It takes a lot to see

091211_cellphoneI remember when I couldn't see much either,and sometimes it's still hard for me. I remember the first time we tried to see together. Now that was really hard.

You, hiding behind your cell phone to avoid interacting with me. We can laugh about it now, but I wasn't smiling then.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - assumptions are seriously dangerous. I assumed you thought you were too busy to be wasting time looking around the shop floor.

I know better now. You work hard at what you do and it's not easy once you have reached the top to let people see what you don't know. So it was easier to hide - behind the phone, in your office...

But now you have a different view; More open to explore the operations with respectful questions and genuine interest.

We walk together now, stopping to see, what's needed for people to excel at what they do. I see you are proud of the people here making products that are filled with value.

And all the unseen improvements that have made the customers happy and coming back for more. No need to hide now, you can put your cell phone in your pocket and lean in to get a better look at how the work is done.

Focused, intent, curious... we almost bump heads. We see a lot more - and better too now that we are looking and listening, together for the barriers in the way of adding value so we can break through them, one by one.

Who knew "seeing" could be so much fun?

Changing the Circle

Last time we looked at the trouble caused by one little circle to crush an organization’s culture to foster the Toyota Production System.  Even more, this circle is like quicksand to an organization.

It saps everyone’s energy.  When your feet are mired in quicksand, so are everyone else’s as they strain to pull their friends out.  Before you know it, nothing productive is getting done.  A lot of hard work, but nothing helpful for making the customer’s experience better.

With one small step, we can change this from a negative to a positive impact on the organization.

Now you have the time to contribute to improve your own productivity and the organizations’.  The quicksand is gone. You and your friends have time to build a solid foundation for the organization’s improvement system.  This is what we mean at GBMP when we talk about "everybody, everyday" to grow the Toyota Production System.  It is not enough to say it; we have to make time to do it.  Today we have made time, conceptually.  Now, see what you can do to make it happen practically.

I can’t wait to hear your success stories.

- Lesa


How one little circle can crash a culture

Often unbenownst to a lot of employees and managers, sometimes a mist of trouble hangs over the office cubicles, twisting and twirling, spinning a web of destruction across an organization.  What is it? Where did it come from?  Well, that depends. Let's take a look at this innocent looking circle.

Maybe you don’t feel a connection to what I'm talking about, this circle.  But what if I told you that you could very well possibly be the one that started the day off by making the first bad move (without knowing it of course) - assuming something about a co-worker because, let's say for an example, they came in 15 minutes after the standard office start time.  You did this without any other information than seeing “Sam” walk in the door.

As you turn back to your computer, a thought bubbles up: “He is always late, almost everyday” (misunderstanding).

Like a song that gets stuck in your head, you can’t let it go: “How come he gets away with this when my requests for a flexible schedule are always denied”  (confusion and anger).

Now you are on a roll (Thoughts Gone Wild):  “With all his lateness, he is making our team look like a bunch of slackers.  I don’t want him on our team if this is his way of working.  Let him go somewhere else to mess up their chance of success" (blame, alienation, hostility).

As you think about this scenario, it probably won’t take you long to recognize one of these circles happening somewhere around you right now.  How can you recognize it?  You are either in the middle of one yourself or you are listening to someone talk about one.  Pay attention for a day and listen to how much of this you may personally be involved in.  Try to quantify it.

Next week, I'll talk about how this one little circle impacts an organization’s culture and what can be done to make the circle's influence positive. I am looking forward to hearing your experiences.

- Lesa

Are you a tourist in your own organization?

Tourists are fairly easy to pick out in a crowd: the clothes, cameras, goody bags from shopping excursions, heads swiveling like periscopes,  jaws agape.  While on vacation, it's fun to be a tourist and mostly we aren't embarrassed about it. We don't however wear the same gear to work and we know to manage our facial expressions.  But what if we could see what's going on in our brains as we walk through various departments in our own organizations:

Have you had questions like these when you walk by an apparently idle group?  Do you ever reach out to get your  questions  answered?  If you don't, you are a tourist in your own organization.  I think this is a pretty dangerous  situation.  Next week I will share my opinions about why but in the meantime, I would like to hear yours.

- Lesa

No More Blame for Top Management

Over the years that I have been practicing TPS, it seems to me that many people are eager to say that it is top management's responsibility to make lean work.  But who exactly are they talking about?  And what behaviors are to be changed for top management to make lean work? Let's take a look at top management.  Which group needs to change what behavior? What exactly do we expect from each of these roles?

  1. The Board of Directors?
  2. The Owner?
  3. The Chief Executive Officer?
  4. The  President?
  5. The Chief Operations Officer?
  6. The Vice Presidents (if the organization is large enough to have them)?
  7. The Plant Manager?

I am always curious about what the Board is supposed to do to make lean happen.  I also struggle along, company by company, with "the line in the sand" between the CEO/Owner vs. the President/COO.  Depending on the company's structure, the roles are different but regardless - what advice should we (people in the collective bucket of consultants, senseis, advisors, coaches, etc.) be giving the people at the top?  Some common advice that I have seen for lean management include:

  • Make a value stream map
  • Whip the suppliers into shape to maximize the value stream
  • Make your own best practice visual factory
  • Go to the worksite to see what is being done
  • Buy into lean and show it
  • Only work on the big stuff
  • Watch the profit and other key performance indicators
  • Communicate with the organization
  • Hold everyone accountable
  • Set performance objectives
  • Understand what motivates people
  • Align company goals with individual's goals
  • Focus on the popular tools of the day

But to me, this list doesn't seem expressly different than the list of "general" management skills needed. I think the "Lean Advice World" has a responsibility to get specific, company by company, individual by individual.  That is the only way to help top management make the changes "we" are calling them out on.  If "we" don't know what they should do, admit it and find them some help OR propose that you learn together by trying some new things out side-by-side.

The point I'm hoping to get across in this post is that top management has taken it on the chin for too many years. Blaming top management for the failure or slowness of lean is a cop out.  An "us versus them" mentality is destructive and distracting. Rather than any one person or group of people being lumped together (ie top management), organizations need to separate the various roles comprised by top management - and then determine the various roles each should play in the lean transformation.

Here's a couple of examples of what I mean: What does the Board of Directors have to do with the lean implementation at a manufacturing company? Should they be trained on lean? Who should train them? Should the Chief Financial Officer investigate different financial systems compatible with lean?  How would the CFO know that he or she should do this?

The way I see it there are "blamers" at every company - they say it's top management's fault that things aren't moving faster or are moving off shore. And yes, there are also "blamers" in the ranks of top management (ie., a COO says "I would do it if the CEO would let me" or the plant manager who says "I'm all over lean but the owner is in my way so I give up").

So how can we (the collective bucket I mentioned earlier) help you, passionate lean implementers, move beyond this distracting cycle to a collaborative cycle, improving the speed and quality of lean in each of your companies? I hope you'll share your thoughts with me.

- Lesa