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Book Review: A Factory of One

Last month, I had the opportunity to read Daniel Markovitz’s new book, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance.  It is published by Productivity Press. My hopefully pithy review is now posted on his book website (where you can also get a FREE chapter):

How can this book NOT be for EVERYONE?! Dan Markovitz has written a truly unique, readable, and actionable book about personal lean. A Factory of One will help the reader reconnect with the value-creating portion of his or her everyday work. Dan’s book is a gift to all knowledge workers.”

If you don’t know Dan, or at least know about him, you should.  He is a personal productivity sage and, admittedly, is a lot smarter than I am (despite attending a rival “Little Ivy” college). Dan is the founder and owner of TimeBack Management, faculty member of Lean Enterprise Institute, renowned speaker and now, author.

Often folks rightly believe that book reviewer comments are puffed up things written by someone who may have read the book introduction, if that. The fact is that I read the whole work and covered it with a bunch of notes.

The notes? Well, those were mostly to highlight important passages and personal productivity learnings for myself.

A Factory of One is a “me book.” The “me,” represents whoever is fortunate enough to read it…and genuinely respond to its challenge to continually engage in personal practice kaizen.

Dan’s stated goal of the book is consistent with this notion:

…to help you work more mindfully – to be aware of what you are doing in the moment because you have removed the physical and psychic clutter that dilutes your productivity. The book will teach principles and tools that help you structure how you do your work so that you can identify the best approach – one that helps you get more done, and done better, consistently. You will make the best practice, common practice.”

Markovitz’s book is 145 pages in length – certainly a quick read. It is comprised of five chapters, along with a brief introduction and conclusion. Each chapter contains real-life illustrative stories (you’ll love the one about the $14 million check) and, with the exception of Chapter 5, concludes with “Next Steps” – a pragmatic punch list of activities that support the strategies and tactics discussed within the chapter.

Here’s a summary of the chapters:

  1. What’s Your Job? Dan begins by challenging the reader to go beyond their job title and get at the essence of their role. This, of course, requires an understanding of value from the perspective of one’s “customers.” A Factory of One is about enhancing personal productivity around value-added activities, not becoming really, really good at the non-value added stuff. This is not a how to book for “email ninjas.” Chapter Next Steps include creating a customer value map and completing a time-tracking log for one week.
  2. Spotting Value, Spotting Waste. Markovitz talks persuasively about “information 5S.” Dan has the audacity to claim that the desktop is a workshop and not a storage space! Next Steps include ruthlessly 1S’ing your office, using a 3-tray (“inbox”, “outbox,” and “reading”) system, creating “working,” “reference,” and “archive” files and electronic folders, etc.
  3. Flow. Yes, this is all about the flow of knowledge work! I have copied Dan’s figure of “4Ds workflow” and now have it hanging over my desk. It’s a relatively simple reminder to keep things moving. When the “stuff” comes into my inbox (real or virtual), I have got to either: 1) do it (if < 2 minutes of work content), 2) delegate it, 3) designate it (task list if <10 minutes, calendar it if >30 minutes), or 4) discard it. Of course, it doesn’t end there. Once Markovitz gets you to set the table, then it’s time to dispel the myth of multi-tasking, and introduce strategies like “worst first,” serial tasking, compressing your available time to better identify problems, and level-loading repetitive tasks. Next Steps include applying 4Ds, use of recurring calendar appointments to force you to do the necessary but not favorite tasks first, keeping a notepad next to your computer to record phone calls you need to make and emails you need to send (and thus avoid stopping flow), and scheduling specific time(s) to process email.
  4. Visual Management. Dan challenges the reader who finds comfort in keeping all their working files on their desk – it’s a wildly ineffective strategy to combat “out of sight, out of mind.” The author introduces personal kanbans and then proceeds to discuss the integrated use of the calendar and task pad, the need for slack in one’s schedule, etc. For me, living in my calendar versus my inbox is one of my Achilles heels! Chapter Next Steps call for the movement of all tasks, projects, and ongoing commitments into an electronic calendar and tasks pad (see 4Ds, above). The projects should be visually tracked using a simple personal kanban board.
  5. From Bad to Good, and from Good to Great. This chapter does not have a formal Next Steps section – it’s ALL about next steps. The knowledge worker must embrace PDCA and, by definition, standardized work around the if, how, what, when, where, and who of their work. Just applying the first four chapters does not let you off the hook!

