Saturday, December 26, 2009

Who's Got Authority?

Can you walk into someone’s facility and tell how Lean they are?

Does that seem like an odd question? I ask because consultants have to do it all the time. Some get to the point that they don’t even need to get to Operations before they know the state of “Leanness” of an organization. What are they looking for? In a word: transparency.

Are you sick of that word? Lots of organizations use transparency in their values statement, not because they are, but because they hope they’ll grow into it. What does real transparency look like? Among other things, real transparency looks like graphs.

How do graphs tie in with the subject of this blog? Easy. One of the important elements of Lean is that it presses decision-making - hence authority - deeper down the hierarchical pyramid. In order to do that, Lean organizations have to train each successive level in several skills:
* How to gather data
* How to problem solve
* How to make good decisions

The data-gathering part of the that process results in charts and tables posted in the workplace (Gemba) where they can be observed and decisions made therefrom. In Lean organizations charts are current. If you think that through, it’s easy to understand why. If they’re actually making day-to-day, hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute decisions from these charts, they want the information on those charts to be the most current.

So, if I walk into a facility and find charts & graphs out of date, I know two things immediately.
1. The charts are window dressing
2. The leadership of the organization doesn’t have its heart in this Lean transformation

Okay, you say. I get the first statement but how do you make the leap to the observation about leadership?

There is at least one correct answer to that question. I'll share it in my next post, but I'd be interested in your thoughts on the matter. Feel free to add your thoughts.

POST SCRIPT: The answer to the question?

Data Collection, to include graphing of data, should be associated with a push to make better decisions lower in the organization. Hence, if graphs are out of date, they aren't being used in the decision-making process. Further, if they are part of the flow down of metrics associated with a Hoshin Plan (Strategy Deployment), then those graphs should not only lead to good decisions locally, but should be forwarded to the next level in the hierarchy for inclusion in the body of data used to make decisions at that level. If the graphs are out of date, it means that NOBODY is using the data for decision-making purposes. That's the beginning of the end of a Lean transformation.

Robert B. Camp, an active Lean consultant based in Williamsburg, Virginia, is the author of “Go and See: A Journey About Getting to Lean” (, a thoughtful manual built from real life experience about the many aspects of growing a lean company and fostering a lean culture. Available in instant-download or handsome paperback from

Monday, October 19, 2009

Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?

We live in a culture of blame.

How often do we find ourselves observing a poor outcome and asking, “Whose fault is this?”

In a Lean culture, we need to adopt a different attitude. We need to see ourselves from the CUSTOMER’s eyes. To them, we’re one team. In their eyes, we win as a team and we lose as a team. The pain of defeat should sting us all equally, but it shouldn’t cause us to turn in on ourselves and look for who’s at fault.

Any good sports team concentrates on winning. If they lose, the following practice is more intense and concentrates on the areas where the team executed poorly. Good teams don’t isolate individual members to ridicule. If an individual didn’t execute their role well, that person gets additional training. They train until they execute flawlessly.

The other thing good teams do is to share the limelight when they succeed. How often do you hear a volleyball player say something like: “That slam worked because my teammate set me perfectly.” How often do you hear a quarterback say something along the line of: “Did you see my teammate catch that pass? Was that awesome or what? There aren’t two other guys in the league who could have done that.” How often to you hear a coach after a winning game say something like, “We executed flawlessly. We functioned like a well oiled machine.”

If good teams find each other succeeding, shouldn’t we?

Lean cultures don’t leave it up to the individual to find others succeeding. They institutionalize the practice. They create a tool to do it.

I toured a national dental insurance office that had institutionalized the practice of catching one another succeeding by creating a form that they left to the employees to fill out. The form was simple. Employees were invited to find things that their colleagues had done well and to compliment them in writing. In the employee cafeteria was a cork board on which the top sheet of the two-part form was pinned. The other part went went into the praised employee’s personnel file. That’s the file that the employee’s manager read in preparation for reviewing the employee’s performance.

