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.

9 Cures to Common Continuous Improvement Cultural Challenges

Creating a Lean Culture might require some medicine, a bit of therapy, and some deep meditation. You may feel like Continuous Improvement doesn’t work for your company. Or maybe you feel like your doing all the right stuff and running up against a brick wall trying to turn the corner on culture and performance. Perhaps you’ve tried a few things that you were told would work and they didn’t produce the result you were looking for. Perhaps you just haven’t had the opportunity to see a working CI organization in action. Either way, there are some common themes that are present in every CI journey to varying degrees. These themes are synonymous with illnesses as they plague business results and can spread throughout the organization unless they are stopped before they kill the patient. There are some basic steps you can take to overcome these ailments and truly start to realize some organic acceleration.

Here are 9 Common Lean Culture Illnesses and How to Cure Them:

Illness #1: People recognize opportunities for the company to improve but are fearful of mentioning them to leadership

Everyone has a unique point of view. Therefore everyone sees opportunities that no one else sees. The guy running the packaging machine has a much better idea for why the company gets pallets rejected by the customer due to unsealed boxes than the big boss sitting in a corporate office. I like the saying that “the person closest to the problem, is also the one closest to the solution”. Every company needs a good way of engaging people to improve performance in their area of ownership. To do this, try setting a clearly defined target condition for each employee in the company. Then hold their leaders accountable for coaching their employees to success against their improvement objectives.

Illness #2: The company has to hire externally for leadership positions because talent isn’t being developed internally to step up into higher-level openings

There is a delicate balance between getting results today and developing people for tomorrow. The companies that will lead the pack in the future are the ones that make the greatest investment in developing their people while delighting customers today. Avoid having your business decline to a culture of fire fighting so there’s some energy left over at the end of the day to prepare your people for tomorrow. To do this, create a back-fill (or successor) for every role in the company. Then provide assignments that give the successor experiential learning opportunities. This works even better if the experiential learnings are designed as Continuous Improvement projects that require deep understanding of key processes and provide a benefit to the business.

Illness #3: Leaders expect a short-term ROI for all CI activity with little regard for developing their culture

If serving the customer is at the heart of the business, ROI is the brain. In fact, if you’re not making money, you can’t continue to serve the customer. However, leaders must be careful not to sacrifice the capability to serve tomorrow’s customers by getting overly consumed by the challenges of today. This includes balancing investor payouts with re-investing in growth and development. To do this, couple activities that have great ROI with those that have marginal short-term benefit but are strategic for growth and sustainment. However, keep in mind that most Lean tools are not just one-and-done. When done well, they signify the beginning of the journey and not the end.

Illness #4: The company has a Continuous Improvement program that is disconnected from the strategy

News flash: making progress against your strategy is the definition of improvement. Randomly applying Lean Tools is not necessarily improvement. In fact, you may be wasting precious resources on things that don’t create value for the customer or the business. Don’t fall into the trap of “polishing the doorknobs on the Titanic” in the name of Continuous Improvement. If you find yourself with a so-called “rock solid” CI program, but are consistently losing market share, something is definitely wrong. To fix this, define a clear strategy for how to win in the market. Then challenge every employee to make improvements in their area of ownership that moves the business in the direction of its strategic priorities.

Illness #5: People aren’t getting to the root cause of issues impacting their area

There’s two variants of this issue. One is where people are pushed to hit their numbers everyday by any means; and the other is where operators just band-aid problems and wait for maintenance or management to swoop in and fix them when it’s convenient. It can be a difficult choice to risk not fully satisfying a customer to take the time to get to the root cause of an issue and permanently resolve it. But consider this, issues of today like to mix with the issues of tomorrow, which can result in quite a cocktail of chaos. Better to strike the balance between making the daily numbers and shutting down when needed to fix the process the right way. Your people, the process, you, and the customer will be happier for it in the long run. Start by training your process owners on root cause analysis. Then teach them how to measure their losses and set the expectation that they will make changes to reduce them over time. Then recognize and reward continuous and sustaining improvement in performance.

