Posts Tagged Shingo Prize

Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

Lean is deep. It’s multi-faceted. Heck, even the “simple” stuff is profound.

These characteristics, along with (or should I say, in spite of) my own denseness, are why my lean learning never plateaus. Here’s a very recent example of two experiences that refined my kaizen appreciation.

Experience 1. This week I attended and spoke at the Sixth Annual Northeast Shingo Prize conference. It was a wonderful experience. (See below for a picture of the “four bloggers.”) The conference title was, “Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper.” Great title and great theme right? Like motherhood and apple pie. Who could ever argue with it?

Well, as many of us know, the title was derived from a Shigeo Shingo quote:

There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster and cheaper.

Cool, right? Except, there’s another sentence that immediately follows – a sentence that should alter the mindset of most American allegedly “lean thinkers.”

These four goals appear in the order of priority.

Do you think that most executives would agree with that priority? I sincerely doubt it.

If we surveyed senior leaders, I would be quite confident that the order would be reversed. Unfortunately, such a hierarchy (no pun intended) does little to gain buy-in from the workforce and it is often inconsistent with the notion of respect for people. Which leads to my next recent experience.

Experience 2. (Actually this experience happened BEFORE the conference, but it works better explaining it in this order.) I was reading through the paper, “Transforming Kaizen at Toyota,” written by Koichi Shimizu from Okoyama University. This 29 page paper is undated, but I would guess it’s circa 2000. Shimizu presents a lot of information and analysis around volunteer and organized kaizen activities at Toyota.

Some take-aways:

  • Workers drive about 10% of the realized improvement and team leaders, production supervisors, engineers, etc. drive 90%. Here “realized improvement” is ostensibly around cost reduction through productivity and quality gains.
  • Workers principally engage in “voluntary kaizen” – kaizen circle activities and suggestions.
  • The purpose and effects of the voluntary kaizen, especially within Toyota’s US and European plants, are mainly around:
    • developing the (worker’s) kaizen mind and problem solving ability,
    • paying attention to quality and productivity,
    • perceiving the work-place as one’s own, and
    • developing self for promotion.

Occasionally, the worker generates a great idea around quality or working process improvement. But, the primary focus for the worker is typically around the “humanization of work. In other words, it starts with making the work EASIER. Just like Mr. Shingo said!


Here’s a picture of the four bloggers at the NE Shingo Prize conference. From left to right, yours truly (the old guy in the group), Tim MacMahon of A Lean Journey, Dave Kasprzak of My Flexible Pencil, and Mike Wroblewski of Got Boondoggle? It was great meeting these very talented folks!

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Standard Work Is a Verb

Standard work is not a once and done proposition. That would be lean anathema. In fact, the Shingo Prize Model reflects a lean principle (one of ten) called “integration of improvement with work.” We don’t stop working, why would we stop improving?

This dynamic is consistent with the evolution from system-driven kaizen to principle-driven kaizen. System-driven kaizen is represented mostly by kaizen events as pulled by value stream improvement plans. Really good stuff, but it can and should get better.

Principle-driven kaizen is system-driven PLUS the integration of daily kaizen. Daily kaizen, as defined in my Kaizen Event Fieldbook is, “small, process- or point-focused, continuous improvement that is conducted by engaged and enabled employees in their everyday work… Daily kaizen opportunities (problems) are readily identified by workers using simple robust lean management systems and by a pragmatic comparison of the current state with the envisioned ideal state. By applying common sense and learning developed in kaizen events, training classes and direct application, employees, as individuals and within teams, engage in PDCA through the use/execution of actionable, low bureaucracy suggestion systems, mini-kaizen events, kaizen circle activities, ‘just-do-its’ and the like.” OK, it’s a really long-winded definition!

While standard work is often initially developed within the context of a kaizen event, it can’t stop there. As employees adopt PDCA thinking and learn to become experimentalists, they will/should continuously improve the standard work. Truly, when the culture becomes principle-driven, people feel happily compelled to improve their processes and thus the standard work.

So, think of standard work more as a verb and less as a noun. Next time when you’re at the gemba, take note of the revision date of the standard work sheets and standard work combination sheets. If they haven’t been updated and improved over the last quarter or two, then you might have an issue. There’s a good chance that you’ve never left the land of system-driven kaizen.

Related post: There Is No Kaizen Bus Stop!

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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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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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