Posts Tagged Lean Transformation Leadership

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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Halloween Snow and Two Lean Lessons

Along with hundreds of thousands of folks in the Northeast, I am in my 6th day without power. I expect at least a few more such days before the lights come on…and the heat.

Heck, they just sent the National Guard to my town, and an adjacent one, to start clearing downed trees.

The root cause of this whole mess was about a foot of snow on heavily treed land…when virtually all of the trees were still laden with their leaves. Near many trees were houses and power lines. You can guess the rest.

Last Sunday was full of chain saws and snow blowers. Now, it’s a lot of dark and cold. But, we’ll make do.

The point here is that there’s a lean lesson somewhere. In fact, I think there are two related lessons.

Before the snow started flying, my youngest noted that my neighbor, Rich was blowing the leaves and pine needles off of his driveway. Rich later shared that he wanted to avoid the messy mix of snow, leaves and needles. At the time, I must admit, I was thinking perhaps that wasn’t a bad idea.

Well, shortly thereafter the heavy snows came. By around 3:00 p.m., the first tree split and hit my house – just a glancing blow, mind you. After that, it really started getting bad. The power went out and the next 12 plus hours were full of crashing tree limbs and trunks. My family and I slept, more or less, in the basement.

At sunrise, we could see the full scope of the damage. We had been absolutely hammered.

It was chain saw, shovel, and snow blower time. Fortunately, my neighbors came by and helped clear a path through my driveway. We then patrolled the neighborhood and cleared the roadway.

(Note to self: there should be a legal limit on the number of chain saw wielding amateurs within a 20 foot radius…)

Well, during this orgy of fuel and bar and chain oil, I recalled a figure that is within my Kaizen Event Fieldbook. This leads to:

Lesson #1: When the muda and the stakes are high, ditch the scalpel and carving knife. Instead, go for the chain saw.

In other words, don’t screw around with making things elegant. If you’ve got to get the tree off of your house or clear a path in your driveway (or road), go big and go aggressive. Make it pretty later.

Too often during lean transformation efforts, folks will spend too much time, resources, and political capital trying to make things perfect. Well, perfect never happens. Get the value to flow better, as quickly as possible.

And my neighbor’s pre-snow leaf and pine needle blowing? Well that, as admitted by Rich, was just plain stupid.

Lesson #2: Quickly understand and acknowledge the magnitude of the coming storm and take proportionate action.

How often do we give the proverbial patient the proverbial vitamins while he is on the proverbial operating room table?!

Put another way, bad things happen when we: 1) are ignorant of the pending competitive challenges for our business, 2) choose to ignore the challenges (maybe they’ll never materialize?!), and/or 3) do something lame that will never sufficiently address the challenge.

Yes, there’s nothing like a little post-storm hansei (reflection)!!

Related posts: The Best or Nothing, Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

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Lean Decay Rate

I’m certainly no physicist, but I think there’s a worthy analogy between the decay of radioisotopes and lean behavior within an organization.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ webpage on Radiation Emergency Medical Management:

  • “Radioactive half-life is the time required for a quantity of a radioisotope to decay by half.
  • If the half-life of an isotope is relatively short, e.g. a few hours, most of the radioactivity will be gone in a few days.
  • If the half-life of an isotope is relatively long, e.g. 80 years, it will take a long time for significant decay to occur.”

So, enough about isotopes. What about lean “culturetopes?”

If “lean” was discontinued within your organization, how long would it take for people to revert to their native batch-and-queue behaviors? How long would it take for most of the “leanness” to be gone?

Silly question?

Perhaps. But, I think the question can prompt some useful reflection.

What would happen if the number one executive lean leader within your company left for greener pastures? Would the lean transformation stop dead in its tracks? Or would the organization shake it off and, due to the profound depth of the lean cultural evolution, continue rolling?

What would happen if there was a sudden, substantial drop in business? What if the company introduced some wizbang new technology? What if your company was acquired? What if…?

Is your lean half-life measurable in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years?

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I think that the Shingo Prize Behavior Assessment Scale (see figure) can provide meaningful insight into an organization’s lean cultural half-life. The further to the right on the Assessment Scale, the longer the lean half-life…by a lot!

What are your thoughts?

Related posts: Line of Sight, Employee Engagement, and Daily Kaizen, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

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Guest Post: “Magical Thinking”

They engage in “magical thinking” she said.  They think something is true, or becomes true, just because they say so.  She was describing the leadership approach of her hospital.  She has been a nurse for years.  And now, after decades of helping the sick, she hates her job.  Don’t get me wrong, she still loves taking care of patients, but she hates her job.

Her workplace has been infected with management that tells her how many FTEs are required; she doesn’t even know what a FTE is.  She is exasperated, disenfranchised and done.  Her strategy now is to try to keep her head down until retirement.

There were many difficult aspects to this conversion, the worst part being that she is a friend.  Her pain and frustration is palpable.  I was not surprised to hear of magical thinking.  It is an apt description of something I have seen in many organizations, in many different industries.  But, I was surprised to learn that it has invaded health care.

In magical thinking, management teams set BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), often reductions in staff or increases in workload, that are unrealistic, unsustainable, or unachievable.  They may look good on paper, but without the tools, people, resources, infrastructure, and leadership needed to achieve them – they are folly.  They often leave employees, like my friend, tired and dispirited, with justifiably diminished confidence in their leadership.

I have seen “magical thinking” in the private and the public sectors.  In my experience, the most pervasive form lately is “lower cost at any price.”   These are initiatives that solely focus on cutting cost, often at the expense of quality, safety, and customer satisfaction.   One particularly egregious example that I recently encountered, is an organization, that in the interest of costs, switched from instructor/hands-on training to solely computer based training.  While this may be appropriate for some positions,  I doubt it served the diesel engine mechanic  well , who,  on their first day on job said of the 16 valve 30 ton engine that they were responsible for –  “I didn’t think it would be so big, or so hot.”

In defense of magical thinking it can occasionally work.  There can be some fantastic wins – perhaps accidentally when the directed action (a.k.a. “countermeasure(s)”) happen to address the root cause(s) of the barrier between the current condition and the target condition. But in the long run, the results are unsustainable.  Like any gambling strategy, the laws of probability describe the long-term behavior and unfortunately the odds are not in the magical thinker’s favor.  Fortunately, there are better ways.  There are tools, systems, and philosophies that give better and more consistent returns.

Hard work, coupled with sound principles is a better approach.  Nothing can re-align magical thinking like going to the gemba and challenging one’s assumptions with fact.  Continuous improvement can only be accomplished  and sustained through humble leadership, not through arrogance and hubris.  Indeed, PDCA presumes that there is a check with reality and the openness to consider and make the necessary adjustments. In hoshin planning, this same spirit is applied within the catchball process – another means of immunizing the organization against magical thinking.

Lean thinking’s magic is about people, learning, science, value creation, the seeking of perfection and the like. Magical thinking, well…that’s for people who really dig the emperor’s new clothes.

Related post: Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

This post was authored by Michael O’Connor, PhD. “Dr. Mike,” as Mark Hamel refers to him, is a lean six sigma implementation consultant and a passionate learner, educator, and communicator. He was recently bestowed with the Master Black Belt of the Year award by the International Quality and Productivity Center.


Guest Post: Fall Foliage and…Organizational Development

Fall colors, at least here in southern New England, are beginning to lose some of their brilliance. It’s the normal course as we approach November. But don’t despair, my friend and colleague, Chuck Wolfe, has captured some beautiful, peak foliage with his camera and added some simple, but poignant thoughts on organizational development.  Enjoy his pictures and his prose. You can access the PDF in the link below.

Organization Development article with fall pictures

By  the way, Chuck and I collaborated on a Defense Industry Daily article back in February called, “Want an Effective Kaizen Event? Don’t Forget the Human Side!” Chuck also co-authored the Kaizen Event Fieldbook’s third chapter on Transformation Leadership with me.

