Tag: Toyota

BlackBerry or Bust?

WIND branded Blackberry Bold 9700
Image via Wikipedia

Leadership

Leadership can make or break any organization whether it is business, government, or even a sports franchise. I felt compelled to cite this quote from a column titled “Iconic teams tumble from penthouse to outhouse” as published in the Toronto Star (20-Jan-2012):

And while all have found different routes to the bottom, they do have one thing in common: ineptitude at the top. Find a meddling owner or inept general manager and you’ll find a franchise in trouble.

“Pro sports franchises are first and foremost businesses,” says Richard Powers, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “The same problems that get businesses in trouble are what get sports teams in trouble.”

Clearly, to be successful, organizations require effective leadership. For this same reason, a successful lean initiative must be driven from the top leadership of the organization. I discussed this on our Lean Road Map page suggesting that without executive leadership, the program is certain to fail.  This sentiment is also confirmed in “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” by Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis:

That’s because these problems were in fact leadership problems, not lean process problems. They were a stern reminder that all the investment in lean process in the world will not yield the expected outcomes if it is not accompanied by lean leadership throughout the enterprise, including corporate support departments.”

We also discussed the necessity for lean leadership in our previous post “Lean Leadership – The Missing Link?” As we learn of Kodak filing for bankruptcy and disturbing results for RIM, we are anxious to continue our review of “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” over the coming weeks. Kodak invented the digital camera and failed to pursue their own innovation. Again, another indication that leadership with a clear vision for the future is pertinent to the success of your organization.

RIM and the BlackBerry

Rumors of a buyout or take over of RIM have been circulating in the media. As an owner of the BlackBerry Bold smart phone and Playbook, I’m hopeful that RIM (or some version of them) will be with us for quite some time.  More so, their survival is just as important to our local Ontario (Canadian) economy. Although there are many players in the smart phone and tablet market, Apple appears to be the prevailing competitor to RIM with its iPhone and iPad offerings. All, however, pose a major threat to RIM’s declining presence in the market.

Market Share, Price Points, and Customer Satisfaction

RIM effectively lowered prices for their Playbook product line and that’s great news for customers looking to get a great tablet. While this may help to increase market share and make the PlayBook a real bargain, this does little to appease the many people who purchased the product at full price (myself included).  The 64GB PlayBook is now selling for prices ranging from $217 (16GB) up to $325 (64GB) versus the original release prices of $499 and $699 respectively. Whether these price points are closer to reality, a means to increase market share, or a means to simply reduce on hand inventory remains to be seen.

The Product Experience

My overall experience with the BlackBerry has been relatively positive:  it works as advertised although I did keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol close by to keep the roller ball working on my old phone. The number of applications available seems to be somewhat limited compared to the iPhone and iPad, however, what I have is more than sufficient for my purpose.

Upgrading

I’m very pleased with the new changes introduced in my new BlackBerry Bold 9900. I finally get to enjoy the benefits of Touch Screen technology while the full keyboard remains in tact and an optical sensor replaces the ever failing “roller ball”. Unfortunately, this upgrade also required parting with cash that I wasn’t planning to spend:

  • The new style connector required new chargers for car and home.
  • New USB cable to connect my lap top, again because the connector style changed
  • New Case for the phone.
  • A capacitive Stylus to minimize finger prints on the touch screen.
I also purchased a Voyager Pro Blue Tooth in keeping with our “driver distraction / hands free” driving laws here in Ontario.
  • Voyageur Pro – Blue Tooth

Connecting

I also have a 64GB PlayBook and connecting with my BlackBerry Bold smart phone was relatively simple and seamless. I actually like the ability to tether my PlayBook through my smart phone and the BlackBerry Bridge software works like a charm. The 64GB PlayBook presents better value for the money than the 16GB or 32GB PlayBooks.

Smart phone software upgrades and backups are performed using the BlackBerry Desktop manager through your lap top or desk top. I found some of the applications like Twitter and WordPress did not work correctly when I first upgraded to the latest operating system, however, they seem to have resolved themselves.

Accessories

I find that accessories for the BlackBerry products are over priced and even Walmart stores carrying these products don’t provide much relief.  Here are some of the basic essentials:

Not essential but highly recommended:

Connecting BlueTooth devices (also known as pairing) is a simple task and one you’ll quickly grow comfortable with after you’ve done it a few times.
So what’s with the blog post?

The leadership of the company must embrace and deliver the vision of the company to the consumer in the form of product and service expectations. As much as I appreciate my BlackBerry products, I have also admired Apple from afar.  Steve Jobs had a great vision for the Apple product line that sees individual products now connecting in ways that were never thought possible.  While Apple retained its roots in computers (iMac) it also extended that vision to include the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Quite simply, the Apple product line presents a complete and seamless “digital” solution through improved connectivity, portability, and technologies in general.

Steve Jobs’ vision enabled Apple to drive beyond the limits of our imagination. Few companies have excelled as Apple has to define products that we never knew we needed until they invented them. They simply didn’t refine existing products, they expanded their niche products into a wholly unique offering as only Apple could do. Coupled with connectivity options that exceeded anyone’s expectations, Apple products will continue to define and dominate the market for years to come.

As for RIM, the leadership has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons: shareholder leadership / infrastructure concerns, product valuation, and the procurement of an NHL hockey franchise.  As I finished writing this post, a link to this article appeared in my twitter timeline > Bowing to Critics and Market Forces, RIM’s Co-Chiefs Step Aside.

