Tag: Lean culture

Lean Is NOT A Legacy

Lean can be summarily defined as “The pursuit of perfection (value) through the relentless elimination of waste.”  Understanding what this actually looks like in the real world is an entirely different matter.

The 8 wastes (technically 7) and the tools to continually strive to eliminate them are well documented.  Why is it then that companies still find themselves struggling to implement lean thinking into their culture?

Any lean initiative requires mutual trust and respect between members of the team, the leadership, and stakeholders.  Many companies follow traditional management methods that are contrary to the servant-leadership style required to foster an environment that provides:

  1. Time to Learn – at all levels
  2. Permission to Think
  3. Authority to Execute
  4. Permission to Fail
  5. Time to Reflect
  6. Time to Share (Lesson Learned / Successes Earned)

To continually improve is to recognize that successes and failures are synonymous with learning.  Understanding what works and how it can be improved is equally as important as what doesn’t.

Some leaders and managers claim they do not have the resources that are available to larger corporations.  I would argue that this is simply an excuse for failing to engage their employees in the process.  In essence, they simply don’t perceive their employees as partners in the improvement process or trust that their employees are capable of making a difference.

All the tools in the world won’t save your business if the very people who are expected to use them can’t be trusted to do so.  A servant-leader can teach them “why” and show them “how”.  When done correctly, a short time will pass and the “student” employee will tell  them why and show them how – only better.

Until Next Time – STAY lean


Related Articles and Resources

Lean: Beyond Reach!

Lean game production line
Image by Kerry Buckley via Flickr

Almost everything I read or learned suggests that lean was never intended to be complicated. The simplest definition of lean I have read to date follows:

Focus on what matters and eliminate what doesn’t

This is not to suggest that lean is easy. In actual practice I find that some companies have sufficiently compounded the definition of lean to exclude all but a select team of employees.

I contend that lean is an all inclusive initiative based on the simple premise that we can always find a better way.

As suggested by our definition of lean above, the ability to discern what matters from what doesn’t is the most fundamental step to any lean initiative.

As I discussed in “Discover Toyota’s Best Practice“, improvements are seldom the result of a single action or countermeasure. Rather, in the context of lean, innovations are the culmination of numerous improvement initiatives over time.

I become increasingly concerned where a lean culture is compromised by infrastructure, policies, systems, and procedures that inherently frustrate improvement initiatives.

This reflects one of my qualms with six sigma where an implied hierarchy is created by virtue of the “belt” or level that a person has achieved. The approach is intentionally “exclusive” by virtue of education, experience, and / or proven expertise. As such, people are inherently disqualified from the process.

Quite simply, don’t create an environment that alienates your team to the extent that lean is beyond reach by design.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter: @Versalytics

Everyday Greatness

A thermometer showing −17°C.
Image via Wikipedia

Long nights, extreme snow falls, and sub-zero temperatures are demotivating stressors that can negatively affect employee morale at this time of year, especially during the month of January (Blue Monday).  To re-energize and motivate yourself and your teams, I recommend reading Everyday Greatness by Stephen Covey.  This book is filled with numerous stories, anecdotes, and quotes that are entertaining, inspirational, and timeless.

A culture that reflects the principles and core values as presented in Everyday Greatness is one that we all aspire to achieve.

I enjoyed reading Everyday Greatness and trust that you will too!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Discover Toyota’s Best Practice

The new headquarters of the Toyota Motor Corpo...
The new headquarters of the Toyota Motor Corporation, opened in February 2005 in Toyota City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always been impressed by Toyota’s inherent ability to adapt, improve, and embrace change even during the harshest times.  This innate ability is a signature trait of Toyota’s culture and has been the topic of intense study and research for many years.

How is it that Toyota continues to thrive regardless of the circumstances they encounter?  While numerous authors and lean practitioners have studied Toyota’s systems and shared best practices, all too many have missed the underlying strategy behind Toyota’s ever evolving systems and processes.  As a result, we are usually provided with ready to use solutions, countermeasures, prescriptive procedures, and forms that are quickly adopted and added to our set of lean tools.

The true discovery occurs when we realize that these forms and procedures are the product or outcome of an underlying systemic thought process.  This is where the true learning and process transformations take place.  In many respects this is similar to an artist who produces a painting.  While we can enjoy the product of the artist’s talent, we can only wonder how the original painting appears in the artist’s mind.

Of the many books that have been published about Toyota, there is one book that has finally managed to capture and succinctly convey the strategy responsible for the culture that presently defines Toyota.  Written by Mike Rother, “Toyota Kata – Managing People For Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results” reveals the methodology used to develop people at all levels of the Toyota organization.

Surprisingly, the specific techniques described in the book are not new, however, the manner in which they are used does not necessarily follow conventional wisdom or industry practice.  Throughout the book, it becomes evidently clear that the current practices at Toyota are the product of a collection of improvements, each building on the results of previous steps taken toward a seemingly elusive target.

Although we have gleaned and adopted many of Toyota’s best practices into our own operations, we do not have the benefit of the lessons learned nor do we fully understand the circumstances that led to the creation of these practices as we know them today.  As such, we are only exposed to one step of possibly many more to follow that may yield yet another radical and significantly different solution.

In simpler terms, the solutions we observe in Toyota today are only a glimpse of the current level of learning.  In the spirit of the improvement kata, it stands to reason that everything is subject to change.  The one constant throughout the entire process is the improvement kata or routine that is continually practiced to yield even greater improvements and results.

If you or your company are looking for a practical, hands on, proven strategy to sustain and improve your current operations then this book, “Toyota Kata – Managing People For Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results“, is the one for you.  The improvement kata is only part of the equation.  The coaching kata is also discussed at length and reveals Toyota’s implementation and training methods to assure the whole company mindset is engaged with the process.

Why are we just learning of this practice now?  The answer is quite simple.  The method itself is practiced by every Toyota employee at such a frequency that it has become second nature to them and trained into the culture itself.  While the tools that are used to support the practice are known and widely used in industry, the system responsible for creating them has been obscure from view – until now.

You can preview the book by simply clicking on the links in our post.  Transforming the culture in your company begins by adding this book, “Toyota Kata – Managing People For Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results”, to your lean library.  I have been practicing the improvement and coaching kata for some time and the results are impressive.  The ability to engage and sustain all employees in the company is supported by the simplicity of the kata model itself. For those who are more ambitious, you may be interested in the Toyota Kata Training offered by the University of Michigan.

Learning and practicing the Toyota improvement kata is a strategy for company leadership to embrace.  To do otherwise is simply waiting to copy the competition.  I have yet to see a company vision statement where the ultimate goal is to be second best.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Lean Analytics and a little TRIZ

We are encouraged to see a significantly increasing interest in lean and agile strategy.  As we have emphasized in previous posts, the culture and work environment are as critical to the success of your initiatives as are the specific techniques, methods, and / or technologies that you will choose to use.  One of our favorite phrases to put our work environment into perspective  is, “What you see is how we think.”  We trust you will find the references in this post to be inspiring, thought provoking, and maybe even a little entertaining.

Analytics – In Perspective

The study of data can lead to some very interesting interpretations of the results.  We all have theories and with enough time and data we can prove them right or wrong.  Most statisticians, accountants, lawyers, and politicians can attest to this.  Data is typically studied and presented from a pre-conceived framework and variations are interpreted based on our chosen understanding of the model.

We have been researching cognitive dissonance and how this may affect the success of lean initiatives.  During our research, we found an article that describes how our thinking may actually influence or impede our ability to clearly see the problems or opportunities before us.  This article is self-explanatory and does not need much more by way of introduction.

Click here to view the Wired Magazine Article.

TRIZ:  We were recently asked to present a simple example that demonstrates the TRIZ concept.  While we agree that certain aspects of TRIZ can appear to be too complex to integrate into everyday problem solving, we found an excellent real world example that may surprise you.  This short video is only a few minutes long but speaks volumes.

Click here to view the video clip we found on TED.com.

The simplicity of this example makes it easy for everyone to understand at least one of the premises on which TRIZ is based.  Secondly, it serves as an excellent example to demonstrate how our perception and perspective can affect our ability to communicate new ideas and strategy to people who may not be familiar with our culture or environment.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

The Zeigarnik Effect and Lean

Have you heard of the Zeigarnik Effect?  If you have, you’re probably among the few of us that can appreciate how the Zeigarnik effect can affect our thinking processes.  What application could this possibly have with lean?    Consider that the human brain views an unanswered question the same as an incomplete task.  The brain must satisfy it’s innate desire to answer the question.  Lean is not a solution but rather a journey that continues to identify and stimulate ideas that lead to more unresolved opportunities.

The Zeigarnik effect is easier to demonstrate by way of example.  How many times have you been in a conversation while trying to recall someone’s name?  Failing to remember, you keep asking yourself, “What was that person’s name”?  Suddenly, after a few hours or even days later, the name comes to you out of nowhere.  The “Aha, that’s it” moment arrives.  Our subconscious mind continues to work on the problem, searching for a resolution, while we’re busy doing other things.