I read the notes on the board. One thanked a companymate for changing a tire for them in the employee parking lot. Another expressed appreciation for help resolving a work-related problem. Another showed gratitude to an employee who had loaned them an umbrella on on a particularly nasty night. It turned out that the form wasn't used exclusively for work-related compliments, but can you see how it was changing how employees felt about each other? Do you think that had positive consequences on the greater culture and the individual working relationships?

What this firm had done had been to create a way for employees to find each other succeeding. Then leaders made that success public, further driving the behavior deeper in the organizational psyche.

I observed an Army Brigade whose annual maintenance scores were pitiful. Rather than rant, the Brigade commander established an award. He went to a motor pool where he rescued a wrench that was no longer serviceable, but which still looked good. He took it home, spray painted it gold and mounted it to a wooden plaque.

He then created a group of his Brigade’s maintenance personnel who conducted surprise maintenance audits every month. The Battalion with the highest score received the plaque in a public ceremony. At that ceremony, he praised the unit’s leader and especially the unit’s maintenance personnel.

In less than a year, his Brigade went from being dead last in the division to being at the top.

The award might have cost $10, but it was the public (and positive) recognition that proved to be what changed the brigade's state of maintenance. This commander's Brigade functioned better in the field, too. It turns out that his soldiers felt he cared about them and that dramatically improved their morale and performance.

It’s amazing what we can do when we turn from a culture of blame and begin looking for ways to catch our folks succeeding.

Whose fault is it? It’s all our fault.

Let’s quickly get to the root cause of our problems and correct them; then, let’s concentrate on accentuating good performance and training poor performance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Come Yourself or Send No One

“Come yourself or send no one.”

W. Edwards Deming

I’m always amazed when executives push back on the suggestion that they need to personally lead their organization’s Lean transformation. I want to respond with something along the line of, “I’m sorry, I thought you wanted to lead this organization into the future. With whom should I be talking instead?”

The implication of their push back is that “Lean is for the underlings, the serfs, the rank & file, the shop floor; not for their leaders. We’re too important.”

I am reminded of a story (possibly apocryphal) that circulated about Dr. Deming during the late 80’s. Computers manufacturers were still struggling to figure out how they were going to store data and had temporarily settled for magnetic media known as floppy disks. One of the US companies manufacturing floppy disks was Nashua Corporation, headquartered in Nashua, NH.

It is reputed that the CFO of Nashua Corp heard Dr. Deming speak at a conference in Washington, DC. The CFO returned from the conference on fire and convinced the CEO that Dr. Deming could help Nashua Corp. resolve one of its most significant problems. The CEO agreed to see Dr. Deming and to initiate conversations with him.

A letter was sent to Dr. Deming. The letter explained the company’s interest in Dr. Deming’s statistical approach and their willingness to discuss how he could help them. It was signed by the CEO and suggested a time and place for the meeting.

A few days later a reply arrived by mail. It was addressed to the CEO and stated tersely, “Come yourself or send no one.”

Why is that story significant? The answer is that Dr. Deming was a very mature (not to mention irascible) consultant at that time and his star had still not reached its zenith. He was in high demand and had no shortage of offers. What he did have was a shortage of time and he didn’t want to waste it.

Dr. Deming knew that if senior leaders weren’t willing to lead an initiative from the start, then it would be stillborn. He refused to participate in such activities. There is a similar story about him hanging up on the VP of Quality for Ford Motor Company several times before explaining the same rules to him.

The reason that executives don’t understand the significance of being the ones to lead their organization’s Lean transformation is that they fail to grasp their own importance. I know, seems crazy doesn’t it, but it’s true.

For years, Dr. Deming used to say that “85% of all problems in any organization were systemic in nature.” By that he meant that 85% of all organizational problems were the direct result of a problem with a system; e.g. the procurement system, or, the hiring system, or the Information Technology system, etc. He would go on to say that “Management owns all systems; therefore, management is responsible for 85% of all problems.” Three years before his death I heard him say, “I was wrong. It wasn’t 85%. It’s closer to 95!”

Ponder that.

If management owns 95% of all organizational problems, how can management not be deeply immersed in a transformation of those systems?