A decision such as this can’t be easy and demonstrates how outside influences can affect the leadership of any organization – good or bad.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
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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.

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Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
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Are You Suffering from Fragmentation?

This image shows the life cycle of a task by u...
Task Life Cycle - Image via Wikipedia.

When Toyota arrived on the North American manufacturing scene, automakers were introduced to many of Toyota’s best practices including the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the well-known “Toyota Way”.  Since that time, Toyota’s best practices have been introduced to numerous other industries and service providers with varying degrees of success.

In simple terms, Toyota’s elusive goal of single piece flow implicitly demands that parts be processed one piece at a time and only as required by the customer.  The practice of batch processing was successfully challenged and proven to be inefficient as the practice inherently implies a certain degree of fragmentation of processes, higher inventories, longer lead times, and higher costs.

To the contrary, over specialization can lead to excessive process fragmentation and is evidenced by decreased efficiency, higher labour costs, and increased lead times.  In other words, we must concern ourselves with assuring that we have optimized process tasks to the extent that maximum flow is achieved in the shortest amount of time.

An example of excessive specialization can be found in the healthcare system here in Ontario, Canada.  Patients visit their family doctor only to be sent to a specialist who in turn prescribes a series of tests to be completed by yet another layer of “specialists”.  To complicate matters even more, each of  these specialized services are inconveniently separated geographically as well.

Excessive fragmentation can be found by conducting a thorough review of the entire process.  The review must consider the time required to perform “real value added” tasks versus non-value added tasks as well as the time-lapse that may be incurred between tasks.  Although individual “steps” may be performed efficiently and within seconds, minutes, or hours, having to wait several days, weeks, or even months between tasks clearly undermines the efficiency of the process as a whole.

In the case of healthcare, the time lapse between visits or “tasks” is borne by the patient and since the facilities are managed independently, wait times are inherently extended.  Manufacturers suffer a similar fate where outside services are concerned.  Localization of services is certainly worthy of consideration when attempting to reduce lead times and ultimately cost.

Computers use de-fragmentation software to “relocate” data in a manner that facilitates improved file storage and retrieval.  If only we could “defrag” our processes in a similar way to improve our manufacturing and service industries.  “Made In China” labels continue to appear on far too many items that could be manufactured here at home!

Until Next Time – Stay LEAN!

Vergence Analytics

Sustainability or Meltdown?

Created in Photoshop, based on "Sustainab...
Image via Wikipedia

For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.

The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered.  How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.

I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.  I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.

Sustainability requires us to continually and rapidly adapt to an ever-changing environment.  In this context I again find myself turning to the wisdom of Toyota.  “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence To Achieve Superior Performance” by Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz is one such resource that is the most recent addition to my library of recommended lean reading and learning.

The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable.  Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.

We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide.  As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward.  We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.

Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality.  Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Toyota #1 for a Reason

Experience is often gained by making mistakes, however, we don’t have to repeat them for the sake of experience.  This is one of the reasons I decided to read “Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Timothy N. Ogden.  Aside from the many positive reviews this book has already received, it claims to present “The definitive inside account of Toyota’s greatest crisis – and lesson you can apply to your own company.”

Just as interesting though are two very strong statements or “subtitles” that appear on the front cover.  At first I thought these statements were quite bold considering that Toyota’s most troubling times are not that far behind us:

  1. Lessons For Turning Crisis Into Opportunity, and
  2. How Toyota Faced the Challenges of the Recall and the Recession to Come Out Stronger

I don’t think any company would savor the opportunity to experience the crises that Toyota has been subjected to over the past few years.  It is certainly easier and much cheaper to learn from the experiences and “mistakes” of others.  Each crisis that Toyota faced was compounded by the presence of new ones,  namely,

  1. Sudden Acceleration concerns and the recall of over 10 million vehicles,
  2. Enduring significant media and government scrutiny while being subject to the most intensive investigation in many years,
  3. Defamation of the Toyota brand and loss of consumer confidence in the company and it’s products, and
  4. An economic downturn that affected every manufacturer around the world.

These were certainly very difficult times and the lessons to be learned from them are sure to be of value to every business.  In the typical Toyota style, they once again have opened the doors to share their lessons learned – an opportunity that few companies dare to offer.

Endorsements

The statements supporting this book imply that successes have already been realized.  I, like you, would be more than a little concerned if these were Self-Proclaimed statements issued by Toyota’s leadership.  The good news is they aren’t.

An article published in the Toronto Star, “Toyota Bags 3rd Consecutive Reader’s Digest ‘Most Trusted Brand’ Award“, presents the best endorsement of all – it’s from us – the consumer.  The Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands program awarded Toyota ‘Most Trusted Passenger Car Brand” for the third year in a row and the 2011 Most Trusted Hybrid Brand.

Toyota is the number selling car brand in Canada and is recognized for having the most fuel-efficient car fleet and providing the greatest value to customers.  I was surprised to learn that 80% of Toyota’s sold in the past 20 years are still on the road.

Respect is Earned

As the expression goes, “Respect is Earned”.  I contend that the same is true for Trust.  Perhaps the realization that Toyota is as concerned about people, employees and customers alike, that the very culture that defines the company has extended to its customers as well.

As such, Toyota’s resilience and sustainability through these crises is further evidence of the unique and powerful culture upon which the company itself was founded.  I’m excited by the opportunity to learn more about this amazing company.  Toyota Under Fire will certainly prove to be a good read.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

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