Blog Archives

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  Things change quickly so use what have you seen before the facts become outdated.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!


When in Doubt…Go and See

On a recent project, some senior leaders were asking for an update on the development of an app the team was building.  The team is using the Agile methodology, so there is progress and changes every day or two to the app.

Instead of trying to explain the progress, the team invited the senior leaders to the work space for a demo.

The demo went incredibly.  As soon as they saw the app, there was great understanding of how it worked.  Everyone was able to see not only the customer interaction, but also the aesthetics of the app.

The senior leaders asked some really great questions about the customer experience and how the app worked.  Because the team is using the Agile methodology, they were able to quickly add the changes to the app for a better customer experience.

If you want to understand something, go and see it.  It seems so simple.  Yet, that is not the first instinct of most.

By the team asking the senior leaders to come and see, they are setting an example of this behavior.  Hopefully, the senior leaders left with a sense that it was great they saw the app and the work environment and next time they have questions they just go and see.  Then it starts to carryover to other projects.  Slowly, the behavior starts to change because the benefits are seen.

Next time someone asks you for an update, take them to the work and show them.  Help change the behavior.

Balance Process and Results

In the lean world we always stress how important a good process is to achieving results.  One of my favorite graphics I have seen is the one pictured below.  It shows the four outcomes of balancing process and results.Process_Results_Grid

  • Having a Good Process and Getting Good Results is the gold star.  We know we have a solid process that will give us the good results we want.
  • Having a Good Process and Getting Bad Results is half way there.  We know the process works like it should.  It just doesn’t give us the results we want so we need to go back and redesign the process.
  • Having a Bad Process and Getting Good Results you are gambling.  You got lucky to get the good results and it won’t be consistently repeatable.
  • Having a Bad Process and Getting Bad Results is just not good.  Nothing is working and you should start working on this right away.

I am one of the first to stress process, but as you can see it must be balanced.

When designing a process it must have the right mix of structure and flexibility because it is about understanding, learning and getting the results.

For example, when designing a manufacturing process you may be more prescriptive because of the need to get a particular assembly done correctly.

For a process around coaching or problem solving, there needs to be more flexibility.  A determined process should be designed and used but it shouldn’t be as prescriptive as a manufacturing process.  It allows for the person to be able to go where the problem is taking them but achieving the desired results is still extremely important.

The need to balance the importance of a good process and the getting good results is a key skill to have when teaching people about lean.

Guest Post: A Few Thoughts on Policy Deployment

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.

Today’s post is from Justin Tomac.  Justin and I have worked together for the last five years.  My knowledge of strategy deployment has really grown since I have worked with him.  Justin Tomac has been a Lean practitioner a year or two shy of two decades.  His Lean background consists of various deployments with hands-on office, engineering and shop floor transformations with mentoring and training being provided by TBM and Shingijutsu consultants.  A GE certified Six Sigma Black Belt, he has an Industrial Engineering degree from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and an Engineering Management masters from Wichita State University.  If you would like to contact Justin he may be reached at

A lot of articles and books have been written about Policy Deployment, with the focus primarily on the high level concept with exhaustive studies on implementation.  Most of us understand conceptually what Policy Deployment is, where it appears to break down is during the implementation and sustainment.  As you may know, sustainment is a key indicator of how well a concept is understood and implemented by an organization.

Below are a few key characteristics of what a Sustained Policy Deployment look like:

1)      Organic and Living.  Policy Deployment should not be a one and done planning and execution exercise.  Monthly reviews with Quarterly or Semi-Annual Adjustments highlight an active Policy Deployment. The health of these Reviews or Adjustments can be determined by How meaningful the actions and results are.

2)      Influences the Behavior and the Culture.  A robust Policy Deployment process exists to solve the various issues related to horizontal and vertical alignment of objectives, goals and priorities for a Company, Division or Department.  What the boss measures and deems important only lasts as long as the Culture allows.  Organizations that struggle with accountability, communicating (vertically and/or horizontally) strategies or tactics, simplification, etc., have Cultural issues.  I heard a saying, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast”, why not flip this and make Culture the main dish for the morning meal?

3)      A flexible, structured Process (not a fill-in the blank exercise).  I find it interesting that when Policy Deployment is brought up, out fly the different templates, forms, etc.  In the end, does the form or template set the Strategies or drive the priorities?  Policy Deployment should be a process that examines the business top down and sideways, irregardless of what form or template is used.  In the long run, it is what your Culture will allow or likes that will dictate what your Policy Deployment looks like.

Based upon your experiences would you agree and/or add to these?  What say you?

Lean Says, “Do the Right Thing”

A question that I get quite often is “What does lean say to do?”

My short answer, “Do the right thing for your situation at this time.”

When lean is not understood people think lean has magic answers for them.  This is easy to do when the mindset is lean is a bunch of tools and concepts that just need to be put into place.

They think lean can answer their questions.   Lean does not answer your questions.  Lean helps you to be able to answer your questions.

When lean is understood to be a way of thinking, a set of principles to help guide how you go about solving a problem then it is easier to understand that lean says, “Do the right thing for your situation at this time.”

A popular example is when people think “Lean says I have to have level flow, because I have to eliminate waste.”  If their business does not allow level flow or it does not make sense at that time they can get discouraged and believe lean is not for their business.

Hospitals are a great example.  Early on they tried to implement level flow, but they couldn’t because people getting sick is out of their control.

When it is understood that lean is about creating value for the customer, people have a different lens.  One way to deliver value is to eliminate waste so I have more capacity to do value added activities.  Level flow is one way, but in a hospital there are many other ways.  Once the thinking was understood, hospitals started to embrace lean.

The next you you hear someone ask, “What does lean say to do?”  Answer by saying, “Think in a different way and do what is right for your situation at this time.”

Lean Isn’t New

The last few months I have been a part of or given a lot of lean training around lean principles and/or behaviors.  The majority of  the responses to the training is very positive.  There is one response that I keep getting over and over, “There was nothing new in we heard.”

While I believe there is some new things in there, overall I don’t disagree with them.  In fact, I mention that Toyota has been doing if for 60 years and they learned from methods that date back 20+ years before they started learning.  Toyota gets the credit for the business philosophy and putting it to great use, but the roots come from Ford, Deming, the supermarket, and Training Within Industry.  There is a lot more material about principles and thinking that people can reference today.  Honestly, people have probably read or heard something before.

One question, I try to pose to them is, “You have heard this before and it seems to makes sense, so what behavior have you changed since learning this in order to get better?”  I usually get blank stares and red faces because I have not had one person answer that question yet.  I am not trying to be a jerk, but we have to ask the hard questions.  I’m still learning and I don’t follow the principles and behaviors all the time either.  Neither does Toyota.

I then explain the question is not a gotcha.  It is meant to show that while many people have read/heard of it and agree with it, there are very few to actually change, because changing is hard to do.  We have to make a conscious effort to do it and it will be hard at first.  The training classes are a mechanism to try and get the change to start to occur as well as educate others that may not have heard anything yet.

So overall, I agree the principles and behaviors are not new.  What is new is trying to get more and more people to actually change to exhibit these behaviors.