Posts Tagged Lean Principles

ROWE v. Lean – My Two Cents

Recently, fellow-blogger David Kasprzk, introduced me to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) strategy.  Later, he invited me to guest post with him on Tim MacMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Tim and David are good people with some great things to say, so I was happy to oblige.

Here’s the first half of my post. (Or, you can access the entire post right here, now.)

ROWE, created at Best Buy’s Minneapolis headquarters, espouses a philosophy under which employees can work where they want, when they want, and how they want – as long as the work gets done.

I love meritocratic thinking!

Of course, there’s nothing like a brand new philosophy or system to challenge, and/or sharpen, one’s personal belief systems. You can’t defend that which you don’t understand.

Admittedly, I am more than a bit fuzzy about ROWE. I’ve done some reading on the internet, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m considering buying the seminal book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, but haven’t pulled the trigger.

In any event, here’s my two cents on what I think I know about ROWE. I could break into the Donald Rumsfeld spiel about known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns…you get the point. So, in the end, what I have to say is worth just about $0.02. Definitely, nothing more.

As you read this, or perhaps more appropriately, after you read this, check out Kasprzk’s latest post on ROWE. It’s right here on Tim MacMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Consider this a type of good-natured point/counterpoint between the two of us.

Here it goes…

ROWE ostensibly engages and empowers the workforce. It strips away some of the organizationally and self-imposed muda of rigidity and silly limitations and focuses on accountability and results. It’s tough to argue with that.

Of course, this almost seems too easy. The “Free Love” days of the 1960’s sounded great, but were not necessarily the best thing from a socio-ethics perspective.

Stupid analogy!? Maybe.

Part of my concern has to do with interdependence. In an enterprise, we can’t all be free actors all of the time – whether we are part of a natural work team or are individual contributors.

Please go to the rest of this post.

Past guest posts: “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”, The Best or Nothing, Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle

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12 Narrow Lean Gates

Within virtually any serious lean transformation effort, there are moments of truth. The “truth” represents not the orthodoxy of lean tools and even systems, both extremely important, but lean principles themselves.

Violate the principles and fail that moment of truth. Do it consistently and the lean transformation will be nothing more than a lean charade.

Effective lean leaders must be unbending when it comes to principles. See figure below for the lean principles as identified in the Shingo Prize Model.

So, why do lean leaders waffle on lean principles?

There are a bunch of possible reasons. Now don’t overthink this from a 5 why perspective, but wafflers often suffer from one or more of the following:

  • Ignorance,
  • Impatience,
  • Superficiality (a.k.a. lacking conviction),
  • Implicit or explicit pressure from others (mostly above),
  • Lack of humility (the smarty-panted lean cafeteria folks take what they consider worthy and ditch the rest), and or
  • An inclination to take the easy way out (yup, lean transformations are really, really hard).

This brings us to the proverbial narrow gate.

Now, I do not intend to offend anyone’s religious or secular sensibilities here (in other words, lighten up), but I believe that this verse (7:13) from Matthew’s gospel fits the bill:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many.”

Yes, you guessed it, the wide gate is the easy way. Wafflers enter through that one and take the broad road to lean transformation failure or perhaps, if they’re lucky, lean mediocrity.

The narrow gate? Well, those who do not compromise on lean principles enter through that one and take the constricted road that “leads to life.” In fact, “[t]hose who find it are few.”

The statistics (the ones about lean transformations) routinely prove that statement true.

click to enlarge

Lean leaders encounter the choice of wide versus narrow gate on a daily basis. Conviction, solidarity, alignment, knowledge, experience, humility, respect, good coaching, and a bunch of other things help folks choose wisely.

The trouble is that leaders are tested very early in the journey when their lean maturity is well, pretty immature. I’ve identified 12 of these tests that many leaders end up encountering sooner rather than later. I know it’s perhaps a little clunky, but let’s refer to them as 12 lean narrow gates (otherwise the title of this post doesn’t work).

In no particular order:

  1. Adhering to standard work. Isn’t it fun creating continuous flow and establishing standard work, especially if no formal standard work pre-existed the effort? Well, standard work is useless unless it’s followed. Same goes for leader standard work. Wide-gate leaders don’t sweat adherence.
  2. Redeploying excess workers. Standard work is “polluted” when we staff processes with excess workers, as defined by the standard work. Heck, try playing baseball with 13 defensive players on the field…whose ball is it? When we carry excess workers, we hide the waste and avoid short-term pain, while foregoing long-term improvement.
  3. Dealing with top performers who are “concrete-heads.” What to do with the person who consistently meets or exceeds targets, but openly disdains the principles of lean? Narrow-gaters defy conventional wisdom and, if unsuccessful in converting the top performer, remove the saboteur.
  4. Moving beyond event-driven kaizen only. Kaizen events have their place, but without the bulk of improvements generated through daily kaizen performed by engaged and empowered workers; there is no credible, sustainable lean transformation. Few have the courage and conviction to transition to principle-driven kaizen.
  5. (Really) establishing the KPO. Wide-gaters hedge their bets if and when they get around to establishing the lean function within their organization. Often the resources are too few, part-time, corporate-centric, and/or represented by folks with insufficient core competencies and technical aptitude.
  6. Addressing organizational design. Organizational design constricts or facilitates the flow of value and power. Sooner or later, organizational design and power structures need to be rationalized. Value stream-based organization anyone?
  7. Deployment beyond operations. Organizations do not get transformed by only improving one function. Operations are typically the lean beachhead, but breakthrough performance requires multiple functions to tango. The broad and easy road keeps lean an ops-only thing.
  8. Applying checkpoint rigor. Yes, we have value stream improvement plans and hoshin matrices, but will we actually use them to run the business and drive PDCA? Those who gravitate towards the wider road tend not to apply the necessary rigor.
  9. Rationalizing performance metrics/management. What gets measured, gets done…especially if it’s in your annual goals. Narrow-gaters address misguided metrics and performance management mechanisms to promote alignment and encourage lean behaviors.
  10. Extricating executives from conference rooms. Wide is the derriere of the non-lean executive. You don’t burn too many calories if you don’t walk the gemba. Genchi genbutsu is for losers, anyway. Right?
  11. Celebrating problems. If problems are potholes, narrow roadways provide little leeway – you’ve got to fix the potholes, even embrace them. In the land of the wide roads, potholes are something that are driven around…until they become sinkholes.
  12. Admitting we don’t know the answer right now. Narrow-gaters are humble enough to admit that they don’t know the answer themselves. They’re willing to challenge their folks, while helping them to regularly muster the courage to apply their creativity, fail, learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.

Some good news – even if we have taken the wrong path in the past, we can endeavor, today, and hereafter to choose the narrow gate.

The bad news – there are a lot more than 12 gates.

Stay true to the principles.

Related posts: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!, How’s Your Lean Conscience?, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

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When the Student’s Lens Changes

As a lean coach, it is always rewarding to witness the change in a lean learner’s “lens” – when the student sees things in a different way.

Or suddenly sees things that they never saw before.

It means that the student is thinking in a different way…in a leaner way.

Sometimes this drives interesting behavior. Like following a car that has a license plate containing what perhaps has a lean message. Then, finally tracking the car within a side of the road parking lot and snapping a picture of that license with their cell phone.

Several relatively new lean practitioners did just that. They believed that this particular license plate had cleverly captured the lean axiom of, “no problem is big problem.”

Pretty cool, huh?

Of course, they later determined that the license plate was really about P = NP, a major unsolved problem in computer science.

Hey, it’s the thought that counts.

And, of course, it was funny as heck.

Related posts: Another Classic Lean Question – “Do You See What I See?”, Line of Sight, Employee Engagement, and Daily Kaizen


The Perils of “Lean Relativism”

Reflection or hansei in Japanese, is a critical part of lean. Without purposeful reflection it is difficult to improve our value streams, processes or ourselves.

Socrates’ oft referenced, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” rings true within lean. But, may I be so bold to add a twist?

The examined lean life without an objective standard as a reference ain’t lean.

Why would I say such a thing? Let’s borrow a few concepts from moral theology. I know, I know, please bear with me.

Well, without objective standards we risk “lean relativism” under which there are no actions or behaviors which in and of themselves are lean or not. Essentially, it’s a view that lean principles depend on the individuals and groups that hold them.


A lot of folks can convince themselves that things are more than OK, even if they’re not. Nothing to see here, everything’s lean. Keep on moving. No change required.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

There are three schools of thought under the relativist moral methodology. They can apply to lean relativism.

1) Situationism. Here folks maintain that we can’t hold to any rules, or in this situation “lean principles,” that will apply in all circumstance. We just have to look at the concrete situation to really determine whether a given condition or action is consistent with lean or not. An example – due to the fact that the set-up is painfully long (our “situation”), batching is just fine. Wrong! Eliminate or dramatically reduce the set-up and endeavor to get batch sizes down to one or something darn close to one.

2) Consequentialism. This “ism” prescribes that a specific act is neither lean nor non-lean in and of itself, but becomes so on the basis of its consequences. The ends justify the means. One major problem is that when we get into this territory, it can be difficult to understand the consequences of our actions prior to taking them…especially if we’re in short-term thinking mode. Example – the value stream manager delays (for the third time) the deployment of an andon system because he fears the consequences for his overworked supervisors and himself. The anticipated frequency of line stops and the andon response time requirements would just beat his supervisors up. Lean principles would suggest that this is NOT the optimal decision.

3) Utilitarianism. Like situationism and consequentialism, no actions in and of themselves are necessariy lean or non-lean. Here it’s all about the greatest good for the greatest number. Think of it as consequentialism on a more corporate level. Leanness can be wrapped up within whatever maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. Hey, it’s all about respect for the worker, right? Example – the lean answer often includes multi-process operations supporting continuous flow. However, this typically requires cross-trained operators. Well, clearly not everyone is cross-trained, wants to be cross-trained, and/or is capable of being cross-trained. It requires time, effort, change management, and sometimes hard decisions. (Try this in healthcare or transactional-based industry!) You can see where this may be going… OK, we don’t really need multi-process operations OR continuous flow. It’s too painful, for too many. Just build the standard work with the imbalances in work content (% load) and lots of standard WIP and we’ll continue on. Everyone is happy now, right?

Lean principles such as humility, respect for the individual, flow and pull value, assure quality at the source, identify and eliminate waste, create value for the customer, etc. cannot fall victim to lean relativism. That’s not to say that there is no flexibility at the system and tool level, but once one starts making trade-offs with fundamentals, things get out of whack, inconsistent, and confusing.

This is exactly why leadership needs to protect lean purity and defend the organization from the attacks of relativism. Folks need to be trained and actively coached. They must constantly reinforce their thinking and skill sets by seeing, doing, reflecting, and adjusting. And target conditions can’t only prescribe measurable performance levels, but also characteristics relative to things like continuous flow, level-loading, etc.

Without objective standards, we are at risk of never approaching true north. Or if we do, perhaps we approach it purely by accident, which means it will be near impossible to sustain and ultimately further improve.

I leave you with a brief story.

Even after 17 years, I vividly remember the renowned sensei’s three page letter to us. It summarized his initial observations of our operations and his suggested plans to go forward…if we were so committed. To me, it was a first step in a great journey. According to the sensei, there was MUCH opportunity and MUCH to be done. And yet, the lead operations executive wrote something within the margins of the letter, something that seemed utterly unencumbered by reality, “Maybe we are already world class.” Yup, I’m OK, you’re OK…

Related posts: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!, WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?

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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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Guest Post: Staying Power

We all have clients or know of companies that are losing their struggle to sustain Lean. Just yesterday, I was contemplating one such company as I strolled through downtown. As I walked, looking at everything and nothing in particular, a bright flash of color caught the corner of my eye from a slight downhill distance. Turning my head to get a better look I thought, “Wow, that’s beautiful,” only then realizing it was the side of an old building entirely plastered with graffiti.

As I frowned and contemplated what it must cost to clean that stuff off, I noticed what looked like a conventional signature in the lower corner of the wall. This I had to see. When I got closer I was able to read the following (from Da Vinci),

“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”

Toward the middle of the wall, a less dismissible version of that thought came as an accusation –

“Stay Dum!”

And my first unfiltered expert thought was…You talkin’ to me?

Later that day, still ruminating on that same client’s sustainability issues, I came upon someone’s recent description of a “lean learning formula” and how to apply it as an “effective teaching method.” Eager for a clue to my own question, I read on though suspiciously.

I’m a bit uncomfortable whenever a set of deliberately adaptive principles or practices accruing over many years are pinned to the wallboard, so to speak, and labeled Veritatis Rei (specimen). Alas, it’s in our nature to try and pin down unwieldy phenomena with words. How else to clarify, analyze, promote, handle, reassemble, and…teach? Littera scripta manet, as the Latin goes – the written word survives. Pretty convenient.