Even if lower reaches of the organization are “empowered” to resolve a problem, the resolution will only be sustained if leaders make sustainment a priority. If maintaining the gains made with lean doesn’t become an expectation and doesn’t get monitored on a routine basis, progress will flag, then stop all together.

Failing to lead, failing to hold people accountable for maintaining gains, is the organizational equivalent of pushing a large section of sand from the beach toward the sea, then walking away. Little by little the tide will shift the sand back to where it had come from. It may take an hour, a day, a week, but ultimately, the sand will return to the point of stasis. Like the tide, institutional inertia will systematically move all changed functions back to stasis.

So, what’s my message? Come yourself or send no one. If you aren’t willing to own your organization’s Lean transformation, don’t waste your time and money by instituting one.

Tough message, but a critical part of the cultural transformation on which Lean depends.

Think about it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sustaining Lean

For years my colleagues and I have been telling our clients that 70% of all Lean transformations fail in their first attempt. That’s been our experience. I recently ran into another consulting firm whose records reflect that their observed failure rate is closer to 90% (86.4 to be exact)! Why do most organizations fail to sustain their Lean transformations? I offer the following observations based on my experience.

  1. CULTURE CHANGE vs. TOOLS: Many leaders perceive Lean (often with the guidance of well-intentioned consultants) to be a collection of nifty “tools” that, if properly executed, will drop their costs, improve their quality and shorten their delivery times. While those outcomes are all possible, few leaders recognize that a Lean transformation is about cultural change, not just tools; hence, many are unprepared to lead the transformation.

The “tools” approach can be hired out to mercenaries; not so a cultural change. Culture changes require the personal attention of the culture’s leaders.

Cultures are made up of people and people need compelling reasons to change. In the 1980’s Dr. Morris Massey stated that, after the age of 13, people only change when confronted by a significant emotional event (SEE). The message? Leaders need to create a significant emotional event to change their organizations. Some advocate the burning platform approach: “we’ve got to adopt Lean or perish.” That statement is more true than many realize and it can work, but no matter what approach they use, to be credible, leaders need to have their own epiphany, their own SEE. Only then can they lead the change of their organization’s culture.

  1. CHANGE TAKES TIME: Because cultures are made up of people, and because people change slowly, transformations take time. Most leaders are looking for the rapid paybacks that the use of Lean tools can provide; so, they neglect the fact that Lean comes from a culture (Toyota) that takes the long view. Yes, you can get quick paybacks, but to sustain them, they have to be part of a comprehensive strategy; not just a series of Ad Hoc events.
  1. RIGHT PEOPLE, RIGHT PLACE: One of the toughest challenges of a Lean transformation is coming to the realization that frequently the wrong people occupy seats of authority. They rise to their positions in various ways: some rise to power simply because they were there the longest; sometimes because they performed lesser jobs better than their peers; sometimes because they were friend to, or relative of, the person making the appointment; sometimes because they behaved sycophantically (‘sucked up”) to those who were in a position to promote them. Whatever the cause, the result is that they now occupy a position that steers the future of the organization.

The single largest reason that Lean transformations (or any change-based activities) fail is that managers scuttled them. This scuttling is usually done passive-aggressively, giving lip service to Lean’s practice while secretly imposing obstacles to its success. Even if you weren’t interested in a Lean transformation, this kind of selfish behavior is what creates organizational silos that lead to dysfunctional behavior: acting with self-interest rather than in the interest of company success. Such behavior cannot be tolerated as it engenders more of the same. It must be eradicated root and branch.

For some, counseling alone (a SEE) will get them back on track. Others, however, are too deeply entrenched in their behaviors to see change as anything but threatening; threatening to their control, threatening to their sense of power, threatening to their psyche. These, sadly, must be eliminated for the health of the organization.

Once they are gone, the right person must be sought. That person must, by all means, be able to perform the functions of the post, but equally importantly, they must be able to see their role in creating an organization aligned on customer satisfaction and relentless change for the better.

Only when the right senior people are in the right places will the organization be ready to pursue their Lean journey. For this reason, the vetting of senior personnel must be at the beginning of the critical path toward any effort to change. I would strongly suggest the use of a disinterested third party to perform this vetting as they come without most of the prejudices that could skew their recommendations.

