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Introverts or Extroverts as Continuous Improvement Leaders

Today’s post is from a guest blogger.  Connie Tolman has a career that has spanned the aerospace, military, medical device and biotechnology industries in Southern California.  Her career has been in Manufacturing Engineering until last year.  She implemented lean manufacturing practices in the 80’s, moved to Six Sigma with GE Healthcare in the 90’s, Lean Sigma in the early 2000’s and was introduced to Toyota Production System Lean in 2007 which is her current passion.  Connie is currently working as a Continuous Improvement Manager at a biotechnology company in San Diego.  

A friend of mind just got a job at Simpler, a very well thought of Lean Consultant Company.  To get the job he had to go through a very thorough and intense process which included Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment personality tests, giving a speech to a group of professionals and review of his technical knowledge.

A brief summary of Myers-Briggs personality test  is that  it looks at these different aspects of the personality:

  • Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I),
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N),
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

He scored high on the extrovert aspect.  She said “if you had scored as an introvert, I don’t think you’d be good at continuous improvement”.  This struck me hard since right now I’m in the middle of evaluating those qualities in myself which started with reading the book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  She now has a revolution on her hands after her TED talk by the same name – here is her website if interested  To determine where you are in the continuum, the most basic question is “How do you get energized?  From being alone in nature/reading a book or being with a group of people at a party?”

It turns out that there is a bias towards extroverts in our society.  I have found that I am mixed between the two – that is what my Meyers Briggs score says and my astrology chart also (if that means anything to any of you science types).  So, I felt inferior right off the bat.  If I can’t go in there and be aggressive and forward with people, maybe I’m not good at continuous improvement, operations excellence, whatever you call it.  If I can’t lead a kaizen with flair and good old fashioned pushiness, maybe I’m not good at lean.

Susan Cain says we are all a combination of both, but those who take a little time and think things through have great value.   It is important to be able to be the big, noticeable person but as or maybe more important to listen to others, to think things through and come up with the brainstorm that changes the way things are looked at.  We emphasize empowerment in lean which requires listening and giving away power, not taking the spotlight all to yourself.  All of these things are the qualities of an introvert.

So I think that both are needed and it is our goal as lean professionals to stretch the side that isn’t our natural strength.  Extraverts need to listen more.  Introverts need to be more of a cheerleader and be able to energize groups.

How Do You Help Leaders See the Change That Is Needed?

For today’s post, I am wanting the readers’ responses to help fill in the gaps on this topic.  It is one that I struggle with and thought a discussion here might be good.

What do you do when change is needed but no one will change?

I know.  The question seems pretty simple, right?  Leave the situation because it won’t get better.  People can be so stubborn so why fight it.

It isn’t that simple.

An organization is struggling mightily.  Going the way of GM in the early 2000’s.  Everyone in the organization sees the need for change and agrees that change is needed.

Not small change.  Big change is needed.  A different way of seeing and executing the business.

Lean is being “implemented” in the organization, so the leaders sanction a team to review a process and come up with a better way of doing the work.  The team develops a “new” process.  The process is the same as they are doing right now but with a technology fix.  When pushed by lean change agents to look for bigger change the team says they are good with what they have described themselves as “how we do it today, but with a central storage location.”

This one idea is a great one and on that is much needed but it won’t change the way the organization does business.

The concerning part was doing an interim report out the leaders who sanctioned the work were good with this.  They couldn’t even see all the waste that was left on the table to eliminate.

During the final report out some of the other leaders pushed on some bigger changes, but most of that was due to the lean change agents prepping the leaders to ask the harder questions.

So.  What do you do when everyone agrees dramatic change is needed but no one can see or envision what that might even look like?

I understand that not everyone can see it, but usually they are open to suggestions.  I see this as a leadership issue.  Leaders need to be able to see the change and help build the burning platform.  Some can see it.  But the extra push isn’t there.

What would you do?

One Man’s Lean Journey: Discovering Lean for the First Time

My time at Thomson Consumer Electronics came to an abrupt end as the company went from 2,000 people in the U.S. to 250 people in a years time. I got a job with Guardian Automotive. The facility I was hired into specialized in exterior plastic trim. Guardian’s customers included almost everyone during the five years I was there: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Harley-Davidson, BMW, International and Freightliner to name a few.

The first few months was very frustrating. My manager and I were trying to make process changes that made since to us in order to reduce WIP. We wanted to move assembly next to the paint lines so there was no paint inventory, but people fought this at every turn.

Then a big change happened. Guardian got a new VP of manufacturing and he brought in his director of lean. We were going to be a lean company. After years of studying Shingo and using lean tools, this was the first time I had heard the term “lean”.

