Archive for category Lean Transformation Leadership

Lean Should Be a Pain in the #*%!

We’re all familiar with the Toyota Production System “house.” You know, the structure schematic with, among other things, the just-in-time and jidoka pillars.

Well, sometimes I think it would be more appropriate to refer to the house, any lean house, as a house of pain.


Not great for lean marketing purposes, necessarily. But, there is more than a bit of truth to this notion of lean pain.

Here we’re not talking about pain in some sort of sadistic or masochistic way. This type of pain is value-added in that it spurs quick recognition and meaningful response to stop that particular pain forever…all for the purpose of making things easier, better, faster, and cheaper.

Sure, we could try to avoid pain. Most normal people don’t like pain. But, as the old cliché goes, “No pain, no gain.” And by gain, we mean continuous improvement and organizational learning.

So, what is a primary building block (pillar, foundation, etc.) of this house of pain?

I’m thinking continuous flow (it’s part of the just-in-time pillar, by the way) is a great candidate, among many. There’s nothing quite like operating with a lot size of one. Continuous flow provides no place to run OR hide.

It will never be mistaken as a morphine replacement.

Of course, lean’s pain is somewhat compassionate, in a big picture sort of way. It does not seek to kill or incapacitate. That would NOT be value-added.

How could you possibly satisfy the customer in such a condition?! How would that square with respect for the individual?

So instead, lean’s pain is more gradually and strategically applied. As an example, we strive for continuous flow, but often the more pragmatic (and temporary) approach includes a measure of supermarket pull and/or sequential pull (a.k.a. FIFO lanes). For a batch-and-queue operation, that’s pain enough…for now.

This isn’t quite Shewhart-esque or Deming-esque, but the lean pain cycle might go something like the following:

  1. Enable/facilitate pain – for example, implement continuous flow.
  2. Recognize the pain when it comes (and it will come, if you’re appropriately aggressive) – visual controls are critical for early recognition.
  3. Respond to the pain – think line stop jidoka, along with andon response.
  4. Make the specific pain go away – first aid may be more along the lines of containment, but permanent pain elimination requires real problem solving.
  5. Repeat.

[LSS Academy’s and Gemba Academy’s Ron Pereira shared an excellent video a while back that explained the true meaning of the Chinese characters constituting the word “kaizen.”  In all seriousness, it has something to do with self-flagellation, sheep, and altars! True story. The subject of pain is definitely front and center. Go here to see Brad Schmidt’s expert and very entertaining explanation.]

Here’s another cliché, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Which raises an important point – the lean leader needs to understand pain thresholds (without facilitating lean wimpiness) and challenge and coach others appropriately.

Here’s to value-adding pain!

Related posts: 12 Narrow Lean Gates, Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!


Airplane Oxygen Masks and Lean Leadership Responsibility

We’ve all heard the flight attendant’s compulsory safety announcement regarding oxygen masks. Personally, I’ve grown pretty numb to the whole safety monologue.

Not a good thing.

During a relatively recent trip on a Southwest flight there was a refreshing twist to the typically sober announcement.

It went something like this, “In the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.”

Pretty funny.

But, the truth is there’s a reason that the parent (or guardian) should don the mask first and THEN attend to his or her charge(s). The parent needs to maintain his mental and physical faculties so that he can effectively take care of others. This is not self-serving.

So, this leads (surprise, surprise!) to a lean metaphor.

Lean leaders need to put on the oxygen mask first.

The “oxygen” here is lean competency.

Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis in their book, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development, which I highly recommend, captures this notion well.

Their Toyota Way Leadership Model reflects the following. Please note the ORDER.

  1. Commit to Self-Development. Learn to live True North values through repeated learning cycles,
  2. Coach and Develop Others. See and challenge true potential in others through self-development learning cycles,
  3. Support Daily Kaizen. Build local capability throughout for daily management, and
  4. Create Vision and Align Goals. Create True North vision and align goals vertically and horizontally.

Leaders can’t teach what they do not have. So, they must first put on the oxygen mask of understanding (or at least genuinely commit to and begin to walk the road to understanding) before they can effectively and credibly BEGIN to coach and develop others.

With that, good luck deciding which colleague you first assist with that oxygen mask thing.

Related posts: Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, Why Do You Ask?, 12 Narrow Lean Gates


Why Do You Ask?

This question is typically posed in response to a question that is deemed a bit nosey. It’s actually more of a statement. Along the lines of, “Mind you own business!”

But, for the purpose of this post, it really is a question – one of, and for, the lean leader’s self-reflection.

What truly is the purpose of the questions that we ask? Granted that we must always consider the particular situation, the intent of our questions says a lot about our own lean leadership effectiveness.

click to enlarge

Do we ask questions targeted primarily to extract information from others so that WE can solve the problem for them (maybe despite them)?

Or, do we ask questions to develop the critical thinking of others so that they can develop their own problem-solving muscle and so that they can learn how to mentor others in a similar way?

In short, the role of the lean leader is to teach and learn. NOT to fix.

I know, I know, this is crazy talk.

…Especially when we have historically and routinely been rewarded for being someone who quickly fixes problems single-handedly. All hail the superhero!

What the heck is it with Toyota and that notion of building people before cars?!? Looks like we’ll need a double-dose of patience, humility, and help in questioning strategies and techniques.

So, when is the “extraction method” OK? I’m guessing there are a couple acceptable scenarios where leader as fixer is appropriate (see below). However, the rest of the time, it should be leader as teacher.

  • Life or death situations, and/or when time is really short. The mentor asking the mentee, “What do you think we should do to disarm this soon to detonate explosive device?” probably isn’t going to work out too well.
  • Subject matter expert dealing with a non-expert in an area where deep mentorship is not pragmatic or important. For example, it’s OK for the doctor to ask closed or leading questions after the initial open-ended question of “How do you feel?” The doctor is trying to quickly discern the situation and help the patient heal. The doctor/patient relationship is usually not about the physician teaching the patient to self-diagnose and treat.

In order to develop problem-solvers, we need to help our mentees identify and acknowledge the problem and ultimately, solve the problem. This requires the mentee to think, to engage, and to take ownership.  The extract and tell method that is often employed by leaders doesn’t do any of that well.

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What kind of questions help folks to identify and acknowledge problems?

  • What did you observe?
  • What is/was supposed to happen?
  • What is actually happening/happened?
  • How do you feel about that?

In order to provide good coaching, the lean leader needs to understand how the mentee is thinking, why they’re thinking it, and what they know/think they know and don’t know. Some simple, open-ended questions:

  • What are you thinking?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What makes you say that?
  • How do you know?

Finally, the mentor must help the learner through the PDCA process without doing the telling and without taking ownership themselves. This includes prompting the mentee to identify and articulate the problem to be solved, discover the root causes, formulate potential countermeasures, converge on and experiment with the countermeasure(s), reflect (a.k.a. check) and adjust. Here are some example questions (in addition to the relevant ones listed above):

  • When/where is the problem happening?
  • When/where is the problem not happening?
  • What do you think is causing the problem?
  • How do you know those are the causes?
  • How can you address those causes?
  • Did the countermeasures work as planned?
  • How do you know the countermeasures were effective?
  • What’s your plan?

One thing that I’m sure you have noted is that the example questions are all open-ended in nature. That’s because closed questions (typically limiting a person to a yes or no answer) and leading questions (i.e., “When are going to get the police report?” versus “What further information do you need to close this claim?”) do little to foster critical thinking and ownership.

Open-ended questions also demonstrate the leader’s respect for the mentee’s ability to think. That’s important.

So, ask away with good intent…and listen.

Related posts: Lean Listening, 12 Narrow Lean Gates, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings


Simplistic Ain’t Lean

Leonardo da Vinci’s quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” could easily serve as a lean tagline.

Surely, lean tools, like standard work, visual controls, and mistake proofing devices, are only truly effective if they are easily explained, understood, deployed, maintained, and adjusted. Heck, lean principles are simple too, just hard to implement.

This whole simplicity stuff is consistent with the Shigeo Shingo-identified first objective of continuous improvement – easier (followed immediately by better, faster, and cheaper).

But, some folks in their rush to keep things simple, careen into “simplism.”

Simplism, defined by, is, “[t]he tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.”

I think a lot of simplism is driven by a type of unthinking lean just-do-it machismo, detachment from the gemba, and/or ignorance of lean principles, systems, and tools.

Simplism begets simplistic directives. Like, within the next quarter, team leaders need to facilitate problem-solving like their counterparts at Toyota.

Except, there just might be some “complications” that need to be addressed first, such as the fact that Toyota team leader span of controls is in the 5-8 associate range, and our team leaders have 15 to 20 associates… not to mention the profound training and mentorship that is required to develop effective team leaders.

Simplism begets simplistic countermeasures.

Countermeasures must address root causes – real root causes. And, the countermeasures must work in the real world.

For example, when a given process is irreducibly complex (for now), the standard work might have to be more than 1 page.

The simplistic practitioner (and I have encountered such folks) might maintain that standard work can’t be more than a page. “It’s too hard for my (well-educated) folks to absorb…”

Simplism shouldn’t be allowed to trump lean principles.

If the one page standard work is insufficient, then the steps, sequence, cycle times, standard WIP, etc. may not be appropriately defined. What then? Is it OK for the operators to improvise?

Ignoring complexity and complications. It’s just magical, non-lean thinking.

Lean leaders can’t be simplistic.

Related posts: Guest Post: “Magical Thinking”, Working Smarter, or Just Harder? Thoughts on Standard Work., Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action


Lean Listening

image from Wikipedia

Lean transformations might be easier if we possessed some measure of the sixth sense – extrasensory perception (ESP).

Of course, (sort of) like in the 1999 psychological thriller film, The Sixth Sense, we might be inclined to whisper repeatedly that, “we see concrete heads.” You know, that lean euphemism for folks who obstinately resist good change.

But, I’m guessing that five senses are more than enough for effective lean living.

Let’s see, as characterized by Aristotle, there’s the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Clearly, they are most powerful when working in concert.

That said, many lean practitioners are usually fixated on the first sense – sight.

We talk about eyes for waste, shiny eyes, direct observation, visual management, visual controls, and line of sight. We want the abnormal to be easily discernible…typically through drive-by visuals.

Yup, for good reason, we love the visual stuff.

Touch is clearly important around work and motion – selection, differentiation, orientation, etc. and for identification of abnormal conditions (i.e., excessive machine vibration, out of spec parts, feverish patients).

The sense of smell is often underrated.

Our olfactory senses are useful for detecting a host of abnormalities (not just smelly co-workers), especially when working with things like machinery (is there an electrical short or bearing issue?), curing cycles, reactions, or assessing the cleanliness of an area, etc.

Taste? Well, there must be some lean application somewhere. Any lean bakers, chefs, vinters, or brewers out there? Especially brewers.

This leaves us with the sense of hearing.

There are musical andons, buzzers, sirens, bells, etc. But there’s more, right?

Yes, how about the sound of an operation and its rhythm or lack thereof? Is it operating within a certain cadence? Is it running to takt? Is it not running? Is there idling?  Frequent starts and stops? Is the noise level uncomfortable?

How about when we get to the health of machinery, equipment, and people (as in harmony)?

Like a car, can we tell when it just doesn’t sound right?

Value stream analysis requires mapping the flow of material and information. The flow of information, or lack thereof, is often manifested in audible signals. What do they reveal? Where are the opportunities?

There’s more.

What about what your co-workers are saying? Can we pick up on the intentional and unintentional clues that our people regularly sprinkle within the spoken word?

These are clues that point to:

  • Unsurfaced or unaddressed improvement opportunities. There are a bunch of key words that can indicate that there is an improvement opportunity – “duplicated effort,” “tiresome,” “painful,” “boring,” “repeat,” “fix,” “complicated,” “confusing,” “only person ‘X’ can do it,” “again,” “still,” etc. The lean leader’s attentive ears for waste should pick up on these words and then launch into the 5 whys with the person who uttered the words.
  • Unmet challenges for critical thinking. Think of this as something initiated by someone who either wants their supervisor to: 1) give them an answer, 2) take the monkey (a.k.a. problem) on their back, or 3) leave them alone. The verbal cues include the, “So, then I should do [accompanied by silence and a plaintive look begging the supervisor to give the answer]?” or the explanation that they are meeting roadblocks, but seem committed or forced to keep doing the same thing (what’s the definition of insanity, again?). Good lean leaders will begin to attack this stuff with open-ended questions, such as, “Well, what do you think you should do?”, “What’s your strategy for attacking this?”, “Why would you think that?”, “How do you know?”, along with some good 5 whys.
  • Accountability gaps. Then there are the folks who love using vague words like “hope,” “think,” “try,” “keep,” mixed with other squishy non-commitment related words for when they hope, think, will try to do, keep doing, whatever they were talking about. For example, “I’ll keep trying that.” Huh??? Well, first of all, it sounds like there may be a problem, possibly accompanied by a lack of critical thinking. See above. Second of all, once we converge on the right plan of action, we’ve got to figure out when it will happen, what constitutes success, etc. Lean leaders facilitate and demand accountability.

While we must listen for such words, we must do so with the aid of our eyes to provide context and insight from the individual’s body language.

And, of course, we must be listening for what is NOT said. Again, this is a prime opportunity to strategically use open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about that?”, and “What do you see?” Once the words begin to flow, the lean leader can take it from there.

Just as we develop our eyes for waste, we must tune our ears for effective lean listening.


One last thing, according to Wikipedia, humans supposedly have at least five additional senses:  pain, balance, joint motion and acceleration, temperature differences, and direction.

I know I’ve had my share of lean-induced pain. But, as one man was wont to say (he was never at a loss for words), “Knowledge makes a bloody entrance.”

I’m hoping that in some strange calculus, I’m getting more knowledgeable every day.

Pass the band-aids.

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings

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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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10 Common Lean Lies

Some lies you can see a mile away. The check is in the mail. Your table will be ready in a few minutes. I didn’t say that. This won’t hurt a bit…

Add to this rather long list some lies of the lean variety. I’ve heard more than my fair share.

Often, I just shake off the falsehoods and chalk it up hopefully to a case of the utterer not knowing what they don’t know. This means that the “lies” are not truly a conscious effort to deceive. Of course, this would mean that they’re really not lies, but then a post about common ignorant lean statements doesn’t seem quite as snappy.

In any event, effective leadership requires both credibility and competency. The following “lean lies,” and so many others, undermine both characteristics.

  1. This situation is totally abnormal, I’ve never see this before. Translation – dear Mr. or Mrs. Observer, do not believe your eyes…please, oh please.
  2. We will dedicate resources to the kaizen promotion office. The unsaid caveat – yup, 100% dedicated…when they’re not working on other stuff.
  3. We were lean years ago, then we experienced some turnover in key positions…moved from one facility to another (I’m not making this up), etc. What they should readily admit – we may have had a few lean tools in place, but the systems and principles weren’t even an inch deep. We were never truly lean, just fake lean.
  4. I’ll be there for the ENTIRE kaizen event. The invisible exception clause – I’ll be a full-time participant, except when I have a meeting or an important phone call, someone outside of the event seeks my attention, or whenever it is apparent that I’ll have to roll-up my sleeves.
  5. I have a lot of lean experience. The all too frequent reality – I have a number of unread lean books in my bookcase, got abelt” or two, and I’ve participated in several kaizen events…how hard can this be?
  6. We applied the proper rigor. The intended meaning – there is no need to investigate what constitutes our limited effort to understand the current situation. Are direct observation and data necessary for really smart people?
  7. Our employees are our most important asset. Well, first of all, people are NOT assets… although they can/should appreciate in value (while assets typically depreciate). Second of all, you don’t value anyone enough to boldly promise that no one will lose their job as a result of productivity improvements. Rather, you’ll chop heads at the first opportunity and crow how you “leaned-out” the organization.
  8. Senior leadership is committed to lean. The fine print – until we must truly change our own behavior.
  9. We will practice line stop jidoka. Expiration date clause – yes, line stop, until we start missing production time and my standard direct labor dollar metric looks like it will suffer.
  10. Everyone was fully trained in _______. The Clintonesque mental reservation – of course, it depends what your definition of “fully” is.

What are some of the lean “doozies” that you have encountered?

Related posts: Time Observations – without Rigor, It’s Just Industrial Tourism, Show Your Work, Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?


Beware the Headhunter

picture from Wikipedia

To avoid confusion, the term headhunter in this post does not refer to those who: 1) take the severed head of others as some sort of trophy (that practice, as far as I know, is defunct), or 2) find, at a price, qualified candidates for employment at their clients. Rather, we’re talking about those leaders who see their own employees as fungible things, as ”heads.”

That thinking is clearly counter the lean principle of respect for the individual.

Tell me that you’ve never observed these headhunters! They blow quickly by the first three objectives of improvement (easier, better, and faster), and get straight to cheaper. Cheaper of course means reducing heads – not the size of heads, that would be head shrinking. Some of the other kind of headhunters did that…

Headhunters seek productivity improvements. Productivity is a wonderful thing. As the lean scion, Art Byrne said, “Productivity = wealth.” That’s absolutely true…unless you squander it. Headhunters squander the wealth.

They see productivity as an opportunity to take out heads. You can usually identify them easily. They often say things like, “There are 37 heads in that department,” or “How many heads can we take out?” Their comfort in using the term “heads,” belies their values and motives.

They don’t understand one of the oldest and most foundational promises of lean – no one loses their employment due to productivity improvement.

This is not a lifelong promise of a specific job, but it is employment security. It certainly does not preclude redeploying folks to different positions, but it often provides new opportunities for personal growth.

I wonder if headhunters can get wrap their headhunting heads around an institution like Toyota. Toyota has often said that they don’t build cars as much as people.

During the depths of the last recession and beleaguered by the ostensibly false, but publicly widespread belief that Toyota was complicit in the unintended acceleration thing, Toyota could have laid many of their folks off. Certainly, others in the industry were doing it. Instead they chose to invest their “idle” time in training and kaizen. Their belief was that if they laid-off a 10 year employee, they would lose the wealth of experience and long-developed skill set (like problem-solving). It would take 10 years to develop a new one!

Doesn’t that make a LOT of sense?

So, when you identify a headhunter, try to convert them. Extol the virtues of in-sourcing and growing the business as well as growing people. If the conversion is unsuccessful, consider running away…fast.

Related posts: Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order, Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?


Grapes, Lean and Wisdom from Mr. Miyagi

Lean transformations are not for the squeamish. Certainly not for the noncommittal. Yes, the unknown is scary…

We often talk about lean principles, systems and tools, but clearly that’s not the whole story. So, here’s another part of the story – without profound, unwavering and unambiguous leadership commitment (by the leaders that matter) ANY serious lean transformation effort is DOOMED.

If leaders can’t muster the courage to plunge forth (not talking recklessness), they will bastardize lean principles, fail to apply the requisite resources and time, delay and defer hard decisions, tolerate and often enable non-lean behaviors, etc.

In short, they’ll try to live with one foot in the present and one foot in the lean wannabe state. A sure recipe for disaster.

Noncommittal is not “transformative” and not inspiring. If the leaders aren’t committed, why would the rest of the organization go all in? And for those underlings who do go all in, they’re likely to suffer feelings of confusion, despair and betrayal. Not good.

I will leave you with some Mr. Miyagi wisdom from 1984 movie, Karate Kid.

Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I guess so.
Miyagi: [sighs] Daniel-san, must talk.
[they both kneel]
Miyagi: Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later
[makes squish gesture]
Miyagi: get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do “yes” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,”
[makes squish gesture]
Miyagi: just like grape. Understand?
Daniel: Yeah, I understand.
Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I’m ready.

Source: The Internet Movie Database

Related posts: Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back, The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader


Lean Leaders – Don’t Be So Judgmental

The term, “judgmental,” in my experience is consistent with Merriam-Webster’s second definition, “characterized by a tendency to judge harshly.” Some synonyms include: carping, faultfinding, hypercritical, overcritical and rejective. Sounds like a party, right? Not, really.

For good reason, judgmental should NOT be a regular lean adjective. Why? At least two reasons.

Reason #1 – People. It’s counter to the foundational lean principles of respect for every individual and leading with humility. When’s the last time you witnessed someone being judgmental towards an inanimate object? Rarely. It’s typically something that is directed to or at a person or persons. In a lean environment, the intent is to develop and engage folks, not shut them down. When we employ the five who’s instead of the five why’s, we risk driving the organization into a mode of problem-hiding, not problem-exposing and solving. Judgmental behavior drives fear and cynicism and freezes the flow of ideas, the very lifeblood of kaizen.

Reason #2 – Process. It violates, or at least distracts the practitioner from the principles of focusing on process and embracing scientific thinking. When the bluster of “judgmentalism” can trump or distort going to the gemba, conducting direct observation and relying on data (or, more appropriately as Taiichi Ohno insisted, first-hand “facts”), we become worse than blind. This kind of blindness harms an organization’s PDCA effectiveness. That’s one reason why time observation forms, spaghetti charts, standard work combination sheets, operator balance charts, process maps, value stream maps, etc. are focused on facts.

I’ll leave you with some reflection questions. Admittedly, some are very specific. The purpose is to get you to think.

  • When you observe 9 pieces of work-in-process (WIP) within a line and standard WIP has yet to be established, do we ask, “Why is there so much WIP here?” or do we ask, “How come there are 9 pieces of WIP?”
  • When we observe a process in which an operator does a fair amount of walking, do we tell the team leader, “Man, operator B walks way too much,” or do we say, “I observed operator B during process X, he walked about 300 feet during that process. What can we do about that?”
  • When you conduct a time observation of a worker for a certain process and then you share your findings with the team, do you say, “She was painfully slow when doing these 2 steps,” or, while referencing the time observation form, do you explain the variation in cycle times, speak in quantifiable terms, note the factual points observed and let it be about the process?
  • When you listen in on a handful of customer service phone calls and there are consistent errors and omissions relative to standard work, do you dismiss the lot as a bunch of incompetent folks who obviously need some re-education or do you characterize (number, type, conditions, etc) the errors and omissions and share the anonymous (no need to name names) and non-judgmental observations with the team and engage in some PDCA?
  • When you visit another operation, whether one within your own company, supplier or benchmarking target, do you key in on the shortcomings and have a good laugh or do you observe the elements (large or small) from which you can learn and improve – noting (literally) the rigor of and adherence to standard work, the simple elegance of the heijunka box, the line stop escalation protocol, etc.?
  • Has anyone ever been judgmental to you regarding your area(s) of responsibility? How did it make you feel? Defensive? Engaged? Enraged? Did the exchange help identify specific actionable opportunities? Or, was it a fuzzy, dark cloud of, “you need to suck less”?
  • Can you think of how you can improve your approach in the future? Perhaps, be a bit less judgmental? I know I can.

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Time Observations – without Rigor, It’s Just Industrial Tourism

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