Posts Tagged lean leaders

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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Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back

Ritsuo Shingo, son of the great Shigeo Shingo, gave a keynote address during the 22nd annual International Shingo Conference this past week. And I know what you might be thinking – does Ritsuo know anything about lean or is he just the son of a lean icon? Both. He’s the real deal, former President, Toyota China and Hino Motors, China, among other things.

Mr. Shingo spoke on management. As one might expect, he also discussed continuous improvement. One of his lessons within that subject was “show them your back.” This is a metaphor for, “be a leader, not only in word, but in deed.”

Ritsuo, clearly a humble man, provided some personal examples of how he did just that during some start up activity in China. In order to set the tone, without beating anyone about the head regarding cost management, for example, Mr. Shingo opted for a used car and used office furniture. It’s pretty hard for your subordinates to go out and buy new stuff, when the leader has not. No words here, just action. This reminds me of the quote that is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century founder of the Franciscan order, preacher and mystic, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

While our gospel (meaning “good news”) is more about lean thinking and doing, this notion certainly makes sense. Which reminds me of another story as recounted in the Productivity Press book, The Shift to JIT. In August 1987 Taimei Takazaki, president of Akita Shindengen (semiconductor manufacturer), began to do all of his work standing up. As he did, eventually virtually all (even administration and support) within the company did the same. We know seated operations often are barriers to continuous flow. Standing operations are usually a great facilitator of flow – eliminating isolated islands and thus enabling multi-process operations, better work content balance among operators, etc. I myself used a stand desk years ago for the same leadership purpose.

There are many other similar examples – leaders following and posting their own leader standard work, spending time at the gemba, participating in kaizen activities, maintaining 5S in their office, applying PDCA checkpoint rigor to strategy deployment, moving offices to the gemba, eschewing cozy offices with doors and all the trappings for short-walled cubicles adjoining their teammates, eliminating executive parking spots, etc. It’s all part of showing your back. That’s a lot more compelling than the old, “do as I say, not as I do!”

Related post: Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?

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Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?

dirt picThe word humility is derived from the Latin word for ground, humus. The notion of ground, earth or dirt makes sense in that humility is a virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself or herself.

This virtue is a good thing and is especially appropriate in lean. In fact, humility is considered a lean principle. Within the Shingo Prize Transformation Model’s “cultural enabler” dimension, it is paired with “respect for the individual.” No surprise there because humility helps people recognize their creaturely equality with others.

Now, before someone says that humility isn’t becoming of a lean leader, humility does not mean that someone cannot be strong, resolute and demanding. Humility does not mean self-abasement or timidity. No, not at all. No doormats here.

Humility is a necessary foundation for continuous improvement, because it is founded upon a recognition of the truth  about the self and, by extension, the organization. Here’s a few humble observations of my own:

  • People who are not humble don’t want to hear anything about their personal or their empire’s  failures or “flat sides.” Humble people see problems or shortcomings as opportunities and use them as feedstock for personal or organizational PDCA.
  • The proud often personalize issues,  “Hey, that idiot so and so, didn’t…” Humble people tend to focus on the 5 why’s rather than the 5 who’s. They attack the process, not the person.
  • Those who are not humble often feel (or at least seek to appear) that they have nothing to learn. Humble folk embrace learning opportunities through experience and that which is shared by others. They return the favor by formally and informally mentoring others.
  • Proud leaders “know” what the problems are and the root causes and they prescribe the countermeasures. Humble people go the gemba and directly observe the situation, often with co-workers and, using appropriate rigor, let the data lead them. They practice kaizen in a participative manner and encourage people to experiment in order to learn and to elevate the improvements.
  • Proud leaders dictate breakthrough objectives, strategic initiatives and the means to achieve the objectives. Humble leaders do not abrogate their responsibility for the outputs, but they use catchball to build consensus and ownership within the team and they use it to identify better, more pragmatic approaches.

I know that I’ve only scratched the surface. Nevertheless, the point here is that humility is critical to lean transformation success. Any organization that lacks this key principle lacks, whether purposefully or accidentally, truth…and that’s a tough place to start when you’re looking for improvement.

So, what are your thoughts?

Related post: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

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Model Lines – Federal Government Take Note

model line picModel lines (a.k.a. pilot) are a proven method to initiate a lean launch. The model, typically one specific “line” or value stream within a single facility or operation, provides a small, focused and controlled playground for implementing lean. The pilot represents a low risk venue within which lean leaders can experiment, learn and (hopefully) successfully build a much leaner line or value stream. The effort  also provides valuable opportunities for showcasing what lean “looks” and “feels” like; an important element in the change management process.

Pilot lessons learned encompass the technical aspects of lean implementation from a tools, systems and deployment perspective, while providing critical insight into the necessary cultural and human resource requirements. The model line’s foundation must be built upon lean leader alignment and effective change management as well as a rigorously developed value stream improvement plan. Of course,  prudent pilot selection is absolutely essential. Selection criteria must include the potential impact of the pilot, strength of pilot leadership and implementation degree of difficulty (technical and cultural).

Once the model line has demonstrated elevated performance through the appropriate application of lean, then (after a formal checkpoint process) the organization will typically move to an initial deployment phase. Within this phase, the organization seeks to replicate the model to another line (same value stream/processes) either in the same facility (if there are multiple ones) or another facility. Here the organization applies the lessons learned from the pilot and begins to learn new ones relative to technical scalability and human resources issues (you can’t stack the team with your best players once you start having more than one team) while verifying the business impact.

Ultimately, after any related issues (and there will be plenty) have been successfully addressed, initial deployment transitions into full scale deployment. Full scale deployment expands the model to all lines/identical value streams throughout the organization. Here the company should enjoy the full business impact of what was tested out in the model line and have an excellent technical and cultural foundation for further lean deployment throughout other portions of the business.

Model lines are a thoughtful and measured method to deploy lean, or virtually any system for that matter. Perhaps the purveyors of health care reform should have made use of the concept…in fact, Massachusetts may be a pilot that offers some profound lessons learned.

What do you think?

Related post: Value (Stream) Delivery – What about the family?

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Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

trajectory picStrange name, “bowling chart,” but it’s a simple and powerful tool. It forces critical thinking around breakthrough objectives and facilitates typically monthly checkpoints that help drive accountability, PDCA and ultimately execution. When matched up with a Gantt chart (the combination is cleverly called a “bowling and Gantt chart”), it’s pretty cool stuff.

So, what’s a bowling chart? It’s essentially a matrix that, among other things:

  • reflects one or more metrics (i.e., productivity – parts/person/hour),
  • establishes a baseline or “jumping off point” (JOP) for each metric (i.e., 52 parts/person/hour),
  • ties the metric to a time-bounded target (i.e., 85 parts/person/hour by 10/31/2010),
  • interpolates the monthly targets (“plan”)  between the JOP and the final target,
  • easily and visually compares monthly performance (plan vs. actual) and highlights when a monthly period meets or beats the plan (shaded in green) and when it does not meet the plan (shaded in red), and
  • if lean leaders are doing their job, compels the “owner” of the chart and the related execution to generate a “get to green plan.” Think PDCA.

But the thing I would like to focus on right here is trajectory – the improvement path between the JOP and the final target. Many folks don’t even worry about the periods between these two points. This type of “focus” often produces the sames results as those experienced by high school students. Who cares about midterms…?

No interim targets, no chance for real PDCA. Think management time frame. Think pitch. The smaller the time frame, the more likely and quickly we will identify when we are drifting off target and the more responsive we can be in identifying root causes and applying effective countermeasures.

If your people are required to create bowling charts, whether it’s part of the strategy deployment process, A3 preparation or even value stream improvement plan creation, they have to think about trajectory. Improved performance is rarely linear. The bowling chart begs consideration of the implementation process, it’s timing and sustainability. Using the example introduced earlier, if the productivity improvement is expected to be largely driven by a kaizen event focused on standard work and continuous flow and that event isn’t happening until 2 months after the JOP, then the plan for the first two months after the JOP probably shouldn’t be too much different than the JOP.

The trajectory exercise is a good thing. It prompts deep thinking about implementation steps,  sequence, timing and impact. Talking trajectory with lean leaders and other stakeholders should facilitate some good “catchball” and help identify and address unreasonable expectations, timid expectations, resource shortfalls, etc.

So, oftentimes it’s not all about the destination, it’s also about the path…or the trajectory.

Related Post: Check Please! Without it, PDCA and SDCA do NOT work.

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Don’t Blindly Copy the TPS House. Build Your Own.

house picThe Toyota Production System (TPS) “house” is the model home within the lean business system neighborhood. Its roof of highest quality, lowest cost and shortest lead time is supported by the two pillars of JIT and jidoka. These pillars rest upon a solid foundation of heijunka, standard work and kaizen, which itself rests upon a foundation of stability. Of course, there’s a bit more to the house, not the least of which is the profound simplicity and synergy among these elements. It’s core principles of humility and respect for the individual make it a beautiful house.

But despite its functionality and beauty, don’t blindly copy the TPS house. It would be like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa with a paint-by-number set. How can you internalize something with such a sterile and mechanistic approach. Fujio Cho and others within Toyota have referred to TPS as the “Thinking Person’s System.”  Copying isn’t thinking.

So, study TPS, learn by doing and then tailor it to your culture and to your vernacular…without gutting it. In other words, keep the pillars and foundations, but make it your house. By undertaking this activity, lean leaders have to think deeply and critically about the principles, systems and  tools. It will force  engagement in and around transformation at a cultural and technical level. It will compel a meaningful dialogue about horizontal and vertical alignment within the organization (think strategy deployment) and it will ultimately require the lean leaders to articulate the company’s business system such that it can be understood by everyone within the organization. From this endeavor, the kaizen promotion office can develop the lean training curriculum and deliver it within perhaps a more relevant context.

Here’s a few examples of some “custom houses.” Of course, don’t expect too much detail due to their proprietary nature:

Building your house should only be done after you’ve rented the TPS house first. Consider enlisting the help of your sensei. Know that it will take time before you have enough (very) basic understanding and organizational lean commitment to even think about building, but don’t wait forever.

So, what’s been your lean home building experience?

Related post: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

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Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel

wheel chocks picRecently, I added a new step to my kaizen event standard work. Just to keep the event team leaders honest, I not only require them to develop leader standard work related to the new “systems” that they have implemented during the kaizen (my old standard work), I actually now make them walk me through the leader standard work, printed and in hand,…at the gemba. This is typically done on a Thursday afternoon if it’s a five day kaizen event.

Yes, I am a pain in the neck! But, what happens if the leader standard work is not completed or completed and not sufficient? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s called backsliding. The PDCA wheel rolls backward!

All of the team’s blood, sweat and tears come to naught. Not a great way to sustain the gains. Not a good way to create a lean culture. So, we need to chock the PDCA wheel with leader standard work (and of course, the related visual controls that make the leader standard work “drive-by” easy). Leader standard work is part of standardize-do-check-act or SDCA. Leader standard work is part of a lean management system, along with visual controls and a daily accountability process.

What does the leader standard work walk through look like? Picture the lean coach or sensei following the event team leader as they refer to the documented leader standard work.

For example, the kaizen event team leader reads off the first audit area within the leader standard work – an easy one, a FIFO lane.  We stop here on an hourly basis at the “XYZ FIFO lane” and, “Determine that the FIFO lane is maintained.”

“Maintained?” What the heck does that mean? So, the supervisor/team lead comes by here each hour, looks and says, “Yup, looks good! Looks maintained!”?? No, I think we need to be much more specific, otherwise things will get lost in translation, the leaders won’t understand and they won’t ensure process adherence and then the system will break down. The leaders will routinely mark the audit step complete and never, ever identify an abnormal condition…even when there is one.

We need to define this leader standard work step a bit more. It might read something like, “Review FIFO lane to ensure that it is being maintained: 1) carts are being fed in a first in, first out manner, 2) the maximum quantity of carts (as reflected in the visual)  is not exceeded, 3) if the maximum quantity is met, then the upstream operation is no longer producing…” Now, about that visual control…

Now this may seem like overkill, but I don’t think so. This kind of rigor is especially important when a company is relatively new in their lean journey and the lean leaders are immature. Their leader standard work needs to be very specific.

So, how do you chock your PDCA wheel?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You Can Pay Me Now, or You Can Pay Me Later

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Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts

swiss army knifeImagine that you were only allowed one chart (or board) at the gemba. What would you pick? What is the Swiss Army knife (I’m more of a Leatherman Multitool fan myself) of charts that gives you insight into process adherence and process performance?

For me, it’s the plan vs. actual chart – also known as the production analysis board (or chart), day-by-the-hour chart, etc. It is typically a paper chart (my preference) or dry erase board that is positioned at the pacemaker process. It’s refreshingly low-tech and reflects, at a minimum, the line, cell or team name, output requirements (number of picks, assemblies, invoices, etc.) for the day or shift, the related takt time, the planned hourly (or smaller time increment) and cumulative outputs for the day or shift, the actual hourly and cumulative outputs (or in some practices the cumulative deficit or surplus) and fields to record the problem or reason for any hourly plan vs. actual deltas as well as a sign-off by lean leader(s) as proof of review.

So, why is the plan vs. actual so powerful? Here’s 5 reasons.

  1. Communicates customer requirements. The chart reflects the demand, by type or product, quantity, and timing and sequence. It reflects a takt image.
  2. Forces the matching of cycle time to takt time. Standard work should dictate the requisite staffing (and related cycle time, work sequence and standard WIP) to satisfy the customer requirements.
  3. Engages the employee and drives problem-solving. Like any visual control worth its salt, the plan vs. actual is worker-managed in a relatively real-time way. It highlights abnormal conditions (hourly and/or cumulative shortfalls or overproduction) and drives self-correction or at least notification/escalation and containment. The plan vs. actual also spurs PDCA in that the worker is required to identify the root cause of the abnormal condition and ultimately points the worker, team and leadership to effective countermeasures.
  4. Focuses lean leaders within the context of leader standard work. A good plan vs. actual will have fields for team leader/supervisor sign-offs on the hour and managers twice daily. This is essentially proof of the execution of leader standard work in which the leader should ensure that the plan vs. actual is maintained real-time, is complete (i.e., no unexplained abnormalities), and that countermeasures are being employed in order to effectively satisfy customer requirements.
  5. Focuses associates and lean leaders within the context of the daily accountability process. The prior day’s plan vs. actual and trended performance (including pitch logs) should be reviewed within daily tiered meetings. These meetings help drive the identification of improvement opportunities and countermeasures at the individual, team and value stream level.

So, what’s your Swiss Army Knife chart and why?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

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Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

leader standard work is work picThis may be a blinding flash of the obvious, but while leaders typically work hard, it’s a different type of work. Most leaders are engaged in a lot of firefighting. We need less of that and more work on ensuring process adherence and performance with more coaching and development. That’s where lean management systems, of which leader standard work is a major element, come into play.

The interesting thing is that leaders don’t necessarily like to do leader standard work. Implementing can be like pulling teeth. Why? Well, it requires a change in behavior, there is more rigor (when compared to the lots of meetings and fire fighting work style), there is a new level of transparency and accountability and there is the need to engage, coach, and sometimes confront others. Let’s explore these things a bit.


Most leaders have no problem with other people doing standard work. However, often their tune changes when it’s required of them.

Leader standard work specifies audit points and (sometimes) tasks. The audit points specify where and when in the value stream the leader must physically go, what they must check and the normal condition that they seek to verify with the aid of effective visual controls. This is a major part of their standardize-do-check-act (SDCA) role. The time spent executing leader standard work varies depending upon the leader’s  level and role within the organization. For example, a supervisor may dedicate as much as 50+%  of their day on leader standard work, while a value stream manager may spend 15% of their day.

A lean leader’s standard work, among other things, may require him to check a particular work cell once in the morning and once in the afternoon to ensure that the workers are maintaining their plan vs. actual chart (usually by hour),  and that specific and meaningful reasons for any shortfalls are documented. The lean leader may also be required to initial and write the time of their review on the chart as proof that they conducted this part of their leader standard work.

Transparency and Accountability

As in any lean environment, secrets are a bad thing. We want to be problem solvers, not problem hiders.

At the conclusion of a lean leader’s day (by a specified time), the leader should be required to insert their completed leader standard work form within a designated clear bin or sleeve posted in a prominent place. Their name and leader standard work deadline should be on the bin along with a red flag (or something suitably obnoxious) behind the bin, so that it is quite obvious who has met the deadline and who has not.

Similarly, on a daily basis, the next level leader should peruse the submitted leader standard work for completion, identified abnormal conditions and sufficiency of recorded countermeasures to address the abnormal conditions. The next level leader would do well to note certain things, for example patterns of incomplete audits, recurring abnormal conditions (guess we’re not getting at the root cause), lack of abnormal conditions (are we really being rigorous in our audits?), etc. and then coach their subordinates as required. Coaching can often be done in the context of one-on-one gemba walks.

Engagement, Coaching, and Confrontation

Guess what? If the application of the leader standard work requires us to go the gemba and make direct observations specific to conditions around process adherence and process performance, then there are going to be plenty of opportunities for genuine investigation, coaching and sometimes confrontation.

We always want to live the lean principle of respect for the individual. That is why when we encounter an abnormal condition we should ask why (5X). Our countermeasures and coaching should follow suit –  a worker’s lack of process performance due to a shortfall in training is handled much differently than if it is due to a decided case of worker apathy.

It sounds like a lot of work, but this powerful means of SDCA is worth it! What’s your experience been implementing leader standard work?

Related posts: Stretch, Don’t Break – 5 ways to grow your people, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

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How’s Your Lean Conscience?

Cricket picI’m guessing very few have asked that question before. Conscience is a judgment of reason by which we recognize the quality of an act before, during or after we do it. It’s really not Jiminy Cricket, although his quote, “A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to,” isn’t too far off the mark.

So, what’s a lean conscience and who should have one? Well, a lean conscience is a judgment of reason by which we can tell whether we’re living lean principles (respect for the individual, humility, flow, pull, scientific thinking, integration of improvement with work, etc.). Lean leaders and practitioners should have a lean conscience.

Of course, with “ownership” (of a conscience) comes responsibility. Traditionally, there are three obligations people have when it comes to their conscience.

1. Act on it. If our conscience is well formed (see #2, below), we should act on our lean conscience. How many times do lean leaders walk by a process in which people are not working in accordance with standard work or there are defects and it’s business as usual (jidoka?…later, man) or perhaps there’s a situation where we could have coached someone so that they could have solved the problem, instead we “gave” them the answer because we didn’t have the patience, or…you get the point.

2. Form it. It’s possible to have an improperly formed lean conscience. Maybe there are some significant holes in the understanding of lean principles, systems or tools. Big gaps can cause big problems. Who hasn’t encountered issues when people who are supposed to know better are “serial batchers?” We are obligated to keep on studying and learning by doing so that we can continue to form and inform our lean conscience.

3. Don’t act if there is uncertainty. Well, maybe we should disregard this one. This does not mean that we should throw caution to the wind, but we need to be experimentalists, not with lean principles themselves, but in the application of the systems and tools within our own particular value streams. Of course, when in doubt, getting started, and/or when there is some real business risk, get a sensei.

So, here’s a call for some hansei (reflection). How’s your lean conscience? Does it bother you? Do you need to form it some more?

Related Post: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

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