Tag: Mike Rother

Game On – Playing it Safe with Lean

An astronaut in training for an extra-vehicula...
Image via Wikipedia

Communicating a concept or methodology in a manner that doesn’t offend the current status quo is likely the biggest challenge we face as lean practitioners and consultants.  In all too many instances it seems that people are open to change as long as someone else is doing the changing.

To diffuse opposition and resistance to change, it is essential that everyone understands the concern or problem, the solution, inherent expectations, and consequences of remaining the same. Our objective then is to create a safe, non-threatening environment where new ideas and concepts can be explored without undermining the current infrastructure or the people and departments involved.  There are a number of options available to do just that:

  • I personally like to use analogies and stories to convey concepts or ideas that exemplify methods or processes that can be adapted to address a current situation, opportunity, or concern.
    • This is ideal for sharing the company vision, top-level ideas, and philosophies that help to explain the overall strategic direction or mission under discussion or of concern. 
    • Stories and analogies create opportunities to expand our thinking processes  and to look outside the immediate scope of our current business interests and circumstances.
  • I also recommend targeted books and selected reading that allow individuals to learn and understand at their own pace. Classics books include “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox, “Velocity” by Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland, and Jeff Cox , “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother, and The High Velocity Edge by Steven Spear.
    • Offering a list of recommended books for individual study is likely the least intrusive, however, participation cannot be assured and does not promote interaction among team members.
    • The reader learns the thinking processes and solutions as developed by the authors. 
  • Formal classroom or in-house training may also be effective, however, it can be costly and is inherently exclusive to the participants.  It is also difficult for non-participants to become as knowledgeable or proficient with the material without attending the course or training for themselves.
    • Outside training is inherently more generic in nature due to the diverse range of companies and individuals that are represented in the class.
    • In-house training can be more effective to address a specific concern, however, it’s true effectiveness is limited to the participants.
    • The concepts and thinking processes are developed and conveyed as prescriptive solutions.
  • Interactive simulations that allow teams to work together to solve problems or participate in non-invasive / non-intrusive tasks.
    • Class sizes remain small, however, the process is repeatable across multiple classes.
    • Concepts can be tested and developed without disrupting the “real world” processes.
    • Simulations are accelerated models representing real-world conditions.
    • Simulations can be conducted internally with limited resources and is easily duplicated.
    • Unlike the other methods above, the “solution” evolves with the team’s experience.
Of the methods presented above, I find that interactive simulations tend to be the most effective.  Lean Simulations, an increasingly popular website, has amassed a wealth of free lean games, videos, and other lean tools that make this a real possibility.
More specific to the purpose of our discussion here is a post titled “Seven Benefits of Teaching Lean with Simulations” that offers shared insights to the benefits of using Simulations to train and teach lean principles to our teams.
Having a method to explore new ideas and develop concepts is only one hurdle that needs to be addressed.  The next task is establishing the need for change itself and instilling the sense of urgency that is required to engage the team and accomplish the necessary improvements.
The Need For Improvement Drives Change

Change is synonymous with improvement and must be embraced by employees at all levels of the organization.  Change and improvements are also required to keep up with competitors and to avoid becoming obsolete.  From another perspective, it is a simple matter of continued sustainability and survival. In this context, we recognize that businesses today are confronted with uncompromising pressures from:

  • Customers expecting high quality products and services at competitive or reduced prices, and
  • Internal and external influences that are driving operating costs ever higher.  Some of these influences include increased taxes, rising utility costs such as electricity and fuel, increased wages and benefits, increased material costs, and volatile exchange rates.

An unfortunate and sad reality is that any realized cost savings or loss reductions are quickly absorbed by these ever-increasing costs of doing business.  As a result, many of the “savings” do not find their way to the bottom line as most of us have been conditioned to expect.  While many companies are quick to post “cost savings”, I am surprised at how few post the “cost increases” that negate or neutralize them.

Some manufacturers, such as automotive suppliers to the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), are expected to offer reduced prices year over year regardless of the current economic climate.  Unbelievably, “give backs” are expected for the full production life cycle of the vehicle and may even be extended to support service demand as well.  In today’s global economy, parts suppliers to the automotive OEM’s risk losing their business to competitors – especially those in low-cost labour countries – if attempts are made to increase prices.

My experience suggests that the best approach to establish a need for change is to work directly with the leadership and individual teams to understand and document the “current state” without bias or judgement. Our primary interest is to identify and assess “what is” and “what is not” working as supported by observations and objective evidence as gathered by the team.  To be very clear, this is not a desk audit. To understand what is really happening, an assessment can only be effective when it is conducted at the point of execution – the process itself.

We also need to understand the reasons why the current state exists as it does.  Is it the culture, system, processes, resources, resourcefulness,  training, methodologies, team dynamics, or some other internal or external influences? As a lean practitioner, I serve as a catalyst for change – helping leadership, teams, and individuals to see, learn, and appreciate for themselves what it means to be lean regarding culture, thinking, and best practices.

I believe that many lean initiatives fail for the simple reason that people have not been provided with a frame of reference or baseline (other than hearsay) that enables them to internalize what lean really means.

What’s Next?

The last thing we want to do is abandon current practices without having a sense of confidence that what we plan to do “in practice” will actually work. Secondly, we want to ensure that everyone understands the concept without jeopardizing current operations in the process.  As alluded to earlier, lean simulations allow us to do just that.

The main points of the article, “7 Benefits of Teaching Lean With Simulations“, as referenced earlier are summarized as follows:

  1. Simulations demonstrate lean principles in action,
  2. Games involve your audience,
  3. Games are perfect team building activities,
  4. Simulations are small and flexible,
  5. Games are confidence builders,
  6. Test real processes with simulations first,
  7. Give yourself a break.

Another benefit derived from simulations is that results are realized in a very short period of time due to the accelerated nature of the game.  As is often the case, real-time implementations may require days or even weeks before their effects are can be observed and felt within the organization.  Simulations can provide real world experiences without subjecting the company or the team to real world risks or consequences.

Finally, games allow participants to truly become involved in the process and present an opportunity to observe and assess team dynamics and individual strengths and weaknesses. A game is more than just an event. It is a memorable experience that involves all the senses, thinking processes, and emotions that engage the whole person.  To this extent the participants can and will internalize the concepts.  From this perspective, I say Game On …

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter: @Versalytics
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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