Bottom line, buy and apply A Factory of One. It will improve your personal performance!

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, Undercover Hospital Sensei’s Diagnosis – “Healthcare is Broke” [guest post]


Undercover Hospital Sensei’s Diagnosis – “Healthcare is Broke” [guest post]

Normally, I introduce the guest post author at the conclusion of the post. However, this one needs a little pre-post explanation. Believe me.

First the introduction. This post was earnestly written by my friend, Jeff Fuchs. He is Director of the Maryland World Class Consortia, a lean non-profit assistance organization in the mid-Atlantic. He is also president of Neovista Consulting, working with large and small organizations on lean, leadership, and organizational change. Jeff has participated in the development and expansion of SME/AME/Shingo Prize/ASQ Lean Certification.  He is Lean Bronze Certified and serves as Co-Chairman of the Lean Certification Oversight Committee.  Jeff received his B.S. in aerospace engineering from West Point.  He is a veteran, and a member of the Shingo Prize Board of Examiners.  His current projects are in lean for personal time management, job shops, and lean government.

Now the explanation/background. At the moment, Jeff is the instructor for three lean training programs.  Recently, a trip to the emergency room interrupted one of his training sessions. Subsequent to the “interruption,” Jeff sent out an apologetic and, ever the sensei, instructive email to his session participants. He also shared the email with some other folks. Unfortunately for him, I was one of those folks. Jeff has graciously agreed to let me post his email (with some slight editing) within Gemba Tales. I think his entertaining letter drives home some of the not insignificant opportunities within health care, the importance of customer focus, and the power of direct observation (even when wearing something lent to you by the hospital). That, and Jeff managed to read a great lean book during his “incarceration” and then give it a plug.

The subject line of Jeff’s email –“I’m just fine!” Wish I could say the same for health care in this country.


Dear Class,

“Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” Please accept my sincere apologies for throwing your day off last Thursday. Unfortunately, I had to bring my body into the shop for some unscheduled maintenance.

As we all heard Sir Ken Robinson observe on Wednesday’s video, some of us just view our bodies “as a way of getting our heads to meetings.”  Proper upkeep falls by the wayside from time to time, and this is what happens.  A bit of detail is in order.  I was up to answer nature’s call at 4:15 a.m. on Thursday, and instead of the usual heartbeat, “thumpita-thump, thumpita-thump, thumpita-thump…,” what I felt was more like “thumpita-thump, eeerrk! thumpita-eeerrk! thumpita-thump…errkk!…”

I grabbed my keys, wallet, cell phone, and a good book and drove to the emergency room.  You may have missed your day of training, but let me tell you that “class was in session” at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center ER when I showed up for school at 5 a.m.  Four hours later, (Let me say that again, “FOUR HOURS LATER”) we were still monkeying around with forgotten paperwork, twice redone blood draws, shift change meetings over my bed, staff that was making three trips to my room to restock inventory, and rolling me through a series of three “patient inventory” transactions between some lab and back to my ER bay of “move, wait, process, wait, move, wait” for X-ray, sonogram, and ECG, respectively.

I told you folks.  I TOLD you to your face!  “When I am through with you, if I am successful, I will make you as miserable a human being as I am.  You will see broken processes all around you.”  Welcome to my world.  Behold, the sad customer/piece of meat-inventory:

Now seriously, don’t he look sad?  Pity the poor victim of broken process.

Naturally, in a case like this I couldn’t resist going into Consultant Mode.  In spite of being hooked up to the monitor, IV, oxygen, etc. like a marionette, the monitor kept losing my continuing thumpita-errk heartbeat, so the nurses had to keep walking back to the main desk an average of every 11.3 minutes (but who’s counting) to see if I was dead yet and to reset the monitor.  How thoughtful of them to give me an ER bay where I could see their goings on.  Their wasted motion, their absence of mistake-proofing or visual controls, their failed attempts to communicate with each other, failed service opportunities, excessive patient transportation, and more.  How very thoughtful.

After three hours of fear, boredom, and frustration cocktail, I used a pen left behind by one of the nurses and began sketching out a nurse/patient spaghetti map of my morning on the back of an IV wrapper I found on the floor, along with a crude value stream map.  (There are a few things wrong in that last sentence.  Please use a black or blue ink pen to circle them.  We’ll review your answers next session.)  The ER staff found my doodles and efficiency ravings…amusing.  I’m sure they did not have much time to be interested in the “bored consultant in room six” at the same time they had to deal with the cut up guy the cop brought in handcuffs, the construction worker who just fell off a scaffold, the guy sleeping on a gurney in the hall who nobody knows where he came from, or the other poor folk who needed their full attention.

The attending physician diagnosed me with “atrial fibrillation,” an eminently treatable condition.  We’ll see in a couple weeks what the follow up says.  They admitted me for observation, where I was subjected to other process design and systems management horrors which I shall not relate to you with at this time.  Suffice it to say, I got an education in that fourteen hours.  The lesson for me: Healthcare is broke.  It’s broke bad.  I mean, if I had a clone army of a thousand Lean Jedi Knights, we’d be swinging our Lean Lightsabers for decades trying to unhose healthcare in this country.  Lean Facilitator Certification Program students, your future in this industry is secure.

By the way, one final note on my lean healthcare field trip.  The “good book” I mentioned that I snagged on my way out the door was Toyota Kata, the one I described with such admiration on Tuesday morning, lamenting that I had not had the time to read it.  Well, there you go.  I plowed through half of it.  Would have gotten further, but had to watch a really good Jerry Springer and eat my tasteless hospital food (Overcooked mac and cheese, gray asparagus, canned pears, and a drink that arrived completely frozen solid.).  So, remember what I said: “A true lean leader is a lifelong learner.”

Put your left hand on the computer screen, raise your right hand, and repeat after me: “A-true-lean-leader-is-a-lifelong-learner.”

Here’s me “enjoying” my incarceration:

Pick up a copy of Toyota Kata.  Will change your life.  It’s an easy and interesting read.  You can finish it in a weekend.  Or two bad Emergency Room visits.  Whichever.

Related posts: Beyond Toast Kaizen – Lean Breakfast Concepts, Circa 1937, Lean Management Systems and Actionable Empathy…or, “How Was Your Day?”

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Book Review: How to Do Kaizen

Many months ago, Norman Bodek sent  me a copy of the book, How to Do Kaizen: A New Path to Innovation (its sub, sub-title is Empowering Everyone to Be a Problem Solver).  Norman, the indisputable lean literature pioneer from the west,  co-authored the book with Bunji Tozawa, a prolific kaizen author in his own right. Norman is also the editor and publisher (PCS Inc.) of the book. The work was published in January of 2010.

My humble take is that How to Do Kaizen is a very important book about voluntary kaizen!

At 425 pages, the book is long. It’s probably longer than it has to be and sometimes it could be more cogent.  (Of course, I am certainly not the most economical writer!) That said, it is clearly written from the heart from the perspective of the authors’ passion about the subject matter and the undeniable sentiment of respect for the worker. Indeed, much of daily kaizen is about first making work more human/easier.

How to Do Kaizen imparts a tremendous amount of practical know-how and know-why around daily kaizen, within what the authors’ call kaizen systems and the application of quick and easy kaizen. The book contains a ton of real-life examples.

Here are some of the many “nuggets” within the book:

  • The average U.S. worker comes up with one new idea every seven years…and only 32% of  those suggestions are implemented. A pretty pitiful underutilization of human creativity! Autoliv, Brigham City, a two-time Shingo Prize winner, is profiled within the book. In 2009, they had implemented 63 suggestions/person. Autoliv’s 2010 goal is 96. When training companies in quick and easy kaizen, the authors target 2 implemented suggestions/person/month.
  • Daily, voluntary kaizen’s “juice” comes from implemented suggestions, no matter how simple the improvement may be. Doing, followed by documenting and sharing via simple “kaizen memos” help capture the improvements while facilitating recognition and propagating the spirit and content of the kaizen. Several months ago, I wrote a post on Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings. See the picture, below for my version of that improvement as documented in a type of simple kaizen memo. Click to enlarge.
  • Norman’s interview with Tom Hartman, Senior Director Lean Consulting, Autoliv Americas provides some outstanding insight into Autoliv’s daily kaizen journey. The Brigham City facility went from less than 0.5 implemented suggestions/employee/year in 1999 to 63 in 2009. Hartman details how the plant ventured from “creature comfort kaizen” to daily kaizen that was also well-aligned with enterprise’s value objectives (quality, productivity, machine reliability, etc.). He further shares how this transformation was facilitated by things like plant-wide TPS training and quality workshops, TPM events, jidoka application, leaders evolving into coaches, transition of the suggestion system from individual focused to team focused, improved visual management, and institution of leader standard work.
  • Good daily kaizen coaches (team leaders, supervisors, managers et al), use the following types of keywords:
    • Observation keywords. Help people notice problems – “duplicated effort,” “complicated,” “tedious,” ” tiring,” etc.
    • Ideation keywords. Help people come up with countermeasures – “eliminate,” ” combine,” rearrange,” “simplify,” etc.
    • Implementation keywords. Encourage implementation ASAP – “for the time being,” “start with part of the problem,” “if it doesn’t work, try something different,” etc.

This book exudes engagement and empowerment and reinforces how simple, fundamental stuff can literally change a culture and leverage the creative talents of each and every person. If you want to transition from system-driven kaizen to principle-driven kaizen, this is an extremely helpful book.

Related posts: Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings, Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation

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Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation

Business travel is a drag. One of the painfully few benefits, if you’re flying (and waiting), is that you can catch up on some reading. Recently, I finished reading George Koenigsaecker’s Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, published by Productivity Press. In my humble opinion, it’s a future classic…and it’s brief – 162 pages!

This book addresses the number one reason for lean implementation failure – ineffective transformation leadership.

Keonigsaecker is a lean scion. He was there at lean’s first American beachhead – as President of Danaher’s Jake Brake in Bloomfield, CT. All told he has led 10 or so successful lean conversions as president or group president, including that of Hon Industries. He is the real deal as a lean leader and practitioner and, no surprise, as a profoundly committed student. Trust him.

So, what does Koenigsaecker’s book share? Among other things, he discusses:

  • True North metrics. True North metrics – quality improvement, delivery/lead time/flow improvement, cost/productivity improvement, human development provide the enterprise with a handful of  clear and simple measurable outputs that will help drive meaningful results. Koenigsaecker shares that annual double digit improvements within each of these measurement categories is the norm during an effective lean implementation. Targets should be set accordingly.
  • Value stream analysis and kaizen events. Value stream analysis (VSA) establishes much of the roadmap for lean implementation.  The importance of VSA, and its power for identifying waste, necessitates heavy lean leader involvement and linkage to True North metrics.  The resultant value stream improvement plan is comprised largely by high impact kaizen events.
  • Implementation pace and required infrastructure. In order to drive double-digit True North metric performance, the implementation pace must be aggressive and must have sufficient resources to support the transformation. Accordingly, the book explores how to establish the kaizen promotion office, kaizen event effectiveness and lean training for the different levels within the organization.
  • Governance. Lean transformation leadership or, in George’s parlance, “governance” encompasses the application of change management best practices (guiding coalition, communication, dealing with change resistant “antibodies,” etc.) and the rigor of strategy deployment and related monthly checkpoints. In order to establish a cadre of effective lean leaders, Koenigsaecker is a convincing proponent of  the mentored lean immersion of executives and senior managers. This recommended (three month) immersion consists largely of kaizen event participation (VSA, standard work, 3P, administrative, etc.) lean business system training and participation in strategy deployment sessions.
  • Lean culture. Koenigsaecker saves the hardest, most critical and most elusive for last – building a lean culture. He discusses the building blocks of a lean/Toyota culture (serve the customer, seek what’s right…regardless, decide carefully, implement quickly, etc.) and the related action plan for achieving that. The action plan includes giving the leadership team personal experience, introducing daily kaizen (about two years AFTER basic lean training and experience through kaizen events) and challenging the team to build (experiential) knowledge.

Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation is value-added and a must read for every lean leader. It is especially relevant for those who seek to implement sustainable step-function improvement in an enterprise that does not have fourth generation lean leaders (i.e., Toyota)…and that’s a pretty big population.

Related post: The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover, Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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