Similar vetting will need to occur throughout the organization and obstructive personalities eliminated wherever they exist; however, once the right senior people are in place, the transformation can begin in earnest.

  1. LEADING LEAN IS REAL WORK: For Lean to be sustainable, leaders need to develop an overarching Lean strategy within which the “tools” are only a part. This strategy needs to be cascaded down through the entire organization and performance expectations created around it.

The cascading of expectations creates a linkage that bonds the entire organization in a common journey. It eliminates silos that so often create impediments to overall success. No one but the leadership team can do these things; so, rather than being passive overseers of their transformation, as some might suggest, senior leaders need to exert real effort to breathe life into their Lean makeover. Moreover, they have to require real work of their entire chain of command.

  1. TOP DOWN IMPLEMENTATION: One of the key reasons that transformations fail to sustain is that they rarely start at the top. By that I mean: leaders only infrequently go through the critical effort of getting trained, then training their direct reports, before launching into the use of Lean tools. The result? They lurch into an approach meant to grab the low hanging fruit and the bottom-line-infusion that accompanies such harvesting methods. There may even be a subconscious plan to make their firm look good, even if only temporarily, as a way of making themselves look good.

Transforming an organization is an important feat, but the goal is keeping the organization Lean. Those who have read “Good to Great” understand that data all point to the fact that success takes unselfish (level 5) leaders committed to the long-term goal of transforming their organization for the better.

  1. ALIGNMENT: Transformations frequently fail to address alignment: everyone working together toward the same goal. That failure allows silo owners to continue shortsighted practices that suboptimize: make their organizations look good at the expense of both their colleagues and the overall company, sometimes even customers. While the senior leader (Champion) may be white hot, I have found that they often fail to hold middle managers (including those immediately below them) accountable for embracing Lean. Middle managers are often allowed to be uninformed, and in that state, to seriously frustrate the forward progress of the transformation.
  1. KAIZEN vs. HOSHIN KANRI: All too frequently, transformations take the form of a series of Kaizen Blitz events, often without the benefit of a Value Stream Map. These Ad Hoc Kaizen events, no matter how well intentioned, will never sustain a transformation.

Instead, the leadership team (comprised of the champion and his or her direct reports) need to form a Lean Council and go about the task of creating an overarching Lean strategy. This Hoshin Planning or Policy Deployment process needs to embrace the following tasks:

    1. Developing clear metrics tied to important “customer focused” concerns like:

i. On-time delivery

ii. Flawless quality

iii. Lowest cost of ownership

iv. Speed of adaptation to market changes (e.g. implementation of engineering changes, introduction of new products, etc.)

v. Market leadership (defining the “next” product or service)

    1. Creating alignment by cascading those metrics down through the organization
    2. Requiring all levels of leaders to chart (using run charts), post and explain their organization’s performance against their metrics on a no less than monthly basis
    3. Holding the chain-of-command accountable for monitoring & counseling their subordinates’ progress against their metrics. This is especially true at the Lean Council level where subordinate leaders, having problems meeting their metrics, should be brought to explain their problems and concerns. Likewise, those doing exceptionally well should be brought in to discuss practices that helped them do so. These “Best Practices” then get shared so that the entire organization can benefit from them.
  1. TRAINING: One of the areas to which leaders commonly give short shrift is Lean training; not just at the hourly level, but especially within the ranks of leadership. Leaders can’t lead if they don’t know where they’re going, so they, like every level of the organization, need to understand Lean. This, too, creates a form of linkage that aligns the organization in a common understanding of where they are going.

While some might argue that the higher up the organization one ascends the less training they need, I’d argue the opposite. Leaders need to understand Lean so well that they base the very way they lead around Lean principles. Leaders should be seen participating in Kaizen events. Moreover, leaders should perform some of the event-related training (SMED, Standard Work, 5S, etc). Lean knowledge, behavior and participation should be part of every performance evaluation.

If those on the Lean Counsel intend to underscore the criticality of Lean to their overall business strategy, they should kick off every event and should be the ones to determine (from the data they are reviewing) where events should be conducted. To do these things, leaders have to know Lean inside and out. Lean isn’t just another thing that they slap on their overflowing plates; Lean becomes the way they do business.