Everyone got pulled off-site for an intro to lean and a hands-on balloon simulation showing pull vs push. During the simulation, I leaned over to my manager and whispered, “This is what we have been trying to do for months with the paint lines.” I was anxious to see how things would go now. The couple hour simulation was the extent of our lean training. We were told to “go do”.

Talk about ‘deer in the headlights’ after that. No real training and being told to “go be lean”.

The first thing my manager and I did was re-establish the idea of connecting the assembly area to the paint lines. We discussed it with the plant manager and how it would be like the balloon simulation. We had his support and were able to complete the work within a few weeks.

Over the next few years, the facility became a lean playground for myself, Joe Wilson (who also blogs on Beyond Lean), and our manager. We learned something, tried it, screwed it up, fixed it and made huge progress.

Our time was a huge success in that the plant went from $500k in the red on $120 million sales to $8.5 million in the black on $90 million sales in three years. But it was a huge failure as well. We had phenomenal support to make the changes we did, but we didn’t change the leadership’s thinking. After we all left the plant was back in the red in about a year.

I don’t say that to too our own horn, but as a lesson in how important it is to change people’s thinking and behaviors in order to sustain the change.

I will be diving deeper into my experiences at Guardian moving forward.


  • It is critical to not only have the support of leadership but to change their mindsets and behaviors in order to maintain the changes during a lean implementation
  • Top down support makes an enormous difference in the work you can accomplish and the time to accomplish it

One Man’s Lean Journey: Creating a Pull Factory…EPIC FAIL!

Let’s have fun with this post. See how many things we did wrong in starting this new manufacturing facility and circle them. Hint: circle the entire post.

To this day, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this work because of all the learning that I didn’t come to realize until years later.

I was a 21-year-old intern and had been selected by my manager to help design a brand new manufacturing facility in Mexico. There are only three people involved in this “top secret” plan. My manager, a consultant with an extensive computer simulation background and myself.

The goal was to design the first pull manufacturing facility in the company based on Demand Flow Technology (or DFT). DFT is one person’s interpretation of lean and how production lines need to be flexible enough to run every product at any time. Studying DFT would serve me well later in my career. I also gained a lot of experience in computer simulation of facilities.

I designed a spreadsheet that calculated the storage space required for every component and finished good across the facility based on production rates and size of components and product. This was an input into the simulation to help determine the size of the building.

We finished the design, ground was broken and I went back to school for a semester.

The new facility was opened a couple of weeks before I returned for another session of my internship.

(Pay attention here because this is my favorite part)

The Mexico facility was replacing a local U.S. facility. The company shut the U.S. facility down on a Friday and started up the new facility in Mexico on the following Monday. No ramp up for the new facility. It started it’s first production after the other facility was shutdown. There was no training of management or employees on what a “pull” facility meant and how it would be different. It was a “here is a new pull facility go run it like you ran other facilities.”

Within a month, there were over 115 tractor trailers on the parking lot storing components and finished goods. Inside the facility, finished goods were piled in any opening they could find. Television sets that were supposed to be stacked three high were six high and leaning over about ready fall. It was a complete disaster.

My manager and I were called to the floor. We were told our design and space requirements were wrong and we needed to go to Mexico and fix the problem.

I spent two days pouring over my calculations and could not find a single thing that was wrong. We got to the facility and spent a few days watching production, examining the inbound and outbound process and locating parts in the facility and in the parking lot. It became very clear that no management practices had been changed and the facility was operating in traditional batch push system.

We spent a month helping to change a few processes and get the inventory under a manageable control, but the overall solution from the high powered executives was to expand the building and keep operating as is. Not change the management practices and improve the processes.

I can’t understate what a disaster this was. Truly an enormous cluster. It was a few years later when I was leading a lean transformation in automotive that I realized how valuable that experience was.


  • Having only three people involved in the design of a new facility, especially going from push to pull, is a very bad idea. It should be a larger collaborative effort. This will even help with buy-in a when the changes are made.
  • Simulations are an incredible tool, but are useless when you simulate one set of assumptions and another is put into practice
  • Absolutely no ramp up time for the new facility…Really!?! I am still speechless on this one.
  • If you are switching from a push to a pull system, you have to train everyone from the plant manager down on how this is different and how to manage in the new system. This is crucial.
  • There must be knowledgeable support for the entire facility when going from push to pull. Help everyone work through the kinks of the new processes and not allow them to fall back on old ways.
  • Most important, when something goes wrong, learn and change to improve don’t fall back to old ways just because it is comfortable. In this case, it cost millions to expand the facility instead of learning new processes.