Related post: The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – 11 Questions for Lean Leaders

Charles J. Wolfe is CEO of Charles J. Wolfe Associates, LLC. Chuck is internationally recognized as an expert in applying emotional intelligence to organizational change, leader development, coaching, and teambuilding. Chuck created the Emotion Roadmap™, a unique methodology, featured in his workshops, publications, and radio talk show. He can be reached at cjwolfe, over at cjwolfe dot com, or via 860-985-3747.

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Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation

Business travel is a drag. One of the painfully few benefits, if you’re flying (and waiting), is that you can catch up on some reading. Recently, I finished reading George Koenigsaecker’s Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, published by Productivity Press. In my humble opinion, it’s a future classic…and it’s brief – 162 pages!

This book addresses the number one reason for lean implementation failure – ineffective transformation leadership.

Keonigsaecker is a lean scion. He was there at lean’s first American beachhead – as President of Danaher’s Jake Brake in Bloomfield, CT. All told he has led 10 or so successful lean conversions as president or group president, including that of Hon Industries. He is the real deal as a lean leader and practitioner and, no surprise, as a profoundly committed student. Trust him.

So, what does Koenigsaecker’s book share? Among other things, he discusses:

  • True North metrics. True North metrics – quality improvement, delivery/lead time/flow improvement, cost/productivity improvement, human development provide the enterprise with a handful of  clear and simple measurable outputs that will help drive meaningful results. Koenigsaecker shares that annual double digit improvements within each of these measurement categories is the norm during an effective lean implementation. Targets should be set accordingly.
  • Value stream analysis and kaizen events. Value stream analysis (VSA) establishes much of the roadmap for lean implementation.  The importance of VSA, and its power for identifying waste, necessitates heavy lean leader involvement and linkage to True North metrics.  The resultant value stream improvement plan is comprised largely by high impact kaizen events.
  • Implementation pace and required infrastructure. In order to drive double-digit True North metric performance, the implementation pace must be aggressive and must have sufficient resources to support the transformation. Accordingly, the book explores how to establish the kaizen promotion office, kaizen event effectiveness and lean training for the different levels within the organization.
  • Governance. Lean transformation leadership or, in George’s parlance, “governance” encompasses the application of change management best practices (guiding coalition, communication, dealing with change resistant “antibodies,” etc.) and the rigor of strategy deployment and related monthly checkpoints. In order to establish a cadre of effective lean leaders, Koenigsaecker is a convincing proponent of  the mentored lean immersion of executives and senior managers. This recommended (three month) immersion consists largely of kaizen event participation (VSA, standard work, 3P, administrative, etc.) lean business system training and participation in strategy deployment sessions.
  • Lean culture. Koenigsaecker saves the hardest, most critical and most elusive for last – building a lean culture. He discusses the building blocks of a lean/Toyota culture (serve the customer, seek what’s right…regardless, decide carefully, implement quickly, etc.) and the related action plan for achieving that. The action plan includes giving the leadership team personal experience, introducing daily kaizen (about two years AFTER basic lean training and experience through kaizen events) and challenging the team to build (experiential) knowledge.

Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation is value-added and a must read for every lean leader. It is especially relevant for those who seek to implement sustainable step-function improvement in an enterprise that does not have fourth generation lean leaders (i.e., Toyota)…and that’s a pretty big population.

Related post: The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover, Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?

WWSD pic

Several days ago a colleague was sharing how he bumped into Bob, his initial sensei (and mine) at the airport. My colleague told Bob that he thinks of him every day when he coaches his clients – “What would Bob do?” Not that we need to be handing out WWSD bracelets, but we should all think, “What would the sensei do?”

Of course, it depends on your sensei. Bob is lean Hall of Fame good. He started his lean journey as VP of Ops at Danaher’s Jake Brake in 1987, the veritable U.S. lean beachhead. Now, if you have any questions relative to the quality of your sensei, then perhaps ask, “What would Ohno do?” Not a bad choice.

So, when should you apply WWSD and on what should it make you reflect? I think WWSD is really a situational thing and has less to do with lean tools and more to do with lean principles and systems and lean transformation leadership. That’s where we usually get into trouble.

For example, when we encounter concrete heads and waffle about things like flow, pull, scientific thinking,  integrating improvement with work, respect for the worker and bias for action, we can really screw up a lean transformation. We can end up directly or indirectly teaching people that lean principles are subjective. Not a good thing!

So, think about your sensei and the lessons that he or she has imparted to you. How and when do you  (should you) apply WWSD?

Related posts: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!, Sensei Facilitation Style – Scary or human?

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Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle

Subsidiarity picRon Pereira has been gracious enough to allow me to guest blog on his LSS Academy blog. I hope  that you find my post on subsidiarity (yes, there really is a lean connection) of value and take the opportunity to check out LSS Academy’s great insights and offerings.

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Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

barney picMy three children are well beyond the Barney years. It’s been about 10 years since I was subjected to that song, but unfortunately it is burned into my brain, “Everyone is special, special. Everyone is special…” Of course, I don’t disagree with that sentiment, just the inane song. However, when it comes to lean implementation, people seem to sing that very song, just with different words.

We’ve seen lean adoption successfully expand across a number of different industries, resistance slowly receding as new frontiers were explored and barriers breached. First (in very broad terms) lean was a Toyota thing, then it was perceived as something for the automotive industry (who hasn’t heard the plaintive cry from someone resisting lean that goes something like, “we aren’t making cars here!”), then a manufacturing thing, then lean started making inroads within transactional businesses, now health care, etc., etc.  Just the other day, I was reviewing a lean health care case study for a company that does a lot in the lab and manufacturing operations (long story). At the conclusion of the review a manufacturing engineer noted that lean seems to work in health care, but was skeptical as to whether it worked in manufacturing. Doh!!

There are mounds of empirical evidence that lean works and can work in virtually any value stream. The expectation is not that everyone has to be a carbon copy of Toyota or anyone else for that matter. It’s pretty much impossible and probably is not the most effective path. Companies are different (special) from the perspective of culture, strategic imperatives, value streams, etc. BUT lean principles are lean principles. They apply to everyone.

The Shingo Prize’s Transformation Model for Operational Excellence identifies, among other things, 10 basic principles. These principles transcend the lean tools and systems (the “know how”) and represent the “know why” of lean transformation. A deeper understanding of the principles, according the Shingo Prize model, “…empower[s] the organization to develop and deploy specific methodologies and practices unique to the organization.” Unique means “special” in Barney language.

Here are the 10 Shingo Prize model principles within four “dimensions.” I encourage you to go to the Shingo Prize website and read through the model. If you can’t agree that the principles apply to your business, well…you’re not going to successfully implement lean in a meaningful way.

  • Cultural Enablers – 1. respect for the individual, 2. humility
  • Continuous Process Improvement – 3. flow/pull, 4. process focus, 5. scientific thinking, 6. integration of improvement with work, 7. seek perfection
  • Consistent Lean Enterprise Culture – 8. systemic thinking, 9. constancy of purpose
  • Business Results – 10. create value

So, the question shouldn’t be whether lean will work in your corner of the world. It can. The question should be more about how are you going to best apply lean tools and systems within the context of (satisfying) the principles.

What do you think?

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The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – Part II

human side pic 3Last week, Defense Industry Daily posted the first half of an article authored by yours truly and Chuck Wolfe. Well, the second half of “Want an Effective Kaizen Event? Don’t Forget the Human Side!” is now posted. Actually, the whole article is now posted.

Among other things, part two introduces the Transformation Leadership Model. This model, covered in chapter three of the Kaizen Event Fieldbook, explores the two-pronged leadership approach to lean transformation – one technical and the other more behavioral in nature. Both need to work in concert and both are founded upon humility and respect for the individual.

I think it’s good stuff. Please check it out and let me know what you think. Click here if you missed my post on the first half of the article.

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