Sunday, October 23, 2016

GEMBA Walk: Move with a Purpose

Genchi Genbutsu (現地現物 ?) means "actual place, actual thing" and it is a key principle of the Toyota Production System. It suggests that in order to truly understand a situation one needs to go to gemba (現場) or, the 'real place' - where work is done. 

Sounds logical and simple right? Like so many things TPS, there is more than meets the eye with this little "concept". 

Conventional managers (like I was at one time) might interpret go to GEMBA as "management by walking around". That is, manage exactly like I normally do in my office, except this time standing up with safety glasses on. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trip to GEMBA is really an exercise in humility. The proper intention for my sojourns to where the work is to learn (a student), no matter how lofty my title is. I need to fully understand that the reason I need to go and see is because I am really clueless!  I can't go out to the floor and act like a manager. (Managers get paid the big bucks to know everything, right?) Instead, I need to do GEMBA walks thinking about how I can assist the real experts....the people who actually DO the work every day. 

The GEMBA walk isn't about merely looking at process metrics or dashboards with data hung in cells. Metrics are to make problems visible, so they will help you ask the right questions. It's not at all about giving answers and solving other people's problems for them. That is condescending. It's about asking open ended questions and actively listening! When you ask someone what is slowing them down or what makes their job more difficult, and they answer you, write it down! Don't just nod your head, or tell them you'll get back to them. Theses are your customers! Would you say that to your biggest external customer? As you go to GEMBA, think about the old fable about the emporer with no clothes. You know, the story about the king who intimidated his subjects so much that they were afraid to tell him he was actually naked! "Nice suit!" Or "I love the way your vest matches your eyes". If people are not used to you really listening, it will take some time before they trust you enough to tell you what's really going on. Instead of telling you your suit is becoming, they might say, "no problems here, everything is hunky dory."

Once people trust you and other managers that you ARE listening, and are more and more willing to communicate problems, use your kaizen process so people know that problems are so valuable that you have a process to implement countermeasures. An A3 board is that perfect process. There's nothing more disheartening then the same problems being brought up GEMBA walk after GEMBA walk without some way to tackle them. A3 is about working to develop people to the point where they can solve their own problems, with their leader's support.

So do your GEMBA walk the same time every day. Make it as regular as church. Teach your managers to only ask questions, demonstrate respect and bring energy & optimism with them......move with a purpose.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Start Your Leader Standard Work with 3 Things

Boss Mr. Slate firing Fred Flintstone
You really can't call yourself a lean company unless you're capable of continuous continuous improvement. Every single shift, every single day. You also can't really consider yourself lean if your supervisors and other managers are busy fixing other people's work or fire fighting. There is no room at all for micromanaging or hero-ism in a lean company. 

Unfortunately, the way managers "get ahead" and find themselves in leadership positions is because they have proven themselves to be good at......fixing other people's jobs and firefighting! The strategy is to replace this tendency with work that supports a culture of kaizen.

All of the companies I work for get very good at making improvements. It starts with using A3 (temporary self directed work teams) to make employee suggestions become reality. If everyone in a 100 person business leads 1 A3 per year, then that would yield 100 improvements toward flow. The key is that the person impacted by a crummy process becomes the person who makes it a less crummy process. As the people who do the work lead more and more improvements to the work, the need for supervisors to fix other people's jobs and firefight gets smaller and smaller. So now what the heck do they do?  Here are 3 things they can do starting today:

  1. Go from giving answers to asking questions-it is very exhilarating to realize you don't need to be the smartest person in the room! The concept of "humble inquiry" suggests that leaders use open ended questions to pull answers from people who aren't used to being listened to. (If you ask yes/no questions, it is thought that you are simply asking for confirmation to your answer). Once people trust you are listening, bar the door!! More A3s!!!!! Simply ask "would you help me understand what the problem is here?" After you ask that, write it down. Right there and then. Don't tell them you'll get back to them, or we tried that already, etc. while doing all of this, remember that the true expert is the person who DOES the work every single day, and that it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR job.
  2. Help support A3 leaders-to help A3 leaders, managers need to carve out 30 minutes per day and be determined to figure out how they can help A3 leaders. If you are too busy to carve out 30 minutes, people will correctly assume lean isn't important. All managers need to do is go to the A3 board, pick a project, and go see the of the project you picked. All you need to ask: "I saw you're leading this, will you show me what your doing?" Do they need help getting their team members together for an A3 meeting? Do they need help with the form? Do they need a refresher in 5 Why? Do they need help preparing for their closing? You'll never know if you don't show up! The other important thing to always remember it is not your job to place to decide whether an A3 idea is "good" or "bad". Once you start filtering ideas, they will stop coming!
  3. Develop people-one of the tenets of the Toyota Production System is to "continuously develop your people and partners". In your company, how exactly is this done? Nobody will argue that the role of management is to develop leaders. After all, they're not processing orders, or moving parts, right? Think of A3 as an audition for leadership. A3 leaders are being asked to leverage diversity and gain agreement to solve problems using the scientific method (define-measure-analyze-improve-control) and then teach their peers what they've learned (at the A3 closing). Isn't that what we need leaders to do? The tricky part is the gaining agreement. So how do you make really good leaders? Encourage (and help) them lead a lot of improvement A3s.
Keep these 3 things in mind, Write them on a piece of paper and post them on your bathroom mirror. DO them every day, encourage others to do the same and you will wake up one day without the chaos and firefighting you might be used to. TRUST the people you were smart enough to hire!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Developing Your Farm System: Ulbrich Steel

Whether you consider yourself a baseball fan or not, I don't think one can argue about how vitally important it is to constantly look to the future. Who will be my leaders of tomorrow? (It's also tough to argue the fact that two of the best teams right now also happen to have the best minor league systems, according to That's right, the Chicago Cubs and my beloved Boston Red Sox have done the best job of preparing for the present and the future).   

Peter Drucker talked about how recruiting and developing leaders is a primary role of management in his 1973  classic, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices, and a common expression heard around Toyota is “we do not just build cars, we build people.”  

Competition for talent for small to mid-sized manufacturing companies has never been fiercer. In many cases, there seems to be more openings than candidates. Parents don't always think of manufacturing as a viable, satisfying and prosperous career option due to out dated perceptions. Very large companies seem to have an advantage due to huge resources dedicated to recruiting and long standing relationships with large universities. It has never been more important for small and medium sized manufacturers to take a hands on and innovated approach to building their own farm system.

Which brings me to Ulbrich Stainless Steels and Special Metals (North Haven, CT). Ulbrich is an extremely successful, 92 year old family business with over 600 employees around the world. If you have a couple of minutes, check out the Ulbrich Story:

Not sure if I've ever met a company with such a deeply rooted sense of pride and loyalty in it's workforce.  More often than not, employees retire from Ulbrich with 25, 30, 35 or 40 years of experience and knowledge. No doubt it is an enormous challenge for any business to systematically and steadily replenish decades of brainpower at every level. More retirements are coming.

What if we could expose young people in our community to the advantages of a career in manufacturing? What if we could develop our own farm system by helping develop manufacturing curriculum in our school systems? What if our COO and Superintendent of Schools were working together to expose 15, 16 and 17 year olds to a rewarding career option while teaching them skills that will make them attractive candidates for employment immediately upon graduation?   

What if I told you all of these what ifs have become reality? Ulbrich Chief Operating Officer Jay Cei and Wallingford (CT) Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Salvatore Menzo have worked together over the past couple of years to build an advanced manufacturing course of study that kicked off this Fall that combines the resources of both entities for the benefit of both.  In my own business, Duraflex, I oversaw several outreach programs and tours with local schools, but never dreamed it is possible to help build actual curriculum! 

Developing your farm system. "If you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do."


Sunday, September 25, 2016

New Leadership Lessons from Coach Belichick

Many of you may have read a blog I wrote a couple of years ago that was titled "We're On to Cinncinati", which was really about how important it is for leadership to continuously deliver energy and optimism, and demonstrate daily your belief that the people you have hired are smart, capable, and have the team's best interest at heart.

 Well, I think Coach Belichick gave us a few more leadership lessons last week. For you non-football-aholics, maybe you didn't hear that a very successful company (the Patriots) learned in the Spring that they would have to operate without one of their key employees (Quarterback Tom Brady) due to the fact that a few pieces of equipment (some footballs) were found to have less air in them due to the temperature on the field on one particular night two years ago. Arguably this employee is considered one of the best employees at his position in the history of this company, as well as the entire history of the marketplace. 

 Coach Belichick and his managers (the assistant coaches) developed one of Tom Brady's understudies (Jimmy Garapolo) to the point where his job performance was indistinguishable from that of the absent star employee. His performance was so good that over the first two weeks of the busy season, the Patriots beat 2 other companies that market insiders considered superior. 

 But, lo and behold, the understudy sustained an on the job injury, and it was determined that said understudy would not be able to report for work for a couple of weeks at least. Luckily, the company had hired a kid right out of college back in April, and he had been learning and working with the employee-of-the century and the understudy. Unfortunately, the company was faced with a pretty tall order, because another very good company (The Houston Texans, Inc.) were due to come to town and were intent on eating their lunch.

 Conventional wisdom, common sense, rules-of-thumb, best practices all dictated that this challenge was too big for the recent college graduate, and it might be a good idea to go out into the marketplace and find a more seasoned, experienced employee, put them on the payroll, just in case the challenge proved to be too big for the kid. Industry insiders (the media) peppered the head coach with questions about various potential employees that the company could bring in....just in case. 

 Not only did Coach Belichick not answer any of these questions or concerns, but at the same time he delivered an extremely strong message to his company. The message to the industry insiders was that the kid was being prepared to fend off the hostile takeover by the Texans, Inc. the message to his team was that the kid was on the company payroll because he believed that the kid, with everyone else in the company's help, would not only defeat the hostile takeover, but sort of.....embarrass them.

 The defense department pitched in by making sure the kid and the offensive department didn't have to score many points. The final score was 27-0, so the kid never really had to do anything stupendous, just be himself (no firefighting). The special teams department made sure that the Texans Inc. were constantly firefighting by creating turnovers and poor field position. 

 You don't need to be Vince Lombardi to coach a Bart Starr. Management greatness is determined by how well you develop the 53rd person on your roster. Coach Belichick demonstrated again that he has rock solid belief in his employees, and he really doesn't care at all what everyone else thinks. What message would he have been sending his employees if he went out onto the street and brought in an "insurance policy"?

 Every employee KNEW exactly how much they were valued and they worked to not disappoint their leader or their peers.

 Another leadership lesson from Bill Belichick.......

Sunday, September 18, 2016

LEAN Strategy: Get the Boss Involved

A boss
Let's face it. All people want to know is what is important to the boss so they can get caught doing it.

For example, whenever the boss comes around, she seems very concerned if everyone isn't "busy". It won't take very long before everyone gets the message and makes sure that they stay busy. Probably overproducing. Maybe producing defects. As long as we stay busy. Who has time to improve? We're crazy busy!

Or, maybe people have been taught that the way to get recognized is to be really good at fire fighting. Saving the day. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Rescuing Timmy from the well. Getting the cat down out of the tree. Forget the fact that there are some process defects that put us in peril in the first place!

Another lesson people will learn very quickly is that they are NOT being paid to think. "just do your job, let me do the thinking!" Or, and just as educational, is when an employee comes up with a suggestion they think will really help, and it falls on deaf ears. Why bother? "They don't listen" or "I tried to tell THEM that 3 years ago and THEY don't listen." 

What if we can change the lessons people learn from their boss?
1. Stop promoting and  rewarding "crazy busy". If the company has been around for 10 years or more, can we make it look easy? Like we're not new at this and we're really good at it?
2. Can we demonstrate respect for people by not only actively listening to people's ideas, but make it our standard work to help them implement improvements? Can we work as leaders to create a culture where people know it is important to DO and IMPROVE their jobs....every single solitary day?
3. Can we make firefighting rare and seldom? When we recognize required hero-ism, can we help people work to root cause and implement countermeasures to prevent it from ever happening again?

If you consider yourself a lean company, keep in mind that what you tolerate, you teach. Are your bosses (leaders): teaching the right lessons? If not, are you tolerating it. Every single person in the organization needs to be involved, from the CEO to the new person just hired on 3rd shift. Just don't make the mistake of fixing other people's jobs.

Go to GEMBA. Demonstrate respect. And make sure all of your coaching staff is doing the same thing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rapid Kaizen: Time to Spare

I get it. So many of the concepts of a lean strategy are counterintuitive. They go against common sense! A successful lean strategy requires us to suspend assumptions that most businesses hold near and dear.

For example, if we go ahead and commit to spending time every single day to make improvements, then how will we possibly have time to make and ship our orders? We are crazy busy now, we can't afford to do that lean stuff now. We'll do that when we have time.

Sad news. You will never have time. As an organization, we need to make time. Please don't wait for the day when you are all caught up, you've worked through your backlog, and you have nothing to do. Ain't happening.  As a matter of fact most (90+%) of the things we do that create this busy-ness is non value-added work, things our customers have no intention of paying for, that if we took the time to do some kaizen, we could eliminate.

Multiple day kaizen events several times per year as my primary lean strategy just didn't cut it for me. If you recognize waste, why wait to eliminate it? Go after it right now! What if you could get every single person in the entire business to commit to working ON their business (vs. IN) for 20 minutes every day? Think about it, if there are 75 employees, that means your company would be doing 360,000 minutes or 6000 hours of improvement activity over the course of the year! Even if everyone agrees to 10 minutes every single day, that would still be 3000 hours of just getting better.

In my own company, we were able to grow from $20M in sales to $32M in 3.5 years without adding even one extra person! People went from working 45-60 hours per week to having more time to spend with their families. This was all done by convincing everyone to spend 20 minutes every day eliminating the things that got in their way. I called this Rapid Kaizen, and A3 was the way it was executed via temporary self-directed work teams.  Contrary to popular belief, the more committed we were to Rapid Kaizen, the more time we seemed to have to do.....well more Rapid Kaizen. Literally thousands of hours of frustration in the form of the 8 wastes were eliminated by the people who actually do the work.

Go ahead and bite the bullet. Start today, what do you have to lose? Just go ask people what frustrates them about their job, what slows them down, and what they'd change right now if they could. Spend 20 minutes daily yourself helping them and then watch a spark turn into a blaze. People want to do what they think is important to their leaders. Show them that frustration elimination is important to you.

Suddenly, one day, you will wake up, go to work, be chaos-free, and have time to spare to delight (not satisfy) your customers. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Continuously Developing Your People: Glossophobia (Stage Fright)

Ralph Kramden with stage fright:
"hemina, hemina, hemina"
As a very quick review, the 4 basic principles of the Toyota Production System (P4):
  1. Understand & communicate your PURPOSE (not money) or PHILOSOPHY;
  2. Continuously develop your PEOPLE & Partners (build leaders);
  3. The right PROCESS will produce the right result;
  4. Make PROBLEMS visible and the curriculum of your learning organization.
Let's focus on the PEOPLE one, and specifically the one big fear that turns men into mice, the kryptonite that weakens knees. That is, of course, speaking in front of a large group of people. The laundry list of things fear most usually includes, death, snakes, clowns and gulp!! Public Speaking!! Several surveys have actually shown that some people prefer the Grim Reaper to public speaking.

One of the most common conversations I have every single week in my lean consulting life goes something like this:
Me: "That's a great idea Fred! Let me help you pull a team together, and we can start by bringing some definition to the current condition. I bet you and your team will eliminate 70 or 80 hours per year of walking alone in making dooflickers!"
Fred: "Do I have to talk at the end?"
Me: "So who do you think you might need on your A3 team to help you make this suggestion come to life? Maybe someone from the sales team? Maintenance? IT? Anyone else from the dooflicker cell? Purchasing?"
Fred: "I don't have to talk at the end, do I?"
Me: Here's the A3 form, let me help you get started. Let's go over to the A3 board so I can add this beauty."
Fred: "I won't have to talk, right?"
Me: "Fred, you're a perfect example of how the people who do the job every single day are best qualified to make improvements, and this A3 is a grand slam!!"
Fred: "If I have to talk, I'd rather find out if Randolph will do it. He's been making dooflickers even longer than me. I'll be on his team, but I don't wanna talk "

As Fred's manager, it is my job to constantly work to develop Fred and everyone else I am responsible to help grow. As Taiichi Ohno said, "we build leaders, then cars." As Fred's manager, my ONLY task in life, in fact is to develop people. I don't make the dooflickers, or test them, or ship them. As a football coach, my job is to develop my players (I won't actually be making any tackles or throwing any passes come Sunday).

For Fred's first A3, I will explain to him that I will help him do a good job on his A3 form, because it will ultimately end up being his "script" for the closing. I usually tell him to picture everyone in their underwear (just kidding). But I will tell him that everyone who is listening will be rooting for you and will want you to be successful. I will ask his team leader or supervisor to go through a dry run the day before with him, and to stand next to Fred at the actual closing to get him started. Just state the problem, who was on your team, and what the countermeasure was.

An interesting dynamic is when Fred gets through it and his peers clap. Pictures are taken, and one of his leaders comes over to express gratitude, shake his hand, sometimes a quick hug. Phew! I survived! Fred will be a little less anxious the next A3. After leading 6 or 8 closings, Fred will feel like he can talk in front of anyone.

Hint: One of the things leaders have to do is communicate in front of people, whether it's their team, customers or making a proposal.

Continuously Develop Your People and Partners. Glossophobia is as good a start as any. Imagine the competitive advantage of having a whole population of people who act like they own the place? It's the exact opposite of "I just work here, is it Friday yet?"