Archive for category Lean Transformation

Lean and Free Will

To borrow a phrase that was borrowed by Pope Benedict XVI for his (in)famous 2006 Regensburg lecture, “There is no compulsion in lean.”

OK, the pontiff didn’t really use the word “lean” (rather it was “religion”), but the underlying sentiment is much the same.

How so?

Well, you can’t FORCE someone to embrace lean with both heart and mind.

In the end, it must be an intrinsic thing. Organizations achieve and sustain transformative levels when folks “get it,” and “live it.” Meaning, when BOTH their intellect and will are engaged.

The foundational principles of lean are humility and respect for the individual. As such, we must respect each and every person’s free will while doing our level best to teach them.

Free will is pretty much a blind faculty. It’s got to be directed by the brain.

Of course, you can force someone to DO lean things – follow standard work, participate in kaizen activities, respond to abnormal conditions, etc.

However, this is purely extrinsic in nature and therefore is not transformative…at least initially. (I guess the spouses in a number of arranged marriages end up falling in love.)

Compelling people to do things that they otherwise might not want to do is often required in life (hey, son/daughter feed the dog, take out the trash…), including business.

Especially in business.

When a company seriously undertakes a lean transformation, there are certain expectations around adherence and behavior. If employees do not meet the expectations, they must be coached by technically competent believers. Sometimes, eventually, they must leave the organization, voluntarily or involuntarily.

In a derivative of Pascal’s wager…you can act yourself into a new way of being. Through acting lean, meaning engaging in lean actions, folks can start to get it.

The risk obviously, is that these “practitioners” end up just practicing the tools and maybe the systems. That can often be superficial, without real, lasting buy-in.

Understanding and embracing lean principles (the “why”) takes reflection, and deep, consistent coaching.

Presuming that folks have some insight into the technical side (the “how”), and have the ecosystem for improvement (like a robust lean management system and good lean leadership behaviors), the litmus test for whether an organization is bridging the lean compulsion realm to the lean transformation realm is DAILY kaizen.

Yes, management driven kaizen typically manifests itself in kaizen events as pulled by value stream improvement plans and the like. This is system driven kaizen. Not a bad place at all.

But, it’s nearly impossible to fake daily kaizen.

How can you fake voluntary kaizen in the form of (implemented) employee suggestions, kaizen circle activities, and the buzz of countermeasure discussions during daily reflection meetings?!?

My answer is, you can’t.

This extract of the Shingo Prize Model Guidelines, specifically the Examples of Ideal Behaviors for Continuous Process Improvement, drives it home:

  • “Every associate in every part of the organization is engaged every day in
    using the appropriate tools of continuous improvement to eliminate waste and
    maximize value creation.
  • Associates everywhere seek to understand the principles (the why) behind the
    tools (the how); they learn and use that knowledge to continuously improve the
    application of the tools.
  • All associates demonstrate the courage and integrity to tell the truth,
    stop production, and be accountable for defects they observe or create
  • Associates share their expertise in developing best practice standard work and
    demonstrate the discipline to follow it until a better way has been developed.”

So, in the end, there is no true compulsion in lean.

Which is another reason why lean transformations are so darned hard to pull off and why it’s so special when they do happen.

Related posts: The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader, 12 Narrow Lean Gates, Guest Post: “Magical Thinking”


Guest Post: Creating Gravity for Transformation

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of attending the 2-day Shingo Prize workshop on the Principles of Operational Excellence.  The experience was nothing short of mind-blowing, as I developed a far deeper understanding of Lean and why it works, not just what works.  In other words, my understanding grew from something based on an understanding of Lean’s tools to something based more on Lean’s philosophy.

As I reflected on my own experience as a student of Lean (and what I will now refer to as Operational Excellence!), I began to think of how to relate my understanding of these concepts to others.  To my mind, the critical element in Lean transformation is the organic development of leadership based on experience and ability to mentor.  For this to happen, traditional hierarchies where managers use positional authority to push their influence onto others need to be replaced.  Simply put, leaders who encourage the use of knowledge and experience to coach others and approach their work with a commitment to “know-why” being of greater value than “know-how” will generate an influential, gravitational pull towards transformation.

Several months ago, I stumbled across John Husband’s site dedicated to the concept of wirearchy.  According to him,

A major shift in the ways activities are planned and managed is occurring in many spheres of human activity, from command-and-control to coordinate-and-channel. When customers have more power and employees want to communicate and be heard, the dynamics have to change.

A new organizing principle is emerging, called Wirearchy.  The working definition of wirearchy is:

A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology

Operational Excellence relies on many of these same concepts, particularly the need to move from “command and control” to “coordinate and channel.”  The “two-way flow of power and authority based on information, trust and credibility” sounds like the very definition of “respect for people” as well.  While Husband’s concept relies heavily on the development of technology to produce non-hierarchical, collaborative teams, I think any community where people become critical “nodes” in an interconnected network as a result of their knowledge, experience, embodiment of an ideal and willingness/ability to teach others (as opposed to authority based strictly on rank and title) fits within the wirearchy concept.  What wirearchy sees technology bringing is something I believe the Operational Excellence would consider an ideal state:  free-flowing and distributed authority based on the relentless pursuit of cultural transformation.

A representation of Wirearchy

I recently came across a presentation from Jeffrey Liker, where he offered ideas based on a PhD dissertation from Robert Kucner.  Kucner models what he calls the organic spreading of Lean culture and values as spirals circling outwards from certain processes, eventually touching upon others to penetrate deeper and deeper in an “inch wide, mile deep” fashion.

In both models, we can see areas where people or processes are forming critical centers of activity that influence those around them.  How do these critical “nodes” at the center of the activity form?  I think the answer has to do with a sort of gravity that develops when organizations, or individuals within organizations, insist on driving change.  This never-ending pursuit of excellence usually starts within smaller sub-units as depicted above, however, sustaining the effort may have more to do with forming a single dense space at the epicenter of the desired behaviors than it does with spreading outwards as quickly as possible.  In other words, leaders may find that sharing knowledge to develop a deeper understanding of operational excellence in a few areas builds more momentum, more easily, than trying to spread the concepts as far and wide as possible.

A depiction of the organic deployment of Lean

If we turn the model on its side, we can more easily see how the nodes collect and gather the loose, swirling mass of ideas and behaviors until they grow deeper and denser, forming a vortex that draws others in with it.  Using this perspective, it is easer to understand why deeper is better than broader.  As multiple objects in the same space grow larger, they eventually grow together, adding energy to the phenomenon.  What this means for transformation is that when smaller organizations within an enterprise appear to be outpacing others, don’t stifle them.  Allow those deeper areas to keep going and growing deeper, eventually creating the gravitational pull that will bring other elements into the vortex.

Across any enterprise, there are organizations and individuals that develop greater depths of Operational Excellence.  While some focus only on utilizing mandated tools, others begin to pursue cultural transformation.  The focus on tools to implement change, however, prevents the strong vortices that generate an ever-deeper understanding of excellence from being formed.  As organizations evolve from a tool-driven understanding of behavior to systemic, cultural and philosophical levels, they begin to develop their own gravity, pulling in other organizations within their reach and eventually determining the behavior of the enterprise as a whole.

How to create this gravity?  As with most things that require behavioral change, constant communication and education are vital.  People at all levels of the organization need to be educated on the principles of Operational Excellence and not just why it works in general, but why it will work here. Just as important as educating people on why it will work, is building the sense of urgency that answers the question, “Why is this necessary right now?”  The more you can provide education and communication on why things are changing, the greater the cooperation and buy-in, the deeper the resulting understanding will become, and the stronger your gravitational pull towards transformation.

This post was authored by David M. Kasprzak, creator of the My Flexible Pencil blog, where he shares his thoughts on improving workplace culture through the use of Lean concepts.  While working as an analyst to develop and analyze program-level cost & schedule metrics for the past 10 years, David has now turned his attention towards understanding the behaviors that create high-performing organizations.  He currently lives near Nashua, NH with his wife and 2 sons. David can be contacted via email at

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Guest Post: Getting Paid for Getting Lean – Beyond Training

The lights went out the instant the squirrel died.

That was the conclusion drawn by a friend and colleague of mine at a mid-sized manufacturing plant in Rhode Island after he investigated the cause of a recent blackout that stopped production for hours, idling dozens of workers and wreaking havoc with the daily schedule. Apparently, an adventurous but ill-fated squirrel had climbed under the transformer cover outside of the building and gnawed through the insulation on a power line, eventually – and briefly — becoming part of the circuit. This event led my friend to note that continuous efforts at product and process improvement extend beyond the manufacturing cell, the shop floor and even the factory itself.

Much has been written about the benefits of lean manufacturing. Lean practices help to reduce waste, improve delivery time and slash the total cost of production. Ongoing, evolutionary efforts that focus on potential problem areas help to create a cycle of continuous improvement. Still, worthwhile as these goals are, achieving them can be expensive in the short term. Fortunately, there is money available to help cover the costs.

My job takes me from factory to factory, where I talk to people in engineering, manufacturing, management, accounting and other disciplines. Over the years, I have observed that all funding programs are not created equal, and some of the most valuable ones are often overlooked entirely. For example, many companies are intimately familiar with Workforce Training Grants, which subsidize the cost of educating workers about lean techniques and related methods. However, many of these same companies are either unaware of Research Credit Programs or mistakenly believe that these important funding sources aren’t available to them.

Part of the problem with misconceptions about research credit programs can be found in the name itself. Many people believe that “research” is a narrow area of activity limited to people in white lab coats. In reality, though, the term is much, much broader than that. For most such programs, everything from product development all the way through the plant to incremental improvements in work flow and manufacturing cell design can qualify for funding.

To be eligible, a specific project must meet three specific tests:

1)    A discreet and measurable technical improvement is intended.

2)    Technological uncertainty exists regarding the intended improvement.

3)    A process of experimentation is undertaken in an effort to overcome uncertainty.

For example, an effort to reduce scrap by ten percent on an existing line could qualify. Why? Because the goal is technical and measurable, it is not clear how or whether the desired goal can be achieved, and the effort will require trying and evaluating various process changes.

The problem with the squirrel is similar. Keeping curious critters out of a transformer housing is one issue. The fact that the plant identified a single point of failure is another.  Efforts to develop an improved and more reliable power management system could form the basis of another eligible project.

Workforce training grants are intended to provide new skills for your workers. Once the workers are actively trying to develop improved technical processes, they may be engaged in projects that are eligible under one or more research credit programs.

Federal and state research credits can be substantial, amounting to a significant portion of total expenses. In addition, companies can often go back up to three years into the past to find and claim eligible projects. The rules for the various programs change from time to time, so help from a qualified practitioner is highly recommended.

Thanks for reading this, and watch out for squirrels!


This guest post was authored by Otto Kunz, CPA, EA, MBA, founder of  Tax Credit Advisors, LLC. He is a technologist with over twenty years of experience in manufacturing technology and related software development. Since 1994, Otto has worked with companies throughout the United States and Canada in order to secure funding for technical development, supporting efforts to improve technological competitiveness in North America.  In addition to his work with TCA, he is currently a member of the adjunct faculty at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts where he lectures on taxation and related topics. Otto may be contacted at (508) 842-3232 or for a free consultation to determine if your product and process efforts, including those within your lean journey, may be eligible for research credit support.


Model Lines – Federal Government Take Note

model line picModel lines (a.k.a. pilot) are a proven method to initiate a lean launch. The model, typically one specific “line” or value stream within a single facility or operation, provides a small, focused and controlled playground for implementing lean. The pilot represents a low risk venue within which lean leaders can experiment, learn and (hopefully) successfully build a much leaner line or value stream. The effort  also provides valuable opportunities for showcasing what lean “looks” and “feels” like; an important element in the change management process.

Pilot lessons learned encompass the technical aspects of lean implementation from a tools, systems and deployment perspective, while providing critical insight into the necessary cultural and human resource requirements. The model line’s foundation must be built upon lean leader alignment and effective change management as well as a rigorously developed value stream improvement plan. Of course,  prudent pilot selection is absolutely essential. Selection criteria must include the potential impact of the pilot, strength of pilot leadership and implementation degree of difficulty (technical and cultural).

Once the model line has demonstrated elevated performance through the appropriate application of lean, then (after a formal checkpoint process) the organization will typically move to an initial deployment phase. Within this phase, the organization seeks to replicate the model to another line (same value stream/processes) either in the same facility (if there are multiple ones) or another facility. Here the organization applies the lessons learned from the pilot and begins to learn new ones relative to technical scalability and human resources issues (you can’t stack the team with your best players once you start having more than one team) while verifying the business impact.

Ultimately, after any related issues (and there will be plenty) have been successfully addressed, initial deployment transitions into full scale deployment. Full scale deployment expands the model to all lines/identical value streams throughout the organization. Here the company should enjoy the full business impact of what was tested out in the model line and have an excellent technical and cultural foundation for further lean deployment throughout other portions of the business.

Model lines are a thoughtful and measured method to deploy lean, or virtually any system for that matter. Perhaps the purveyors of health care reform should have made use of the concept…in fact, Massachusetts may be a pilot that offers some profound lessons learned.

What do you think?

Related post: Value (Stream) Delivery – What about the family?

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