Posts Tagged Kaizen

Book Review: A Factory of One

Last month, I had the opportunity to read Daniel Markovitz’s new book, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance.  It is published by Productivity Press. My hopefully pithy review is now posted on his book website (where you can also get a FREE chapter):

How can this book NOT be for EVERYONE?! Dan Markovitz has written a truly unique, readable, and actionable book about personal lean. A Factory of One will help the reader reconnect with the value-creating portion of his or her everyday work. Dan’s book is a gift to all knowledge workers.”

If you don’t know Dan, or at least know about him, you should.  He is a personal productivity sage and, admittedly, is a lot smarter than I am (despite attending a rival “Little Ivy” college). Dan is the founder and owner of TimeBack Management, faculty member of Lean Enterprise Institute, renowned speaker and now, author.

Often folks rightly believe that book reviewer comments are puffed up things written by someone who may have read the book introduction, if that. The fact is that I read the whole work and covered it with a bunch of notes.

The notes? Well, those were mostly to highlight important passages and personal productivity learnings for myself.

A Factory of One is a “me book.” The “me,” represents whoever is fortunate enough to read it…and genuinely respond to its challenge to continually engage in personal practice kaizen.

Dan’s stated goal of the book is consistent with this notion:

…to help you work more mindfully – to be aware of what you are doing in the moment because you have removed the physical and psychic clutter that dilutes your productivity. The book will teach principles and tools that help you structure how you do your work so that you can identify the best approach – one that helps you get more done, and done better, consistently. You will make the best practice, common practice.”

Markovitz’s book is 145 pages in length – certainly a quick read. It is comprised of five chapters, along with a brief introduction and conclusion. Each chapter contains real-life illustrative stories (you’ll love the one about the $14 million check) and, with the exception of Chapter 5, concludes with “Next Steps” – a pragmatic punch list of activities that support the strategies and tactics discussed within the chapter.

Here’s a summary of the chapters:

  1. What’s Your Job? Dan begins by challenging the reader to go beyond their job title and get at the essence of their role. This, of course, requires an understanding of value from the perspective of one’s “customers.” A Factory of One is about enhancing personal productivity around value-added activities, not becoming really, really good at the non-value added stuff. This is not a how to book for “email ninjas.” Chapter Next Steps include creating a customer value map and completing a time-tracking log for one week.
  2. Spotting Value, Spotting Waste. Markovitz talks persuasively about “information 5S.” Dan has the audacity to claim that the desktop is a workshop and not a storage space! Next Steps include ruthlessly 1S’ing your office, using a 3-tray (“inbox”, “outbox,” and “reading”) system, creating “working,” “reference,” and “archive” files and electronic folders, etc.
  3. Flow. Yes, this is all about the flow of knowledge work! I have copied Dan’s figure of “4Ds workflow” and now have it hanging over my desk. It’s a relatively simple reminder to keep things moving. When the “stuff” comes into my inbox (real or virtual), I have got to either: 1) do it (if < 2 minutes of work content), 2) delegate it, 3) designate it (task list if <10 minutes, calendar it if >30 minutes), or 4) discard it. Of course, it doesn’t end there. Once Markovitz gets you to set the table, then it’s time to dispel the myth of multi-tasking, and introduce strategies like “worst first,” serial tasking, compressing your available time to better identify problems, and level-loading repetitive tasks. Next Steps include applying 4Ds, use of recurring calendar appointments to force you to do the necessary but not favorite tasks first, keeping a notepad next to your computer to record phone calls you need to make and emails you need to send (and thus avoid stopping flow), and scheduling specific time(s) to process email.
  4. Visual Management. Dan challenges the reader who finds comfort in keeping all their working files on their desk – it’s a wildly ineffective strategy to combat “out of sight, out of mind.” The author introduces personal kanbans and then proceeds to discuss the integrated use of the calendar and task pad, the need for slack in one’s schedule, etc. For me, living in my calendar versus my inbox is one of my Achilles heels! Chapter Next Steps call for the movement of all tasks, projects, and ongoing commitments into an electronic calendar and tasks pad (see 4Ds, above). The projects should be visually tracked using a simple personal kanban board.
  5. From Bad to Good, and from Good to Great. This chapter does not have a formal Next Steps section – it’s ALL about next steps. The knowledge worker must embrace PDCA and, by definition, standardized work around the if, how, what, when, where, and who of their work. Just applying the first four chapters does not let you off the hook!

Bottom line, buy and apply A Factory of One. It will improve your personal performance!

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, Undercover Hospital Sensei’s Diagnosis – “Healthcare is Broke” [guest post]


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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“Measuring” Kaizen Event Team Effectiveness: 7 Criteria

Every once and a while someone will ask me to (discretely) evaluate a kaizen event team’s effectiveness. I don’t necessarily relish doing that when it is intended for the purpose of team comparisons, but it’s not an unfair request from a senior leader.

Someday, I should probably try to pull the mystical sensei thing and ask them first what they think…and why.

The criteria that I apply is less than scientific. I don’t apply weighting between the criteria and I simply use a 1 to 5 score for each one, with 5 the highest. Really, the important thing is reflecting upon the meaningful stuff, learning and then improving.

My measurement criteria, in no particular order, with links to a handful of relevant prior posts:

  1. Waste elimination effectiveness. The notion here is about how well the team identified, acknowledge and then eliminated the waste within their target process. “W.E.E.” is driven as much by team aggressiveness as technical acumen. Lean Metric: Waste Elimination Effectiveness
  2. Projected sustainability. PDCA is one thing and SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) is another. There’s nothing as painful as unsustained kaizen gains. They will sap the lifeblood out of a fledgling lean transformation. Gains must be “locked in” with standard work. Lean management systems are needed to drive process adherence and process performance and help facilitate further improvements. Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel
  3. Degree of difficulty. Not much explanation needed here. Scope, technical complexity and change management challenges run the gamut. Some events are easier than others.
  4. Kaizen rigor. Effective teams generally apply rigor around:1) pre-event planning (including linkage to strategy deployment, value stream improvement plans and the like, team selection, appropriate pre-work, etc.), 2) event execution (including event kick-off, team leader meetings, effective work strategies, and the PDCA-driven “kaizen storyline”), and 3) event follow-through. Show Your Work, How to Avoid Kaizen Event Malpractice
  5. Demonstrated application of lean principles, systems and tools. It’s a wonderful thing to see the simple elegance of well applied (and validated) standard work…and other lean tools, for that matter. System-level  (or sub-system-level…hey, there’s only so much that can be done during an event) application is even more impressive, for example pull systems, lean management systems, etc. Still more “transformative” is something that goes beyond just the “know-how” of tools and systems. Principles encompass not only know-how, but the “know why.” Teams that enter that realm are effective during the event…and well beyond. Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!
  6. Value stream/business impact. Kaizen events are often more about kaikaku than kaizen (small incremental improvement). While we would be mistaken to believe that this is and should always be the case, value stream/business impact should be considered when considering kaizen event team effectiveness.
  7. Learning and development. Kaizen events are excellent and intense laboratories for individual, team and organizational growth. Growth opportunities extend to the technical, teaming, leadership and change management areas and serve as a training ground for daily kaizen. And a final point as we recall Taiichi Ohno’s insight that, “Learning comes through difficulties,” the lack of gaudy event results does not mean a lack of development! Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

So, what did I miss?

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These Are Some of My Favorite (Improvement) Things

It wasn’t quite a Von Trapp family moment, but it certainly was a good lean moment. During a kaizen report-out, an associate was sharing several improvement ideas. You know the form reflecting the problem, action taken, impact and a before and after characterization of the situation? But, her introduction to her portion of the presentation was a little bit different than what I have grown accustomed to.

She started by saying, “This is my favorite improvement…” It resonated with engagement, empowerment and satisfaction. Her preamble grabbed the audience’s attention.

She and her teammates had accomplished great things in the areas of productivity, ergonomics, lead time reduction and the like. Along with that, they necessarily addressed a bunch of issues that routinely caused frustration for the workers within the target process. Things that got in the way of performing their tasks successfully.  Things that kept them from feeling like they were winning.

Her favorite improvement? It was one that enabled her and her teammates to quickly identify abnormal conditions and provide the insight necessary to knock down the root cause(s). She was looking forward to something that would further enable continuous improvement, now and in the future!

The plant manager and I chatted a bit after the conclusion of the report-out. Our mutual favorite thing was…the favorite thing. It was a “thing” that reflected much of the core of a kaizen culture.

Related post: Stretch, Don’t Break – 5 ways to grow your people


Labor Density – When Dense is Good

Labor density is not a measurement that is thrown around very often, at least explicitly. Conceptually however, it must be resident somewhere in the lean thinker’s headset. Hey, it was important enough for Taiichi Ohno to discuss!

Labor density is a measure of value-add intensity relative to total worker motion. The measurement provides insight into the extent that a worker’s motion transforms the materials or information (or in the instance of health care – helps the health or comfort of the patient) into something that is valued by the customer. Ideally, the labor density should be 100%.

The waste of motion, both physical (searching, twisting, bending, etc.,) and virtual (searching within a database, moving from computer screen to screen), consumes time and resources, but does not add value. While total work content is not necessarily limited to only motion, labor density can help highlight wasted motion whether it is an act of omission (motion that substitutes for real value-added work, like “apparent” work instead of properly securing the required three fasteners) or plain old, waste of motion.

The math:

  • Labor density = work / motion
  • Example:  If value-added work is 32” and total worker motion is 40” per cycle: 80% = 32” / 40”

Admittedly, the labor density measurement is not very sexy at all, but it should challenge us to more rigorously observe, identify and eliminate waste!

Related post: Musings About FIFO Lane Sizing “Math”


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


Of Team Size, Social Loafing and Lack of Direction

Maximilian Ringelmann was a 19th century French agricultural engineer. I’m guessing there’s not too many of those around right now – both from the engineering discipline and  country of origin perspective. Anyway, Ringelmann discovered that as more folks pulled on a rope, more force is exerted. However, the increase on the force is NOT commensurate. Maximilian measured a type of “social loafing” – the individual, per capita effort lessens as people are added.

As we select teams for continuous improvement activity, we must be mindful of the team size. Large teams, more than eight or so, increase the probability of two types of team muda: 1) social loafing, and 2) lack of direction. Social loafing, or the Ringelmann effect, reflects the inclination of participants to slack and hide…because they can.

If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, the size of the team is too large. – Jeff Bezos, Chairman, CEO and Founder of

Lack of direction can befall team members who outstrip, because of sheer number or perhaps industriousness, the aligning and facilitating capabilities of team leaders and coaches. (Here, we’re not talking about problems that are generated by ineffective team leaders and facilitators.) We know that kaizen activity – the identification of opportunities, the countermeasures identified and assigned, the learnings and adjustments that occur throughout the trystorming process, etc. can make the process a little less than orderly and predictable. Added to that chaos factor, if the team is too large, team members are  more likely to experience the waste of:

  • Waiting. Nothing like hanging around for someone to assign another task for you after you just knocked off a countermeasure.
  • Over-processing and over-production. Virtually all participants want to do value-added work. So, if there is an absence of direction (and alignment), there’s a decent chance they’ll do something, perhaps more than is required (scope creep!!) or do it prematurely – like developing visual controls before the “system” is defined, which can lead to…
  • Defects. Redoing stuff when it’s not part of the normal PDCA cycle is demoralizing. Sometimes it does not require rework, but rather scrapping – like when two people or sub-teams end up doing duplicate work. Not good.
  • Opportunity. Well executed kaizen is an opportunity for folks to improve the business. It’s also equally about improving the worker’s PDCA skill-sets and developing a lean culture. When teams are too large and they suffer the above described dynamics, we end up squandering these transformative opportunities. We then give people a good reason to call into question our competency and credibility as lean leaders.

So, how do we avoid the Ringelmann effect and the lack of direction trap? First, don’t pick a team that is too large… and always employ effective pre-planning (inclusive of clarity in scope, measurable targets, best practice team selection, required pre-work, a solid initial strategy, etc.), proven work strategies (prioritization of countermeasures, assignment, frequent status checks, etc.), promote and enforce proper team behaviors (focus, shared leadership, candor, bias for action, etc.), all while empowering the team members to figure out much of the “how” (as long as it’s consistent with lean principles) and providing them with the necessary encouragement, training and resources.

When a large team is required either by virtue of the scope/work that needs to be done or the need for multi-level and cross-functional representation, then (after you’ve decided that you can’t reduce the scope), consider the opportunities for sub-teams, load up the team with folks who have strong kaizen experience, ensure that you’ve got an ace team leader and facilitator and make sure that you’ve done a heck of a pre-planning job.

I’m sure I missed some things. What do you think?

Related post: Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed

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Show Your Work

Remember back when your math teacher told you to “show your work“? There were good reasons for that, not the least of which was the fact that your teacher wanted to know if you were thinking, what you were thinking, and how you were thinking. The teacher wanted insight into whether you were grasping the concepts…and not just dropping a number or two on the paper. Ostensibly, showing your work assists in the learning process. It also keeps the student honest and should help them determine themselves whether their “logic” holds water.

The same holds true in business and continuous improvement. Kaizen activity rigorously employs PDCA. The “P” within PDCA represents the act of planning, which is founded upon a rather firm understanding of the current reality. The current reality, when compared (implicitly or explicitly) to an envisioned leaner state, should manifest the gaps, problems, issues and opportunities. From this perspective, the lean practitioner can then move on and gain an understanding of the root causes and ultimately a “plan” as embodied in countermeasures. Do, check and act appropriately follow.

So, how do you show your work within the plan phase? Put another way, how do you understand the pre-kaizen situation? There are AT LEAST ten basic waste identification tools and eight basic root cause analysis and supporting tools.

Waste Identification Tools:

  1. Current state value stream map
  2. Process map
  3. 5S audit sheet
  4. Time observation form
  5. Standard work sheet
  6. Standard work combination sheet
  7. % Load chart
  8. Process capacity sheet
  9. Setup observation analysis work sheet
  10. Operations analysis table

Basic Root Cause Analysis and Supporting Tools:

  1. 5 Whys
  2. Cause and effect diagrams
  3. Check sheets
  4. Concentration diagrams
  5. Scatter diagrams
  6. Histograms
  7. Pareto charts
  8. Process failure modes and effects analysis

These  different tools, to which we can certainly add the left side of the A3 form, are part of the work of the planning process. They help facilitate the process of grasping the current reality and identifying root causes. They hone the practitioner’s thinking, shares his thinking, engages others in the process, invites constructive feedback, etc…and forces him to show his work, not only for his benefit, but also for the benefit of other lean learners. No cause jumping. No sloppy shortcuts.

So, just like in school, if you don’t show your work, you should get points taken off!

Related posts: CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes, The Truth Will Set You Free!

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Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

Several days ago, during a health care value stream analysis, I was impressed with the team’s bias for action. Now we know that value stream mapping is typically a “paper” activity, but it was refreshing to see that one of the future state’s kaizen bursts, identified as a “just-do-it,” couldn’t wait. The team completed the just-do-it right before the wrap-up presentation. Outstanding!

Kaizen is founded on certain principles, one of which is a bias for action. This bias for action is largely a behavioral thing, but it can be facilitated by effective coaching, formal training, and the application of lean management systems and related visual controls that should absolutely scream for action.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning my “short list” of kaizen principles (see the Kaizen Event Fieldbook), because I think we need to have a holistic perspective and because together they should drive the right kind of bias for action. I call this my 10 + 1 list. I’m pretty sure that other lean practitioners can make some  great arguments for a few more, but I wanted to keep the list relatively short.

  1. Think PDCA and SDCA, the basic scientific methods.
  2. Go to the gemba; observe and document reality.
  3. Ask “why?” five times to identify root causes.
  4. Be dissatisfied with the status quo.
  5. Kaizen what matters.
  6. Have a bias for action.
  7. Frequent, small incremental improvements drive big, sustainable improvements.
  8. Be like MacGyver; use creativity before capital.
  9. Kaizen is everyone’s job.
  10. No transformation without transformation leadership.

Plus – Do everything with humility and respect for the individual.

The combined dissatisfaction with the status quo (eyes for waste  “see” the current state and the ideal state) and the existence of explicit performance gaps that are targeted for closure (kaizen what matters) should be unbearable enough to drive action. And, our action should be focused on appropriately and economically (MacGyver was a creative cheapskate) addressing the root causes (5 why’s and PDCA thinking) and then sustaining the performance (SDCA).

So, I’ll leave you with another bias for action story, surprisingly also within a value stream analysis backdrop. Tony, the plant manager, was participating in a combined value stream analysis/plant lay-out/3P activity for a brand new line. As we developed pro forma standard work and were doing table top and plant floor simulations applying, among other things continuous flow, he had a eureka moment. Actually, I noticed that he was becoming quite agitated and then…he disappeared. Over an hour later, Tony returned. He informed the team that he couldn’t stand it when he realized that the same principles needed to be applied to existing lines. So, right away, he made sure that the other lines (granted, without standard work at the time) stop their evil batch and queue ways and go to single piece flow. By the next day, the old lines had demonstrated an 18% productivity improvement (and yes, this was sustained). Now, that’s bias for action!

Related posts: Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, Kaizen Principle: Be Like MacGyver, Use Creativity before Capital!

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