if you do need to use PowerPoint, ask yourself if the slide is adding value to the presentation or not.

Is Your Lean Training a Waste of Time?

Last week, my company had Jamie Flinchbaugh, from the Lean Learning Center,  in for some follow up on training his organization gave us back in November.  A point that Jamie makes during every session is about doing something with what we learned.  If we leave any training session and do nothing with it, then by definition it is waste, because we haven’t changed anything and we can do that without spending time in training.

This is something I have taken to heart for a few years now.  Anytime I go to training or learning session, I make it a point to learn something new that can help me in my work.  More importantly, I try to incorporate what I learned into my work or thinking where appropriate.

After applying this for so many years and listening to Jamie last week, I finally realized I had never expected the people I am teaching to do anything with what I have taught them.

There are two reasons why I haven’t done it. One is I have never told any class I have taught my expectations are they will take something from the class and apply it.  I need to be clear and explicit about expectations.

The second reason is I have never incorporated any time into the class for them to think about and develop an action plan on how to apply something that was taught.  If the expectations are to take something from the class and apply it, then I should make it easy for them to develop an action plan.  Giving them time in class allows them to think about it while it is fresh.  Plus, having a support group to talk to can help.  Also, I can be there to answer any questions they have.

I made changes last Friday with a training session I conducted.  I set the expectations and I allowed time to think about and develop action plans to apply what they learned.  My hypothesis is this will increase the number of  changed behaviors and actions after attending my training sessions.  Otherwise, it would have been a waste of their time.

Train and Do. Do Not Train Then Do.

I have read about three quarters of the Toyota Kata by Mike Rother.  It is a very good book.  One that provokes a lot of thought even from people that have been implementing lean for a long time.  This post isn’t a book review of the Toyota Kata.  It is a reflection on a point made my Mike Rother in the book about training and doing.

In the book Mr. Rother talks about moving from a system where we train in the classroom and then ask them to go out on the floor and do.  Instead, the mentor needs to be with the mentee on the floor training and doing at the same time.  Below is a graphic to try and illustrate that it isn’t two steps, but one combined step.

As I thought about this, I remembered some of the coaches that I got the most learning from.  In every case, the coach was out on the floor with me observing me learning and resolving the problem.  The coach invested a lot of time in me.  He made sure I was thinking about the problem in every way possible and would ask questions and guide me when he saw I was off course.

In contrast, I had coaches that would train me in the classroom and then give me an assignment.  The coach would come back a week or month later and see how my work had progressed.  The coach would try to get an understanding of my thinking but it would be hard.  I learned but not nearly as much or as fast as when I had my coach there with me as I worked.  This isn’t an indictment on the coach.  It was just the way the process was set up.

It may seem that having coaches for a lot of employees that can spend time with them on the floor is not feasible.  In our current system and thinking that may be true.  What is amazing is that Toyota has found a way to do it.  Leaders at all levels are coaches to their employees so they are training and doing at the same time.  This creates hundreds of coaches training and doing on the floor across the organization.

Our organizations may not be able to do this right away.  If it is truly important to the company to create learning an investment will need to be made.  Start small.  Get a few people coached and then have them coach.  Slowly let it spread.  Start with a small part of the organization.  It allows for experimenting with the training and doing process before spreading it.

I know this is easier said than done.  It was a method that worked for me in the past.  To show how slowly it can move, I was coached and then I coached 5 others and then they started to coach.  Just to get to that point took 3 years.  That started with a base of one, just me in our plant.  The whole purpose was I was there with them training on the floor as they were doing.  It is definitely a huge commitment.

I believe this huge commitment and slow process is why organizations are not successful at it.  It takes patience.

I hope your organization is willing to make the commitment.

Applying Lean to Training

I found this video a few days ago.  It is a video of Todd Hudson, from the Maverick Institute, giving a class about applying lean to training.  The video is about 13 minutes long and isn’t the whole presentation, but it is very intriguing.

Todd asks the question, “Can we learn twice as much in half the time?”  It is a great question.  His point is that people thing that is a crazy idea, but we won’t hesitate to ask, “Can we get twice the production in half the time of equipment X?”  Excellent point.

In the video, Todd starts to talk about the waste in training.  He provides a statistic that says only 15% of what is heard during training is retained.  WOW!  I never put a measurement on it but my experiences seem to be very similar, which is why applying and reflecting after learning is very important for the learning cycle.

I’m disappointed the video is not longer.  I would like to hear more of what Todd has to say about applying lean to training and learning.

Has anyone applied lean to their training?  I would be interested in hearing more.