Is it possible to harness the power of the Zeigarnik effect in lean manufacturing?  Do we attempt to resolve a condition by settling with a less than desirable solution or settling for the one that just seems to work?  With respect to lean, there are many questions that beg to be answered:

  • How can we make this process faster?
  • How can we cut the cycle time?
  • How can we reduce the number of steps to make these parts?
  • Why do we carry all this inventory?
  • Where are we most vulnerable
  • How can we improve the quality of this product?
  • What can we do to eliminate waste?
  • What would happen if …?
  • Why do we do this or that…?

We all understand the power of questions.  The news media and marketing experts are constantly confronting us with questions that need to be answered.  In the case of news media, they entice us to read the story or stay tuned.  In the case of marketing and advertising, they present their product or service solutions.  As lean practitioners, we are continually asking questions.

The evolution of lean thrives by asking the right questions.  Many of the lean tools in use today have been around for many years.  Even in organizations where lean is not a core focus, people are passively aware that lean exists.  They may also have acquired an unrealistic definition of what lean really is.  For companies that have yet to integrate lean practices, this preconceived notion of what lean is may actually hinder your efforts.  The team may be disengaged at the onset of any initiative because they think they know it already.

The prescription for maintaining momentum in your lean journey is simple:  Ask more questions than you hope to ever have answers for.  Engage your team by asking questions.  Although simply asking “Why?” can generate a lot of activity, we should be very specific with our questions.  Keep asking questions until the answers stop flowing.

As students in school, we expected the teachers to know the answers to the questions they were asking.  In a lean organization, even the teachers are students.  Are we asking the right questions?

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

A brief article that discusses the Zeigarnik Effect can be found at the following link  http://businessmindhacks.com/post/zeigarnik-effect-in-depth.

10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction

Customers are the reason we are in business and customer satisfaction is what keeps them coming back.  It takes a tremendous effort to gain a new customer and only seconds to lose one.  Service must be exemplary if we want to sustain and grow our customer base and ultimately our business.

Mission:  Exceed Customer Expectations

Is it really possible to EXCEED customer expectations?  How can you exceed customer expectations when the expectation is 100% Quality Products at the lowest possible cost, Delivered On Time – In Full?

Consider the fast food industry.  Many popular Fast Food companies offer drive through service.  The expectation is that we will get what we ordered and receive the correct change when we pay.  This is the service rendered and expectations have been met (provided of course that the quality of the food is also upto our expectations).

Every customer expects to be treated like …

… a customer or at least a human being.  It could be argued that employees are expected to be kind, courteous, and cheerful while serving the customer.  These attributes of good customer service may also be clearly defined in the “customer service” clause of their respective employment standards or published in the “Who is OUR Customer” poster.  Instead of doing it because it’s the right thing to do, good customer service is now a condition for continued employment.

Vending machines can provide similar services without the human touch.    When Vending machines fail to deliver what we paid for they are slammed, cursed, tilted, shaken, and kicked.  When people fail to deliver, we write letters, attempt to talk to management, or we simply don’t go back.

Mission:  We Will Enhance Customer Expectations

Some employees are exemplary – courteous, kind (at a minimum they at least say thank you, have a nice day), and are very efficient. Some employees are on the opposite end of the spectrum – almost as though our presence is an inconvenience.

Do you ever feel like you are being served by “the hand”?  For some of us, the first person (or hand) we see in the morning is the one at the drive through window.  Can this person make or break your day?  Likely not, but they can at least enhance the experience with a friendly “Good morning and have a nice day”.

What is the point of this post?  The customer perceives VALUE based on the full service experience.  The people in customer service can make or break the customer’s experience with  your product or service.  VALUE is worth more than simply meeting Cost Objectives and Performance Expectations.  Value and Cost are not equal.

Someone may VALUE your opinion although they wouldn’t necessarily pay you for it.  The expression “let me give you my 2 cents on this” comes to mind.

How do you enhance customer satisfaction?

Major food chains and retailers are constantly looking for customer feedback.  You may even be enticed to complete the “How did we do today” survey by an offer to discount your next purchase.

