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!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cody Parkey:5 Why NOT 5 Who

It's funny how when things go bad, our first instinct is to find out who's at fault. Well, often it's pretty obvious, right? Somebody didn't do their job. Well, once that becomes our line of thinking, we can do 5 why to drill down to root cause. Usually it comes down to that person was either stupid or they didn't care, and obviously they need to be written up or fired. 

Once we become enlightened, root cause is usually "we didn't teach them well enough" or "we didn't communicate the importance well enough". Either way, if the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught. In my 58 years, I've learned that humans are highly intelligent and highly motivated to do the right thing! If, for some reason, you have a few humans on your staff that don't possess these common traits, then I ask "who is the knucklehead that hired these people tat are dumb and don't care?"

Which brings me to Cody Parkey, the place kicker for the Chicago Bears. As is probably now known in the Arctic Circle, Cody missed a game winning field goal as the clock ran out in the NFC wild card game vs. Philadelphia last Sunday. Much of the feedback Cody got for his miss can be summarized as follows:
  1. Comparisons to Bartman, a poor gentleman who reached out to catch a baseball, thereby preventing the Cubs from being world champs.
  2. People pointing out the fact that Cody was hired to do only one job. "He's making millions of dollars to kick a #@!*(&^% football, the least he can do is do his $#^&*(&^ job!!
  3. Cody and his family received death threats because of the dark, dire predicament he put them in....no Bears football next week or the week after or the week after that.
  4. Videos on Twitter of people punching doors, kicking television sets, etc.
I watched the game, and between officiating and just loving the game, it was probably the 1000th game this season I watched. One thing I can assure the death threateners, the door punchers and television kickers is that the kicker for the Chicago Bears is highly intelligent and highly motivated. Unless we have a robot kicking field goals, or doing heart surgery or driving a tractor trailer or running a CNC machine for that matter.....mistakes will happen. 

Back to the 4 categories of feedback listed above:
  1. One good way to make Bartman, Cody, the referees, the weather all irrelevant.....score more! It's amazing how good we officials get when a team is scoring a lot!
  2. Surgeons, engineers, golfers, managers, coaches, football referees, you name it, all get paid to do one thing. Coincidentally, every single one of us fails to do our job periodically. If you ask some of the fans, we officials seldom do our job right. Nobody's perfect, including Cody.
  3. Whatever doesn't kill ya, makes you stronger. That was my Dad. Pretty sure the sun will come up and then set. I doubt people will know the difference in 2050. Give Cody and his family a break, the Bear's defense let the Eagles march down the field and score, didn't they? Are those defensive lineman too big to threaten? The NFL said the kick was tipped, why not threaten the 6'6" 365# left guard?
  4. Whatever you punch or kick, you'll just have to drag it to the curb on trash day, or replace it, or do some non value-added work, fix it.

The theme here, as managers, is to not knee-jerk to the 5 whos, which seems to be so instinctive (did it for years). Get to root cause! And Codey Parkey, chin up, I am rooting for you in 2019 and beyond.