What our Lean Forefathers Got Totally Wrong about Technology

There’s, without question, a bias against the idea that software could be a tool used to help companies accelerate their Lean journey. Lean and Continuous Improvement as we know it today were born in the mid-1900’s, when whiteboards, sticky notes, and printed forms were the latest and greatest tech. Somehow the CI community got stuck in a time capsule, still using the same information technology from that foregone era, falling behind the rest of the world. The mid-1900’s was a time when software technology was also in its infancy but making great strides to increase productivity in industry and later, at home. No doubt, our forefathers, just like Lean practitioners of today, saw this emerging and limitless technical capability as competition. The pioneers of Lean and CI looked at software technology in its infancy and placed a bet against it. They bet against the creativity and ingenuity of people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs; against an inevitable force of the desire for technological advantage; and against the prospect that one day, software would be eating the entire world. Then they hard-coded this bet into the hundreds of books that now circulate the world, creating new Lean practitioners by the day. They clearly did not see a global pandemic coming that would grind world economies to a halt if not for our ability to work remotely via technology. This includes performing work critical to progressing and sustaining CI efforts.

When they did this, they were engineers, betting against the very principle of engineering – the idea that good behaviors, ideas, and works could be brought to scale with the effective application of technology. This is the very idea that brought on the industrial revolution and every other leap in human advancement regarding productivity. Perhaps they believed that companies would see software and technology as an “easy way” to get better results, as opposed to the painstaking work needed to develop human problem-solving skills, proactively drive out waste, and develop the discipline to proficiently execute standard processes. Similar to a grandfather looking at their grandson using a calculator and feeling like the child would be better off learning to do the math in their head; because “that’s the way we used to do it”. They could not fathom that that same child might grow up to build Apple, Amazon, or Google; companies that have done more to create value for customers and eliminate waste than the manual processes that they replaced could ever do. Its unfortunate that our forefathers, with all of their brilliance and remarkable contributions, took such a position against technology; and particularly software. History of life on earth has taught us that one thing is true for certain; in the long run, technology beats humans every single time when it comes to productivity; and the same is true in Continuous Improvement. A million master black belts in martial arts with ninja stars and samurai swords are no match for an idiot with a nuclear weapon, sitting at home in their underwear, on the computer eating Cheetoes – one click and the fight is over before it started. Taking an anti-technology posture has potentially been the single most detrimental thing that could be done to delay the advancement of their own grandchild: the discipline of Continuous Improvement.

Impruver - Industry 4.0 - Continuous Improvement

Here are a few things our Lean forefathers got totally wrong (and we are still getting wrong) about software technology in relation to Continuous Improvement:

Myth: It enables people to distance themselves from the gemba

In CI, there is no substitute for immersing yourself in the very place where the work is happening, also known as “the gemba”. Only there can all 5 (or 6 if you include empaths) of your senses can be deployed to grasp the reality of what’s happening on the value stream in its full essence. This is why experience is absolutely the best teacher. The concept of “go to gemba without exception” was developed at a time when technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality, the Internet, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence didn’t exist. And tech is not done inventing new ways to bring the gemba to you wherever you are in the world. In practicality, you cannot be at every place on the gemba at all points in time. In fact, without some form technology, its nearly impossible to know exactly where you need to be and when. What tech has the capability to do is filter the components of reality to deliver what’s most relevant to you in your role in real-time. Tech has the potential to bring the gemba to you – minus the avalanche of distractions that you are bombarded with when you do go to gemba in person – so that when you go, you can go with more purpose and intent.

Myth: It leads to a decline in problem-solving skills

Problem-solving is probably the most valuable skill on the planet. Losing the ability to think critically and persist through challenges would be detrimental to any person, company, or society at large. Computers are great, and getting better by the minute, at solving problems. However, this doesn’t mean people will have less opportunities to solve problems as well. It means the types of problems people need to solve evolve as computers and technology take on problems that are more technical in nature. Instead of exhausting precious brainpower on addition and multiplication, human talent can be deployed for solving uniquely human problems, like who should be awarded greater authority in the organization, in what direction should the company go, and how to bring greater value to customers with less resources consumed.

Myth: Its a distraction from the “real work”

When I hear this one, I think about how much of my time gets sucked away every time I log into Facebook. There’s a reason software like Facebook are distracting – because they’re trying to keep your attention, which allows them to generate more advertisement revenue. In fact, any business that sells ads is trying to keep you as distracted as possible, like the media for example. Software that have a revenue engine based on business results will tend to be designed for increasing productivity. As a consumer, or user, of tech, you have to choose to engage with software companies whose business models are designed to incentivise them to create products that will lead to an increase in your productivity. This means less distraction and more relevant, mission critical, and timely information, by design.

Myth: It reduces visibility to performance results (as opposed to using whiteboards)

This is one I hear often but won’t spend much time refuting. Software does what it’s designed to do. Nothing has done more for our power to communicate like software technology. Continuous Improvement, as practiced by many companies, has a major communication problem, which may be a huge contributor in why the failure rate is so high for CI initiatives. This leads to low engagement and buy-in, lack of development of the right skills, missed opportunities, and overall worse decision making. Whiteboards will increase visibility to performance (to an extent) but will have you chasing every problem every day and getting nowhere. Software with databases, has the historical perspective to quickly aggregate the one or two issues that are causing 90% of your losses; enabling you to better prioritize your limited resources behind what will make the most difference for your company. This information goes with you – in your pocket at all times. And if you just love the idea of dedicating part of your wall to show performance results, screens with the same information can easily be installed.

Impruver TV Broadcast

Myth: It’s unable to flex with the changing needs of the business

This was absolutely true 80 years ago. Inflexibility can be a huge problem, especially for market-driven companies where demand and customer tastes are always in flux. Tech shouldn’t limit your growth or sustainment, it should enable it. In today’s tech landscape, software can be acquired and deployed on-demand. With the advent of the Cloud and subscription-based business models, companies can get the software they need, when they need it; and when the tool no longer meets the needs of the job, they can leave it behind without penalty. The human skills needed to enable this increase in tech flexibility are better ability to research for whats available and the tech acumen to be able to adopt and become proficient with new tools quickly.

Myth: Its not reliable and bugs could lead to more waste

Sure technology fails (and so do humans). Its just that when the tech fails, it can be more dramatic because it’s productivity level is often exponentially higher. The cost of failure of tech pale in comparison to the upside of productivity gains that come with it as well. In order to keep the good and mitigate the bad, companies need to make computer acumen and software skills a larger part of their capability stack. They can do this by introducing tech to their workforce at a greater pace, piloting more software, and providing training on digital transformation.

Myth: If people don’t manually write their numbers down, they become emotionally detached from results

I do believe that there is some emotional connection to the things that get manually recorded. People love grabbing that green dry-erase marker to jot up a beautiful number after a good day at the plant. The question is: is the benefit to recording things manually greater than the opportunity cost that comes with falling behind technologically? No, of course not! Besides, there’s nothing wrong with handing out journals to all employees so that they can write their hearts away.

While we struggle to transition to an inevitability more digital world, there is hope that the Continuous Improvement community will come to embrace it’s destiny: to lead us into the 4th Industrial Revolution. This will require us all to become more computer and tech savvy; understanding software’s much greater role in increasing productivity, organizational effectiveness, and eliminating waste. Just like the largest taxi service company (Uber) owns no taxi cabs and the largest hospitality company (AirBnB) owns no hotels, the next gargantuan manufacturing company will own no factories. CI people need to stop holding the companies they serve back when it comes to technology and instead embrace a leadership position in the revolution. Technologies like Impruver are specifically designed to strengthen scientific thinking and problem-solving skills within organizations so that this critical capability can be deployed against the world’s most pressing challenges.

Winning in the Now Normal

60 years ago, some people were reluctant to embrace software as a way of working because it was seen as buggy, hard to use, and often way too expensive. They opted for whiteboards and good old fashioned pen and paper; and when those weren’t readily available, they just stuck a finger up to see which way the wind was blowing and went with their gut. Well, fortunately for us all, software has gotten a lot better and cheaper to acquire since then.

20 years ago, some people were reluctant to embrace the internet as a channel for doing work and conducting business because it was seen as unsecured, unreliable, and untrustworthy. The opted for tried and true face-to-face events, meetings, and the occasional phone call. Well, the internet has gotten a lot better since then. In fact, since about 2009, there’s a mega trend in business software moving online as well, led by Salesforce, Intuit, and some other now-titans of industry.

All of the forces of the universe are pushing you to do more of your job online. It’s faster, more scalable, more connected, lower cost, more accurate, more automated, has perfect memory, and its more convenient. Trillion-dollar companies have been built on 100% online sales. Some of these companies also have an enormous chunks of their workforce working from home – with the more forward-thinking few already at 100%. They have had near-zero disruption with the recent pandemic. In fact, many of them are breaking the bank right now.

Recent events have woken us all up (again) to the reality that doing business “in-person” is not as reliable or disruption-proof as we’d like to believe. When people talk about the “new normal”, they hearken to a time when we could all handle our business and personal matters in-person – like the good old days (where things were already far from normal). This time, normal was thrown out of whack by COVID-19, last time it was 9/11 and terrorism, and the time before that it was something else.

The fact is, no one knows what the new normal will be like – but we know this for a fact; 100% of your work with other humans will be done either on the computer or in-person. There are only 2 channels on this TV set. If you are in a job where the vast majority of your work or business is conducted in-person (ie sales, manufacturing, support, healthcare, management, consulting, coaching, continuous improvement, etc), your economic risk profile just went way up. Many of you have either already lost your job or living in fear that the pink-slip is just a click away. You would be the wiser to start figuring out how to use some of the vast array of tools (many of them free or free trial) available to you to move as much of your work or business online as possible. USE THIS DOWNTIME TO PREPARE BY BUILDING UP YOUR DIGITAL TOOLBOX!

Perhaps you’ll settle on a 30/70 “online” to “in-person” mix of work in the “new normal”. Perhaps it will be more like 50/50 or 70/30; maybe a 100/0 is in the cards for you. Either way, you get lucky when your preparation meets the right opportunity. Your economic risk profile goes down by creating balance in the channels you have available to do and deliver your work. We know this for sure: your customers or employers, right now, want you to be productive and continue to deliver excellent work, but from home if at all possible. Don’t sit back and wait to see what happens before you decide what to do – you already know what to do. Jump on Google and start searching for the tools you need to get back to work, in the now normal.

Change Management: Driving Growth while Sustaining the Base

Impruver Change Management

If you search for Change Management across the interwebs, you’ll get all kinds of results, much of it focused on understanding and coaching a person through the psychological process that change creates. You know the one that goes from excitement, to denial, then the pit of despair, then acceptance, and finally growth. I know…sounds a bit dramatic – and rightfully so. When you make a change, do you consider the risk and implications across all affected functions of the business? As your Lean Manufacturing or Continuous Improvement teams work to increase quality, productivity, and service levels, are they effectively managing change in a way that enables growth while sustaining the base? Surely there are some aspects of the process that are good and should be sustained, right? This article explores the concept of Change Management as a Continuous Improvement tool and how this critical skill-set creates a distinct competitive advantage for any business.

What is Change Management?

Change Management is a systematic approach to driving proactive risk identification and mitigation for changes, and then ensuring the effective close-out of change initiatives. The objective of change is usually to improve some aspect of the business, which is good. The challenge is that in some improvement efforts, the consequences can be pushed to another area of function of the business and not discovered until it’s too late. For example, modifying a filling machine to increase productivity could also cause poor quality or safety if the risks aren’t effectively identified and mitigated in advance of making the change.  Change Management helps to make changes more likely to succeed without disrupting other key areas of performance.

Why is Change Management Important in Continuous Improvement?

