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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.

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Want Things to Change? Then Give the Experiences.

This is my final post about things that really hit home with me during my second go ’round at the Lean Experience class that Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino, from the Lean Learning Center, put on at my company.

When discussing lean principles you naturally start to talk about behaviors to look for to understand if that principle is being followed or not.  The only way to get people to change their behavior is to change their beliefs (nothing religious just from a lean standpoint).  Such as a belief to manage by going and directly observing the work being done and not manage from behind a desk reading reports.

This makes a lot of sense.  The part that has always been missing is, how do we get them to change their beliefs?

That answer, as Jamie and Andy explained, is to give them the experiences demonstrating the new behaviors/beliefs and let them experience the difference.  In fact, the whole Lean Experience class is designed to set up and give experiences demonstrating the lean principles.  It starts the change process.  One experience does not change the belief.

While giving experiences may seem straight forward, it isn’t easy to remember to do.  This hit home because recently I completely abandoned this while trying to implement a kanban system for a component we use.  I have had multiple experiences of implementing a kanban, so I had the belief this was the right thing to do for our situation.  But some of our internal suppliers did not.  I got to a point of frustration that I told them to just do it and listen to me.  Well, I think we all know how that worked………not so good.  One of my partners kept building the kanban and did some compromising with the internal supplier and got the kanban up and running.  Over the last 2 months, a 20 year old problem that happened several times daily has only happened one time.  The internal supplier is ecstatic that we aren’t calling him all the time now begging for the components.

This is the internal supplier’s first experience he has been given with a kanban system.  He has now changed his view on it, but still isn’t all the way sold.  This is where we have to continue to give positive experiences to continue to change his beliefs.

As we continue to spread lean to more and more people, we have to remember to ask, “How do we give them the positive experiences?”

This concludes my reflections from the Lean Experience class.  Here are the links to all the reflections:

Solve Problems to the Generative Level

This is the second to last post about my reflection and learning from the Lean Experience class taught by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

On Wednesday morning, the class participated in the Beer Game.  It is a simulation showing the effects of processes on a system.  At the end all the teams had to chart their results.  A quick debrief showed how different teams used different strategies during the simulation.  The eye-opener was that all of the charts from the different teams showed the SAME pattern on every one of them.  That really struck me on how processes drive everything (something I have always believed but the example was powerful).

Jamie and Andy went into explaining their Iceberg model that is below.

As problem solvers we seem to talk a lot about being reactive versus proactive.  This is definitely better but we never seem to talk about problem solving to the generative level.  Jamie and Andy use the iceberg to show how we spend a lot of time reacting to what is happening now (fire fighting).  This is what we can see easily so it is shown sticking up above the water.

When we get below the surface, we start to see factors that are contributing to the results.  These factors create patterns and when we problem solve to fix the patterns is when we are being proactive.

Being proactive is good but it isn’t deep enough.  We need to solve a problem at the systems level so no matter what strategy we use we get the desired out come we are looking for (just like the Beer Game).  When we dig this deep and change the systems we are getting to the generative level.  This is the level that starts the generation of results we see at the top of the iceberg.

Lets look at a bearing going out on a machine as an example:

Reactive would be to wait until the bearing goes out and the machine shuts down to replace it.

Proactive would be to change the bearing before the machine shuts down when you notice a difference in the machine’s sound or it starts to vibrate.

Generative would be to understand how long the bearing typically lasts before it starts performing at a less then optimal level.  The have a maintenance program that replaces the bearing before it can even perform at a less than optimal level.

I know that I have done some of this problem solving in the past but I always looked at it as proactive.  I now have a new lens to look at it and ask better questions to make sure we are changing the system and not just addressing the pattern.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Systematic Waste Elimination

My three posts this week will be the final three posts about some of the deeper understanding I got from attending the Lean Experience class facilitated by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

One of the five principles of lean they talk about is Systematic Waste Elimination.  A common definition of lean out there is a eliminate waste from the process.  Jamie and Andy talk about the key word in the principle….Systematic.  I remember learning this three years ago, when I took the course the first time, but over time I have lost sight of it.  Not eliminating waste, but systematically eliminating waste.

By systematic, Jamie and Andy mean have a structure to do it in.  Don’t just go around talking about eliminating waste and expect people to just do it.  Have a mechanism for someone to identify and surface the waste.  Have a way for that person to go about eliminating (or reducing) the waste.  Give it structure and a repeatable process.

Being systematic about eliminating waste, will give the organization a better chance at sustaining the momentum when someone engages and eliminates waste in their work.  Having structure will allow successes to build upon one another.

I have seen structure put around waste elimination in manufacturing environments and even office environments such as order processing.  I thought about how we could put structure around identifying and eliminating waste in our central lean change agent group that I am a part of.  If we can’t do it in our own work, how can we expect others to do it?

Eliminating any waste, no matter how much, will add up and make things more productive.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Kaizen Events Are Work Arounds

This post is another in a series of reflections I have had after attending the Lean Experience class by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

For several years, I have have seen kaizen events as a tool.  It is a tool to help get people together to drive improvement or to help re-energize the employee engagement.  Some may mislead you and say that it is lean to do kaizen events.  It isn’t lean, but just another tool of lean.  Like any tool, you need to know when is the appropriate time to use it.  This was reinforced during the week.

The ‘a-ha’ moment I had is when Jamie described kaizen events as a work around for an organization that does not normally work cross functionally naturally.

In a company that is displaying lean behaviors, people in the organization would work together cross functionally naturally, without being “forced” through a kaizen event.  Another way to put it is the internal customer and supplier relationship has a strong bond so both are naturally considered and involved in the improvement process.

If this is the case, then in an organization that working across functional boundaries well, are kaizen events even needed?  Are companies that brag on the number of kaizen events, just really good at work arounds?  Is the ideal state to have no kaizen events (because of good cross functional work, not just stop doing them)?

If you look at it in this way, then it really pushes how we view the way work should be done.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Standardized Work Instructions – Not a Replacement for Skill & Knowledge

I am continuing to reflect on some of the thoughts and principles from the Lean Experience presented by the Lean Learning Center.  This one centers around standardized work instructions (SWI).  Most people are aware of the benefits of having standardized work instructions:

  • Provides a baseline to improve upon
  • Reduces variability in the process
  • Increased predictability in the output of the process
  • Reduces ambiguity in what is expected
  • Enables troubleshooting when there is a deviation from the standard
  • Etc..

I can’t say that any of this was a new epiphany to me, but the quote from Jamie Flinchbaugh that really sunk in was “Standardized work instructions are not a replacement for skill and knowledge.”

I have always taught that SWI is not meant to turn people into robots.  It is there to free up the person’s mind from thinking about the routine, repetitive tasks and let them think about how to improve the process.  No matter how I explained it, I always had a hard time getting people to buy in that have great skill and knowledge in the area.

A great example Jamie used was an airplane pre-flight checklist.  I might be able to go through the checklist (which is a form of SWI) and complete, but there is no way you would want me to fly the plan.  I do not have the skill or the knowledge to do so.

To me just saying the words, “SWI does not replace your skill and knowledge,” would seem like it would engage the employees more.  It can reassure them that we aren’t trying to replace them by creating standardized work instructions.  It is there to help apply that skill and knowledge in a consistent and effective way.

This was a point that really resonated with me.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Andon – Subtle Difference Changes Mindset

Last week, I got a refresher and a deeper understanding the lean principles as presented by the Lean Learning Center.  One thing deeper understanding I got was around andon (or signals).  We started the week off by doing a case study around Toyota.  The case study introduces the andon system that is on the production lines at Toyota.

A quick overview of the system.  When an operator has an issue, any issue, they pull a cord at the line.  The cord sets off music and lights telling the team leader their is a problem.  The team leader responds immediately and asks, “What is the problem?  How can I help?”

The first time I took the class, 3 years ago, I learned to use sound with the lights.  In case the team leader wasn’t looking in the direction of the lights, the sound would tell them the problem.  I have used this thinking in the last three years to install a few andon systems.

For three years, I looked at sound and lights as a way to get the team leader’s attention.  Here is the subtle difference that I learned this time. Use the sound to alert the team leader of a problem and the lights to indicate where the problem is.

I know this is very subtle, but had I taking this understanding in the past, I would have implemented some andon systems differently.  In some cases, I did you sound and lights to alert and tell where, but that was purely by accident.  In some cases, I used sound and light just to alert and the the team leader had to find out where.  Having this small change to my understanding gives me a whole new perspective on signaling when there is a problem.  It allows me to put in systems with even less waste now.

I know this may seem small, but it has caused me to go back think about the small things and WHY I do them.  It has me questioning things I haven’t question in a long time or ever before.  It re-emphasized the importance of why.

As lean thinkers, implementers, teachers, and coaches we should always be thinking about the why and gaining a deeper understanding.

Lean Experience

Last week I was fortunate enough to take the “Lean Experience” course from the Lean Learning Center.  It was my second time taking the week long lean principle immersion.  It was taught by Jamie Flinchbaugh, Andy Carlino, and Jim Sonderman.

I took the course for the first time 3 years ago.  At the time, I had been implementing lean for 7+ years.  The course helped organize the concepts and thinking I had been teaching and implementing.  It made it easier for me to be see what behaviors that fostered lean thinking whether someone called it lean or not.

Last week, I still got as much out of it as I did the first time.  It has been 3 years since the first time I took the course.  This time the course helped:

  • Reinforce the principles and get back to the basics
  • I was able to get a better and deeper understanding of some of the principles and rules
  • I learned things that I missed the first time

I plan to blog over the next few weeks with more that I learned last week.

Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (Part 3)

Four years ago, I read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  The book was very easy to read and insightful.  In the book, Andy and Jamie talk about the five Lean Priniciples which they teach.  I had already read “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.  I liked how Andy and Jamie only had 5 principles.  It made it easier to remember, but everywhere I went people refer to the 14 Toyota Principles in “The Toyota Way”.  In light of Toyota’s recent problems people are reluctant to mention Toyota as a high standard, because they don’t want the other person start to tune them out.

In order to help others see the value of five simple principles but not lose the tie to the 14 Toyota principles, I will have a three part series that will look at each of the 14 Toyota principles and examine how they relate to the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.”

The first question to answer is: What are the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”?  Here they are:

The Five Lean Principles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

  1. Directly Observe Work as Activities, Connections, and Flows
  2. Establish High Agreement of both What and How
  3. Systematic Waste Elimination
  4. Systematic Problem Solving
  5. Create a Learning Organization

As you read the comparison, I hope to give a better feel for the behaviors and essence of the five principles from Andy and Jamie.

Part 3 will focus on Principles 11 through 14 of the Toyota Way.

Toyota Principle #11: Respect Your Extended Network of Partners and Suppliers by Challenging Them and Helping Them Improve

A company’s partners and suppliers are a key aspect of the business.  The company should treat them as an extended part of their supply chain and respect them in the same manner all the internal employees are respected.  This creates a fully connected value stream from supplier to customer acting as one entity beyond just the physical walls of the company.  With everyone acting as one, high agreement on improvements and direction can be achieved to create a more efficient value stream (Lean Principle #2).

Once the improvements and the direction of the value stream are agreed upon, then the company can help the partners and suppliers to eliminate waste from their processes (Lean Principle #3).  By eliminating this waste from the entire value stream, the company can reduce its total cost.  This allows them to stay ahead of their competitors and also allows the partners and suppliers to become more profitable and stay in business, creating more respect and a better relationship.

Toyota Principle #12: Go and See for Yourself to Thoroughly Understand the Situation (Genchi Genbutsu)

“Directly observe work as activities, connections and flows” (Lean Principle #1) is stating the same philosophy as this Toyota Principle.    If leaders don’t directly observe work it will be very hard for them to thoroughly understand the situation and be able to contribute to solving the problem or improving the process effectively.

Toyota Principle #13: Make Decisions Slowly by Consensus, Thoroughly Considering All Options; Implement Decisions Rapidly

Developing a consensus can be hard to do.  An organization must gain high agreement on what options to implement and the how to implement the changes (Lean Principle #2).  To gain high agreement, an organization must have a common understanding of the situation through directly observing the work (Lean Principle #1).  This will enable people to have correct and updated information on all the options.  There must also be a common understanding on how to systematically eliminate the waste (Lean Principle #3) and solve problems (Lean Principles #4).  Without this common understanding it will be hard to get a consensus on how to close the gap between what is actually happening and what should be happening.

Toyota Principle #14: Become a Learning Organization Through Relentless Reflection (Hansei) and Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)

Reflection is a process that allows an organization to identify what the ideal outcome would have been and compare it to what the actual outcome was.  This allows the organization to learn (Lean Principle #5) from its current process.  Without relentless reflection on not only what went wrong but also what went right, it is extremely difficult to continually improve.  By reflecting and applying the learnings, the organization improves the process for the next time.  It also prevents the organization from making the same mistakes again, allowing more learning to occur the next time through the process.

Making reflection a normal part of the learning process establishes high agreement on what and how the organization can improve upon (Lean Principle #2).  Reflection is worthless if it is not used with the purpose of learning improvement.  The only way to truly improve is to reflect back to prior issues and integrate the learnings into the next processes.

Lessons from Toyota are very valuable, especially today.  An organization can learn from the lessons of Toyota over the last 50 years, but the organization must develop and travel down its own lean path.  The lean principles talked about in this article allow everyone in the organization to practice lean thinking on a daily basis.  Toyota can also serve as a good example of what can happen when an organization decides to get away from practicing the lean principles.

I hope many more companies can continue to learn and practice these lean principles.

Part 1 is posted here.

Part 2 is posted here.


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Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (Part 2)

Four years ago, I read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  The book was very easy to read and insightful.  In the book, Andy and Jamie talk about the five Lean Priniciples which they teach.  I had already read “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.  I liked how Andy and Jamie only had 5 principles.  It made it easier to remember, but everywhere I went people refer to the 14 Toyota Principles in “The Toyota Way”.  In light of Toyota’s recent problems people are reluctant to mention Toyota as a high standard, because they don’t want the other person start to tune them out.

In order to help others see the value of five simple principles but not lose the tie to the 14 Toyota principles, I will have a three part series that will look at each of the 14 Toyota principles and examine how they relate to the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.”

