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As I’m sure a lot of self described “Lean Thinkers” have, I have had a bunch of discussions about where to start at with Lean.  My mostly philosophical point of view is that 5-S isn’t the best place to start because you can’t do the Sort step until you define what is really needed in a work area.  Taking that a step back, you can’t define what is needed in a work area until you have defined and somewhat smoothed your production/demand.  I have seen several points of view that 5S is a great place to start because “If you can’t do 5S you won’t be able to do anything else.”*

I have come face to face with the harsh reality again that what matters most is that you are committed to it, not where you start.  I realize that this isn’t news or even a question for most Lean folks.  Sometimes in our journey of preaching the Lean gospel, we are confronted with people who aren’t at all ready to change who they are to follow the Lean path.  They may want to overlay a few tools for show or toss terminology around as the latest buzzwords.  At most levels of the organization, people that think like that can be worked with, developed, or, at the very least, worked around for a while.  When the lack of commitment is at the top, it makes you wonder why they even pretend.

For the record, I don’t mean this as any sort of contempt for those that don’t want to do Lean.  I have no problem with people that aren’t interested in Lean and are honest about it.  My concern is for people that fake an interest and only want to toy around with Lean.  That type of activity does a great disservice to not only Lean as an effective way of doing business, but to the people that work under them and are forced to take part in things that are clearly unimportant to their managers.  The whole charade is a giant waste of resources.

In the situation that has brought this brush with reality, I could just simply back out and not “help” this person any more.  But, I do worry about how many extremely bright, talented, and capable future Lean leaders are stuck in situations that they can’t get out of as cleanly for whatever reason.  The concept of wasted human potential has long been a fundamental of true Lean.  I wonder how much potential has been wasted by the fake committed.


*I believe this quote or something really similar was in the book, “The Gold Mine”, but I can’t seem to find it. I try to not use unattributed quotes or statements, but I couldn’t find exactly where I first heard this.  I apologize if I incorrectly assigned credit for this.  If anyone remembers or can source the origin, please let me know and I’ll correct it.  Thanks.

Using Reviews to Highlight Your Talents

It’s that time of year when employers have their managers do mid-year performance reviews.  The discussion usually centers around what work has been accomplished so far this year, what are the plans for the second half of the year, and have any of the priorities changed.

One question asked on our mid-year review form is, “Name one to three strengths and how we can use them better.”

I hated this question, because what I think are my strengths, I have others tell I need improve on.  For example, I usually don’t have an issue speaking my mind and giving my point of view.  I think that is a good thing.  Others have an issue with it.

Everything I came up with sounded so generic.  It didn’t feel like it was actionable or added any value.

After reading Now, Discover Your Strengths I realized I could use this as an opportunity to help my manager understand my talents more fully.  I used some examples from the Talent Assessment to show how my natural talents could be utilized in the context of my work.

I felt like the pressure of coming up with something generic and non-action driven was off of me.  It was an opportunity to give my manager a better insight into what makes me, me and fulfill the requirements for my mid-year review at the same time.

Review time always seems to be a dreaded time.  Use the time to give your manager more insights to your talents and help them see ways to utilize you in an expanded capacity.

Leadership…Training or Talent?

I believe there is a difference between managers and leaders.  Managers help drive the business to reach results in a status quo way.  Leaders help drive change in the business.  Leaders pull the business forward to new levels.  Both are needed in a company.  Leaders don’t necessarily have to be in management positions.

With that being said I do believe that there are certain positions in an organization that the manager must also be a leader.  Most of these positions are at higher levels of the organization.  Without leaders at higher levels driving change, the company will not grow or move forward the way that it might need to in order to survive.

So, is the ability to lead effectively a talent or is it something that can be taught?

I believe that leadership is a talent.  It is something that a person has the natural ability to do.  Can they person get some training and education on how to be a more effective leader?  Sure they can.

Can a person who doesn’t have a talent to lead learn some leadership skills?  Yes.  But, this is more of a stop gap because they are in a role that requires them to be more of a leader.  Leading still won’t come easy to them, therefore people will have  a hard time following.  I have seen people follow a manager trying to lead just because of the respect for the position and not the person leading them.  In every case, I have never seen this workout to a good result.

True leadership, getting people to change their minds and direction is a talent that can be enhanced and fine-tuned through training.  When leading people want to follow and go where the leader is taking them.

What do you think?  Is true leadership a talent or can it be trained?

Leadership By Shift

Being in manufacturing for my whole career, I have to work with shifts around the clock.  I know this is quite common in the manufacturing environment.  The other common practice I have seen is 1st shift is considered the place to put the ‘A’ player supervisors and line management team.  The 2nd and 3rd shifts is considered ‘B’ and ‘C’ players plus the new hires.  I have seen this play out in the many manufacturing facilities I have been in.

Why is this?  Why not put an even mix of ‘A’ players across the shifts?

I would think 2nd and 3rd shift would be a good spot for the best supervisors because there isn’t other management at the facilities during this time to help out.  The best supervisors would be good at covering more areas.  Also, it allows all the shifts to have someone that is a go to person.  If they are all on 1st shift, then things just sit and wait until someone comes into work.

Most manufacturing facilities put the new hires on 3rd shift to start (after their training).  Who would you want to have be there for the new hire?  A supervisor everyone things is doing a great job?  Or a supervisor that can barely do their own job?

I’m not saying that if they aren’t an ‘A’ supervisor to fire them.  There will always be someone doing better than someone else.  We should just consider spreading the best supervisors across shifts to give it a balance for learning and responsibility.

How does your organization place supervisors?  Are all the best on 1st shift?  Or are they equally spread across multiple shifts?