Sunday, March 24, 2019

Time Management on Steroids

In the simplest terms, LEAN is nothing more than TIME MANAGEMENT! Nothing more and nothing less. Think of it this way: your business consists of hundreds, probably thousands of processes. Everything from how you buy raw materials to how you pay for them, how you recruit, hire and train new people, how you send quotes, how you transform raw materials into a finished product, how you send samples, invoices, collect money, count inventory, etc. etc. 

LEAN is simply a method to reduce the amount of time to do these processes by slowly, steadily. systematically eliminating the "non-value added work" (8 wastes-defects-overproduction, waiting, non-essential over processing, transport, inventory, motion and un-used employee brainpower). The way lean thinkers "count" how well we are eliminating waste is in units of time. 

As we learn to do real kaizen (where people are recognizing and eliminating waste every day), time is taken out. Sometimes it is seconds, sometimes it is minutes, hours, even weeks or months. Let me give you an example.

Pretend one of your employees decided to make an improvement to reduce walking (motion). The A3 team decided to move a printer 20 steps closer to where the work is. Non-LEAN people may think that this A3 does not have a high enough return on investment to even bother with. Let's dig a little deeper. 

Let's pretend that the operators (3 of them) need to print something after they complete their work that needs to be included with whatever they are passing along to the next process (it could be a label, a certification, whatever). Pretend they each process 10 orders per day. Let's pretend there are 2 shifts of 3 people processing 10 orders each. Here is the LEAN savings:


  1. 20 steps X 3 people X 10 orders X 2 shifts=1200 STEPS saved per day.
  2. 1200 STEPS per day X 240 workdays (doesn't include overtime or Saturdays)=288,000 steps.
  3. On average, figure 2000 steps per mile=in one year, you are paying people to walk 144 miles per year.
  4. How long does it take a human to walk a mile? 20 minutes, on average=2880 minutes spent walking (48 hours).


This means you will pay people to walk for 48 hours (at $35/hour which includes benefits, insurance, etc. that one improvement change will save $1680 per year that you will be paying people to walk). Accountants will argue hard vs. soft savings. All I know is that if the A3 team didn't recognize the walking as waste and improve it, people would spend 2880 minutes walking. By eliminating the walking, maybe I can ship 2 or 3 more orders per day with the same 3 people per shift! Don't forget that when we're walking, the next order is waiting.

That is only one A3! There are companies that do hundreds or thousands of them each year. Some remove seconds, some remove weeks of non-value added work. The name of the game is PRODUCTIVITY. Work to get everyone thinking like this, and you will double your sales per labor hour and suddenly find yourself in a position to pay more, attract and keep talent, give a bonus, whatever. This is tough to do if you only do periodic kaizen EVENTS in a room with sticky notes and Power Points.

LEAN=Time Management on Steroids



Sunday, March 10, 2019

The 4 Step A3 Progression

Bela Karolyi: "You can do it!"
Anyone who has tried to do "lean" understands that the single biggest hurdle is what I call "busy-ness". Simply, this is our inability to make improvements in any or all of our processes because we are simply too busy. Keep in mind that there will never be time to improve, we need to make it. The idea of A3 (the process, not the form) is to build a new business process where everyone can make improvements every day. The A3 process is a way to develop a culture of kaizen by slowly and steadily developing a process where people are making small steps toward flow by attacking the 8 wastes (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing, transport, inventory, motion and un-used employee brainpower). All we ask is that everyone spends 20 minutes every single day working ON vs IN their business!

