Archive for August, 2010

Airline Carrier’s Visual Management – Branding and LOL

Visual management is typically applied for the purpose of indicating process and system performance so that everyone can tell, at glance, whether the situation is normal or abnormal. Abnormalities should prompt an appropriate response.

Well, the low-cost South African airline Kulula, has taken a whimsical approach to visual controls. Actually, it’s a branding strategy with really nothing to do with lean thinking. But, it is pretty funny. Enjoy the pictures, below.


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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Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps

Leader standard work is a pillar of the lean management system. So, how does one start to develop leader standard work? Five basic steps will get you a long way: 1) walking, 2) questioning, 3) working, 4) testing, and 5) adjusting. Like most kaizen activities, it’s very effective to do this as a team – in this case, a team of lean leaders.

Walking. Walk the value stream. Make use of your current state value stream map if you have one, but never forget to go to the gemba. Identify your “pulse points,” the critical points within the value stream where you would like to check process performance and/or process adherence. They are called pulse points because we’re thinking about relatively quick drive-by checks that can give us insight into the health of the overall system. Like a health care provider, we do not and cannot pragmatically start every examination with  a full-body MRI or blood work! That would be muda! Apply deep dives strategically.

Questioning. While walking and identifying pulse points, you should also ask questions (of ourselves and other stakeholders) relative to process performance and adherence and other basic stuff around these pulse points. For example, “What is the process?… How do I know if it’s working or not?… What is the standard work?… Is it being followed relative to steps, work sequence, cycle time and standard work in process?…What are the CTQ’s (critical to quality elements)?”…etc. Write these questions down. You’ll pick the most critical later.

Working. Here “work” is figuring out how to answer the big questions and the natural lean follow-on questions that we did not think to ask originally. So, if the question is, “How do I know whether people are adhering to standard work?” and you don’t have standard work, guess what? You’re going to have to develop standard work. If the question is, “What if the test station begins to fail an abnormally high number of units?” then there may be some follow-up questions, such as, “What is abnormally high?”  More work required here – looks like we’ll have to define that. Still another question (seems like we’re back to the questioning step!), may be, “What happens if the operator encounters abnormally high failures?” – looks like we’ll have to establish some sort of escalation protocol…with the appropriate standard work and visual controls. Work, work, work, but well worth it. Rarely, is the system already well wired and it’s just a matter of developing and deploying leader standard work.

Testing. So, once you build out the leader standard work in an appropriate leader standard work format for each leader (including the location that the leader should physically go to for the audit, audit frequency, the normal condition that the leader is attempting to validate, whether the observed condition is normal or abnormal, etc.), it’s time to test it. This means walking and using the leader standard work, determining whether it is prescriptive enough, whether the visual controls are unambiguous and drive-by easy, etc. The likelihood that all is perfect is pretty much nil, which leads to…Adjusting.

Developing effective leader standard work is not easy, but it is instructive. When rigorously applied within a daily accountability process, it will help drive a lean culture,  sustain improvements and facilitate daily kaizen.

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel

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Ode to the 3X3 Inch Post-it® Note

Often, people jokingly accuse me of owning stock in 3M. Why? Because I tend to use and coach others to use lots of Post-it® notes. I do have an affinity for the 3X3 inch variety, not because I am a 3M stockholder, but because the ubiquitous notes are such an effective tool for kaizen.

Kaizen is largely about capturing and understanding the current state and the related issues, problems, root causes and opportunities. Kaizen is also about the flow of the kaizeners’ improvement ideas – sharing, communicating, building on them, adjusting, organizing, prioritizing, assigning and executing them. Post-it® notes facilitate all that.

The notes are visual, colorful (colors should mean something), adjustable, movable, scrappable (low cost, easy to create a new one) and tactile things. These characteristics make it easy to get people started – get people writing, talking, moving, sharing, debating, etc.

Post-it® notes do not engender the same fear that often accompanies the more permanent pen or even pencil on a flip chart, plotter/kraft paper, etc. The notes also avoid the hypnotic and less than collaborative effects of the computer around which a bunch of folks try to gather (if you’re lucky it’s an LCD projector) while one person controls the keyboard and mouse.

Here’s a short list of Post-it® note applications:

  • process mapping
  • value stream analysis
  • product family analysis matrix
  • Gantt charts
  • plus/deltas
  • set-up reduction analysis
  • countermeasure prioritization
  • affinity exercises
  • failure modes and effects analysis
  • cause and effect diagrams
  • layout analysis

So, I wrote a really lame ode to the 3X3 Post-it® note…because I could (sort of). Don’t worry, I won’t quit my day job.


Oh noble 3X3 Post-it® note, I am utterly lost without thee.

You enable team members to think and engage, worry free.

Your portability and stick allow a helpful lack of permanence,

The better to help us storm, “affinitize,” prioritize and make sense.

Your hue can mean “process” or “kaizen burst,” whatever we please,

When a flow chart needs a diamond, we simply spin you 45 degrees.

Our scissors work you into a triangle if a V.S. map has a queue,

When you are side-by-side (continuous flow), truly we love you.


Yes, the ode is lame…but, you’ve got to love those little 3X3 Post-it® notes.