I’ll start by giving you three excellent reasons you should be investing in Change Management capability:
1) Change is inevitable – its either happening for you or to you
2) The pace of change is increasing – more disruptions in less time
3) Those who are best at it will win the future

You’ll find little talk about Change Management in most Lean books or sources of CI information. Many of the creators and early observers of Lean Manufacturing learned from Toyota, which is primarily a car manufacturer. The automotive industry is a manufacturer-driven where the car maker has a lot of control over what gets produced and sold. In this environment, the manufacturer has more control over the pace of change and there just aren’t as many major disruptions. Within the plant, as the vehicle moves from station to station, the operator completes a defined sequence of process steps, making it easier to stabilize production flow and establish true equipment and process ownership. When a new body-style is released every few years, there may be new equipment or retooling changes. The capital project orientation of Early Management (EM) is more than sufficient in this environment.

In other, more market-driven industries, change is more frequent and often more dramatic. The principles of EM apply but the tools aren’t very applicable for non-capital changes such as people, processes, and, in some cases, products. For example, in many CPG companies, there are several new products launched every year, requiring significant changes across the organization. Additionally, operators may be responsible for a series of equipment that produces a variety of products that can change regularly. The level of true process and equipment ownership is more difficult to establish than in other manufacturing environments. It’s a much more fluid dynamic and requires a more comprehensive approach to Change Management. Otherwise risks spiral out of control, which can be a major liability for consumable goods like food, for example.

How to Do Change Management Effectively

The objective of Change Management is to successfully execute changes more quickly without compromising or taking losses in other key areas of the business. The idea is to achieve and sustain the desired steady state in less time, cost, and overall less resources consumed. To do this, you’d need to drive more proactive risk assessment and mitigation for changes. This includes risks across all affected functions including safety, quality, production, cost, service levels and even morale. A best-in-class Change Management process have the following 5 phases:

Phase 1) Leadership Review – Leadership filters changes and assigns resources needed for successful execution
Phase 2) Risk Mitigation – Change Owners (single point of accountability) assess and mitigate associated risks
Phase 3) Leadership Alignment – Leadership verifies that all critical risks have been mitigated
Phase 4) Change Execution – The change is implemented, teams are trained, communication is completed, and key learnings are captured
Phase 5) Close-out – Leadership verifies satisfactory completion of the items in Phase 4

This simple process is scaleable to be effective from the production line up to the enterprise level. Lean Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement initiatives inflict an incredible amount of change on an organization. The importance of the critical skill-set of Change Management is highlighted by the fact that over 70% of Lean initiatives fail to sustain. Market and process-driven companies especially face a unique set of challenges that require more frequent and severe changes in just about every aspect of the business than more discreet manufacturers such as auto-makers. As a result, it’s imperative to effectively execute and close-out changes because there are always several others coming through the pipeline.

This Lean Tool Will Have You Celebrating A Lot More Small Wins

celebrate small wins - calvinlwilliams.com

Well if a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…and a Lean transformation is a journey; then when do we get to celebrate? I think that’s what everybody’s really wondering. As with any journey, you can take the long, hard, and treacherous path, or the one that’s lined with beautiful flowers and breathtaking landscapes. Well I can promise you one thing, if you chose the former path, not everyone is going to make it – and that sucks – because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Lean journey is full of everyday small wins. For the same reasons we all ran out and got Facebook accounts and get so excited when pictures of the baby gets a million likes, those everyday small wins have an immensely powerful effect on our motivation and desire to take action. These small wins are vital assets for leaders to keep people engaged in the journey and motivated to keep going in the right direction; so its crucial that leaders handle them effectively. The challenge for you as a leader is knowing that a small win, or success story, has been achieved; when it is achieved. A small win might include an operator setting a personal best in line efficiency, a team setting a downtime reduction record, achieving a target condition, or other. Tracking OEE is a great starting point – but if you’re still using a manual OEE tracking process (ie whiteboards or paper), you can forget about capturing personal bests by employee or team. Also, mostly all software platforms, with the exception of impruver.com, tracks OEE by line but not the individual, and thus can’t assign a personal best – to the person. As a leader, one of the most demotivating things you can do is fail to recognize and reward the right behaviors at the right time. Sometimes your people know when they’ve set a personal record but they expect you, as a leader, to know as well – without them having to tell you. Its almost like forgetting your kid’s birthday – and if you did that too, you aught to be ashamed.

Why celebrating small wins is so powerful

Think about this from the line operators perspective. In the absence of any other indicator, the only way to define success is by producing more product that ever before, which may actually be harmful if you’re overproducing; or at least completing the schedule on time, which just means you’re not getting worse. Additionally, these events come too few and far in between to motivate you to strive for everyday improvement. You really don’t have an incentive to “do better everyday”, which is at the heart of Continuous Improvement. You just want to clock in, do good enough, get paid, and go home.

How to create “pull” for Lean from the Shop Floor using Small Wins

If you think about it in the context of a CI journey, those small wins are like winning basketball games in route to the championship. In order to build “championship-level” confidence, you have to win a lot of games throughout the season. Setting a personal best in yield losses today, changeover time tomorrow, and then line uptime the next day gives you the motivation to set new personal bests going forward. Couple this with a social element of automatically broadcasting these success stories throughout the company and you’ve got a recipe for rapid growth. Imagine you just finish a successful kaizen event and set a personal best in rate attainment the next day, then received a “like” or comment from the CEO and other leaders recognizing your achievement. That’s an incredibly powerful motivator to engage in more improvement activity on your line. You’d come to work everyday knowing that a new personal best is well within reach; excited about trying out that new idea to see what impact it has on results. You’d stick around while maintenance is repairing the line so you can learn how to make those repairs yourself – so you don’t have to wait around for maintenance next time. You’d be asking your supervisor or CI resource about new Lean Tools and methods you could use to get better results. This approach creates “pull” from the shop floor for CI as opposed to having it pushed upon you by management against your will or interest.

You might be thinking about all the impossible daily number crunching that would be required to get this done. Or if you’re using spreadsheets, this file could become incredibly large and useless and inaccurate in no time. And speaking of time, it would take an incredible amount of time to build, update, and maintain such a tool. But don’t fret. This technology already exists and is ready for you to use to accelerate your CI journey. When the geniuses at Toyota and their observers wrote the books on Lean, the tech unfortunately did not exist. In fact, Toyota had an aversion to the use of technology in their Management System (TPS) because they feared it would automate too much and allow the operator to disengage. They’ve since changed their approach as they saw their competitors leveraging various technologies to great effect. We’re learning everyday that Toyota wasn’t right about everything; but you can get it right.

Check out this video to see what I’m talking about:

So.. never again should an operator go a day without their leaders even being aware that they just had the best day ever. Take the scenic route – engage your people in everyday small wins and watch the powerful impact it has on your Lean culture.

How Command-and-Control Sabotages Continuous Improvement

Command-and-control and continuous improvement - calvinlwilliams.com

Command-and-Control organizations are built around principles of efficiency, speed, and execution. On the surface, these sound like good qualities of a Lean organization as well. After all, Lean is all about eliminating waste, right? It makes sense that once leaders figure out what activities constitute wastefulness, they could simply command all employees to stop doing those behaviors and start doing things that management deems to be more efficient. And that those who fail to comply should be “coached” into compliance. However, subscribing to this way of thinking transfers power to managers and away from their subordinates, who perform the value-added work that the customer is paying for. And with that power transfer goes creativity, innovation, motivation, and all other things that are needed to create a thriving culture of Continuous Improvement. To restate the question: Can Command-and-Control and a Culture of Continuous Improvement Coexist? The short answer to this question is no. The long answer is – its complicated, but no.

Why Command-and-Control Kills Continuous Improvement

In essence, Command-and-Control is the kryptonite of Continuous Improvement. It values doing things right over doing the right things, conformance over creativity, and efficiency over effectiveness. It siphons power from the bottom and feeds it up to the top. It drives behavior through fear and manipulation instead of genuine desire to do good. It is founded on a few assumptions,  one being that the manager knows best what needs to be done and others should be subordinated. It views the organizational relationships as authoritative and not collaborative. The purpose of Lean is to continuously increase value to the customer. Value is created on the value stream; so logically, the people closest to, or working on, the value stream have the best understanding of opportunities for improvement. While a manager may have a more macro (high level) point of view over the end to end business system, the people who live with value stream issues day in and day out are probably going to understand the issues at a deeper level; thus, putting them in position to develop more optimal solutions for their area of ownership. Although leaders are in a better position to drive system-level improvements, in a Command-and-Control culture, many of them are too busy micromanaging their employees to step back and look at the system. Leaders and their teams should work as partners to optimize the business with the intent to bring the greatest possible value to the customer.

Another assumption in a Command-and-Control culture is that the manager’s role is to enforce the rules and employee performance is an assessment of compliance. Those leaders who are trying to instill a Continuous Improvement culture using command-and-control tactics are operating as if creativity and innovation are a privilege of upper leadership and all others should simply obey. In this environment, subordinates display obedience out of fear – with the hopes that one day, they’ll be rewarded with the authority to create an innovate, or actually use the right half of their brains at work; or just keep their jobs for a little while longer.

In contrast, the aim of Continuous Improvement is to accelerate a company towards its objective, which is ultimately to win in the markets they serve. This usually means keeping customers and other stakeholders happy. This cannot be done without considering the competitive landscape in which the company operates. In order to win in the market, your company must have 2 things going for it: 1) be more in-tune with the market and the customer’s perception of value and 2) be able to change to better meet the needs of the customer.

The challenge is that corporate managers, especially as they ascend higher up in to the organization, become more and more detached from the value stream – making Command-and-Control more convenient for the leader but less optimal for everyone else, including the customer. Instead, companies should seek to more directly connect those doing the work on the value stream to the consumer. Then empower them to innovate to better meet the needs of the customer.

Imagine 2 scenarios:

  • One manufacturing company has the marketing research function working directly with shop floor operators
  • The other company has multi-layered, silo’ed, hierarchical organization where the people working the value stream have a very weak signal from the actual customer and vice versa.

Which one do you think has the strongest competitive advantage?

In the latter scenario, shop floor operators are effectively rendered dependent on their managers for guidance, who often also have no clue which direction the market is moving, especially if there isn’t an effectively strategy deployment process in place. To take the former scenario a step further, imagine shop floor leads and operators engaging directly with customers to brainstorm ideas for improvement. This would require an incredible shift in power to the people working the value stream – and for leaders to become support resources, coaches, and facilitators – as opposed to commanders.

Click here to view case studies highlighting the difference Impruver can make for your manufacturing business.

Why the Relationship Between Command-and-Control and Continuous Improvement is Complicated

This is an especially difficult challenge large companies who likely compete on efficiency. They tend to identify products that can be sold to the masses and then build the business machine to produce these things cheaply and in large quantities. They are not designed to be flexible to the needs of the market but to be great at making a thing and controlling the market through pricing, messaging, and other incentives. For a business built on this model, efficiency is king. These are not playgrounds for the creative and innovative, but more like a platoon of highly disciplined troops, whose slightest display of disobedience could mean life and death for the entire troop, and possibly the loss of the war itself. These companies are not good at capitalizing on opportunities, but at protecting the status quo and position that they have enjoyed for so long. Often these companies are being cannibalized by their own size and slowness, making a Continuous Improvement a struggle to grasp and sustain.

In a CI culture, empowerment of the people is paramount. Empowerment requires leaders to relinquish some of their own power to engage their teams to a higher order. This means employees at all levels get to bring both halves of their brains to work everyday and put them to good use for the company. An organization where only leaders are allowed to practice creativity and experimentation is inherently going to make much slower progress than one where all employees are fully engaged to create, initiate, and innovate. In competitive markets, companies that are both in-tune with customer needs and capable of rapid innovation will dominate in terms of growth and talent acquisition. Those that promote leaders based on strict obedience will perpetuate a cycle of stagnation, slow growth, and ultimate demise.

5 Simple Continuous Improvement Hacks that Will Have Your Manufacturing Company Rocking

rocking factory - calvinlwilliams.com

There are over 1,000 Lean tools and counting that can be used to improve processes and help a business become more Lean. All of them have a time and place but you can achieve remarkable success by doing just a small handful of things really well. So put away your stack of Lean books and close the 90 web pages showering you with overkill Continuous Improvement advice. This article will provide you a simple formula that will help you develop an unstoppable Lean Culture.

Element #1) Strategy Deployment

You need to be clear on what will help the company win in the market. The few things that will generate the greatest success for your company, is your strategy. Then you need a seamless method for deploying these priorities throughout the organization. Your deployment method must leave no employee behind. This means each and every person working in your company needs to understand their role in delivering the strategy and commit to clearly defined improvement objectives for their area of ownership. Each person should establish a target condition that is an improvement on the current condition. This becomes their Continuous Improvement plan – all of which should clearly connect up to the highest ranking leader’s plan. Remember that making progress against your strategy is the very definition of improvement. Any side steps, aka random changes, are a waste of precious resources.

Element #2) A Mechanism for Improving

You need to develop the skill of everyone in your company to make sustainable improvements. The de-facto method for this is called PDCA or Plan-Do-Check-Act. You’re probably familiar with this term or one of it’s many variants. Essentially it’s just a spin off of using the scientific method to discover the truth about your business processes and make changes that work. The only way to do this is good old fashioned trial and error. You form a hypothesis about what will get you better results, you test it, you observe the outcome, then you repeat this process until you discover the truth. This isn’t breakthrough thinking, but in practice, it usually falls apart in the testing and / or repeat as needed phase. The best way to form a hypothesis is to work with a cross-functional team of people close to the process to do a Root Cause Analysis. This gets you to the right answer with less time and effort invested. Just remember that the output of a RCA is just hypothesis that needs to be proven by making changes to the process. The key here is to be deliberate about driving action based on analysis. You need a good way to ensure actions are being executed so you can know from experience what’s really driving process results.

Element #3) Performance Measurement Tools

Without a good way of quantifying performance, you have no idea if you’re actually improving or sustaining results. You’ve probably heard the expression “go with your gut”, but in this case, don’t! You need the numbers. Which numbers you use will vary based on what you’re trying to improve. When it comes to manufacturing value stream execution, you have to go with OEE, or Overall Equipment Effectiveness. OEE is global gold standard. As you experiment with making changes to processes, you need to watch and see what happens to the performance metrics. When you’re really getting to the truth, you can use it to lever the numbers up or down by making the right changes.

Element #4) Leadership Coaching Mechanism

Leaders need to be able to coach their teams to overcome challenges as they work to close the gap to their target condition. This does not mean commanding certain actions that the leader thinks will get results. Commanding is not coaching! Good coaching is a iterative process that allows a person to learn from experience and repetition while the coach observes and provides guidance as needed. The intent is to develop talent and capability in the learner – specifically the talents of learning how to learn, solving problems, making decisions, and improving the process. As a coach, let the learner go as far as they can with their own ability. When they hit a brick wall, and maybe ask for help, give them as little help as needed to overcome the specific issue they’re struggling with. The beauty, and growth, is in the struggle. This may mean teaching them new Lean tools, connecting them with resources, or providing some impromptu therapy. Be flexible – and teach them in the way that they learn best. But just know that the moment you as a leader become disengaged from the coaching process, the learner is likely to disengage as well from the improvement process. Besides, developing the talent of your people is one of your most important jobs.

Element #5) Engagement Mechanism

A Lean Culture is made up of a million small everyday wins. Leaders need to have visibility to these wins as they happen so they can recognize and encourage further progress and success. A person who is striving to improve their process and getting results should not go quarters, months, or even weeks without their leaders realizing and rewarding them for it. This lag time is demotivating. Leaders need to be on top of their game, just as they expect their teams to be.

All this may seem difficult to do if you’re already too busy and don’t have the tools in place to handle these activities effectively. This is where having the right technology makes a world of a difference. Heck, even Toyota has abandoned the old way of thinking that all Lean Tools should be manual processes. They were “suddenly motivated” to adopt technology once they saw themselves falling behind in the market. Fortunately for you and everyone else, technologies like Impruver.com provide enterprise-wide access to the most cutting edge methods that delivers all of the elements mentioned above plus more. Check the videos to the right of this page and click here to learn more.