Posts Tagged sensei

Reflection on the Sensei’s Legacy – Life and Lean

Earlier this month, my father passed away after a long and stoic battle with cancer. He was days away from his 80th birthday. By virtually all measures, his was a life well-lived and fruitful. Jim Hamel left many who love him.

Death prompts reflection by those who remain this side of eternity. Within that mix, the word “legacy” often comes to mind.

One Merriam-Webster definition of legacy is as follows:

something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>.

The philosopher example makes sense. My father was a bit philosophical to say the least, especially relative to his fundamental attitude toward human life and destiny. He also had a wicked wit. It seems that his philosophy informed his wit…or was it the other way around?

When we think of legacy, we think necessarily of things that endure.

My father taught me many things, including how to play baseball and hockey, how to shoot, and how to tie a neck tie. In fact, he was a professional educator. Teaching was in his blood. But, those things are not truly part of his legacy.

When I was young, I was constantly impressed by how he seemed to bump into so many of his past students. Incredulously, I would ask, “Dad, how do you know so many people?”

These former students, no matter where we were, seemed to find him and then cheerfully say hello, introduce their young children, reminisce about days gone by, and so on. My father taught high school history, French and psychology (before becoming an assistant principal), but I am quite certain that the affection and memories of these students were not constitutive of those subjects. It was something more.

Much of my father’s legacy to me includes perseverance, toughness, fidelity, sacrifice and the giving of self for family and perhaps the art of wry, smart-aleck humor. The baseball, hockey, shooting, etc. were, in many ways, the stage for imparting the important stuff.

And so it goes for lean. Yes, of course there’s got to be a lean lesson in here somewhere!

My lean teachers taught me standard work, visual controls, pull systems, and the like. These things were in the category of tools and systems. I am forever grateful that my sensei imparted their knowledge to me about these important things.

But the enduring stuff, the real lean legacy is more about mentorship, humility, respect for every individual, employee involvement and engagement, the constant seeking of perfection, creating value for the customer, etc. These principles were consistently part of the curriculum…even if the student (me) did not notice it at the time.

Yes, legacy is more about principles, defined here as follows (Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1999).

principle: that from which something proceeds or on which it depends as its origin, cause, or source of being or action.

So, while I am hopeful that my clients, colleagues and friends will find my teaching around lean tools and systems helpful, I hope that my lean legacy will transcend those mere things. If so, I will have done my father proud.

Related posts: Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control, The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader


Guest Post – Minarai: apprentice, beginner; learn by observing

As I ready myself for a new mentoring relationship in a few weeks, I’ve been pondering roles and approaches. What will I do the same, what will I change as I help facilitate a new lean transformation?

My job, as teacher and coach, is to assist the organization make change. Their chosen strategy is to implement lean and six sigma. The knowledge transfer approach I prefer is see one, do one, teach one.

At first the apprentice just watches me do my thing – plan the calendar, roles, objectives; do the training, explain the principles, and run the events; check the metrics and take everyone’s pulse; act on what I see. Usually I don’t explain what I’m doing; I just run the kaizen event; form subs teams, hand out assignments, train-and-do.

After a time, the student is called upon to perform some of the routine activities, give some of the lessons,  and apply some of the tougher tools. Then comes the day when the roles start to reverse; the student tries to run a kaizen and the teacher observes, intervening off-line, giving feedback quietly, and asking questions, checking comprehension. As confidence and experience grow the student becomes the teacher.

Asked the other day, “What’s the difference in your approach and Shingijutsu?”  I was reminded of something James Womack once wrote. It’s a lengthy, but insightful quote,

We’re now trying to write down all of the techniques you need to actually become lean. The Toyota teaching method is what we would call sensei-deshi, with the sensei being the great teacher and the deshi, the student. Basically, here’s how it works at Toyota: The kids get out of the university and join the company. Then they’re told, ‘Okay, you know how to do math, and you know how to read. Forget all the rest of the crap. We hope you had a lot of party time because now you’re going to be working long hours for the next 40 years, and we will teach you what you need to know. We’ll start by having you stay right here and look around for waste—muda in Japanese— and we’ll be back in a few hours.’ When the teacher comes back, he’ll ask the employee to tell him all about the waste he sees. It’s an empirical teaching method in which the sensei simply asks questions: ‘What do you think about this operation?’ ‘Why aren’t you looking over here?’ ‘Over there?’ ‘Why is something happening this way?’ They start with applications, and let you figure out the principles. Generally, the way we teach in the West is to start with principles, and then let the pupil to work out applications.

Which way is better?

This post was authored by Larry Loucka, a lean six sigma coach and Certified Supply Chain Professional. He has extensive industry experience in supplier development, global sourcing, logistics, outsourcing, warehousing, integrating MRP and Kanban, logistics network optimization and modeling, demand management, visual workplace, kaizen, quick changeover, operational analysis, supply chain strategy, and accelerated change management. Larry is the founder of, and principal contributor to, Lean Sigma Supply Chain Blog and is the principal of Resource Systems Group, LLC.

Related Posts: Two Cents on Lean Certifications…and a Cow Named “Fuku”, Lean Leadership – Lessons from My Dog Obedience Sensei


Lean Leadership – Lessons from My Dog Obedience Sensei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related post: WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?

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Lean Metric: Waste Elimination Effectiveness

It happened about 15 years ago, but I remember it very clearly. My sensei, never one to mince words, shared his thoughts on the performance of the four teams. He grabbed a flipchart and scratched out a formula – one that I now call “waste elimination effectiveness.”

The W.E.E. = identified waste X acknowledged waste X eliminated waste. It’s cumulative, like rolled throughput yield (i.e., 80% X 60% X 65% = 31%). A low % in any of the factors is NOT good, multiple factors, disaster.

Some teams fared a lot better than others in the sensei’s semi-quantitative assessment. I don’t remember the scores. Not really important. What is important are the underlying principles and perspective. Here are some of my humble W.E.E. reflections.

The great Hiroyuki Hirano calls the practice of identifying waste “wastology.” Pretty cool term.  In my estimation, it’s about 85% technical skill and 15% behavioral. In other words, with study, hard work , the right tools/techniques, and a lot of practice, you can learn how to identify waste. In order to drive the W.E.E.’s waste identification number, you also have to apply sufficient rigor and stamina.

Now, you can teach a person to identify waste, but you can’t MAKE them acknowledge it (kind of like that horse and water thing). The willingness to acknowledge waste is primarily behavioral. I put this at a 10% technical and 90% behavioral “skill mix.” A retributive culture and/or a lack of humility will minimize acknowledgment. Of course, lazy folk know that if they don’t acknowledge the waste, then they won’t be obligated to try to eliminate it (“Waste? What waste?”).

…And even if people acknowledge the waste, you can’t MAKE them eliminate it.  Some just don’t have the killer instinct. I see elimination as a 50%/50% split between technical and behavioral. A lack of bias for action or aggressiveness will limit waste elimination. Similarly, from a technical perspective, if the kaizener does not apply adequate countermeasures, and apply them against the real root cause(s), they’re just spinning their wheels.

So, generating a high waste elimination effectiveness level is not easy…but, pretty much anything worth accomplishing isn’t easy.

Related posts: Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes, The Truth Will Set You Free!


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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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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