Related post: Plus Delta – The Kaizen Team’s Sunrise Reflection


Point of Use Storage – Sometimes It’s REALLY Important!

Point of use storage is an excellent strategy for reducing the waste of motion (and transportation). Sometimes motion is a minor inconvenience. Sometimes motion is a bit more problematic.

The picture to the left is real. No Photoshop here! The name of the location is withheld to protect the innocent people who have to use the “workstations” and the guilty (it’s just not worth it) who established the “system.”

It’s kind of funny…if you don’t think about the implications for the employees whom we should respect.


Guest Post: Missing Elements of Change = Bad Formula

For virtually everyone change means hard work, risk, and the need to learn new ways for unproven benefits. Change is one of the most difficult things for humans to readily accept.  Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change” which holds true for culture change.

Fortunately, there is a formula that provides insight into how to successfully facilitate change:

L x V x K x AP x A > R = Change


L = Lever: Find a sense of urgency by identifying a crisis in which action is the only choice.  It is necessary to overcome inertia.

V = Vision: How you would like things to be in the future, this is the “True North” thinking.

K = Knowledge: Learn the skills necessary to facilitate the change. Find a change agent.  Understand and disseminate the lean knowledge.

AP = Action Plan: Actions and strategies needed to move the organization toward the vision.  It is important to begin as soon as possible with visible activity.  Often, a great start is to identify and map your value streams.

A = Alignment: Communicate the why and how of the vision to inspire people to want to try to achieve it.  As  you gain momentum you need to expand your scope. Apply strategy deployment (Hoshin Kanri) to facilitate horizontal and vertical alignment.

R = Resistance: People tend to naturally resist change.  Reduce resistance by making the change known, easy, beneficial, and popular.

To ensure successful change all of these elements are needed.  If an element is missing you won’t get change but rather something short of that as shown below:

Lever x Vision x Knowledge x Action Plan x Alignment = Change
Vision x Knowledge x Action Plan x Alignment = Status Quo
Lever x                Knowledge x Action Plan x Alignment = Confusion
Lever x Vision x                         Action Plan x Alignment = Frustration
Lever x Vision x Knowledge x                         Alignment = False Starts
Lever x Vision x Knowledge x Action Plan                        = Resistance

There is no quick solution for creating a lean culture.  Successful initial implementation and ongoing maintenance of process improvements, among other things, requires overcoming the resistance to change.

This post was authored by Tim McMahon, the Founder and Contributor of A Lean Journey Blog.  Tim’s blog site is dedicated to sharing lessons and experiences along the Lean Journey in the Quest for True North. He is a lean practitioner, leading continuous improvement efforts for a high tech manufacturer of fiber optic cables and assemblies. Tim teaches problem solving skills, lean countermeasures, and how to see opportunities for improvement by actively learning, thinking and being engaged.


Change Leadership – Ignore Best Practices at Your Peril

Too often we forget the basics. And we pay dearly for it.

One of the basics of a successful lean transformation, heck any transformation, is change management. When it comes to stuff like that, I defer to the experts for insight into the “how.”

John P. Kotter, author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency and co-author of several other great books, is a change management, or should I say change leadership, expert.  Kotter identifies an eight-stage process for creating major change. There’s obviously a lot to discuss behind each one of the stages, but for now, the list is a great start.

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency,
  2. Creating a guiding coalition,
  3. Developing a vision and strategy,
  4. Communicating the change vision,
  5. Empowering broad-based action,
  6. Generating short-term wins,
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change, and
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture.

It’s great stuff and hard to argue against any of it, in total or at the elemental level.  But, lean leaders routinely fail (I’m guilty) to follow this game plan (or other proven change management game plans by folks like Daryl R. Conner). I believe that there are a handful of reasons for this lack of adherence, including:

  • Degree of difficulty (and/or leadership impatience). Change is hard (one of my better statements of the obvious). Applying the rigor of a proven multi-step process, in the short-term, just seems to make it harder and delays getting into the action of changing processes, value streams. organization structures, etc.  Q: Isn’t there a short-cut? A: Not if you want to be successful.
  • Lack of humility. This can be translated as, “I know what I’m doing…I don’t need no stinkin’ process.” Of course, you never actually hear people say that, they just act that way.
  • Drift. At the launch of any sort of transformation, everything is shiny and new – full of hope…and I dare say, the promise of change. But, shortly after the launch, things can get very messy.  Even if an organization applies best practices to optimize the chance of success from the perspective of learning and leverage while managing technical and human resource related risks, there will be no shortage of  problems. Amidst the fog of issues and challenges, it is very easy to lose one’s change leadership bearings. Urgency can make leaders “forget” or procrastinate when it comes to living the basics of change leadership.

So, what to do? Study what the masters of change leadership teach relative to strategy and technology.  Apply the rigor and build it into the overall implementation plan relative to timing, level of effort and ownership  (for example, provide yourself and your team with the requisite time to develop a vision and strategy). Religiously conduct frequent formal and informal PDCA checkpoints to keep yourself on track and to identify necessary adjustments. Use an external coach to keep everyone honest.

Change leadership is hard enough. Don’t handicap yourself and your organization by ignoring best practices.

Related posts: The War Room – More than an Interior Decorating Statement, The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover