Archive for November, 2011

Reflection on the Sensei’s Legacy – Life and Lean

Earlier this month, my father passed away after a long and stoic battle with cancer. He was days away from his 80th birthday. By virtually all measures, his was a life well-lived and fruitful. Jim Hamel left many who love him.

Death prompts reflection by those who remain this side of eternity. Within that mix, the word “legacy” often comes to mind.

One Merriam-Webster definition of legacy is as follows:

something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>.

The philosopher example makes sense. My father was a bit philosophical to say the least, especially relative to his fundamental attitude toward human life and destiny. He also had a wicked wit. It seems that his philosophy informed his wit…or was it the other way around?

When we think of legacy, we think necessarily of things that endure.

My father taught me many things, including how to play baseball and hockey, how to shoot, and how to tie a neck tie. In fact, he was a professional educator. Teaching was in his blood. But, those things are not truly part of his legacy.

When I was young, I was constantly impressed by how he seemed to bump into so many of his past students. Incredulously, I would ask, “Dad, how do you know so many people?”

These former students, no matter where we were, seemed to find him and then cheerfully say hello, introduce their young children, reminisce about days gone by, and so on. My father taught high school history, French and psychology (before becoming an assistant principal), but I am quite certain that the affection and memories of these students were not constitutive of those subjects. It was something more.

Much of my father’s legacy to me includes perseverance, toughness, fidelity, sacrifice and the giving of self for family and perhaps the art of wry, smart-aleck humor. The baseball, hockey, shooting, etc. were, in many ways, the stage for imparting the important stuff.

And so it goes for lean. Yes, of course there’s got to be a lean lesson in here somewhere!

My lean teachers taught me standard work, visual controls, pull systems, and the like. These things were in the category of tools and systems. I am forever grateful that my sensei imparted their knowledge to me about these important things.

But the enduring stuff, the real lean legacy is more about mentorship, humility, respect for every individual, employee involvement and engagement, the constant seeking of perfection, creating value for the customer, etc. These principles were consistently part of the curriculum…even if the student (me) did not notice it at the time.

Yes, legacy is more about principles, defined here as follows (Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1999).

principle: that from which something proceeds or on which it depends as its origin, cause, or source of being or action.

So, while I am hopeful that my clients, colleagues and friends will find my teaching around lean tools and systems helpful, I hope that my lean legacy will transcend those mere things. If so, I will have done my father proud.

Related posts: Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control, The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader


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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