This extremely powerful process is a competitive advantage and a strategic weapon. It is not something that can be developed in a few weeks, it takes time. For the numerous companies that I have worked in (including my own), there is a progression, which needs to start with "employee suggestions" and builds to "learning organization."  Here are the steps to this progression, summarized:

  1. A3 starts by asking everyone, "if you owned the company, what change would you make right now to your job?" Then work to make these people make these improvements come true using the A3 process. This step begins to lay the foundation for a heightened sense of ownership in people as well as teaching people to use plan-do-check-act to solve problems. The foundation is laid by getting everyone through the A3 process, from seeding to moving to closing. Once employees see the value of having a voice (and a process to actually do improvements), more and more people will do more and more improvements. This stage is where managers learn that it is disrespectful to fix someone else's job.
  2. The DMAIC stage-this is where, in addition to employee suggestions, the A3 process to use define-measure-analyze-improve-control to solve harder and harder business problems. Customer complaints, recurring defects, on-time delivery, etc. Nothing changes in this stage other than the fact that the A3 board consists of 50% employee suggestions and 50% assigned, harder problems. People learn the DMAIC because that is how the form is laid out, and A3 project leaders also realize they don't need to solve the problem (in fact, they don't need to know much about it).....their job is to pick and lead a team through the A3 process!
  3. Policy deployment-this is a business strategy, a change in direction, where the company wants to find itself in the future. PD consists of 4 components: the Why, a new set of dashboard metrics, a way to introduce new learning to the organization, and finally, a way to move the metrics (kaizen, or in this case A3). Most businesses fail at PD or hoshin planning because they simply can't do kaizen. If you've got the foundation set (steps 1 & 2 above), you are ready for PD.
  4. The learning organization-in his book "The Fifth Discipline", author Peter Senge insists that a learning organization is the ultimate compliment you can give any organization, and the list of learning organizations is fairly short. Learning organizations have a very sharp learning curve, and are able to process new information and react and adjust very quickly. People become experts of their processes, their customers, their suppliers, their machines because there are intentional, standardized learning opportunities from the minute they are hired until they retire. 


The speed of this progression is dependent on 2 factors: the urgency and the degree of involvement of every level of the organization. The progression can move very fast if the urgency is high, and if everyone sees that even the COO is spending his 20 minutes ON vs. IN. The progression can take months or it can take many years. For most it will never happen because there is no urgency and lean is thought of as a hobby because we are too busy.

If you don't think you can afford 20 minutes a day, start with 15 or 10. In the words of gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, "you can do it!!!" 

If you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do!



Tuesday, March 5, 2019

If You Build It They Will Come

I'm not sure I remember a time when there was such a feeding frenzy for talent. Everyone is trying to figure out how to attract and retain good people! I'm not sure there has ever been a better time to be looking for a job, and a more uneasy time if we're looking to fill jobs!

Yet another reason for a LEAN strategy, and more specifically a culture of kaizen (continuous improvement)! Here are 5 observations off the top of my head that show why lean companies are better suited to attract and keep talented fellow humans:


  1. How lean managers behave vs, conventional managers-according to a Boomphor Infographic "Workplace Deal Breakers, Where's the Breaking Point for Employees", one of the top reasons employees leave is because their boss doesn't TRUST them. Think micro-management. Great companies embrace and demonstrate the TPS (Toyota Production System) pillar "respect for people". Respect is demonstrated by trusting that people will do their job, and in fact, trusting them so much that we understand that people who do the work are in the best position to improve the work! People are not treated like robots!
  2. How lean employees behave vs. conventional employees-all of the companies that have worked hard to build a culture of kaizen using A3 thinking have a very healthy supply of incredibly good team players. Why? Because people are constantly working on or leading teams. You can't power point your way to good team players. It is, like playing the bassoon, a learn-by-doing (a lot) skill. Companies who do A3 are used to doing team work (people from various functions working together) vs. group work (people working with others in their own departments).  The more people work together, the more fun they have. Most times, conflict that drives people out is the result of poor communication.
  3. Maslow-for those of you familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs, you will notice that the very top of the triangle, after food/shelter, security, healthy relationships & self-esteem is "self actualization". This is where creativity, spontaneity and problem solving exist. Sound familiar? People don't leave great lean companies because they live at the top of Maslow's pyramid!
  4. How Toyota actually measures morale.......by the number of employee suggestions. When morale is high, people are ready and willing to not only do, but improve their work. The best companies are the best companies because, quite simply, people live at the top of the Maslow pyramid!!
  5. Benefit of super-high productivity-as lean companies continue to build on their ability to drive out the 8 wastes and continue to improve the overall problem solving capability of every employee, productivity increases. We can ship more with the same human effort, because we're not doing so much of the 8 wastes. The best companies therefore enjoy a better work/life balance, higher pay, periodic bonuses, etc.
You need to be recognized as a GREAT (not good) place to work. We need to market what we're doing so people view the company as a great place to work. Go tell the world. Your current employees are your best asset in this regard. Visitors will quickly see a difference as they talk to people during the company tour. In my company, we were recognized as one of the best companies to work in our state 5 times. This was done with a 3rd party anonymous survey where our employees told us what they really thought! Their answers put us near the top, and suddenly we were in the newspaper as one of the best companies to work. Instead of 5 applicants for every job, we saw 15! This had 100% to do with our lean thinking!!

Like Field of Dreams, build it and they will come. It is not easy, and requires a consistent, steady hand, and everyone being on the same page. But, if you want results others don't get, you need to do stuff others won't do!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Don't Make LEAN the Company Hobby!

There's certain things worth doing in life that we need to just need to put our heads down, get a running start, and tackle head on.

One of those worth doing things is lean in our businesses. Coached well and executed well, a culture of kaizen (continuous improvement) is really hard to beat. For one, morale is high because people feel they can make an impact instead of just punching the clock and trying to make it through the week. Second, continuous improvements in productivity allows the business to grow without throwing people and money at spikes in demand and at problems. This translates to the ability to pay better and retain people. In a real lean company, turnover is non-existent. Finally, when the unknown happens (Wall Street 2008-9 for example), I can continue to inch forward without having to worry about layoffs (this happened to me in my company in 2008-sales were off 21% during the Wall Street fiasco, and nobody was laid off. In fact, we were able to pay a small bonus at the end of the year!). This is where I think of a well executed lean strategy as life insurance for the business.

So those are just three benefits to executing a lean strategy, taken right off the top of my head.  

Unfortunately, on a scale of 1-10 of difficulty, building a real lean strategy is a 58. The 3 benefits above don't come free. It takes perseverance, stick-to-it-iveness, and working to gain agreement with everyone in the whole place. Think a few years, not months. Gaining agreement is easier and CAN go faster when you have a crisis or a "lever" (a compelling reason to change long embraced behaviors). People are much more likely to buy in fast when the ship is taking on water.  Even then, you need to work to make sure everyone sees results and the benefits of converting. You can't PowerPoint your way to it. Just start working with people to help them improve their jobs, and do it routinely. In fact, do it like it's your job, not your hobby!!

If lean is delegated to a department, or something we do every once in a while when we have time, it is like having an expensive, bad hobby. It can be like owning a boat you use once a year or like collecting pythons or collecting Santa Clauses. It might feel satisfying at times, but the people around you are probably less than giddy.

Don't make lean your company hobby!!! Go in head down full speed. It is worth the effort!!


Sunday, February 17, 2019

LEAN Porn: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine alerted me to a Netflix series called "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo". Football season is over (I referee college football) and lacrosse hasn't started (she referees college lacrosse), so my wife and I have this window in January and February to just chill, hibernate. On Saturday nights, I'll make dinner, start a fire and we'll vegetate in front of the massive "smart" tv. 

I suggested this series and lucky for me, she enthusiastically said, "sure, what the hell". Watching this show reminded me of the first time I saw "The Wizard of Oz" as a kid. If you have kids under 17 reading this, please usher them into another room before I continue.

For those of you not familiar with Marie Kondo, she is an award winning organizing consultant and author. Her 4 books on organizing have sold millions of copies, translated from Japanese to 9 languages, and she was named one of Time magazine's most influential people in 2015. Her methods are known as the KonMari method, which are inspired by the Shinto religion.

In her Netflix show, Marie shows up at people's cluttered, borderline hoarding-like homes and teaches them the KonMari method to restore peace and order. From the first minute, I was giddy....5S baby!!!!

When she shows up, Marie "introduces" herself to the home, sitting on the floor with her eyes closed for a few minutes (to the bewilderment of the homeowners). Sometimes we forget the spirit of 5S and focus only on the sort-set-shine-standardize-sustain. 5S is really about respect....respect for others who work or play in the area, respect for visitors and respect for the space.

Marie then leads the homeowners through the process, which I will call.....KonMari/5S!!
  1. Seiri (sort)-all items are categorized. Usually she starts with clothing. The first thing is to pull every piece of clothing out and dump it in a pile on the bed or the floor. Some people's pile looks like a mountain. Then, you do what we call in lean a "red tag" event. Hold up each item, one at a time, and ask, "does this item inspire joy?". If yes, it stays, if no, thank it for it's past contribution and remove it from your life. 
  2. Seiton (set)-for all of the items that spark joy, make sure they have their own place, and are stored in a way you can find them easily. Marie recommends storing items in drawers standing on end, and she teaches how to fold and store fitted sheets. Everything has it's place.
  3. Seiso (shine)-cleaning is a daily activity, not once in a while or after things get out of hand. Maintaining cleanliness is part of the daily routine. Seiso means the area will always remain clean and neat. At the end of the day, all items are returned to their "set" place.
  4. Seiketsu (standardize)-to me, this is the hardest part of 5S. It requires that I work to gain agreement with everyone who works or plays (or eats or sleeps) in the area. Marie does this by involving all of the family members, so they can see the value of the KonMari method. In 5S, standardize means developing a daily checklist that everyone who works in the area agrees to, and everyone knows what their responsibilities are.
  5. Shitsuke (sustain)-refers to maintaining the standards of the first 4. For 5S, think auditing. Auditing should not be thought of as punitive. In fact, auditing should be thought of as helping.

So, anyway, we probably watched 3 or 4 episodes of "Tidying Up" and immediately I'm thinking Emmy Award winner, no question, hands down. I thought, for the first time in my life, I would watch the show so I could cry when Marie won, heck, maybe Gloria and I could make a vacation out of it, and go to the award show and see her on the red carpet!!! I was going to wake her up to ask her, but I figured it could wait until morning. I guess lean porn isn't for everyone. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Leadership: Mirror Mirror On the Wall!

Leadership/coaching can sometimes be one frustrating, soul searching way to make a living! It is less about having a parking spot close to the front door and more about taking responsibility for just about everything. It's less about having a big office and more about developing others. People don't need to be supervised, that is non-value added work. Our customers won't pay extra because employees are well supervised. Our customers don't really care, that cost comes out of our end.  

As many of you already know, one of my favorite quotes is "if you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do." Like take responsibility. For pretty much everything! Ever notice how when the New England Patriots win, all Bill Belichick talks about is how great his coaches and players performed? And when they lose, all he talks about is what a lousy job he did preparing them. When they lose, he's front and center. When they win, he's no where to be found. 

In reality, if we are managers, we only have one job! Develop people!! Our job isn't to mange meetings or develop our office or our computer. Like Belichick, our job is to recruit AND develop great players.

Quick story. I can remember many years ago when we needed to hire a supervisor. We paid plenty of money to place ads in a newspaper, enlist the help of a headhunter, etc. We screened resumes and applications, worked through interviews, came up with a few finalists. Interviewed again, checked references and hired.....George (the name has been changed to protect the innocent). George came to work, we introduced him to everyone, put him in the spotlight and rejoiced in the fact that we had landed.... George! We were so happy and so was he!!

Fast forward three years and I'm sitting in a management meeting, and the subject comes up...."what are we gonna do about George?" The discussion was that we should go to his office on Friday afternoon, tell him the bad news, escort him out the front door with a box of his family pictures, etc. change the locks on the front door and let everyone else know what we did come Monday morning. As I'm listening to this discussion, a really stinky thought popped into my head. One of the 4 tenets of the Toyota Production System was screaming at me...."continuously develop your people and partners." As an organization, we did SOME JOB of developing George, didn't we?!?! We developed him from shiny, excited, optimistic and energized to disgruntled, tired, "I just work here", "is it Friday yet? George made one mistake after another and maybe one mistake over his limit. We developed him in reverse.

Which brings up my other favorite quote..."if the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught." This situation wasn't George's fault, it was mine!!! Did I do everything I could possibly do (George didn't "report" to me) to work with him, help him? When Toyota says "continuously develop your people and partners" they mean continuously, not only when they screw up! We only had 70 of us in the entire company, how could I let this happen?  

Fortunately for all of us, I convinced everyone to call off the dogs and I (lead by example) started doing more of what we were getting paid to do, develop leaders, including George!

I believe great leaders and coaches are really, really good at looking in the mirror and taking responsibility for....just about everything!





Sunday, January 20, 2019

LEAN & the 4th Industrial Revolution: Part 3 Policy Deployment

This is the 3rd installment of a 3 part series thinking about a lean approach to the application of the building inevitable tidal wave of technology. Robots, co-bots, artificial intelligence and the internet of things to name a few. Part 1 was focused on the lean concept of jidoka (the relationship between humans and machine and respect for people), while Part 2 zeroed in on nemawashi (proceed slowly, consider many options, gain agreement, then implement rapidly, as well as the concept of fail fast & fail cheap).

Today's post, Part 3, suggests thinking about application of 4IR as policy deployment. In simple terms, PD is when I can randomly ask any person in your organization "what is important around here" and everyone gives you the exact same answer. (try this sometime!). PD is about getting every single brain in the business learning and using that learning to direct the business to a vision or target condition. For you Game of Thrones fans, it is about the vision turning into wildfire.

If you have read my column over the years, policy deployment has 4 non-negotiable critical elements that need to be done and on-going. Like hopping on 1 foot while juggling, chewing gum and singing at the same time. I'll review the 4 elements and apply it to the 4IR at the same time!!

  1. Make sure everyone understands the "why"-people will do what they deem to be important. The key word there is "what they deem". The why for the 4IR is the benefit of exponential leaps in productivity (sales per employee) as well as people doing more people work and machines doing more machine work. The 4IR means a better quality of life. Think about the ramifications of not getting on board! Imagine trying to compete today without computer technology and without cellphones?
  2. Learning-in order to move in a new direction, we need to open our minds to information and ideas and concepts we don't currently have. We need to invest in the masses here. We're talking about our collective intelligence, NOT a handful of subject matter experts. Share articles, books and videos with everyone. Arrange lunch and learns and book clubs. The more brains (hopefully 100%) the better! Remember that learning is harder than digging a trench and takes conditioning!
  3. Develop visible metrics and make sure everyone can tie their performance to moving those metrics. With regard to 4IR, the metric is productivity. Productivity is a reflection of how efficiently we're deploying our most precious resource...each other! Make productivity as visible as possible. Sales per labor hour, dooflickers per hour, pieces per minute, pounds per hour, gallons per hour, whatever. The thinking is that the better we deploy technology, the more the gains in productivity!
  4. And finally, the 4th critical element to PD is the ability to a actually DO, not talk about kaizen. A culture of continuous improvement that you've been developing pays dividends here. We need to have the ability to move the metrics, and we need every single person to contribute. 
Do those 4 things, and you've made wildfire!

Please feel free to send me an email at p4lean@icloud if you have questions or just want to brainstorm together!