That convenience, however, can be costly. Codifying – in words – the amorphous experience of teaching and learning is problematic, and over the ages has left just as many chewing their pencils as tasting the truth.

The formula in question went something like this:

1.      Make a commitment to learn.

2.      Assess performance gaps.

3.      Acquire new knowledge.

4.      Build competency through practice.

5.      Integrate the newly gained skill into daily practice.

Despite great intentions to apply the new knowledge, the author continues, we fall short when it comes to conscious practice and integration. “This is where the learning process falls apart.”

Hmm, something just doesn’t seem right about both the simple formula and the throwaway conclusion. What do you think?

The success (or, more accurately, failure) of such standard “teaching methods” is a perennial source of debate. Rightly so. This approach to teaching/coaching is still the so-called standard in spite of the fact that – as many of us know firsthand – it consistently fails to produce lasting, sustainable changes in behavior.

Notice that I didn’t say the teaching method fails to produce new knowledge. It often does. However, the ultimate goal in personal (and corporate) transformation is a change in self-governed behavior, not merely understanding. As our daily lives demonstrate constantly, new knowledge alone rarely causes us to change persistent habits of thought or action with which we have become comfortable. This is especially true when the habit is the result of a stressful emotional, psychological, or perceptual issue as opposed to a factual misunderstanding. These types of behavior, personal and institutional, are coping mechanisms and they persist stubbornly even when tangible rewards for change are offered.

For example, I know that I should not bite my fingernails. It has been explained to me many times over the years by well-meaning folks of every sort: parents, teachers, doctors, spouses, friends, children, and counselors. I trust and respect the knowledge and opinions of these people. I know that biting my nails makes me feel bad (self-conscious, low confidence, pain and potential infection, etc.) The benefits are clear too (improved self-image, new-found confidence, better health, etc.) What’s more, I really want to change.

But although I succeed temporarily in “practice,” I fail when it comes to the full and permanent integration into daily life. The improvement isn’t sustained. Why?

The entangled reasons for this failure in private behavior change are many, and the reasons are just as numerous and profound when institutionalized behavior (change at work) in public is the goal. And this is my point: admonitions to “be disciplined, practice daily, and do better” – though logical and necessary – are insufficient on their own. Nor do they undermine the foundational paradigm or worldview of which the negative behavior is just one small expression.

But the individual/company is “on-board.” Their brain/boardroom is thinking and actively engaged. Commitment to the overt steps toward change are being sincerely embraced. Permission and encouragement from stakeholders is plentiful. And yet change is short-lived; the preexisting – though ineffective- equilibrium returns. Pessimism creeps in.

So what gives here?

Before we start to argue about why this is so and how to achieve better results, it is paramount to first acknowledge that – yes – what’s been described above is in fact what results from most training and coaching in our industry.

Let me be the first. Personally, as a “lean champion” with my reputation on the line, I profess this unfortunate state of affairs is true. Furthermore, I would add that most individual and corporate patrons of coaching/training also know this is true but are ashamed to admit it. They’ve been paying dearly for this guidance from an experienced expert after all. Their head office has mandated Lean Training. Also, in a sinister twist, clients are often taught implicitly that they are primarily responsibility for any failures in reaching the stated goals. “These are proven methods,” we remind them dutifully. “Look at Toyota.”

Sounds like a full-blown case of The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome, doesn’t it?

But if that’s not our goal as coaches and mentors, and that’s not the goal of our students and clients, then it’s time we reevaluated the typical “lean learning formula” as it is currently practiced here in the US.

Specifically, what dimension(s) is missing from the Lean Journeys we claim to lead?

It seems appropriate here to use the The 5 Whys approach (I don’t think it’s broken) as our tool to examine the primary symptom confronting us: individuals and companies are not sustaining the beneficial changes we have worked with them to accomplish. It’s axiomatic: If, in spite of clients’ best efforts and properly established conditions, they do not succeed, then we have also failed somewhere.

As a way of putting us in the right “12-year-old” mindset for this inquiry, I’ll repeat a conundrum described by Dr. Jeff Liker, author of The Toyota Way and 8 time recipient of the Shingo Prize, in an interview with Mike Wall on RadioLean ( Liker says that upon realizing our Lean accomplishments are being lost, we panic and resort to pushing even harder on the technical, quantifiable components in the system namely, processes. Our perceptions narrow and we lose sight of the people. “When that happens,” Liker continues, “you start asking questions like ‘What are the tools for sustaining lean?’ [At that point] this is really a meaningless question.”

This post was written by Zane Ferry, president of ADP Services. Zane has 20 years of experience with the Toyota Production System beginning in Japan where he worked for 10 years. He helps companies in many industries improve by adopting TPS principles and methods that transform how people improve processes for people. In addition to this work, he is also a Japanese-English interpreter for Shingijutsu, a pioneering consultancy founded by members of Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System implementation team. Zane lives in the Seattle area and can be contacted at

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Lean for Haiti. Lean for Humanity.

Several weeks ago, I was chatting with a colleague of mine. He shared his belief that lean is an “invention” that could and should be used for the greater good of humanity. Certainly, easier, better, faster and cheaper transcends mere profit. It’s about the stakeholders – customers, employees, owners, community, suppliers, etc. This is more than a noble sentiment.

On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake. The carnage and destruction within the poorest nation within the western hemisphere was unbelievable. And the struggles continue, including an outbreak of cholera.

Mark Graban’s Leanblog recently shared a compelling story about Russell Maroni, a faith-filled, lean-practicing x-ray technician, and his 15 day mission to Haiti in February of 2010. Mark’s post, One Year Since the Haiti Earthquake – The Charity Journal Publication Available Now (from which I “borrowed” the picture, copyright Russell Maroni), gives insight into the mission. It also asks for assistance to promote the story as captured within the PDF document, After the Haiti Earthquake: A Healthcare Missionary’s Personal Journal.

Russell Maroni’s journal, published by Mark Graban, reflects Russell’s response to a co-worker’s invitation to join a small medical team visiting the earthquake ravaged Port-au-Prince area. Russell is a lean trained x-ray technician at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio. The journal even sports an A3 report, capturing the countermeasures that he put in place to dramatically improve the patient flow within his radiology tent!

The real story includes:

  • Russell’s faithful response to the missionary call
  • The moral and material support of his wife, co-workers, church, friends, and (most of his) family
  • Medical assessments of orphans
  • X-rays conducted on numerous patients – many to determine whom should be flown to the U.S. Comfort hospital ship and whom to operate on within the field hospital
  • Russell’s training of a Haitian man so that he could take and process x-rays after Russell returned the States
  • Various construction and repair projects – new latrine for an orphanage, installation of a solar-powered street light, repair of wheelchairs and crutches
  • The joyful and grateful nature of many Haitians even amidst the confusion, poverty, and physical and mental trauma

Please visit Mark Graban’s post, read the PDF document, and consider supporting an orphanage called Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH). NPH runs a free childrens’ hospital in Port-au-Prince. Russell Maroni would appreciate that.

If nothing else, know that lean is about people…at so many levels.

Related posts: Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?, Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle

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Guest Post: Creating Gravity for Transformation

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of attending the 2-day Shingo Prize workshop on the Principles of Operational Excellence.  The experience was nothing short of mind-blowing, as I developed a far deeper understanding of Lean and why it works, not just what works.  In other words, my understanding grew from something based on an understanding of Lean’s tools to something based more on Lean’s philosophy.

As I reflected on my own experience as a student of Lean (and what I will now refer to as Operational Excellence!), I began to think of how to relate my understanding of these concepts to others.  To my mind, the critical element in Lean transformation is the organic development of leadership based on experience and ability to mentor.  For this to happen, traditional hierarchies where managers use positional authority to push their influence onto others need to be replaced.  Simply put, leaders who encourage the use of knowledge and experience to coach others and approach their work with a commitment to “know-why” being of greater value than “know-how” will generate an influential, gravitational pull towards transformation.

Several months ago, I stumbled across John Husband’s site dedicated to the concept of wirearchy.  According to him,

A major shift in the ways activities are planned and managed is occurring in many spheres of human activity, from command-and-control to coordinate-and-channel. When customers have more power and employees want to communicate and be heard, the dynamics have to change.

A new organizing principle is emerging, called Wirearchy.  The working definition of wirearchy is:

A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology

Operational Excellence relies on many of these same concepts, particularly the need to move from “command and control” to “coordinate and channel.”  The “two-way flow of power and authority based on information, trust and credibility” sounds like the very definition of “respect for people” as well.  While Husband’s concept relies heavily on the development of technology to produce non-hierarchical, collaborative teams, I think any community where people become critical “nodes” in an interconnected network as a result of their knowledge, experience, embodiment of an ideal and willingness/ability to teach others (as opposed to authority based strictly on rank and title) fits within the wirearchy concept.  What wirearchy sees technology bringing is something I believe the Operational Excellence would consider an ideal state:  free-flowing and distributed authority based on the relentless pursuit of cultural transformation.

A representation of Wirearchy

I recently came across a presentation from Jeffrey Liker, where he offered ideas based on a PhD dissertation from Robert Kucner.  Kucner models what he calls the organic spreading of Lean culture and values as spirals circling outwards from certain processes, eventually touching upon others to penetrate deeper and deeper in an “inch wide, mile deep” fashion.

In both models, we can see areas where people or processes are forming critical centers of activity that influence those around them.  How do these critical “nodes” at the center of the activity form?  I think the answer has to do with a sort of gravity that develops when organizations, or individuals within organizations, insist on driving change.  This never-ending pursuit of excellence usually starts within smaller sub-units as depicted above, however, sustaining the effort may have more to do with forming a single dense space at the epicenter of the desired behaviors than it does with spreading outwards as quickly as possible.  In other words, leaders may find that sharing knowledge to develop a deeper understanding of operational excellence in a few areas builds more momentum, more easily, than trying to spread the concepts as far and wide as possible.

A depiction of the organic deployment of Lean

If we turn the model on its side, we can more easily see how the nodes collect and gather the loose, swirling mass of ideas and behaviors until they grow deeper and denser, forming a vortex that draws others in with it.  Using this perspective, it is easer to understand why deeper is better than broader.  As multiple objects in the same space grow larger, they eventually grow together, adding energy to the phenomenon.  What this means for transformation is that when smaller organizations within an enterprise appear to be outpacing others, don’t stifle them.  Allow those deeper areas to keep going and growing deeper, eventually creating the gravitational pull that will bring other elements into the vortex.

Across any enterprise, there are organizations and individuals that develop greater depths of Operational Excellence.  While some focus only on utilizing mandated tools, others begin to pursue cultural transformation.  The focus on tools to implement change, however, prevents the strong vortices that generate an ever-deeper understanding of excellence from being formed.  As organizations evolve from a tool-driven understanding of behavior to systemic, cultural and philosophical levels, they begin to develop their own gravity, pulling in other organizations within their reach and eventually determining the behavior of the enterprise as a whole.

How to create this gravity?  As with most things that require behavioral change, constant communication and education are vital.  People at all levels of the organization need to be educated on the principles of Operational Excellence and not just why it works in general, but why it will work here. Just as important as educating people on why it will work, is building the sense of urgency that answers the question, “Why is this necessary right now?”  The more you can provide education and communication on why things are changing, the greater the cooperation and buy-in, the deeper the resulting understanding will become, and the stronger your gravitational pull towards transformation.

This post was authored by David M. Kasprzak, creator of the My Flexible Pencil blog, where he shares his thoughts on improving workplace culture through the use of Lean concepts.  While working as an analyst to develop and analyze program-level cost & schedule metrics for the past 10 years, David has now turned his attention towards understanding the behaviors that create high-performing organizations.  He currently lives near Nashua, NH with his wife and 2 sons. David can be contacted via email at

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Lean and Six Sigma – You Can’t Serve Two Masters

We’ve all heard the oversimplification that lean is about attacking waste, while six sigma is about reducing variation. Oh yeah, and theory of constraints (TOC) is for increasing throughput by identifying and exploiting constraints.

Oversimplification makes things easy to label and seemingly easy to communicate. Unfortunately, it’s not the whole story. In fact, it trivializes the holistic nature (especially) of lean and it artificially isolates and extracts.

This post is not intended to explore lean versus six sigma in an academic way – it would be  very long and probably unsatisfying. What I would like to discuss is how unfruitful it is when an organization does not successfully fuse the two within a comprehensive business system. One that, by it’s very nature, establishes the principles, systems and tools, so that there are not two camps, but one.

Now I don’t have a huge sample size. We’re talking about ten. But it seems that whenever an organization initially launches a serious six sigma effort and then, sometime after it has taken root, later introduces lean, there’s an uneasy and separate “coexistence.” Not unlike the Hatfields and the McCoys. (This phenomenon does not seem to occur when the order of adoption is reversed – lean first, then six sigma!) A famous first century quote as captured within Matthew 6:24 [RSV], summarizes the dynamic well,

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

(Of course, there’s a bunch of folks within most organizations who don’t serve either of the two…but that’s an entirely different story.) The point here is that any enterprise that seeks, at a minimum,  to transform its operational performance and  necessarily its culture cannot afford to have the incoherence of two separate tribes.

The following is a caricature of the tribes:

  • The six sigma tribe. Primarily made up of nomadic technologists with different color belts serving the “project master.”  They extract big money (oftentimes the accounting appears “creative)” by applying DMAIC and DFSS and then…move on. The six sigma tribe is  sponsored by executives who help direct which money trees should be shaken and how much money is required from the shaking.  The six sigma tribe thinks that they already know the “lean tools” – it was covered in their belt training. They also believe that the lean tribe is slow and sophomoric.
  • The lean tribe. Traditionally comprised of real and wannabe adherents to TPS. Those who are committed and “get their hands dirty” learn that lean is much more profound (and elusive) than they ever imagined. They believe that the six sigma tribe does improvement to people and not with people and that their improvements are rarely sustained. Of course, they cause and suffer the same when they do not deploy lean properly. The lean tribe sees six sigma as part of the lean umbrella and does not understand why it is allowed to exist within a parallel universe.

The aftermarket “lean bolt-on” kit that is sold to many of the heretofore six sigma-driven companies can be as unsightly as that balding guy with a bad toupee. Just adding an “L” to the “SS” does not, by itself, make things unified. I know of one creative multi-billion dollar company that tucked the “L” AFTER the “SS.” Yes, SSL! Is there a belt for that?

Here I suggest some good old agnostic thinking. For the moment, ditch the “L” (no one called it “lean” until the mid-Womackian period, anyway) and ditch the “SS” (so named by Motorola). Instead, go to the principles and think anew.

And where’s a good source for these principles? Well, as usual, I defer to the Shingo Model for a cogent compilation and presentation of “Principles of Operational Excellence.”

  • Lead with humility,
  • Respect every individual,
  • Focus on process,
  • Embrace scientific thinking,
  • Flow and pull value,
  • Assure quality at the source,
  • Seek perfection,
  • Create constancy of purpose,
  • Think systemically, and
  • Create value for the customer.

No, you can’t effectively serve two masters. So, define ONE that embodies and satisfies the principles. Then rigorously align the organization, live the principles and watch the enterprise thrive.

Related posts: Don’t Blindly Copy the TPS House. Build Your Own., Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

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Telling “How” Removes Responsibility

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Over the years I have learned to be more patient. In the not too distant past and in the interest of quick results, I frequently told people how to solve problems – which countermeasures to apply as well as where and when. I do that a lot less now, but admittedly I still sometimes lapse.

Telling is fine when time is short and the real risk to life, limb and financial viability are high.  But, if we were to honestly reflect on the frequency of these types of situations, we would see that they’re pretty rare. Unfortunately, it’s normal to make a false choice between urgent and important.

So, what’s important? Certainly, building a lean culture, part of which is an organization of effective problem solvers, is eminently important. Effective problem solvers know how  to apply PDCA and take responsibility for solving their assigned or adopted problems.

How powerful is an organization of engaged and empowered problem solvers? A lot more powerful than a handful of puppet masters pulling the strings of a bunch of disenfranchised folks.

Think about it. If someone tells you “how” to solve the problem, then you do not, and cannot, really own it.  You essentially end up being an un-invested robot. You also end up with very limited (felt) responsibility, because the leader took the P, C, and A away from you and left you with just the D of PDCA. When you execute what someone has told you to do (and you have little insight into the “why” ) and it doesn’t work…well, it’s that do-telling bozo’s fault. Just following orders! I’ll wait for the next set of orders. Not good.

So, what to do? Try coaching your people on the why and the underlying methodology behind PDCA. Surely, make certain that they never violate lean principles – for example, observe reality, takt, flow, pull, etc. Coach them by asking them penetrating questions that will force them to think and hopefully adjust when required. Hold them accountable, but allow them to fail…and learn. In short, respect them and gain a fellow lean thinker, lean doer and lean owner.

Related posts: Lean Leadership – Lessons from My Dog Obedience Sensei, Stretch, Don’t Break – 5 ways to grow your people

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