Archive for category Kaizen

Balancing Two Types of Knowledge for Lean Transformation

I am halfway through reading, what I consider (thus far), an important lean book. Robinson and Schroeder’s TThe Idea-Drivenhe Idea-Driven Organization: Unlocking the Power in Bottom-up Ideas is a very thoughtful, practical book on the topic of employee engagement and daily kaizen.

Pure and simple, lean is not transformational without pervasive daily kaizen.

So, read this book.

…Anyway, Robinson and Schroeder refer to the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t up on my Hayek. I’m glad that the authors made the introduction.

Hayek identified two types of knowledge:

  1. Aggregate knowledge. This is ostensibly what top leaders possess (hey, stop snickering). It is developed through some level of intimacy with macro-level data and financial and operational performance information and analysis. This makes sense given the need for these folks to be able to absorb the big picture, set direction and formulate strategy. However, aggregate knowledge does have its limitations, especially when it is in the hands of those with a shortage of a key lean ingredient – humility. Even sufficient aggregrate knowledge in the hands (or head) of the un-humble can make top leaders feel that they know best. That means they can have the grand illusion that they know better than the folks who have the second type of knowledge, see below. This is folly, as proven out on a daily basis in so many companies and, I dare say, most every government organ. There’s a really good reason why central planning doesn’t work – the central planners lack the second type of knowledge, among other things (like true “stakeholdership”).
  2. Knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. This type of knowledge is derived from real-life, consistent gemba-based immersion. Folks who possess this knowledge, the ones who do the actual work at the actual place, by definition should be grounded in reality. (I say “should,” because not all folks sufficiently grasp the situation – their lean thinking may be immature or perhaps they’re not interested in acknowledging reality. It’s up to the leaders to help this along). In any event, with proper coaching and a good lean management system to facilitate problem identification and the targeting and flow of ideas, the people with this second type of knowledge are THE proper and most effective force to conduct kaizen.

There are at least a couple of things that the “aggregate folks” can do to help themselves gain some particular knowledge. Coincidentally, this will help the organization.

  • As Fujio Cho, now honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation, taught, leaders should religiously go see, ask why, and show respect. Much of this should happen within the context of well-developed leader standardized work.
  • Leaders can periodically participate in kaizen activities firsthand with the stakeholders. This will force leaders to go to the gemba, directly and rigorously observe reality with their teammates, and only then, earn some of the necessary insight to share in local PDCA.

Similarly, the “particular knowledge folks” can obtain a least a modicum of aggregate knowledge, more like expanded line of sight, by the incorporation of frequent regular visual process performance metric (people, quality, delivery, cost, and rate of continuous improvement) reviews as part of their natural work team huddles. Less frequently, they should be apprised of performance at the more aggregated levels of value stream, business unit, etc.

Now, we’re not saying that one type of knowledge is better than the other. Every organization needs both in order to survive and ultimately thrive. However, like most things in life, there needs to be a balance.

But, here’s my humble advice to the aggregate folks – set policy and create alignment, establish the lean ecosystem vis a vis lean management systems, model lean leadership behaviors, challenge, encourage, and coach the “particular guys,” …and in a large measure, get out of their way.

Related posts: Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle, Eight Ways to Avoid the Kaizen Roach MotelWhy Do You Ask?

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Invitation to LEI’s Managing Kaizen Events Workshop

Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) will be hosting its first Fall 2013 session. The session, comprised of 13 workshops, will be held in Minneapolis from September 17th through 20th and will focus, “on such fundamental concepts as standardized work, leader standard work, kaizen (both daily improvement and team-based rapid improvement events), visual management and value-stream mapping in the context of organizational change and learning.”

I’ll be instructing the new Managing Kaizen Events workshop September 19-20. If you would like a description of this interactive workshop, please view the video below. Click here for more information (great idea if you don’t want to see and hear me drone on) and to register.

I hope to see you in Minneapolis!

PDCA – So Simple, It’s Child’s Play [Guest Post]

I was recently working in Indonesia at one of the largest pulp and paper mills in the world. One evening we were invited to the company’s continuous improvement awards ceremony.

On a quarterly basis they recognize kaizen teams that have excelled.

Halfway through the ceremony, two girls from the local grade school took the stage to present the results from the kaizen event that they had led at their school…


In a simple and logical manner they explained how they followed Plan, Do, Check, Act.

The problem was congestion in the hallways between classes. This caused students to be late for the next class, damage to property on shelves, and, in a few cases, injury.

Through direct observation they documented the current state with “noodle” diagrams and time observations. They identified a solution and tested it. They made a few modifications and implemented the final solution with standard work and a method to measure results. The results were no one was late for class, and damage and injuries were eliminated.

Talk about humbling! GRADE SCHOOL!

I think of the excuses that I routinely hear; it won’t work for our problem/business, we do not have the time, it is too hard, no one wants to change.

Blah, blah, blah….

Remember that even kids are using PDCA.

Stop making excuses and go and fix something.

John Rizzo authored this blog post. He is a fellow Lean Six Sigma implementation consultant and friend of Mark Hamel.

Related posts: Guest Post: Beyond Toast Kaizen – Lean Breakfast Concepts, Circa 1937, “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!

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Eight Ways to Avoid the Kaizen Roach Motel

I see the same cycle in so many places.

What cycle?

This one, more or less:

Step 1. Altruistic leaders sincerely (?) ask the associates for their improvement ideas (a.k.a. suggestions, kaizens, CI’s, etc.) in an attempt to foment some daily kaizen.

Step 2. Associates (not all of them), somewhat skeptically, call leadership’s bluff and submit their ideas.

Step 3. Leadership is pleased with the response (the number of ideas, that is) and then…panics. They determine that the quality of the ideas is uneven at best and they can’t effectively respond to and implement even a fraction of the ideas that have been submitted.

Step 4. The associates come to the realization that their ideas are on a one-way trip to kaizen’s version of the Roach Motel. You know, the Roach Motel, where ideas (or roaches) check in, but they don’t check out. The most jaded associates chide the ones who were gullible enough to think that their ideas mattered. Improvement ideas slow to a trickle.

Step 5. Leadership organizes a tiger team to make a dent in the huge inventory of ideas.

…and so on.

I don’t need to tell you that it doesn’t always end well.

How can we break this cycle?

Here are eight ways.

  • Build the right ecosystem. Kaizen, especially daily kaizen, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. An effective lean management system helps drive good standardize-do-check-adjust (SDCA) and plan-do-check-adjust (PDCA) thinking. It integrates solid visual controls, andon response, leader standard work, and regular team reflection meetings during which the team engages in, or at least initiates, problem-solving and then follows through. Of course, the ecosystem doesn’t work without solid lean leadership behaviors.
  • Teach and coach basic problem-solving capability. Good problem-solving skills aren’t necessarily innate. One of the most futile things is to launch a quick and easy kaizen system, suggestion system, etc. without any formal training. That’s when you get unintelligible problem statements, countermeasures that are wholly unrelated to the root cause, etc. Folks need practical training, practice, and coaching all the way up and down the organization.
  • Keep the system simple, transparent, quick, and local. Bureaucracy is the enemy of kaizen. People need to understand the system, easily know the status of their ideas, and get nearly immediate feedback when they first submit their idea…like in 24 hours. Think “subsidiarity,” push improvements and decisions around the improvements down to the lowest possible level – usually the natural work team.
  • Prioritize. When kaizen idea systems really kick into gear, expect dozens per person per year. Such a magnitude of ideas can’t be implemented at once. Teams should apply simple ways to prioritize (for example around impact on the team’s tiered performance metrics and the effort required to implement) and work no more than a handful at a time.
  • Don’t separate finding from fixing. Folks are truly engaged when they “own” the improvement, meaning they are invested in finding the problem and then personally fixing, or help fixing, it. Similarly, it is impossible to understand PDCA if one only does “P.”
  • Provide nimble resources for implementation. Effective lean organizations invest in modest, but targeted resources to help facilitate daily kaizen. These resources include the kaizen promotion office and “moonshine” departments.
  • Share and manage the change. Horizontal sharing of improvement ideas (yokoten) is an excellent way to recognize those who did the kaizen, while also inspiring others to “borrow” and further improve on the improvement. At the same time, there needs to be a low bureaucracy way to manage change to ensure that pragmatic standardization is maintained where needed.
  • Dole out the 3C’s. Leaders must constantly challenge folks to improve the process (easier, better, faster, cheaper!), provide them with the courage to try new things (“fail forward”), and to apply their creativity.

Do these eight things and avoid the Kaizen Roach Motel!

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions, Book Review: How to Do Kaizen


Kaizen: From System to Principle-Driven [Lean Thinker Webinar Series]

Last month, I teamed up with Gemba Academy’s Ron Pereira and presented a two-part webinar on the subject of kaizen. Both sessions were recorded and are right here for your viewing.

The description of the webinar went something like this:

Many folks share an anti-kaizen event sentiment. Daily kaizen is the only way to go, right?

The truth is most successful lean organizations jump-started their transformation through the effective application of kaizen events…and then they transitioned to a sustainable kaizen culture by balancing daily kaizen and events.

Join Mark Hamel, author of the Shingo Award-winning book, Kaizen Event Fieldbook, and Gemba Tales blogger, for some insight on how to do both well.

While I have a face for radio and a voice for silent movies, I think there’s some value-added stuff in these webinars. Of course, the fact that the recordings, accessible now only to Gemba Academy subscribers of their Complete Lean Package, are free to you should lessen the pain.

Speaking of Gemba Academy, I cannot say enough about their lean training offerings – including the scope, content, value, and state of the art HD video delivery method! Please check them out.

I hope you enjoy the webinars.

Related post: How to Avoid Kaizen Event Malpractice [Webinar]

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My Experimentation with Personal Kanban

Several weeks ago, I reviewed Dan Markovitz’s excellent new book, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance. I also took Dan’s work as a call to personal action.

Thus far, I have successfully adopted several of his recommendations in order to boost my marginal in-office productivity. By the way, my “office” also includes the hotel rooms that I too often inhabit.

Well, recently I finally pulled the trigger on a personal kanban. I had been thinking this one through for way too long. It was time to “do.”

I purposely limited the application of the kanban to my major distractions – the things that tend to interrupt the (hopefully continuous) flow of my work. Oh, many are the snares of the knowledge worker!

So, here’s a description and photo of my fledgling kanban. I “borrowed” some poker chips from my oldest (he’s away at college and really knows nothing of this borrowing) to represent authorized daily uses of the things that tend to distract me. The chips fall this way (sorry, couldn’t resist):

  • 4 white poker chips for daily email activity (MS Outlook is shut down at all other times) ,
  • 2 blue chips for daily Gemba Tales blog activity,
  • 1 green chip for checking LinkedIn, and
  • 1 red chip for checking Twitter (not a big tweeter).

At the beginning of the day, all of the chips are stacked at the left side of my laptop. As I trigger a chip usage, I move that chip to the right side of my laptop, do that activity and then close the application or log off, as required.

This instills a necessary level of discipline and moderation for me.

The chip usage happens around my calendar, my task list (between 10 and 2 minutes of work content per item), and my just-do-its (the stuff that’s too small for the task list).

So far, so good. Daily improvement, right?!?

Oh yes, check out the pic below of my fancy travel kit.

Related posts: Book Review: A Factory of One, Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings


Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning

During a recent trip to the great state of Texas, I heard some down-home wisdom, “Before you season your food, why don’t you taste it first?”

The person who uttered that question was NOT talking about food. Rather, he was challenging someone who was a little too hell-bent on changing something without truly understanding it.

Sound familiar?

Heck, even etiquette folks will tell you it’s rude to season before tasting.

“If you season your food without tasting it, you will convey to the cook that you are already assuming the food will be bland and tasteless. It is more polite to taste food first and then add seasoning if you think it’s necessary.” (How to Season Food With Table Manners)

But, the point of this post isn’t about manners…as important as they are.

It’s about standard work.

People are relatively quick to pick up on the notion of kaizen – making things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Self-induced kaizen is fun, even freeing.

It’s better and more fun to give than to receive.

Of course, improvement without standardization is stillborn to say the least.

No doubt, we have heard the Taichii Ohno quote, “Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.” Standard work implies that there must be adherence. Without it, it’s more like a standard wish…as fickle as the wind. We can’t sustain improvements and we have little foundation for the next.

However, adherence, especially when “virgin” standard work (you know, that first step from the wild no standard work west days) is introduced, requires folks to often significantly change the way that they do work – new steps, sequences, cycle times, standard WIP, etc.

It can be hard learning a new way. It can be frustrating. It can feel limiting. But, it ensures that people are working to the current one best way…until it is improved again.

So, here’s the rub (pun intended).

How long does one need to go before they start adding seasoning?! How long before the standard work should be subject to improvement?

We know the likelihood of any given standard work being perfect is essentially ZERO. It’s one reason why we apply SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) – to assess not only adherence, but the sufficiency of standard work.

Improvement should follow.

But, try this scenario on for size. Standard work has been developed during a pilot, regularly subjected to improvement over a period of many weeks. It’s been battled tested and has facilitated significant, measurable improvements in productivity and quality. Then, it is introduced to another line or location, with an appropriate application of change management. (Hopefully, this includes the rigor of a net change activity to understand and compensate for any true differences in the adopter’s value stream versus the pilot’s…)

The next line or location quickly goes from no standard work to adopting the new standard work. It’s painful. Within minutes the new adopters think, “I don’t like this.” It’s not “sufficient.” It plain old su*ks.

Not long thereafter, the new adopter folks start thinking about seasoning, about “improving” the new standard work. Hey, I tried it for a day, time to exercise my Ohno-given right to kaizen. Almost, an “it’s my ball, and I’m going home…with it,” type of mentality.

So, here’s a question for you – how long should someone taste the new standard work before they are genuinely ready to consider seasoning it?

I’ve got my thoughts. What are yours?

Related posts: Standard Work Is a Verb, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Lean Decay Rate


Halloween Snow and Two Lean Lessons

Along with hundreds of thousands of folks in the Northeast, I am in my 6th day without power. I expect at least a few more such days before the lights come on…and the heat.

Heck, they just sent the National Guard to my town, and an adjacent one, to start clearing downed trees.

The root cause of this whole mess was about a foot of snow on heavily treed land…when virtually all of the trees were still laden with their leaves. Near many trees were houses and power lines. You can guess the rest.

Last Sunday was full of chain saws and snow blowers. Now, it’s a lot of dark and cold. But, we’ll make do.

The point here is that there’s a lean lesson somewhere. In fact, I think there are two related lessons.

Before the snow started flying, my youngest noted that my neighbor, Rich was blowing the leaves and pine needles off of his driveway. Rich later shared that he wanted to avoid the messy mix of snow, leaves and needles. At the time, I must admit, I was thinking perhaps that wasn’t a bad idea.

Well, shortly thereafter the heavy snows came. By around 3:00 p.m., the first tree split and hit my house – just a glancing blow, mind you. After that, it really started getting bad. The power went out and the next 12 plus hours were full of crashing tree limbs and trunks. My family and I slept, more or less, in the basement.

At sunrise, we could see the full scope of the damage. We had been absolutely hammered.

It was chain saw, shovel, and snow blower time. Fortunately, my neighbors came by and helped clear a path through my driveway. We then patrolled the neighborhood and cleared the roadway.

(Note to self: there should be a legal limit on the number of chain saw wielding amateurs within a 20 foot radius…)

Well, during this orgy of fuel and bar and chain oil, I recalled a figure that is within my Kaizen Event Fieldbook. This leads to:

Lesson #1: When the muda and the stakes are high, ditch the scalpel and carving knife. Instead, go for the chain saw.

In other words, don’t screw around with making things elegant. If you’ve got to get the tree off of your house or clear a path in your driveway (or road), go big and go aggressive. Make it pretty later.

Too often during lean transformation efforts, folks will spend too much time, resources, and political capital trying to make things perfect. Well, perfect never happens. Get the value to flow better, as quickly as possible.

And my neighbor’s pre-snow leaf and pine needle blowing? Well that, as admitted by Rich, was just plain stupid.

Lesson #2: Quickly understand and acknowledge the magnitude of the coming storm and take proportionate action.

How often do we give the proverbial patient the proverbial vitamins while he is on the proverbial operating room table?!

Put another way, bad things happen when we: 1) are ignorant of the pending competitive challenges for our business, 2) choose to ignore the challenges (maybe they’ll never materialize?!), and/or 3) do something lame that will never sufficiently address the challenge.

Yes, there’s nothing like a little post-storm hansei (reflection)!!

Related posts: The Best or Nothing, Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

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The Best or Nothing

I just contributed a guest post of the same title to Christian Paulsen’s Lean Leadership blog. Please visit his site to read my full post and to take in some of Chris’ excellent lean content. Chris shared some of his insight with us a while back in his Gemba Tales guest post, 5 Reasons You Need to Do a DMAIC.


Recently, Mercedes Benz introduced a new brand claim. You may have seen it on TV or in print. It uses a direct quote from founding father Gottlieb Daimler, “The best or nothing.”

It sounds cool. Not that I’m ready to shell out a boat-load of money for a sexy new car. But, it clearly gets across that the Mercedes guys are uncompromising.

As a top executive from Mercedes Benz put it, “For us, [it] means we want to deliver the very best in all areas – be that in research and development, production, sales, service and aftermarket business or in purchasing.”

I have a hard time arguing with that. I know what they mean. It’s a powerful and noble principle.

And yet, the words grate on my (hopefully) lean thinking mind.


…The figure below summarizes much of my thinking on this subject, while my full post can be found here.


click to enlarge


Other Hamel guest posts: “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!” (on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog), Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle (on Ron Pereira’s LSS Academy Blog)

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Lean Aerial Photography!?!

Ok, it’s really aerial photography with a lean application. And, it’s not that aerial. Just a guy standing on a big step ladder and taking a picture of stuff below. Yes, there’s a fancy camera in his right hand.

So, where’s the lean in this?

Good question.

When I first saw the ladder in the kaizen team’s breakout room, I was a bit perplexed. But, as it turns out, there was a good reason for the ladder. Actually, it’s pretty cool.

Many of us have participated in the design of future state layouts. This often employs two-dimensional scale models as a team seeks layouts that, among other things, facilitate better flow of product, people, information, tooling, scrap, etc., the use of less floor space, improved visual control, etc.

In an effort to generate multiple ideas and options and converge on the best one, many teams create a number of different alternative designs (think of the popular application of the 7 ways or 7 alternatives). These alternatives are then scored by the team against pre-established, weighted criteria.

Well, creating 7 or so different two-dimensional models can be time AND space consuming. The activity involves materials such as cardboard, plywood, paper cut-outs, sheet metal, magnets, yarn, and so on.

Enter the aerial photographer.

The folks with the ladder had a brilliant idea. After each iteration or alternative design, the designated photographer climbed the ladder and snapped a photo of the layout. (You need a pretty decent camera, by the way.) This way they quickly recorded and printed out the layout and then rapidly proceeded to the next design using the same materials.

More iterations. More ideas. More interaction. More learning. Better output.

Related posts: Lean Space – Some Thoughts and 10 Questions, Without Defined Criteria, (Almost) Everything Looks Good, Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?

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