Tag: Toyota Production System

Lean Leadership: The Missing Link?

The TOYOTA wayI coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization.  In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish.  Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.

So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves.  These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way:  14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.

So where do we turn?

Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world.  This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.

I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.

A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere.  Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.

In the context of this post and lean leadership, I am pleased to learn of another new book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis.  As Toyota continues to evolve while remaining true to the principles of The Toyota Way, we realize again that lean is not a short-term prescription to success but a journey. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:

“Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.”

As every lean practitioner will (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Many companies operate under the false pretense that they are already providing the value that customers want or need.  As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:

“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”

Lean Thinking challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding.  Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  Only when we focus on value from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customers’ needs.

Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed.  Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.

The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.

Succession planning and training leaders for the future is an ongoing effort to assure continued sustainable success. Leadership is responsible for hiring the right people and to ensure they receive the training to do their jobs correctly.  “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” is sure to be a welcome addition to the library of true Lean Leaders and lean practitioners.

Your Feedback Matters

We appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Remember to follow us on twitter!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Related articles
Advertisements

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

Lean – Walk and Talk

Walk to Work Day
Image via Wikipedia

In my article “Waste:  The Devil is in the Details“, I discussed the importance of paying attention to the details.  From a company or personal perspective, the underlying theme to identify waste (or opportunity) is to be continually cognizant of what it is we’re doing and asking “Why?”

I have continually stressed the importance of conducting process reviews right where the action is.  It seems we’re not alone in this thinking and I thought it was quite fitting to share an e-mail I received from John Shook:

Dear Redge,

Decompressing now from last week’s Lean Transformation Summit in Dallas, there is much to reflect upon. We heard from four companies and experienced six learning sessions to explore the frontiers and fundamentals of lean transformation. And it is always exciting to get together with 440 like-minded, lean-thinking individuals.

Apologies again to the many of you weren’t able to attend since the event sold out so early. You should know, however, we do not plan to expand the size of the event in the future. We want to continue to limit it to a relatively intimate size to enable and encourage interaction, dialogue, debate, networking, and casual socializing.

I do have good news for those of you who missed the event. One highlight was the debut of Jim Womack’s new book, Gemba Walks, which is now available to you.

Many have asked what Jim has been up to since stepping down as CEO of LEI. The answer is that Jim has remained as busy as ever and, what’s more, now his letters are back, in different form. In Gemba Walks, Jim compiles many of his eLetters, written between 2001 and 2011. Gemba Walks is more than a mere compilation, however, with some new content and new commentary for each letter, edited and grouped by topic. As a reader, I can tell you that the experience of reading the letters in this new context is surprising, refreshing, enlightening, and, well, fun. It’s always an enjoyable romp to join Jim on a walk through a gemba and Gemba Walks provides the next best thing to being there.

These three principles of lean leadership are well-known: Go see, ask why, and show respect. You know that to “go see” is fundamental to all lean thinking and acting. But, what does that actually mean? How do we go see?”

Gemba Walks reveals how Jim’s thinking has evolved over time as a result of observing what happens as lean has taken root in companies around the world over time. New successes lead inevitably to new, and better problems, for lean practitioners. This book documents how companies are continuing to press forward.

In my foreword, I recall the first time I had a chance to visit a gemba with Jim, when I was still a Toyota employee:

“The first time I walked a gemba with Jim was on the plant floor of a Toyota supplier. Jim was already famous as the lead author of The Machine That Changed the World; I was the senior American manager at the Toyota Supplier Support Center. My Toyota colleagues and I were a bit nervous about showing our early efforts of implementing TPS at North American companies to “Dr. James P. Womack.” We had no idea of what to expect from this famous academic researcher.

“My boss was one of Toyota’s top TPS experts, Mr. Hajime Ohba. We rented a small airplane for the week so we could make the most of our time, walking the gemba of as many worksites as possible. As we entered the first supplier, walking through the shipping area, Mr. Ohba and I were taken aback as Jim immediately observed a work action that spurred a probing question. The supplier was producing components for several Toyota factories. They were preparing to ship the exact same component to two different destinations. Jim immediately noticed something curious. Furrowing his brow while confirming that the component in question was indeed exactly the same in each container, Jim asked why parts headed to Ontario were packed in small returnable containers, yet the same components to be shipped to California were in a large corrugated box. This was not the type of observation we expected of an academic visitor in 1993.

“Container size and configuration was the kind of simple (and seemingly trivial) matter that usually eluded scrutiny, but that could in reality cause unintended and highly unwanted consequences. It was exactly the kind of detail that we were encouraging our suppliers to focus on. In fact, at this supplier in particular, the different container configurations had recently been highlighted as a problem. And, in this case, the fault of the problem was not with the supplier but with the customer – Toyota! Different requirements from different worksites caused the supplier to pack off the production line in varying quantities (causing unnecessary variations in production runs), to prepare and hold varying packaging materials (costing money and floor space), and ultimately resulted in fluctuations in shipping and, therefore, production requirements. The trivial matter wasn’t as trivial as it seemed.

“We had not been on the floor two minutes when Jim raised this question. Most visitors would have been focused on the product, the technology, the scale of the operation, etc. Ohba-san looked at me and smiled, to say, ‘This might be fun.'” (Click here for a free pdf of the complete foreword.)

Fun it has been. Challenging it has been, too, but always full of learning. Fun and challenging learning it will no doubt continue to be.

I am often asked what book to recommend to start someone down the lean path. From now on, Gemba Walks will be that book. With an overview of tools and theory told through stories and explorations of real events, Gemba Walks invites readers to tackle problems on an immediate and personal level. In so doing, it gives courage for beginners to get started. And for veterans to keep going.

John

John Shook
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

Again it is worth noting the attention to detail.  I recall a number of occassions where I have challenged customers to address operational differences between facilities (not much different from the situation above).  I can say that Toyota was one of the few companies that listened and actually did something about it.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics