Blog Archives

Book Review: The Lean Turnaround

Art Byrne is an execute that has been implementing lean in several companies around the world.  He started our with GE and gained experience with Danaher Corp before becoming the CEO of Wiremold where their lean turnaround is featured in the book “Better Thinking, Better Results“.  Since leaving Wiremold Art has used lean to turnaround companies as a partner with J.W. Childs Associates.  Art brings his vast experience to the readers.

Lean_Turnaround_CoverName of the Book:  The Lean Turnaround: How Business Leaders Use Lean Principles to Create Value and Transform Their Company

Author: Art Byrne

Publication Date:  2012

Book description: what’s the key message?

Art really drives home the message about a company can only be truly lean if the leaders are setting an example and leading the way.  A lean executive does not dictate what others need to go do.  A lean executive does it himself.

Also, the executives have to transform the people.  Get everyone to buy-in from the shop floor to the executive suite.  There is no room for people that won’t buy-in.  In order to do this, as the leader you need to engage in the change and lead it.  Not support it.

Art lays out his principles to follow to becoming lean:

  • Work to Takt Time
  • Create one piece flow
  • Utilized Standard Work
  • Connect Customers to Work by Using a Pull System

What are the highlights? What works?

Art does a fantastic job of giving multiple examples of how he engaged employees and led the change even as a CEO.  This brings to life how it can be done and the thought isn’t some dream a consultant made up.

I really like how Art lays out obstacles to achieving his lean principles.  Accounting and standard costing is the biggest obstacle because it can show a negative result or cause bad decisions when doing things that are helping.  He then explains the changes that are needed and gives examples of the changes and how the finances would look different.

There are more examples of other metrics that Art recommends for a lean company.

Another powerful section of the book is how he used lean to grow businesses and profits even during tough economic times. Art even lays out a strategy for looking at companies when thinking about acquisitions.

The real life examples as a CEO and board member of companies really drives how a lean turnaround can be achieved.  A CEO must do a 180 from the traditional methods to do it and a leap of faith will be needed, but the reward is very high.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

This is a really good book, but I do see one thing missing.  Art speaks from a CEO or executive viewpoint, which is great, but what if you aren’t an executive?

One question I would like to see answered is how do lower level employees help executives want to do a lean turnaround?  Sure, one answer could be give them the book, but that probably won’t change everyone’s mind with just a single read.  How do you help an executive that seems to want to do it, do it?  Give them that final push and really start to see the benefits?

The book can also give the feeling that if you don’t have an executive leading and doing everything in the book then you might as well not go through with lean because you won’t be successful.  Art does not say that explicitly.  The book just gives that feeling.

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

I recommend this book for anyone but especially high level level executive or CEO.  Art lays out a great game plan and a compelling case for the executives to transform their work and create a lean turnaround.  Read the book straight through and then re-read it as you develop a plan to change your company.

I would also recommend it for more Wallstreet and finance people.  It would enlighten them on how to look at companies that deliver long term value to their customers.  Not just short term gains.

Advertisements

Counting Down the Top 10 Viewed Posts of 2012 – 5 Thru 1

2013 is now in full swing.  Before 2012 is too far in the rear view mirror, I thought I would recap the Top 10 most viewed posts on Beyond Lean for 2012.

New followers of the blog can use this as an opportunity to read posts they might have not seen in the past.  While, long time followers can use this as an opportunity to re-read some of the top viewed posts.

This post will count down the 10th thru 6th most viewed posts of 2012.  Enjoy!

5.  Sportscenter Has Killed U.S. Manufacturing (June 2012) – Previous Year Ranked #3 – Manufacturing is fundamental.  The U.S. has lost it’s sights on the fundamentals and is just worried about the flashy.  The U.s. needs to get back to the fundamentals in order to get back on top.

4.  Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.

3.  5S in the Office (September 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #1 – Most viewed post for two straight years now.  A look at using 5S in the office.  What is going too far and how to use 5S in the office properly.

2.  Keys to Sustaining 5S (September 2011) – Tips to help sustain (the 5th ‘S’) the gains made from implementing 5S.

AND……

1.  Why Are Lean People Seen As Lean People? (February 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #2 – Exploring the question as to why lean people are not seen as more than just lean experts.  Looking at a process from end-to-end seems like a good business practice no matter what the role.

I look forward to more posts in 2013!

Top 6 – 10 of 2012

Best of Beyond Lean in 2012

I was looking at the Top 10 posts for 2012 and noticed that only 2 posts from 2012 made the Top 10.  Both posts were from earlier in the year.  I finally realized that a post from about May on in the year has very little chance to overcome posts that have a 5 month or more head start on gaining views.

I decided to highlight 5 of the most popular posts written in 2012.  Then in January I will post the Top 10 posts for the year.

Enjoy and have a Happy New Year!!!!

5.  Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma (April 2012) – How Six Sigma and Lean can be misrepresented in what their purpose is.

4.  Strategy A3 Downloadable Template (April 2012) – This is the post about the new downloadable template to help with strategy discussions.

3.  Visuals Used in the Office (October 2012) – A couple of visual management examples from the transactional workplace.

2.  True Mentoring (May 2012) – This is my take on true mentoring versus fake mentoring that goes on in business today.

1.  Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.

Have a Happy New Year!!!!

Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2012 – My Flexible Pencil

At the end of the year, John Hunter does a great job of facilitating an annual roundup of business and lean blogs at Curious Cat Management.  The roundup is a review of blogs by other bloggers.  This year I have the honor of participating in the Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.

my_flexible_pencil_logo

A couple of years ago, I met David Kasprzak through blogging.  David is a professional that has worked in large companies throughout his career and recently finished his MBA.  During this time he started his blog, My Flexible Pencil.

David covers a wide range of topics.  He discusses observations of business he has from being with his family, like how helping his son pick something out for show-n-tell was a lesson in teaching people how to develop answers not directing them towards an answer.

David also blogs around business issues like continuous improvement, project management and behavior & culture.  At the beginning of 2012 David had a long series of blogs about ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment).  The topic spurred great conversation from many in lean and ROWE alike.  David wrote a few blogs on the similarities and differences of ROWE and Lean.  Then wrote his own thoughts after hearing both perspectives.  I think it is worth reading and developing your own opinion on the subject.

I read a lot of blogs and respond when I have time to as many as I can, but My Flexible Pencil has caused me to sit back, think and respond more than any other blog.  My Flexible Pencil is a great read.

You Must Teach a Man to Fish

“Give a man fish and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

This quote comes to mind when thinking about my role as a lean transformation leader.  Lean is about how we think and behave.  I don’t want to just do things differently.  I want to teach and coach others how to think and behave in a way that aligns with the lean principles.  There are two major reason for this.

Reason 1

I want the changes that I make to be sustainable.  If the people involved in the changes don’t think in a lean way then at some point the changes will not be sustained.  The metrics/results/process will slide backwards.  In my experience, it slides at least to the previous state if not even further backwards.

The best example is a manufacturing facility that Joe and I worked at together.  At one point, the facility was in the red with revenue over $100 million.  The company decided to “go lean”.  Joe and I, as well as another friend of ours, were tasked with leading the lean initiative in our facility.  We became part of the plant staff.  The plant manager and the department managers listened to what we had to say.  They let us lead the lean initiative. Joe and I did a lot of great things from a lean perspective.  In three years, the plant was in the seven figure profit range while revenue had dropped 25%.

This was a collaborative effort to use lean.  Everyone played a part in the success.  But in a big way, Joe and I failed.  We both moved on to bigger and better opportunities.  During the turnaround of the facility we did not change the way the plant manager and department managers thought.  When some traditional mindsets started to creep back in, we were there to guide back to a lean mindset, but we never really changed their beliefs.  We hadn’t taught them to fish.  Within a couple of years, the facility was back in the red and back to traditional batch-and-queue mass production manufacturing.  The results were not sustainable.

Reason 2

The second reason overlaps with the first.  When you transform another person’s thinking, not only will results be sustainable, you have another person who can educate and transform the thinking of others.  The lean thinking allegiance starts to spread.  Instead of one person trying to transform thinking, you now have two.  And so it spreads.

Transforming people for traditional ways of thinking to lean ways of thinking is not easy.  The better the support system that is built the easier it is to continue to transform people’s thinking.  There are times when a great support system is very reassuring.

These are the two biggest reasons why transforming the thinking is just as important as delivering the changes, driving results.

 

My Ode to Visual Management

As we go through Visual Management week here at Beyond Lean, I was asked to kick it off.  I haven’t been able to see the other posts, so I hope I don’t step on any material coming later.

