Posts Tagged lean leaders

Bus Schedules and the Lean Management System

What do bus schedules have to do with a lean management system?bus schedule

Quite a bit…even though, obviously, the notion of a bus schedule is more metaphor (or is that analogy?) than reality.

Effective lean management systems are largely constituted by “mechanics” and lean leadership behaviors. The mechanics include, among other things:

  • tiered meetings (a.k.a. huddles or reflection meetings) to drive alignment and problem solving,
  • gemba walks during which leaders check the adherence to/sufficiency of standardized work
  • andons to flag and quickly respond to abnormalities and drive timely containment and problem solving at the lowest/most appropriate level in the organization
  • one-on-one coaching to facilitate problem solving and personal development of the coachee

These are critical elements that must “cascade” through multiple levels in the organization. Tiered meetings, by their very nature roll bottom-to-top, for example the natural work team meeting(s) occur first, followed by the value stream tiered meeting, etc. Similarly, there is built-in redundancy in gemba walk based standardized work. For example, the team leader, group leader, and value stream manager may “check” the same stuff, but will do so with differing frequency.

The basic underpinnings of all standardized work are sequence, standard WIP (SWIP), and takt time. To that we can easily extrapolate to steps, sequence, timing, cycle time, SWIP, and takt time.

…Which gets us to the bus schedule.

All of the lean management system elements must follow a cadence and with that, an explicit and synchronized schedule. Without that, there is chaos and a system that is not very systematic, and thus not effective.

Ultimately, these notions get us to lean leadership behaviors which include respect for the individual and consistency. Respect for the schedule is respect for people.

The mature lean organization maintains a profound and pervasive respect for the schedule and thus the scheduled times to conduct tier meetings, gemba walks, and one-on-one coaching meetings. Not only do we want to ensure the right stuff gets done at the right time, we want to instill a rhythm of expectation and execution within the organization.

I’m probably stating the obvious, but it is nearly impossible for lean leaders to:

  1. check the adherence to/sufficiency of the leader standard work and the application of lean leadership behaviors of their subordinates if they don’t know when the observable events (huddles, gemba walks, one-on-ones) are going to occur. And, if the leaders can’t directly observe, their coaching will be less than effective.
  2. Avoid setting meetings and other commitments for folks that will compete with the lean management system activities.

Therefore, the schedule must be pervasively known and understood throughout the organization. It should only be violated in very, very extreme situations. (Of course, we know that leaders will occasionally have someone else cover for them, but the “show must go on.”) And, the standardized schedule should be adjusted only when the lean management system is adjusted for improvement’s sake.

So, how’s your bus schedule? And, are your buses running on time?

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Build the Lean Management System and the Behaviors Will Come. Not Exactly.

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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.

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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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Line of Sight, Employee Engagement, and Daily Kaizen

Lean culture is largely defined by, or at least manifested in, engaged and empowered employees practicing voluntary kaizen. Engagement can be measured in a number of ways, but perhaps one of the most telling is the number of implemented suggestions per employee per year.

A while back, I developed an outline of Autoliv Brigham’s daily kaizen journey (see figure below) based upon information within the book, How to Do Kaizen. Autoliv’s story is extremely compelling.

Often engagement evolves as employee line of sight evolves. Line of sight is my euphemism for the scope of the employee’s ability AND desire to see, to understand, and to care beyond the self. Successful organizations are clearly much more than a loose confederation of individuals.

Start Somewhere

Lean transformations have to start somewhere. Many times it starts with an average employee line of sight that extends about as far as “self.” If that’s the case, then the lean leaders need to engage right there.

What does that mean?

Well, if the employee cares little beyond the self, then train and involve them in creature comfort kaizen for themselves (as finder and fixers of the problems). Recognize their improvements and their creativity and share it with others. The four-fold goal of kaizen is easier, better, faster, and cheaper…in that order. Start with easier and build from there.

This develops the employee’s kaizen capability and, if done effectively, their appetite and eyes for kaizen. But don’t stop there. Expand the context for kaizen. Extend the line of sight beyond just the self.

Expand the Line of Sight

Most employees work within some sort of natural work team – folks who typically work together on a daily basis towards some common purpose. (Admittedly, sometimes the team in which they are a member is less than “natural” and formed for management convenience and economics, not the flow of value. Not optimal, but often it’s still manageable.) There are a number of things that the lean leader can do to facilitate greater engagement, including:

  1. Deploy a daily accountability process. Effective lean management systems include the use of tiered meetings to review team performance versus targets, plan for the next 24 hours, and identify issues, barriers and countermeasures. It drives shared understanding of process performance, foments dialogue, and “pulls” suggestions.
  2. Provide more lean and team effectiveness training and time to use it. The more actionable knowledge about lean and how to better perform as a team, the better. While a lot of daily kaizen can happen in the margins (breaks, before shift and after shift), collaborative efforts are most likely to happen if some time is provided on a periodic basis during working hours.
  3. Leverage performance management. It’s a game-changer when the criteria on how people are evaluated and compensated includes team and company outputs as well as desired lean behaviors.
  4. Involve employees in organized kaizen. Kaizen events and facilitated kaizen circle activities will further develop the organization’s problem-solving muscle and expand awareness and ownership.
  5. Leaders transition to teachers and facilitators. Perhaps the toughest transformational challenge is flipping the organizational pyramid “upside down” so that the leaders become enablers, not bottlenecks.
  6. Apply lean tools and systems that drive employee involvement. For example: 5S is an supremely intuitive and engaging tool…and it can provide near instant gratification. Visual controls, among other things, share information with virtually every stakeholder. Talk about line of sight! TPM, specifically autonomous maintenance, by its very nature requires direct involvement and ownership.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

What do you do to expand the line of sight and engagement within your organization? How does that drive daily kaizen?

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics, Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

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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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The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader

A recent George F. Will column referenced the sign recreated at left. While I don’t necessarily believe that the signage encompasses the complete definition of discipline, it certainly provides food for thought.

A lot of folks think of discipline, especially in the context of lean, as something extrinsic. It’s something that is applied and reinforced through the rigor of leader standard work, daily accountability processes, and value stream improvement plan and strategy deployment checkpoints, etc. Discipline is enforced…by leaders on others. Obviously, not even close to the full story, but we are not so naive as to believe that extrinsic discipline is not important or necessary.

What about the lean leaders? Sure, the leaders of the leaders can drive discipline. But, purely extrinsic discipline is more like a dictatorship. Lean leaders must have intrinsic discipline. It’s got to come from within.

Lean leaders must have sufficient commitment to, and faith in, lean principles (lead with humility, respect the individual, flow, pull, PDCA, identify and eliminate waste, rely on data, etc.) such that they will discipline themselves to do what they don’t want to do when they don’t want to do it. Because it’s worth the pain.

And their peers, teammates and subordinates watch and learn from the leader’s example as he or she:

  • Sucks it up and goes the extra mile to visit the gemba and directly observe the current reality,
  • Guts it out and takes the 5 whys to the fifth…or tenth in order to get to the root cause,
  • Remains super-humanly patient mentoring an individual through yet another revision of an A3,
  • Requires a number of painful desktop simulations to see if, when and where the kanban system breaks (before it’s piloted for real),
  • …and so on.

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back

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Effective Lean Leaders Provide Sufficient Tools. Cheapskates Do Not.

During a recent business trip to Mexico, I spied a hotel worker using the tools captured in the picture. While there is definitely some creativity applied in the development of the tools, the twig broom (or is that a rake?) clearly is not sufficient – lots of motion required, but much of it wasted.

This same thing happens way too often in other gemba locations. Insufficient tools, and often just the plain LACK of tools, get in the way of performance.

The four-fold improvement objective is first, easier, then better, faster, and cheaper. Short-sighted leaders often think they can jump to cheaper by being cheapskates when it comes to basic tools for the job. Among other things, this belies a lack of respect for the employee. Maybe they need to “walk a mile” in their employees’ shoes…or at least  directly observe reality at the gemba!?

Just to be clear, here we’re talking about pragmatic tools, not overbuilt, gold-plated tools with unnecessary features and performance levels. And yes, as the saying goes, we must always, “reach for our brain, before our wallets.” But, workers need sufficient tools that: 1) protect them from ergonomic stress and trauma, 2) are capable of producing sufficient repeatable outcomes, and 3) support the least waste way, as captured within good standard work.

I’ve run into my share of “bad brooms,” as in the picture. Like the homemade knives that the operators made in order to cut foam. Their knives were basically pieces of scrap metal, with tape wrapped around one end for the handle. No knife looked the same. Many made ragged cuts. A lot were unsafe. Could management have done a better job?

How about the leaders who resist buying the required hand tools and storing them, at the behest of engaged employees, at a point-of-use shadow board for a routine set-up? The tools will get lost or stolen, anyway, why bother? Meanwhile, operators constantly venture out on long, time-consuming safaris to go find the required tools (yes, I know tool-less set-ups are the target condition…). Not easier, and certainly not least way.

We could go on. I am sure that you have countless examples from your gemba.

The scary thing is that workers in such situations get numb to the waste that their cheapskate leaders have helped create and sustain. Penny-wise, pound foolish environments are death to the kaizen spirit.

Don’t be a cheapskate.

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

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Strategy – First Formulate, THEN Deploy

First things first, as they say. It’s hard to argue with such simple wisdom. That notion applies to strategy deployment, a.k.a. policy deployment, strategic deployment, hoshin kanri, hoshin planning, etc.

Yes, some folks jump right into the x-matrix with little or no strategy formulation. They’re itching for the “operationalization” of the strategy and the related focus, PDCA rigor, horizontal and vertical alignment and anticipated results that strategy deployment can bring (that, or they just want to check the lean implementation checklist item marked “strategy deployment”).

The problem is that this kind of haste or superficiality can get the organization into trouble.  Do we really want to be good at executing or trying to execute a flawed strategy? Of course not.

Whether or not your process uses strategy A3’s, there’s some basic strategy formulation building blocks that should be used to lay your foundation:

  • Core ideology. Articulate the company’s guiding principles. This includes the fundamental reasons for the company’s existence beyond just making a buck. The core ideology is typically captured in a statement of core values and purpose.
  • Vision. The vision statement should be a concise and vivid image of what the company’s stakeholders aspire the company to become. Often the vision statement contains a BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals). BHAG’s can be quantitative or qualitative (for example, Wal-Mart’s 1990 era BHAG was to become a $125 billion company by the year 2000), qualitative, common-enemy (Nike’s used to be something like, “crush Adidas”), role model related, etc..
  • Mission. The company should create a concise and vivid formula of approach for HOW the company will fulfill the vision.
  • Long range performance objectives. Here think breakthrough objectives that, if/when achieved will propel the company – hopefully well beyond its competitors. Long range for strategy deployment purposes is typically in the three to five year category.
  • Strategy analysis. This analysis should encompass and leverage the following:
    • Customer. The company needs to identify the existing customer set and their needs, expand the view of “customer” beyond the current limitations (understand the extended value streams, customers’ customers, etc.), profile key existing and potential customers, segment existing and potential customers and assess segment attractiveness.
    • Competitors. Good analysis includes identifying the existing and potential competitors (the obvious players, plus suppliers, buyers, substitute products and services and other potential entrants), as well as profiling key existing/potential competitors, analyzing market share, conducting SWOT analyses, understanding buyer and supplier group power and anticipating possible competitive responses to different possible company actions.
    • Company. The strategy analysis must apply a rigorous self-examination. This should include the characterization of the gaps between current state and the targets reflected in the core ideology, vision, mission and long range performance objectives. Competitive gaps must be considered as well and should make use of primary customer and industry feedback through interviews, focus group, surveys and the like. A company SWOT and critical review of the company’s fundamental resources (capabilities, brand reputation, key holdings, etc. to understand if they are difficult for competitors to replicate/imitate…or not).
    • Environment. The company must understand the current and anticipated environment and the possible business implications of various factors and trends, be they cultural, regulatory, technological, etc. in nature.

This certainly is not a comprehensive list, but it should make one think about the context within which strategy deployment should be conducted. Lean leaders can use all the x-matrices that they want and play catch-ball night and day, but they still need a firm foundation for good strategy formulation.

What has been your experience?

Related post: Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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How to Avoid Kaizen Event Malpractice

I recently conducted a free one hour webinar on the subject of kaizen event malpractice, its causes, effects and how to avoid them. More positively, the topic was largely on how to side-step the snares of tool-driven kaizen, how to securely apply, grow into and sustain system-driven kaizen and ultimately set the foundation for principle-driven kaizen.

The webinar was graciously hosted by Society of Manufacturing Engineer’s Chapter 7 from Hartford, CT with the assistance of SME National. The SME webinar library link is right HERE if you would like to view the slides and listen to the audio.

By the way, my less than clinical definition of kaizen event malpractice is the “dereliction of duty due to negligence or incompetence by a leader, practitioner or organization.” Malpractice has a number of effects, including the following:

  • poor linkage to strategic and value stream imperatives
  • little or no measurable business impact
  • unsustainable results
  • unfavorable employee experience
  • limited organizational learning and growth, and an
  • insufficient foundation for daily kaizen.

I hope the webinar adds value for those who access the library.

In conjunction with SME National, I’ll be conducting a three-part webinar series on kaizen in October. Please refer to SME Webinar Central under the October 19 and 21 offerings.

Related posts: The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover, There Is No Kaizen Bus Stop!

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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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Lean Leadership – Lessons from My Dog Obedience Sensei

My dog, Bailey, has a sensei – a dog obedience trainer. Actually, my wife and I have a sensei… to teach us how to train our dog. In fact, my wife and I have used the same dog obedience trainer for the last three dogs, all German Shepherds. No one will mistake us for Mr. and Mrs. Dog Whisperer.

Recently, while I was on business travel, my wife and Bailey had a lesson with the trainer. In short, the trainer was not impressed. Bailey was unfocused and not very successful at executing the new commands from the prior lesson.

The trainer astutely noted that the dog was suffering from the effect of inconsistent training. Yes, I was the master at the previous lesson (while my wife was out of town with kid #2) and maybe, just maybe,  I did not train rigorously enough to help Bailey master the latest technique…and maybe I did not effectively transfer the knowledge to my wife so that she could herself learn the new technique and practice it with Bailey.

If you have ever taken your dog to obedience school or done the private lesson thing, it does not take long to figure out that the training has more to do with the master and less about the dog. In other words, the dog does not magically absorb Lassie-like obedience and intelligence in a few hours of training.

The master is responsible for learning the techniques and commands through practice (PDCA) with their animal under the tutelage of the sensei. Then the expectation is that the master(s) will rigorously practice the new techniques and commands (more PDCA) over the following week or weeks until the next lesson, whereupon they will demonstrate their new (sort of) mastered skills and be ready for new learnings. To help, my trainer even leaves a one page “standard work” document after each lesson. It details the proper technique, command, etc.

So, the connection to lean leadership…or what my dog obedience sensei has reinforced for me:

  • Lean leaders must learn proper behaviors and techniques from the external sensei, so that they in turn can coach others within the organization.
  • Lean leaders cannot abdicate their responsibility for transformation to the external sensei.
  • The followers in the organization can only absorb so much from the external sensei during his/her relatively short time at their gemba. The long-term effect (or lack thereof) is purely up to the lean leaders.
  • The lean leaders must be absolutely (and pragmatically) consistent in message, principles, systems and tools, otherwise the workforce will become confused and frustrated.
  • Even though lean leaders often know what to do, how to do it and why they should do it, they often don’t do it. A good external sensei will keep them honest.

Dog is man’s best friend – they are loyal, loving, obedient and can prompt useful lean reflection.

Related post: WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?

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