  1. KAIZEN vs. KAIKAKU: There has been a great deal of emphasis given to Kaizen methodology, but little to Kaikaku. Kaikaku, however, is critical to the Toyota method of implementing change. Kaikaku addresses the “systems” of an organization and is a more strategic tool than the charistically tactical Kaizen.

I like to think of Kaikaku activities as those which require long planning and preparation followed by rapid execution. Your New Product Introduction (NPI) methodology might be the first recipient of Kaikaku, but so might changes to (simplifications of) the organization’s policies and procedures.

For example, to reduce the complexity embedded in procurement practices, a group of stakeholders would be identified to conduct a Kaikaku event. Their long-term mission would be to examine the current procurement practices and pare them down to the important essentials (eliminate any waste).

When complete, the new practice would be Beta tested, modified as necessary, Standard Work created, training conducted and performance monitored. Only then, should the new practice be rolled out to the greater organization. Dependent on the size of the organization, that process could take anywhere from six months to a year. That may seem like an extravagance, but the savings in employee time and the streamlining of the procurement process are well worth the effort.

This same form of Kaikaku should be used any time new technology is introduced, either in manufacturing or in work tools like computers, software, engineering practices, etc.

  1. MANUFACUTRING-ONLY vs. ENTERPRISE-WIDE: Many begin their Lean transformations in their manufacturing (or core service) areas. That is fine, but it can’t end there.

Your organization is an organism. Like the human body, your organization depends on every part working in harmony. Just as you wouldn’t exercise only your arms and let the rest of your body become dissipated, you cannot have a healthy Lean transformation without getting the entire organization strong. It takes the entire organization pulling together to make your transformation successful.

  1. GO AND SEE (MBWA): Many leaders tie themselves to offices and their ubiquitous computers, but their offices are often the furthest place from the point where customers are pleased. Tom Peters referred to the art of visiting the real places where activities are done as “Management by Wandering Around” (MBWA).

Leaders need to understand the concept of Gemba (Real place) and then make a point of going there. If there is a problem with Customer Service or Human Resources, don’t make them come to you and dissociate their issues from the place where their issues exist; go to them, the “real place,” and “see” what is really going on.

  1. MENTORING: Few practice this technique that has its roots in the craftsman era, when the apprentice (protégée) was taught (mentored), step-by-step, how to perform a task. Somehow we’ve lost that important practice. Now, rather than growing people to assume the next level of performance, managers tend to use the Darwinian practice of self-selection: advancing those who do the best job of figuring it out for themselves. That practice usually leaves the majority of the organization underperforming.

I have watched countless organizations flounder when they lost their Lean Champion or another critical leader. Because no one had been prepared to assume the vacated position, the firm was forced to go outside to fill the slot. That demoralized the folks who felt they were candidates, and they often left, too. The entire organization was weakened for years, no matter how good the new person was. Why does that occur? Because leaders rarely take the time to “build bench,” to develop his or her subordinates.

Bench-building seldom takes place overnight, so keeping a leader in place until it has happened is vital. Mentoring is such a critical skill that one of the keys to further advancement should be a leader’s skill in building bench. That skill can actually be measured by creating a skills matrix of the skills necessary to fill the leader’s shoes. Subordinates are measured (by disinterested third parties if appropriate) for their possession of these skills.

If critical skills are lacking, the employee’s annual review process should draw attention to those skills and make training available. While training alone does not assure the employee of promotion, he or she will not be allowed to advance without it.

Sustaining Lean is really quite simple if you think about it. It only requires the use of good leadership principles; but, it’s not a task achieved overnight and not every consultancy, including your own in-house team, is prepared to help you achieve that goal.

Irrespective of who you engage to help you in your transformation, I strongly encourage you to be discerning consumers and to ensure that their goal is to leave you able to sustain what they helped you begin. If your whole leadership team isn’t being engaged, chances are very high that your culture will reject Lean as soon as the consultants leave.

Computers: The Bane of Modern Industry?

Let’s be clear. I’m typing this article on a computer, so I’m not a technophobe. I recognize the tremendous advances that the computer and the Internet have afforded humankind in general, and moneymaking ventures in specific. The problem I find with computers is that they have removed us from face-to-face interactions with other humans.

Go into any office area in any organization and you’ll find employees pounding away on keyboards or studying monitors intently. Come back two hours later, four hours later, eight hours later, and you’re likely to see the same behavior. The sad thing is that too many of our leaders are leading, even promoting, this behavior.

If the typical leader wants to know what is happening in their marketing organization, they look at the screen. If they want to know what’s going on in the warehouse, they call up shipping records or receiving records or accounting records … on the computer. What they don’t do is walk out to “see” those areas and the people who operate them.

Countless studies bear testimony to the fact that people enjoy recognition. Who isn’t aware of the Hawthorne Study and the fact that simply paying attention to the environment of workers led to greater productivity? People like to know that their contribution is recognized, even if that recognition only comes in the form of catching them doing their job in the place where they work.

The Toyota culture, and by extension Lean cultures, capture this reality with two concepts.

The first concept is Gemba. Gemba, translated as real place, acknowledges that activities occur in real places; e.g., accounting takes place in … Accounting. Good answer! Engineering takes place in … Engineering! Isn’t this easy? Marketing takes place in … Marketing. You get the drift.

While this really does seem easy, every day we have executives, middle managers, even supervisors, who look for engineering designs on … their computer; who look for manufacturing information on … their computer; who look for marketing information on … their computer. Can you see the contrast? We’ve substituted real place for virtual place.

Add the second concept, Genchi Genbutsu, and you get an even clearer perspective of how Lean leaders carry out their fact-finding. Genchi Genbutsu translates, go and see. Put the two concepts together and you get “Go to the real place and see for yourself.”

To be sure, Lean leaders spend time in front of computers, but it is a fraction of the time they spend in Gemba. Modeling Toyota, most of their time is spent in real places talking to and observing real people and the activities they perform.

When issues are discussed, Lean leaders have been there, seen it and know what is being discussed. Moreover, their workers have seen them in their work places and have been engaged by them in conversation.

Lean leaders don’t presume to know everything. When they go to Gemba, they listen. Sometimes the conversation only reinforces what they suspected, but often they gain new knowledge, and deeper understanding once they have seen the issue from the eyes of another.

Taiichi Ohno, one of the legends of Toyota and putative father of the Toyota Production System, believed so firmly in the concept of Genchi Genbutsu that he would periodically send an engineer to a manufacturing area, draw a circle on the floor and have the engineer stand in the circle and observe a process until Ohno returned. It was not uncommon for the engineer to spend the entire day in the Ohno Circle then to be asked: “What did you observe?”

Ohno believed that such deep observation led to deep understanding. From deep understanding, he reasoned, comes change for the better, Kaizen. Isn’t that what we all want?

Beyond deep observation, going and seeing leads to deepening the relationship between leaders and led. It contributes to the aligning of goals, meaningful conversations and the development of relationships.

You can question this last benefit, but ask yourself this: Who performs all of the functions that lead to the manufacturing of your products or the provision of your services? Unless computer actually make your product or provide your service, then there must be someplace else, a place where labor gives birth to creativity, to product, to service. This is where you should be looking on a regular basis.

Consider a Zen-inspired comparison: "Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky, words to a finger. The finger can point to the moon, but the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger."

Educators warn of the social retardation caused by children spending too much time playing video games. Can the same not be said of their parents in the workplace?

In the end, every endeavor is about the inter-relationships of people. Machines are only tools, useful and necessary tools, perhaps, but not a substitute for people.

Data on a computer screen is nothing more than a finger pointing at the moon. It is not a substitute for firsthand observation, any more than the finger was the moon. Human endeavors create that which is eventually reflected on a computer screen. Computer screens cannot capture the intricate distinctions.

Do not mistake a finger pointing at the moon for the moon. While each is important, one cannot replace the other. And if you want to know about the moon, then you’ve got to go and see the moon, not a monitor full of data about the moon.