10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction

  1. Communicate.  Communication with the customer is the key to enhancing customer satisfaction.  Follow Up and Follow Through to assure and confirm expectations have been satisfied.
  2. Be Confident.  Customers like to deal with people who know what they are doing.  We don’t want to hear, “This is my first time doing this so …”
  3. Be Professional.  The customer is always right – even when they are wrong.
  4. Build Customer Confidence.  Your performance and ability to meet the customers’ needs will re-assure them that they have made the right decision.
  5. Build Value (Reputation).  Be effective and perform efficiently:  Everyone  wants the best lawyer or the best doctor.  “We have the best person on it.”
  6. Ask the customer.  Is there anything else we can do for you today?  This suggests that you are able to do more if necessary.  The customer may just say, “Not today, but may be next time.”  At least you know they’ll may be back versus NEVER.
  7. Don’t send out surveys.  There are many ways to measure customer satisfaction without sending surveys.  “Paying” someone to provide an opinion may even change it.  “Will I still get a free lunch if I tell you what I’m really thinking?”  Remember the Vending Machine example from above?  The vending machine knows exactly how poor performance looks and feels.
  8. Be THE Solution.  We coined a phrase some time ago – “Thinking so you don’t have to.”  Take away the problem and be the solution.
  9. Thank You.  Show your customers that you appreciate their business.  It may be as easy as saying “Thank You for Your Business.”
  10. Smile – Whether the customer can see you or not – SMILE.  Studies have suggested that people know or can sense when other people are smiling.  We can’t quote a source for this statement, however, smiling is also good for you.

How does this relate to LEAN?  Poor customer service will kill any business.  At that time it doesn’t matter how efficient or lean your operation is.  Most lean operations “present” very well.  The cleanliness and organization of the operation suggests a degree of sophistication and a real sense of “we know what we’re doing.”  Unfortunately, the customer experience may not include tours of your operation.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Ten Tips to Lean

A photo of The Thinker by Rodin located at the...
Image via Wikipedia

Lean can be applied to all types of businesses and spans across all facets within your current business.  A lean culture recognizes that waste is everywhere.  A focus on Value Added activities become the norm as waste continues to be identified and eliminated throughout the organization.

  1. It’s not just a manufacturing tool.
    • A true lean strategy will lead to the transformation of the entire enterprise, not just a single department or facility.  If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t lean.
  2. Engage employees from all disciplines and levels of the company.
    • Creating a vision is great for strategy, but engagement is key to successful execution of that strategy.   Encourage active participation at all levels to instill the need, create the drive, and develop the collective mindset to assure success.
  3. Provide the time and resources necessary.
    • Too often companies go Lean on Lean – there are no shortcuts to success.  The results that can be achieved, with the right strategy, are significant.  Involving the right people at the right time can lead to rewards that extend far beyond the bottom line including a team that really understands the business.
  4. Assign the right people to the right tasks.
    • Credibility and integrity are quickly lost when the “results” don’t make it to the bottom line.  This leads to the typical abandonment of what should be a core process and integral part of your culture.
  5. Keep it real.
    • Rushing to failure is never fun and multiple attempts to achieve success can quickly become frustrating, momentum is lost, and people start to wonder if anyone has a clue on how to do it right.
  6. Measure What Matters
    • What gets measured gets managed:  No Measurement – No Metrics – No Results.
  7. Inconsistent management policy and strategy versus real lean practices.
    • Lean is the result of our thinking process.
  8. Lack of Training.
    • Even your best employees may require additional or refresher training.
  9. Lean is NOT a cost savings program
    • The goal is to improve your competitive position and grow your business.  The people who are working hard to help the business become more efficient, trust that the management is looking to grow the business to avoid layoffs and massive labour reductions.  If the goal is simply to cut costs and reduce labour without a business growth strategy, your new LEAN successes will be short lived.
  10. Leadership must be visible throughout the LEAN Journey, constantly communicating and reinforcing (through action) their commitment to LEAN.

Every book or text on Lean emphasizes Value from the customer’s perspective.  Most companies still have the tendency to focus on savings and improving the bottom line.  In other words, since the customer is already paying for this waste, rather than reduce our piece price to improve our competitive position, the improvements will be reflected through increased profitability.

Be warned

While the results of your lean initiatives will greatly improve your value margin, a competitor will eventually appear.  This could be good or bad for business.  How you handle this situation depends on your entrepreneurial abilities, marketing strategy, and negotiating skills.  You are either the leader in your industry, or perceived as the follower.  If you follow (and perhaps even to quickly), you may be perceived as having been greedy in the past, taking advantage of your loyal customers – violating their TRUST.

Gas companies have been good destroying trust and loyalty.  When the price of gas goes up too much – we call it gouging, when the price goes up or down a little, we accept it as normal market fluctuation if the reasoning provided makes sense.  They are quite clever at justifying every price move they make – USUALLY.

Now that the economy has literally spiraled into a recessionary crash, your customers, the “consumer”, is looking fast and hard for alternatives.  In this case, the oil companies have created the need for new energy sources.  Betrayed, bewildered, and literally crushed, we, the consumer and those who design and develop the technologies requiring oil (car companies), are left with no alternative but to pursue new and innovative technologies.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics