Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?

Want More Productivity? Focus on the Whole

Ever been a part of a meeting after the meeting?  Have you tried to keep resources you had to yourself because later you know need them but now you don’t?  Are you concerned more with how your group does rather than the whole division or company?  Only take care of your own.

These things are hard to avoid and happen quite often.  In fact, we may not even think about them as it happens, but we should.  These things affect the productivity of individuals, teams and the company.

How can these productivity killers be avoided?  Through alignment and establishing high agreement of both the what and the how.

The previous post discussed establishing a true north or purpose.  Communicate this purpose repeatedly.  When everyone knows what will be said before it is said, it is a good indicator it is been communicated frequently.

Also, establish high agreement on both the what will be done and how it will be done.  Most organizations do a good job of agreeing on what must be done: Reduce lead time by 25%; Implement software X by January 1st; or Increase quality by 40%.

What most forget to is come to agreement on how those goals will be reached.  Who will be accountable for certain projects?  How do we prioritize for shared resources?  When will a project start/end?  And the list goes on.

When there is alignment and high agreement on both the what and how then productivity increases.  Meetings after the meetings are reduced.  A manager doesn’t want to horde his resources because he knows he will get them when he needs them.  And everyone starts to work for the goals of the company AS a company, not individual departments.

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.


The Most Important Lean Tool

Your eyes.  Plain and simple.  Without them you can’t go and see what is actually happening.

There are stories about Taiichi Ohno leaving engineers in a circle for hours to observe the process.  The engineer was to discover the waste in the process.  What was not creating value?  Then address it.

Organizations have instituted a policy stating that a person can’t talk about a problem unless they have seen it.  The goal is to get everyone to understand what actually is the problem and not what they hear is the problem or jump to solutions.

A person can walk out their doors and onto the production floor in order to observe what is happening.  But observation may not always be easy.  What if it is an order entry person that does all their work in a computer?  Sit with that person and actually watch them enter orders.  Ask questions.  Use tools like process or value stream maps to create a visual of the work to see.

Even leadership work can be made visible in order to observe what is actually happening.  I put my scheduled on a white board so the area could see when I was going to be there to look for waste.  Every Tuesday at 2:30.  If I didn’t show up, people knew it and asked about it.

Are you using your most important lean tool as often as you should?

Long Hiatus


Image Credit: Google

It has been quite a while since I have posted here at the blog.  2015 was a crazy year and I didn’t get to post as much as I would have liked.  Part of the reason was time.  Part of the reason was content.

I don’t want to post content for the sake of posting.  I want to post content that is meaningful and helps people.  New insights.  Different approaches.

My goal is at least on post per week for the entire year.  That would be 51 posts (already missed a week) which would be double what I did last year.

Bring on 2016!!

Beyond Lean On Vacation



I am doing something this week that I haven’t done in the three years of having the blog.  I am putting the blog on vacation while I am digging my toes in the sand on a nice warm beach.  I hope everyone has a great week.  I am looking forward to relaxing and unplugging for a bit.

Above is a picture from the beach I will be on.  We took the picture last year.  Ahhh!

Executive Master of Business Operational Excellence

I can be stubborn sometimes.  I know.  It can be a negative trait sometimes as a person trying to create change.  But it can be a positive too.

One way I have been stubborn is refusing to get a Masters degree in business.  As a lean thinker, the typical masters program teaches so much of what I don’t believe that I couldn’t bring myself to want to pay to listen how standard costing is the holy grail of business.

I had a friend tell me that it would be good to learn the other side in order to present lean even better.  Deeply understand both sides.  Great point.  Even got me thinking about it.  Then I heard colleagues that did that and ended up arguing with the professor the entire time which caused the class a lot of angst.  Knowing how I would probably do the same I didn’t feel like it was a good use of money to go and argue with a professor.  Why waste the time and money getting upset?  I could use that money for something that won’t make me upset…like a vacation on the beach!

I have felt that way about a masters program for a very long time.  Until a couple of months ago.  Jon Miller posted on his Gemba Panta Rei blog the start of a new masters program.  Boise State University will be working with the Kaizen Institute to conduct a 12-month Executive Master of Business Operational Excellence program.

What makes this program different?  It develops a business leaders thinking in continuous improvement through six sigma, kaizen and lean.  It is not the typical standard costing finance classes.  The finance classes focus on value stream costing and new methodologies to look at cost.

The program is set up in the following manner:

  • Accredited by the AACSB, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
  • 12-month program
  • Four, week-long sessions in Boise, Idaho USA
  • One, week-long study mission in Japan
  • $44,700 tuition
  • Worry-Free: books, meals, workshops and study mission are all included in the program tuition
  • Classes held in brand new, state of the art Micron Business and Economics Building
  • Online learning through the Gemba Academy

If you have ever thought about a lean masters program, I encourage you to check out the website (here).  It looks to deliver fantastic curriculum in a unique way.


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.

Guest Post: Pete Carroll

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

I’ve gone back and forth on this several times on what to write about a book I recently read.  I’ve settled on stripping most of what I had to say about it because of two reasons.  First and foremost, I absolutely hate the business as sports parallel.  I just can’t see how pushing yourself through to end of year performance is like fighting for a playoff victory or giving a big presentation is like shooting free throws with the game on the line.  Those situations always seemed to have enough levity as it is without adding a made up metaphor to put them over the top.  The second reason is that I’ve already written about a book by a football coach and, frankly, I couldn’t figure out a way to do it again without making it come off like a form letter.

With that in mind, and with a goal of finding ideas that fit with lean without necessarily being from the lean world, I bring you what I picked up from the book, “Win Forever” by Pete Carroll**.  I’ll be honest, I had no interest in reading the book and only picked it up while I was waiting to meet someone at Borders and killing a few minutes.  When I picked it up, I opened to a page where he described his philosophy as, “Doing things better than they have ever been done before”.  I am a true believer in the concept of chasing a ‘True North’ and this struck a chord with me that was along those lines.  Since I had a good coupon and I was still waiting for the friend to show up, I plunked down a few bucks and figured I’d skim through it.

There was one point in the book that has stuck with me as extremely valuable.  One of the building blocks of his philosophy is for the individual coaches to “learn the learner”.  In his practical terms, it meant the coaches that work for him are responsible for understanding what motivates, de-motivates, and engages the players they coach.  That forces the coach to learn how to optimize their message to the recipient so that each person can be put in a position to be the best they choose to be.  It is such a simple and profound concept and one I had never come across before phrased this way.  Matt has made several posts lately that hit on training and coaching. I can’t help but wonder how much effort I have put forth over the years that didn’t make an impact because I spent a ton of time polishing the message and didn’t take enough time to understand how the person needed to receive the message.  Or how many initiatives or programs, lean or not, haven’t been fully realized because the human factor was left out.  It has been quite a point of reflection for me to realize where some opportunities have been lost and what I can do to improve in the future.  Or how best to present information to a large group with very separate motivations.

**As for whether or not you should get the book or not, it depends.  If you won’t be able to get past things like USC football, Reggie Bush, and his 7-9 team making the NFL playoffs this year, you will probably not get much out of it.  If you can ignore those things or don’t know anything about them, I’d recommend it.  It’s a fairly quick read about the path to creating a personal vision and the pieces that were important to him as he determined what he was passionate about.  There are some solid leadership tidbits that can apply anywhere people are striving for greatness.  It is, however, also a bit cheesy in parts…don’t say you weren’t warned.