Click here to gain access to a powerful webinar on Generating the Skill and Will to Improve Performance

Illness #6: People are reluctant to experiment with improvement ideas out of fear of failure

We all love the part of the movie when the hero jumps in to save the day; and want to yell at the TV when the hero fails to make a seamless rescue. But in the movies, the hero is always encouraged to keep trying because otherwise there is no hope. We should do the same in business. We need to be careful not to discourage “right behaviors” like trying to improve performance, even if the result is sub-optimal. Learning and development, which result from trying, are pre-cursers to improvement. To encourage this, instead of focusing on success and failure, switch the focus to learning. Learning happens most effectively through experience, and trail and error. Promote a culture of discovery and sharing over one of “who got the highest numbers”.

Illness #7: People hide performance losses out of fear of “looking bad” or facing consequences

I once had a manager who tried to improve engagement scores by “educating the team” that they were more engaged than they realized. In other words, this manager did not intend to actually engage the people at a higher level, he just wanted to manipulate them into thinking they were already engaged. This manager would have been better off to identify what’s driving the disengagement and fix it. The same is true for any metric that indicates opportunity for improvement such as OEE, First Pass Good, On Time and Full, etc. To cure this, shift the focus away from hitting or failing to hit targets to one of gradual and consistent improvement. When people learn to define success as “getting better”, showing losses becomes less threatening and status quo becomes the dangerous.

Illness #8: Continuous Improvement is delegated to an individual or department and not owned by all

Just about everyone understands how CI can be an incredible asset to a business. But many people lack the skill and will to improve. Some believe that hiring a CI Manager or resource and sticking them in the plant is commitment enough for them. This sets a tone that CI can be done in a silo and the role of leadership is minimal. But you can’t buy a culture of Operational Excellence. You have to build it yourself. A CI resource who is very skilled can help coach but leaders at all levels bear the responsibility to make it happen. To cure this, every leader in the company should be challenged with a performance improvement target that aligns with the company strategy. Then deploy their team’s CI efforts to close the gap. The CI leader should pass their expertise into leaders and process owners via coaching – not by doing it all themselves.

Illness #9: There is a general lack of respect for people at lower levels in the organization

Empowerment is built on 2 fundamental blocks: 1) developing people’s capability so that they can make sound decisions and 2) trusting people to act in good faith and generally do the right thing given the opportunity. Empowering someone requires you to “give up” some of your power to others, resulting in an overall more powerful organization. Engaging people’s hearts and minds to a higher order can unlock unimaginable potential. To cure this, delegate decision-making and problem-solving to the lowest feasible level in the organization. Then coach (but not direct or micro-manage) the performer to further strengthen their capability.

If you find yourself trying to lead a Lean Culture and progress is slow and sometimes backward, don’t despair. What you’re experiencing is perfectly normal and sometimes patience and persistence are needed to shift the organizational culture. Focusing on the areas listed above will have a dramatic effect on moving the needle in the right direction. The key thing to remember is that Lean or Continuous Improvement is not a substitute for good leadership, but it is the ultimate compliment.

5 Root Cause Analysis Methods of Which You’ve Never Heard

Root Cause Analysis Method - calvinlwilliams.com

There are a ton of Root Cause Analysis methods out there, and new ones are popping up all the time. This post dives into some of the lesser known methods of RCA such as Kepner-Tregoe, Barrier Analysis, and Events and Causal Factor Analysis. Perhaps this will help stock your arsenal so that you have more powerful tools to crack bigger problems.

Root Cause Analysis Method: Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making

This is a more methodical approach that combines the best of RCA and change management to ensure that not only the problem is clearly identified, but the best solutions are also developed to address them.

Kepler-Tregoe - calvinlwilliams.com

There are four basic steps for using the Kepner Tregoe decision matrix:

  1. Situation appraisal – the process of clarifying the situation, outlining concerns and choosing a direction
  2. Problem analysis – defining the problem and determining it’s root cause
  3. Decision analysis – defining alternative solutions and a conducting a risk analysis for each
  4. Potential problem analysis – further scrutinizing the best alternative solutions against potential problems and negative consequences and proposing actions to mitigate risks

Root Cause Analysis Method: Events and Causal Factor Analysis

This method is used to establish a timeline or “storyline” of events leading up to an incident. It works best for one-off major events that are caused by a series of other significant events.