The first question to answer is: What are the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”?  Here they are:

The Five Lean Principles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

  1. Directly Observe Work as Activities, Connections, and Flows
  2. Establish High Agreement of both What and How
  3. Systematic Waste Elimination
  4. Systematic Problem Solving
  5. Create a Learning Organization

As you read the comparison, I hope to give a better feel for the behaviors and essence of the five principles from Andy and Jamie.

Part 2 will focus on Principles 6 through 10 of the Toyota Way.

Toyota Principle #6: Standardized Tasks Are the Foundation for Continuous Improvement and Employee Empowerment

The term “high agreement” means that everyone is in agreement (not just the “high” level of the company) on what is to be accomplished and how it will be accomplished (Lean Principle #2).  In one word, this is “standardization.”  The standardization allows for a baseline when a problem arises.  If standards are being followed then the problem becomes easier to diagnose.  Once the root cause is discovered, allowing the employees the freedom to improve the standard so the issue doesn’t surface again promotes empowerment and respect for people.  This respect for their knowledge of the process will help to foster more improvement ideas from them.

Standardization allows for easier systematic problem solving (Lean Principle #4). When an issue surfaces, the first question should be, “Is the standard being followed?”  If not, then ask, “Why?”  If the standard is being followed then the question is, “What is wrong with the standard?”  These are simple questions that anybody can ask.  This doesn’t require any specialized training, which allows everyone in the company to participate in continuous improvement easily.

Toyota Principle #7: Use Visual Control So No Problems Are Hidden

In a lean system, the mentality is to make problems visible and covet the opportunities for improvement.  Scorecards, 5S, standardized work, and andons are some of the tools used to create visual controls and bring problems to the surface.  These visual controls make it easier for someone to identify if there is an abnormal condition while directly observing work (Lean Principle #1).  The easier it is to see the abnormalities, the more beneficial direct observation of work becomes in eliminating waste (Lean Principle #3).  Without visual controls, directly observing work is more difficult and creates waste by asking more questions in order to understand what the normal condition should be before determining if it is abnormal or not.

Once problems are discovered, then employees can solve them (Lean Principle #4).  A root cause can be found and countermeasures can be put into place to prevent the abnormality from resurfacing.  Countermeasures usually involve putting more visual controls into place or improving the existing visual controls in order to make the specific problem visible before it becomes an issue again

Toyota Principle #8: Use Only Reliable, Thoroughly Tested Technology That Serves Your People and Process

The first part of the Toyota Principle is to use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology.  In order to do this, an organization must be dedicated to extensive experimenting and learning (Lean Principle #5) about the technology before putting it into place.  Proper experimentation of the technology is critical to applying the technology correctly for the most positive business impact.  If it isn’t applied appropriately, more waste will be created in the system.

The second part of this Toyota Principle talks about using technology that serves your people and processes.  The best way to have a clear understanding of what an organization’s people and processes’ needs are is to directly observe the work (Lean Principle #1).  If the true needs of organization’s people and processes are not met, then the technology is creating waste.  People and processes may be doing work that is not truly needed or even worse, the technology could be not used at all..  The technology should be modified to fit the organization’s needs and not modify the organization’s needs to fit the technology.

The best way to know if a technology serves the people and process is to clearly define the problem that needs to be addressed by the technology.  It is very critical that a systematic problem solving methodology is in place in order to help with this task (Lean Principle #4).  A company would not want to invest in an automated storage/retrieval system to move parts, when the true issue is the waste of transporting the material across the plant.  In this case, the technology is not serving the needs of the process

Toyota Principle #9: Grow Leaders Who Thoroughly Understand the Work, Live the Philosophy, and Teach It to Others

In order for an organization to develop leaders who understand, live and teach the lean philosophy to others, the company must allow the people to learn within the organization.  This takes a dedication to being a learning organization (Lean Principle #5).  This involves allowing the leaders to directly observe work so they can learn the processes themselves.  Once a leader understands the work, it becomes easier for them to teach it to others.  This allows the organization to learn more about itself and continually improve.

When leaders are cultivated from within the company, the transition from one leader to another becomes much easier.  There is already an understanding and high agreement on the philosophy and direction of the company (Lean Principle #2).  When an organization has established common thinking and common direction with all the leaders within the organization, the company becomes more stable and there is no ground lost in continuous improvement or a change in the company’s direction before, during or after the transition.

Toyota Principle #10: Develop Exceptional People and Teams Who Follow Your Company’s Philosophy

This is an extension of Toyota Principle #9.  If the company doesn’t develop leaders who understand the work, live the philosophy and teach it to others, then exceptional people cannot be developed who will follow the company’s philosophy.  This correlates to Lean Principles #5 and #2 from above.

Part 1 is posted here.

Part 3 is posted here.


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