As a person helping others implement lean, there is no better feeling than knowing things have been sustained and benefits gained.

I recently had a walk through with a team I have been working with for 10 months.  The most rewarding part of the walk was seeing that 90% of the things we have talked about and the team implemented has not faltered. 5S to daily metrics to visual management.  It all has sustained.

What is different about here vs other places I have been?

1. The leadership commitment.  The managers have been involved and leading the effort.  Not supporting the effort.  This does not mean they are making all the decisions and doing all the work.  They are getting people involved and auditing to make sure the improvements are sticking.

2. Leadership is involving the employees.  Leadership is asking what improvements the employees need and what they feel is most important.  Then clearing a path so the employees can help make those improvements.  Showing the employees their ideas and thoughts do matter.

3. Leadership is hungry to learn and improve.  The leadership wants to understand more and learn themselves.  They do not think lean is for “someone else to do.”

It sounds simple, but if it was everyone would be doing it and doing it well.

How are you sustaining your lean improvements?

Always Be Improving

“If it’s not improving, it’s degrading”
— Toyota

This is a quote that I found a few years ago from someone at Toyota. I find this to be a very powerful quote.

The quote implies there is no status quo. As an organization, a process or a person, you are either improving or degrading.

Some will make the argument that their metrics are holding steady and haven’t moved; therefore, they are holding in a constant state or in status quo. And that may be true, but while you are holding there are others that are improving. This is degrading your status.

A great example of this is GM. The maintained what they were doing for years, while Toyota kept improving, slowly degrading GM’s status over time until Toyota passed them.

We should be working to improve at all times. Being satisfied with where we are at does nothing but cause problems down the road.

How are you pushing to improve everyday? Every year?

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.

True Coaching Takes Investment

The term coach is thrown around a lot in a business setting.  Too much in my opinion.  Any time spent with someone giving advice or direction is called coaching nowadays.  It sounds great when you say you spent time “coaching” someone.

Coaching is more than giving advice.  Coaching is an investment in time to really help them along.

Think of any athletic coach you may have had.  Basketball, football, tennis, golf, swimming, etc..  Did you ever spend 30 minutes with that person in a café getting advice on a rare occasion and end up calling them coach?  Of course not.

Why? Because coaching takes time.  You have to spend time in the with the person in the environment you are coaching on and observe and make suggestions as you go along.

Anything else is advice.  There is a big difference between giving advice and coaching.

Because of the time investment, a person can’t coach many people in the business environment.  The best thing to do is focus on coaching a person or two.  Don’t spread yourself thin as a coach because then no one wins.  The learner doesn’t get your full attention and does not learn and grow nearly as much.  The coach will never see the fruit of their labor come to fruition because the learner never reaches their full potential.

Think about this before taking someone on as their coach.  Are you going to be able to devote the time truly necessary to help them along?

Shout Out to Fellow Bloggers

I wanted to give a shout out to some fellow bloggers today.  Normally, when I give a shout out it has to do with reading something by another blogger that influences me to go and change my work.

Not this time.  I have to give credit to some fellow bloggers that have the will to continually read articles and blogs that those in the lean world, like myself, find to be ridiculous.

Bill Waddell, Kevin Meyer, Mark Graban and others continue to read material by others that is so rooted in traditional mindsets that it can be appalling.  Yet they do this and provide perspective to the rest of us so we don’t have to waste our time reading it.


It is always good to read and learn about “the other side.”  It helps to combat the myths and misunderstandings of lean.

I have tried this and from time to time can read the other material but I struggle.  Knowing that mindset is still so rooted and these “experts” are continuing to think this way can drive me absolutely BONKERS!!!  And that is the medial term.

So to Bill, Kevin, Mark and others…Thank you for helping to keep me informed.  By doing so, you help to keep my sanity.

Counting Down the Top 10 Viewed Posts of 2013 – 5 Thru 1

2014 is now in full swing.  Before 2013 is too far in the rear view mirror, I thought I would recap the Top 10 most viewed posts on Beyond Lean for 2013.

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 2013.  Enjoy!

5.   Making Leader Standard Work Visual (June 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #9 – An example of a visual board from a group I worked with.  The board makes the tasks and if they were completed by the managers visual.

4.  Don’t Over Complicate the Formula (October 2011) – Talks about simplifying formulas to get you directionally correct especially with calculating kanbans.

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

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


1.  5S in the Office (September 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #3 – 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.

I hope 2014 is a great year!

Top 6 – 10 of 2013


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