Looking at the Lean ‘Toolkit’, I think that Visual Management concepts are fundamentally the most important.  That’s pretty easy for me to say when you could bucket almost all of the tools in some way or another under a visual workplace umbrella.  But, I think my affinity for it comes from a more altruistic place.  The underlying keys to effectively utilizing Visual Management are built on things like trust, respect, and honesty.  As a shop floor operator (or your workplace equivalent), there needs to be a trust that what you are responding to, what you are reporting, and what you are following will be used productively by “the management” and not as a bigger hammer to hit you with.  As a “manager” effectively utilizing the tools means you have to treat people with respect, dignity and honesty in order for the data to mean anything past the initial kick off.  As business leaders, we have to be willing to share an honesty and transparency and trust with our suppliers, customers, managers, and front line workers.

(Case in point on the last one…  Last week I toured a factory that I am a customer of.  In a WIP queuing area, they had skids of product that they charge premium prices for labeled as “OVERSTOCK”.  I couldn’t even be mad because they were so honest about how their product flow worked that they were willing to show anybody that walked in the door what was going on and how they viewed their operations.)

Pretty much anybody who has worked in a continuous improvement situation can point out failures of visual management tools.  But when they are working well, they are a clear signal of a different kind of workplace.  The openness, honesty, and trust that they reflect are the difference between workplaces where people trade their time for money and workplaces that are built on something more.  That something more is a collaborative spirit where all of the parties build something greater than they could separately.

So, as we read through the thoughts of some really bright people this week, I hope we can all pick up some great ideas we can take back to our own workplaces.  I hope that in the long term we can also use these to help build and/or strengthen the cultural differences that make a Lean workplace truly special and unique.

Failing a Test Can Be a Good Thing

Too often we look at failing a test as a negative thing.  The word fail has such a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be negative.  Fail can tell us what something isn’t or where we need to improve.

Failing part of a knowledge test can tell a person where their knowledge gaps are.  Knowing the gaps is the first step in gaining more knowledge.  Filling the gaps leads to better output.

Another way fail is look upon negatively is when testing a condition.  When trying to determine the point of failure or the root cause of something tests are run to verify the hypothesis.

Typically, when a test fails people are disappointed and can even get frustrated.  The assumption people make is they should know everything in their world.  Be the expert.  Being the expert means knowing where the point of failure or root cause is right away.  That can’t always be the case.  If it was, then a lot of the problems would be taken care right away or wouldn’t exist.

Taking the perspective of learning, failing the test and not confirming the hypothesis means you have a better understanding of what it is not.  That is valuable information to know.  Knowing what it is not helps to narrow the search.  Getting you closer to the answer.    Ruling things out is the next best thing to finding the point of cause or the root cause.

Like a doctor.  You go in sick so they test for the flu.  It comes back negative.  You are still sick but at least you know it isn’t the flu.

Concentrate on learning from all tests and failing won’t be such a bad thing.

Controlling the Message

Are politics eating away at the ability of businesses to be competitive?  I don’t mean capital P Politics and elections, just cultural office politics.  I wonder if we have gotten so good in so many cases at “controlling our message” within our walls that we lack the ability to discuss what our true Current State really is.

(Don’t worry.  I learned my lesson quite clearly when I brushed past the pool in my post inspired by the music business not to mess with the holy trinity of Politics, Religion, and Free Stuff on the interwebs.  I tried and failed to come up with a different word than politics for this post…Sorry)

So much of the Lean philosophy and toolkit is built around either highlighting the gap between the current state and the ideal state or following a process to move closer to the ideal state from the current state.  These are only effective if you’re willing to talk about your true current state.  I don’t know of many businesses that are willing to have these conversations.  In many cases, the ability to interpret what is happening in the most palatable way possible far outweighs the ability to identify what is really happening.  The narratives that are created have become the currency that keeps the operation rolling and keeps everyone happy.

Here’s the thing about ‘messaging’…it rarely stops.  The people delivering become incentivized to keep the message on the same path for risk of losing credibility, job security, or recognition.  The people receiving want to believe the message, if for no other reason than it seems pretty silly to reject the communication of the people you are trusting to keep you up to date.

How does this culture impact Lean leaders?  The biggest obstacle comes in getting people to recognize the existence and scope of a problem.   It can be extremely difficult to get resources, time, and commitment when key players are invested in making sure that the problem area continues to be spoken about in glowing terms.  Data helps, but not always.  In some cases your best bet is to find ways to create a bridge from the narrative to the reality.  Yes…that means that you may need to become engaged in a system of politics that you despise, but these waters are tricky and need to be navigated somehow.  Sometimes it may mean that you have to go covert and work on the project “off the record” to improve something you know needs help.  (That one falls under the umbrella of being easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.)

I guess what I’m getting at is that sometimes the reality of our cultures gets in the way of doing the right thing.  It doesn’t mean that people are intentionally doing the wrong thing, just that it’s not always clear how to get people aligned and rowing in the same direction.  Use what you have at your disposal and make a difference.

Respect for People on the Harvard Business Review Blog

I am way behind on a couple of great blogs I saw on the Harvard Business Review Blog. One of them is Get Your Workers to Disrupt Their Jobs by Brad Power.

The blog is about engaging employees to improve their processes.

…start process innovation by asking front-line workers how to improve their jobs. Competition and customer demands mean that the most efficient and effective process should always be sought — but finding it requires contributions from the people doing the work. The benefits of the front-line driving improvements include pride of ownership that sustains the changes, less worry for managers about whether the changes will be adopted, and reduced costs for outside consultants. Changes that are imposed are at best accepted grudgingly and at worst sabotaged.

Bingo! I think Brad nailed it well. Then a friend of his asked a good question that I have also gotten in the past.

But a friend was skeptical that workers will identify radical, cross-functional changes to a process that will step on others’ turf or could eliminate their jobs. Is it really possible he asked, to create the conditions where workers will disrupt or even eliminate their jobs and the jobs of co-workers?

Short answer is yes, if there is no fear of losing their jobs do to continuous improvement. I have worked for companies that have made that promise and it has worked to engage the people. When I worked for an automotive supplier, three employees came to management and said they could get the work cell from 3 people to 1 person and meet the demand. The management said do it. It worked beautifully and the other two people were assigned to other work cells that needed help.

Brad got the same opinion from Orry Fuime.

Consider Wiremold, a manufacturer of cable management systems. In 1992 the company was in cost-cutting mode, and, as former CFO Orry Fiumetold me, it was consequently offering an early retirement package designed to reduce headcount. But the company also needed to make its processes more productive, and didn’t want employees overly focused on headcount reduction, so immediately following Fiume’s announcement, the new CEO Art Byrne told employees that nobody would lose employment due to process improvement activities. He felt this was necessary to encourage employees to identify all the changes the company needed, including those which might disrupt their jobs. W. Edwards Deming, the guru of total quality management, called this “driving out fear.”

But most CEOs will strenuously resist making a qualified job guarantee like Art Byrne. Why? Because they believe that nobody can guarantee employment. Notice, however, that Wiremold did not guarantee employment. It assured employees that they would not lose their job as a result of their participation in continuous improvement activities. It didn’t say their jobs wouldn’t change, or that the company wouldn’t lay off people for survival in the event of a major economic downturn, or that individuals couldn’t lose their job due to poor performance.

I found the blog interesting because all but one company/person mentioned were well respected lean companies/people (Orry, Art Byrne, Dr. Deming, Wiremold, Parker-Hannifin, Lantech). The overriding theme was the respect for people. Ask for their ideas to improve, share the big picture with them don’t hide it, reward them for their help. These all have to do with respecting the people of the business and organization.

I hope this blog gets circulated around. These are the behaviors to look for within a company. These are behaviors a lean company exhibits whether they use the term lean or not is not important. Respecting the people is. With their engagement in the continuous improvement process a company can make great strides in productivity and growth.

Cities in the U.S. Copy Solution Without Understanding

The city in the U.S. that I live in has started installing more and more roundabouts.  The reasoning is it is “easier” for traffic flow.  I don’t find that to be the case at all.  I find them to be a pain to maneuver around and a hindrance to traffic flow.  Many others that I have discussed this with believe the same thing.

But they are used in Europe to help with traffic flow is the argument I get back from time to time.  “Who cares!” was my reaction.

Now imagine my chagrin when I discovered I was spending 2 weeks in the United Kingdom on business.  My buddy and I spent a lot of time driving around the UK.  To my surprise, the roundabouts were quite helpful and did help traffic flow.

Change in attitude?  No.  Change in reason.  Yes.

In the U.S. for the most part the roads are set up in a grid pattern and most intersections crossed perpendicular to each other causing 4-way stops.  In the UK many roads would come together with anywhere from 3 to 7 options of directions to go.  When there were 4 choices the streets were almost never perpendicular to each.  A stop sign or light would be very difficult so the roundabout was used.  See the pictures below:

Roundabout in the U.S.

Roundabout in the UK

As I drove more and more in the UK, I noticed how the roundabout did help traffic flow when streets weren’t perpendicular.  When streets were perpendicular stop lights were used with turn lanes just like in the U.S.

Cities are copying the roundabout as a solution for all traffic flow issues without understanding what it can be best used for.  This is why it is best to understand why solutions or countermeasures are put into place so you know when and how best to apply that learning.

Don’t copy solutions.  Learn from them.