Events-Failure-Cause-Analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

The steps include:

  1. Organize the accident data – Collect and categorize all known facts regarding the issue
  2. Guide the investigation – Create and execute the investigation facilitation plan to discover what is not currently known but needed
  3. Validate and confirm the true accident sequence – Confirm that known facts are actually truth
  4. Identify and validate factual findings, probable causes, and contributing factors – Outline potential causes and contributing factors
  5. Simplify the investigation report – Organize the findings the report in a way in a reader-friendly format
  6. Illustrate the accident sequence in the investigation report – Incorporate visual aides into the final report that clearly illustrate the accident sequence

Root Cause Analysis Method: Change Analysis

This process ties events or significant shifts in performance back to changes in the process that may have contributed to the result.

change analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

The steps include:

  1. Describe the event or problem
  2. Describe the situation without the problem
  3. Compare the two situations
  4. Document the differences
  5. Analyze the differences
  6. Identify the consequences of the differences

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Root Cause Analysis Method: Barrier Analysis

This approach assesses the system of controls or “barriers” that are in place to prevent issues from occurring to determine which might have failed or malfunctioned.

Barrier Analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

The steps include:

  1. Write the behavior statement – Clearly define what behavior needs to be studied
  2. Write the behavior screening questions – Develop a set of questions that helps determine if the subject (person) is a doer or non-doer
  3. Write the research questions – Identify what information needs to be discovered and formulate questions
  4. Organize the field work – Create a plan to gather the needed data
  5. Conduct the survey – For any information that cannot be gathered from direct observation, interview subject matter experts
  6. Coding, tabulating, and analyzing the data – Transform the data and information into a coherent story
  7. Using the research to make decisions – Decide on the best course of action

Root Cause Analysis Method: Problem Tree Analysis

This method creates a tree diagram of potential causes of an observable problem or result. It includes branches of potential causes instead of a simple linear approach used in the 5 Why’s

Problem-tree-analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

Here are the steps involved:

  1. Define the system or area of interest – Scope the system to be fully inclusive but isolates the problem enough for sufficient controls to be set.
  2. Identify the initiating events of interest – Scope the specific problem to be addressed
  3. Identify lines of assurance and physical phenomena – Identify the barriers (both physical and human) put in place to control process outcomes.
  4. Define contributing factors – Identify potential causes or contributing factors for each known cause.
  5. Analyze potential root causes for most probable factors – Determine the appropriate frequency and severity of each possible root cause and select which to apply further investigation
  6. Summarize results – Create a report that lists all accidents stemming from potential root causes

Root cause analysis is a great tool for developing a better understanding of why problems might be occurring in any process-oriented operation. RCA is a cornerstone of Continuous Improvement as it enables more effective solutions to be developed. As with any root cause, there may be several problems resulting from the same root. Therefore, fixing one root cause can produce a multitude of benefits for your operation.

As with any RCA, the root causes are just hypothesis that need to be proven (or dis-proven) through testing and experimentation. This means that a clear plan of action should flow from the RCA activity. The RCA does not improve a process. Making changes and observing what happens is where the real improvement occurs. And if you’re not seeing the result you’re looking for, you need to further your RCA, form new hypothesis, and continue to experiment until you get the right result. RCA coupled with deliberate action accelerates the learning process and produces powerful results in the meantime.

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 3)

Lean tools can be leveraged to accelerate your company’s culture and business results in a dramatic way. However, if ineffectively applied, they can decrease hope for sustaining improvement and feed a culture of cynicism. In this 3rd of 3 installments on the Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools, we’ll dive into Gemba, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Leader Standard Work, and Hoshin Kanri (Policy / Strategy Deployment). This article is designed to give leaders a better understanding of their role in a Lean Organization.

#7) Gemba – It’s great to see leaders spending time on the shop floor engaging with the workforce. Leadership should certainly have a regular presence on the value stream where the work happens that the customer is paying for. But even this well-meaning activity can have destructive side effects if the intent is not clearly understood.

The Misunderstanding: Quick question: how much time, energy, and effort do people put into “cleaning up” when the big boss is coming into town? The answer to this question gives you some insight to the organization’s gemba culture. If people are “acting differently” in preparation for and during a leadership visit, then perhaps there’s a misunderstanding of what gemba looks to achieve. To make matters worse, leaders often seek to point out deficiencies in the process, which turn into projects that may or may not be connected to the strategy; but they consume precious resources – just because the boss noticed and called it out during their last visit. Ideally, the plant team should be eager to show their leaders the total truth so that they can engage leaders in a meaningful partnership to achieve superior results. The plant should never get ready, but should stay ready at all times so as to eliminate distractions and elevate the improvement culture.

Why do Gemba? The true intended benefit of Gemba is for people, especially decision makers, who are not naturally exposed to value stream processes, to gain familiarity with the real opportunities, gain deeper understanding of issues, and develop the talent to drive the right pace against their strategic imperatives. Leaders should not be asking “why something is wrong” or “did you notice that problem?”, they should be asking “what is the target condition?” for each person and “what is your plan for closing the gap?”; and even better, “how can I help?”. This drives greater ownership of results to the people doing the work and helps leaders understand how they could make an immediate impact.

#8) Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) -TPM is a canned approach to Lean that includes several tools designed to help achieve, sustain, and improve base condition. Base Condition is a process that is completely free from defects. TPM includes 8 pillars with one of the key pillars being Autonomous Maintenance (AM). In AM, operators become more autonomous from the maintenance function, performing the lesser complex routine maintenance tasks such as cleaning, inspection, lubrication, tightening, and minor repairs. Several other pillars are designed to help achieve and sustain base conditions with the Focused Improvement pillar helping to improve processes beyond base condition.

The Misunderstanding: Many companies approach TPM as a set of standards that they expect the organization to comply to. This is often taken as  more of a command and control approach that fails to develop the true capability to solve the problems that are keeping the company from making strategic progress. Without respect the individual journey of each employee, it becomes near impossible to sustain progress in this environment. As employees become frustrated and leave, the learning curve for a new employee is extremely high and TPM progress gradually trends the wrong way over time.

Why do TPM? No one disagrees that having machines that run at optimal running condition at all times is a really good thing. The question is at what cost? and is it justified by the benefit? This is a question that leaders must ponder to determine how far into the TPM journey they should go, if at all. TPM can drive higher OEE, lower lead time, higher quality, and higher productivity. If your processes are asset-heavy and these things are central to your operating strategy, then perhaps TPM is right for you. However, if your processes are labor-intensive and flexibility / agility is more important, perhaps you would choose an alternative or modified approach.

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#9) Leader Stanhttp://savingsdard Work (LSW) – LSW is a structured review process for leaders up and down the operations chain of command to support in driving process sustainment. Each level sets a frequency of how often they will perform reviews and in which areas. They might assess gaps from the correct use of key lean tools and follow-up on opportunities for improvement.

The Misunderstanding: The effective use of LSW depends greatly on the existing organizational culture. In a command and control culture, leaders will use this as an opportunity to find fault in what operators (or process owners) are doing and seek to take punitive corrective action. This approach only de-values the process owner and discourages a true continuous improvement mindset and culture.

Why do LSW? Use this tool to empower process owners to continuously improve performance in their area. Instead of looking for gaps to a standard, especially for seasoned operators, good leaders will seek to better understand the process for themselves and what they could do to help the process owner to make progress against their target condition. This could mean coaching or training but could also mean helping them influence other functions to take needed action.

#10 Hoshin Kanri (Policy / Strategy Deployment) – This is the process of developing strategies, plans, and tactics at all levels in the organization. Ideally, every employee in the company from the CEO down should be able to quickly draw a connection between their improvement work to the company’s broader strategy.

The Misunderstanding: 90% of strategies never get deployed. Most leaders don’t make the connection between the company strategy and continuous improvement. In fact, they don’t see the execution of strategy as improvement at all, they just see it as addition work that needs to get done. In worse cases, leaders see strategy deployment as a “paper exercise” that they do just to say they did it and throw it into a dark drawer until the next year’s strategy gets rolled out.

Why Do Strategy Deployment? A company’s strategy should paint a clear picture for what needs to be done to win (or keep winning) in the market. It should engage all aspects of the business and all employees. The agreed-upon work is your Continuous Improvement plan. It doesn’t help to have a CI team or program that is working on different things than your company strategy. If so, there will be an internal struggle for limited resources to be applied against the competing agendas. In fact, all departments should remain disciplined to the strategy to drive the greatest momentum and effectiveness.

Lean tools are very powerful because of their ease of use and repeatable results. Leaders should developing an understanding of when and how to most effectively apply the tools to drive superior business results. This post concludes a 3-part series on the most misunderstood lean tools. As you have probably realized by now, implementing the tool is actually the beginning of the journey and not the end. Once implemented, it takes persistence and dedication to stick with it until the desired result is achieved.

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 2)

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 2) - calvinlwilliams.com

Just like any technology, lean tools can create great efficiencies but need to be applied the right way in order to produce positive results. Unfortunately, many view the implementation of some Lean Tools as the end of the Continuous Improvement journey and not the beginning. Let’s explore a few examples of tools that are frequently misunderstood and explain how they could be applied more effectively. In Part 2 of 3 installments of the Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean tools, we’ll take a look at Standard Work, Centerlines, and Root Cause Analysis.

#4) Standard Work. This is the process of documenting process steps and sometimes timing and watchouts at each step. The best approaches even include pictures of what success looks like at each step. This all sounds good and great, but many don’t realize the true intent of how Standard Work should be used.

The misunderstanding:  Many people develop a standard work document after completing a kaizen event or some other improvement activity. Some skip the improvement activity and jump straight to the standard work document…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These documents can serve as a great tool for helping new employees accelerate their learning curve in a new role. They can also help sustain the performance level of a process over time. However, when these documents are created and left unchanged year over year, then they become obsolete and fail to do what they are truly designed to do.

Why do Standard Work? In addition to serving as a document to guide process owners through the steps of a process, the standard work document should be used as a tool that helps indicate when the equipment is no longer in optimal operating condition (or base condition). When the machine is running in base condition, there should be no need for deviation from Standard Work. But when there are defects and other issues, you’ll see operators needing to take steps that are “out of standard” to hit expected targets. This should point to the need to fix the emerging issues that might be plaguing the line. Standard work should also be a living document. It should not be used as a “hard rule” guide, except perhaps to administer people or product safety protocols. Operators or Process Owners need to be given some liberty to improve on the current operating process as to drive their area of ownership toward the company strategy.

#5 Centerlines: These are a form of Visual Management, that can help to quickly set up a line for optimal operating conditions. But you may not realize the critical role that centerlines play in driving the Continuous Improvement process.

The misunderstanding: Centerlines are markers for distance, pressure, speed, and measures used to indicate the ideal operating parameters of a production process. This might include red / yellow / green range markers on gauges, slides, elevators, angles, etc. During a changeover or set-up, the operator could ideally open a guide of centerline settings and quickly set the line up and start running, dramatically decreasing the trial and error needed to dial in the optimal settings. However, the true value from having centerlines is often unknown or misunderstood.

Why do Centerlines? This tool should be applied after and only after the production line has been brought into base condition, or free of performance defects. It certainly helps to have this tool to help ensure rapid set-ups, but the even more significant benefit is to indicate that there are defects developing in the equipment that need to be addressed. Defects cause the line to be set up “out of Centerline” in order to run; however, the state of operation is sub-optimal and performance suffers. Therefore, Centerlines are a tool for sustaining base condition just as much as allowing for quick set-ups. When a line is out-of-Centerline, operators should initiate  root cause analysis to find out why and take steps to prevent process deterioration in the future.

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#6 Root Cause Analysis – This process is a foundation of Continuous Improvement because failure to identify and address the root cause of issues means improvement was not really achieved. RCA is the process of identifying the underlying “root” reason(s) that an observable issues is occurring.

The Misunderstanding: RCA is probably the most commonly practiced tool in the Lean Toolbox. Methods such as the 5 Why’s and Fishbone are extremely versatile and fairly easy to learn. In fact, any 5 year-old understands the value in asking “why” until you have an absolute understanding of something they’re seeing. But just like any parent of a 5-year old, sometimes you just have to answer as best as you can, knowing that more research is needed to get to the truth in some cases.

Why do Root Cause Analysis? RCA is more of a thought exercise than actual Continuous Improvement. The output from RCA is a single or multiple hypothesis of what might be driving the issue. The truth isn’t discovered until those hypothesis are tested and validated to be true or false. This means you have to complete the follow-up actions that are deemed necessary to validate the hypothesis. Only after the work is completed and performance is observed over time, can you say you have truly identified the root cause. If the changes do not affect the result in the desired way, you must go back to the drawing board and repeat the process until it produces the desired result. The key is to not move on until you are getting the result you want. Otherwise, you are not actually getting to the root cause.

We hear numerous case studies of how Lean Tools are being applied to incredible effect. What we don’t realize is that the implementation of most Lean Tools is just the beginning of the Continuous Improvement journey and not the end. Most tools are designed to enable the conditions for improvement. However, the actual improvement happens through painstakingly developing peoples capabilities, attitudes, and actions with the intent to create a more perfect production system and culture. Then doing the work to make the needed changes to the process. Persistence and leadership play a critical role in a sustainable Lean transformation.