Guidelines for Fast Lean Transformation | M. Zinser & D. Ryeson | HBR Blog

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One of the most common mistakes that companies make when embarking on a lean program is trying to do too much at once. These “boil-the-ocean” initiatives are long, costly and often end up stalling under the weight of their own…


Michel Baudin‘s insight:

Scoop It just brough my attention to this 2 1/2-year old article by BCG consultants Michael Zinser and David Ryeson. Their key point is that a successful Lean implementation must start with a small number of well-chosen, pilot projects, and I agree.

I do, however, part company with them on two other issues. First, they only speak the language of money, relentlessly bringing up costs, savings,  payoffs, metrics and incentives. I understand that this language is familiar and attractive to top management.

The article only cites examples of improvements that have a direct economic impact, but there are many aspects of Lean for which the relationship is indirect. Scoring a goal in tonight’s game has a direct impact on performance; building a championship team doesn’t.

Which brings me to my second disagreement with the authors:  there is no consideration in their article of the need to develop the organization’s technical and managerial skills. They are just assumed to be there.

Lean is about developing a team that is able to compete at the highest level in your industry. If you already have such a team, you are probably not looking to implement Lean. If you don’t have it, you can’t start projects as if you did. Instead, you have to focus on projects that your team can do today and that will start it on its way. The biggest payoff and the practically possible do not always match.

This perspective is missing in their guidelines.

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The Truth about Lean Failures | Vivek Naik

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The truth is, most lean implementations are a failure over long duration.Some of them are the major causes, as identified by the people involved in the implementation. They may be the right or maybe these are just the symptoms.

Michel Baudin‘s insight:

In this post, Vivek Naik presents the results of a survey about the causes of Lean implementation failures conducted among the readers of his blog.

The respondents, of course, are not representative of anything except a self-selected subgroup of followers of a blog on Lean, but Naik, to his credit, asked open-ended essay questions like:

  • What is your Biggest problem to implement lean in your organisation?
  • What would help you overcome this challenges?

And he didn’t tally percentages of responses, which would not have been meaningful. What he does is simply list and categorize the causes that the respondents have put forward.

What I find striking in this list is that no one mentioned insufficient mastery of the engineering and management tools of Lean. ‘Lack of understanding” appears only under Culture. What about the ability to achieve SMED, generate heijunka schedules, or design a bonus system that supports improvement without turning employees into bounty hunters?

Along with the majority of Lean implementers in the US, Naik’s responders take the tools for granted. In that attitude, I see a major cause of Lean failures.

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3 reasons why you need a [your-company] Production System

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Do you need a company-specific Production System (XPS) to boost your operational improvement? Yes you do. Here are three reasons…


Michel Baudin‘s insight:

I agree with  Torbjørn Netland’s post, with one caveat. In any XPS, effectiveness should always trump standardization. Many XPS’s turn into premature standardization efforts that stifle creativity in plants and turn the implementation effort into an exercise in formal compliance.

In a company with many plants worldwide, making different products for different markets by different processes, local teams need to be allowed to find their own solutions. What the XPS must not allow them to do is to keep these solutions to themselves. Instead, it must organize the sharing of knowledge and skills across sites by such means as periodic technical conference hosted in turn by each plant and a private collaboration web site with wikis and forums.

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Japan can still teach the world about management: Toshiyuki Shiga, Nissan – Economic Times

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One might expect the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a leading Japanese automobile company to be a man from manufacturing, an engineer who talks kanban and just-in-time processes. Not soToshiyuki Shiga, COO of Nissan. Shiga is a marketing man, an economics graduate fromOsaka Prefecture University and he’s more at home talking sociology than technology. Shiga has been with Nissan Motor Co for 37 years and he’s currently the second-in-command, after CEO Carlos Ghosn.

Michel Baudin‘s insight:

As a source of ideas in management and technology, Japan should neither be ignored, as it was through the 1970s, nor idealized as it was in the 1980s. It is 130 million fallible humans struggling with the hands they are dealt, who occasionally come up with insights we can all benefit from. This ia what I read in Shiga’s words.

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Lean and nurturing inventors

In the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine make the case against patents. They argue that the current system in the US creates more litigation than innovation and has its primary effect is to “encourage large but stagnant incumbent firms to block innovation and inhibit competition.” They are, however, short on proposing alternatives, and those who have worked in economies where ideas are instantly stolen are wary of abolishing the most powerful form of intellectual property protection we know. Official recognition and law are public policy and legal issues that I don’t want to get into here. What I would like to discuss here is what companies can do on their own to take advantage of the inventors in their midst in the current context.

I remember seeing a clever semi-automatic device to staple fabric onto a board in a car door panel assembly line. Hormoz Mogarei, who ran this line, told me that he had simply asked a technician to “invent something,” and this was what he had come up with. It was an invention. It was the brainchild of an individual, not a team, and it was of a broader scope than a suggestion that would fit on a one-page form. It required weeks of work, that the technician had to do in addition to his normal duties, and experimentation, which required some tooling and equipment.

To facilitate this activity, we need to give some thought to what constitutes an invention and who inventors are. In this post, we consider the following:

Sakichi Toyoda versus Philo T. Farnsworth

...The crowning acheivement.

…The crowning acheivement.

The starting point...

The starting point…

Sakichi Toyoda spent 30 years improving the loom, one of the oldest machines known to humans. Step by step, he went from the wooden, manual loom his mother operated in the 1890s to a powered loom with automatic shuttle change that stopped whenever the yarn broke in 1926. In the official history of Toyota, the sale of the license of the Toyoda Type G loom to the UK’s Platt Brothers provided the seed money for Kiichiro Toyoda to start Toyota and build cars, and Sakichi Toyoda’s approach became the basis for Toyota’s approach to automation, known as jidoka (自働化). Today, Sakichi Toyoda is honored in Japan as a great inventor.

Philo Farnsworth with 1935 TV set.

Philo Farnsworth with 1935 TV set.

Philo T. Farnsworth, in a few short years as a young man, invented television, successfully demonstrating it in San Francisco in 1928, two years after Sakichi Toyoda had perfected his Type G loom. Farnsworth’s invention, however, was not the result of a sequence of small improvements on an existing device; instead, it was a breathtaking technical breakthrough. Television had been imagined in science fiction, but no one prior to Farnsworth had a clue on how to make it happen with electronics. Farnsworth’s key idea was a way to transform 2-dimensional images into a 1-dimensional stream of electronic signals and back. As a farm boy growing up in Utah, he covered his father’s 2-dimensional fields by plowing 1-dimensional furrows, and this pattern gave him the idea of scanning a screen line by line with a beam of electrons.

Other international inventors

John Harrison

John Harrison

Sakichi Toyoda and Philo T. Farnsworth were both creative individuals, who worked in different ways. One was Japanese and the other one American, but it does not mean that people like Sakichi Toyoda are unique to Japan nor people like Farnsworth to the US or Europe. John Harrison, for example, was an 18th-century Englishman who spent decades refining clocks until his fifth version was precise enough to stay within one second of London time while circumnavigating the globe with James Cook in 1772-75, thereby making it possible for the first time to measure longitude accurately at sea. Today, James Dyson in the UK seems cut from the same cloth, taking mature products like vacuum cleaners or fans and improving them. Conversely, Fujio Masuoka’s flash memories and Kokichi Mikimoto’s cultured pearls are Japanese inventions that qualify as breakthroughs.

John Harrison’s generations of clocks

Toyoda and Farnsworth are two extreme types of inventors, and there are many in-between, in many countries. The nature of inventions was systematically investigated from patents by Genrich Altshuller in Russia, who abstracted from them the set of 42 guiding principles that he called TRIZ. But, if inventiveness is randomly spread among individuals across the globe, there are cultural differences between countries on the way inventors are treated and which kinds of inventions are most valued. Japanese school children are told about Sakichi Toyoda; American schoolchildren, about Thomas Edison and Eli Whitney. It is difficult to imagine that it does not influence the choices adults make and what they most value in others.



Toto is a Japanese maker of toilets, a stable, 300-year-old technology, but when I visited the Toto factory in Kitakyushu, I was surprised by the number of improvements they had made. In the 1980s, they introduced the washlet, a toilet with a built-in water jet. It now accounts for half the installed base of toilets in Japan and a recent version was featured in the Hollywood movie The Joneses. Other Toto inventions include a more slippery coating for toilet ceramics, a tankless toilet for cramped living spaces, and a silent flush system for hotels. It is not the mouse, graphic user interfaces or the worldwide web, but these incremental innovations make life just a little bit easier for consumers, enough in any case to make a supplier competitive.

It is not an either/or proposition. We don’t have to give up breakthroughs in order to get incremental inventions or vice versa. We can have both because they don’t come from the same people, and it does not take much, because inventors cannot help themselves. Examples like Rostislav Alexeyev with his hydrofoils or Alexander Kemurdzhian with the Lunakhod rovers show that their spirit cannot be crushed, even in an environment as hostile as the Soviet Union, and that inventors will invent even in the absence of any reward. The Soviet Union even produced meta-inventor Genrich Altshuller, who was rewarded for TRIZ by six years in a labor camp. Still, few people are as valuable as inventors, both to companies they may work for and to society as a whole, and we should do what we can to recognize and encourage them.

Thimonnier's 1829 sewing machine

Thimonnier’s 1829 sewing machine

Some inventors, like Thomas Edison or Sakichi Toyoda, were savvy business people who were not only recognized but profited from their inventions. Others, like Nikola Tesla or Philo Farnsworth, did not do as well. One whose spirit was crushed by the society he lived in was Barthélémy Thimonnier, who invented the sewing machine in France in 1829. He used his own machines in a factory to make military uniforms, but the tailors who used to do this work manually rioted and burned his factory, following which he died in poverty.

As an industry, sewing machines did not take off until the 1850s in the US, where they played a key role in the refinement of interchangeable parts technology and the development of machine-tools.

Recognizing inventors

The most obvious form of recognition is a patent. Inventions made by employees on the job are owned by the company and therefore royalties flow to the company rather than to the inventors, but the patents are still coveted badges of honor and resume enhancers. The Caterpillar transmission plant in Peoria, IL, has a wall several hundred feet long that is covered with plaques commemorating patents for new features on earthmover transmissions. Each plaque is an engraving of the top page of the patent, and bears the names of the inventors. It both impresses visitors and shows inventors that their contributions are valued.

While new products or features, and sometimes new processes, are patented, improvements to work methods or production line designs usually are not, but recognition can still be given in both symbolic and tangible form. Symbolic recognition can be awards given in ceremonies, plaques, special marks on employee badges, articles in the local press, etc. The key is that they should be tailored to the local culture and the individual. What is valued in a culture may offend in another, and some enjoy being singled out among their peers while others are uncomfortable in the public eye. The tangible rewards are usually bonuses, but they must be sized just right to convey appreciation without cutting off the recipients from peers or turning all employees into bounty hunters.

Management must also be careful to recognize the actual inventors. In any group, there are many more who are ready to claim credit for inventions than actual inventors. An invention is fundamentally an individual rather than a team process. A team is often necessary to implement an invention, but its seminal idea is from a single human brain, and you must be careful not to mistake whose it is. Instead of actual inventors, many patents bear the name of a supervisor whose only contribution may have been to discourage the real inventor’s efforts. In terms of effect, recognizing the wrong people is worse than not recognizing anybody. Avoiding that mistake requires management attention, but the inventions are worth it.

Facilitating invention

Is there something that can be done beyond creating a favorable environment for inventors, by giving them resources and recognizing their achievements? Altshuller thought so. He believed that knowing and applying the rules of TRIZ could make inventors more productive and turn more engineers into inventors. Altshuller died in 1988, but his work is being continued by others, like Nikolai Shpakovsky in Russia, Japan and Korea, with his concept of product evolutionary trees , and Roni Horowitz’s ASIT. To my knowledge, these methods are not massively used, and, where they are used, it is in product design and development, not manufacturing.

Engineering Sandbox

Engineering Sandbox

In manufacturing, if you provide an “engineering sandbox,” organize for people to tinker in it, and provide some form of recognition, you will get results like the automatic door panel stapler. The engineering sandbox is a space set aside and outfitted with the resources needed for tinkering, experimentation, and prototyping. It is used both by individuals and teams. In Wikipedia, the space you can use to draft an article or an edit before publishing it is called your “sandbox,” and it is similar in concept to the engineering sandboxes you find in factories, that are often called “Kaizen areas” even though the experimentation that takes place can exceed the scope of what is commonly designated as Kaizen. This space is best located in a secluded area, away from heavy traffic and prying eyes and, as it is shared by multiple individuals and teams, access to it must be managed accordingly and often takes place outside of regular working hours. Chihiro Nakao calls this activity “moonshine.”

Next topic: Managing the inventions

Once your employees have made inventions, you need to decide how best to use them. You can patent an invention to make accessible to others for a royalty for a time, you can keep it a trade secret with the goal of making sure you are the only one to use it, you can give it to a third party to exploit commercially, or you can publish for anyone to use free of charge. And, while you are trying to decide what to do, others may steal it and get away with it.

This is a whole other topic, and the best course for a company to follow is often counter-intuitive.

RICKS versus 5S

In the TPS Principles and Practices discussion group on LinkedIn, Frederick Stimson Harriman started a thread about why it is silly to translate 5S into English.

I think the main problem with the commonly used translation of 5S is that it is wrong and misleading. I don’t think it is silly to translate if you can get the meaning right. What is truly silly and hopeless is trying to find 5 English words with the right meaning and starting with “S.”

Back when 5S was only 4S, I heard the following in the UK: “Remove, Identify, Clean, and Keep clean” or R.I.C.K., and I thought it was both reasonably accurate and mnemonic.

For the fifth “S,” Shitsuke, I see it as the state you achieve when you have done the first four S’s long enough for the activities to become second-nature. If telling your kid every day to brush his teeth is Seiketsu, what you have accomplished when he does it on his own without prompting is Shitsuke. So I would translate Shitsuke by “Second-nature,” which happens to start with S.

With that, we could have R.I.C.K.S. as an improved translation. What do you think?

Using project charters: not as easy as it seems

In a comment on a previous post, the Virginia MEP’s Bill Donohue  listed several tools that he feels are particularly useful, among which were Project Charters, and I would like to share my experience with them. The concept is self-explanatory, and you can see a variety of examples by just googling “project charter.” It is simply a form intended to provide a one-page summary of a project.

I have been involved with two multi-year projects with clients who wanted to use this tool, and it seemed such a simple, common-sense approach that I embraced it with gusto. To my great surprise, the project teams didn’t. It just required them to fill in such data as the name of the project, the list of team members and roles, short descriptions of current, ideal and future states, the main implementation milestones, and estimates of what good it would do.  It would be a great summary on an A3 sheet of paper, and a perfect tool to communicate with peers and management, while keeping the team focused on the goals.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Working with teams to generate charters took much longer than anticipated. These documents were perceived as a hurdle to clear before implementation could start. Once generated, they were never referenced in the inner workings of the team but only trotted out for management meetings. They were generated on Excel worksheets based on templates supplied by management and primarily used in PowerPoint slides, in which the font was too small to read on screen. Since most teams did not have access to a large format printer, whenever they were printed, it was on A4/letter-size paper rather than A3.

I wondered why the teams were not embracing this tool. They had a feed-the-bears attitude to it. Managers were the bears that periodically had to be fed, and the charters were offerings to keep them at bay. I thought the charter should instead be a project management tool used primarily used by the team itself, and only secondarily for management communications.

I had previously used a more informal approach, where we would write a one-page memo explaining in plain text the who-what-where-when-why-how of the project. With the signature of the manager in charge of the target area, this memo would then be posted on the shop floor for every affected person to know what was going on and the extent to which their cooperation was needed. It was generally well accepted by project teams as “Communications 101.” One reason management wanted formal charters was standardization. They wanted all projects in the program to have descriptions in a common format to make them easier to review.

Lean implementation was starting in these companies, with management keen to engage employees at all levels and tap into their creativity, but filling out a form is not an activity that we usually associate with creativity. Possibly, management’s demand for charters was sending a mixed message: be creative but follow these standards. It was saying “think out of the box but stay within this box!”

Perhaps the form itself was a problem. In both cases, it had been designed by a committee of managers who were as new to Lean as the rest of the organization, and I thought the following features were mistakes:

  1. There were too many different roles identified for team members. The relevant distinction in practice is between core members, who are committed to the project, and the others, who are only involved. In a line redesign project, for example, the production supervisor in charge and the manufacturing engineer are both core members, but the plant safety expert who needs to approve the design is only involved. In the form, members could be assigned one of four different roles. Some were accountable for the outcome, others executed the project, others yet were consulted on it, and finally, there were those who were just kept informed. It sounded great, but, in fact, created unnecessary complexity and wasted time in discussions of which category each member should be in.
  2. The form confused PDCA with a project plan. The main phases of any project were identified as Plan, Do, Check and Adjust. It really didn’t fit any non-trivial project, which you would break down into smaller tasks each defined by deliverables. PDCA is a discipline you would apply to each of the tasks, as well as to the project as a whole, but Plan, Do, Check, or Adjust would not appear as bars in a Gantt chart or entries in an action item list.  In a setup time reduction project, for example, one task is to shoot a video of the current method, but you cannot fit it under Plan, Do, Check, or Adjust.
  3. The form had boxes for information that the teams could not possess until the project was completed. If you are a carpenter building your 50th staircase, you should be able to summarize current and future states, how long you will need, what good it will do, etc. But if you are a team undertaking setup time reduction on a machine for the first time, you are entering what is for you uncharted territory. Upfront, you don’t even know the details of the existing state, let alone the future. At this point, all your setup time reduction team knows is that its goal is to achieve changeovers under 10 minutes on a specific machine in daily practice. When JFK said “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” this one sentence was enough of a charter to focus the work of tens of thousands of people for the following eight years. There would have been no way, at that point, for fill out an A3 form with more details, because they were unknown.
  4. Project teams are also ill equipped to estimate the economic benefits of their project, and wary of writing down amounts they may be held accountable for. In fact, the first few projects that mark the beginning of Lean implementation are never grassroots initiatives. They are selected by management, for their combination of economic value and skill development potential. The setup time reduction team in our example does not need to estimate the benefits of quick setups; they just need to achieve them, promptly and within budget.
  5. The committee that designed the charter form had also come up with a “smart” naming scheme for projects.  It had codes for site, department, project category, and start date. It was a conditioned reflex for people who had grown up with such naming systems, but it served no useful purpose while adding complexity.

After a long struggle, the teams managed to produce at least partial charters. The managers  were not happy, but they had to make do and let the projects proceed. As they did, however, the charters rapidly became obsolete. The teams did not pay much attention, but the charters had to be updated for management presentations, which revealed another problem: there had been no plan for revision management on the charters. The charters had been generated as worksheets in Excel books, that had been emailed around, copied on memory sticks, and printed. There are technical solutions to manage documents so that revisions are made by authorized editors, reviewed properly, and stored in such a way that you can trace back the history of revisions, but this was not one of them.

What lessons have I learned from this experience? Not wanting to throw out the baby with the bath water, I still think of project charters as a useful tool, but it has to be introduced in phases, initially giving project teams the freedom to experiment with both content and format to come up with documents that are useful to them. The handful of pilot projects at the start of Lean implementation requires management attention, but not much administrative paperwork. Never mind standardization at this stage. Soon afterwards, you have tens of projects running in parallel, orchestrated by a steering committee, and, at that point, project charter A3s can be helpful.

Rather than being defined upfront by a committee of managers, charter formats should be allowed to emerge from the organization’s project experience, with current and past project leaders in charge. There may also be different templates by category of project, considering that different contents may be appropriate for setup time reduction, assembly cells, machining cells, milk runs, supermarkets, kanban, etc. The need for revision control on these documents should also be considered when selecting tools to generate them, which requires more IT expertise than either the project leaders, the managers, and even most Lean consultants have. Their first choice is almost always Excel, and it does not meet the needs. Alternatives to be considered include, for example, Infopath for form generation and Sharepoint for storage, retrieval and revision control on charters.

Organizational Sabotage – The Malpractice of Management By Objective by Ken Craddock & Kelly Allan

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Organizational Sabotage – The Malpractice of Management By Objective by Ken Craddock & Kelly Allan – Innovation, quality and productivity suffer from the abuse of MBOs Objectives are essential to a business.

Michel Baudin‘s insight:

This article brings a new perspective on the discussion of the same topic in this blog.

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The Lean Turnaround | Amazon review

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While most business books read like a 10-page article diluted over 200+ pages, Art Byrne’s, instead, reads like 600-pages condensed to 200. This is the right length to be read by business people on airplanes. A longer book could have given more details, but at the cost of losing the audience. As it is, behind every sentence, you sense that there is personal experience you would like to dig further into.

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John Shook: Lean Management Success Depends on a Problem-Solving Culture

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But problem solving is a problem at companies accustomed to hiding problems, according to Shook.Cambridge, MA (PRWEB) November 05, 2012 A company’s “attitude towards problems” determines if it succeeds or fails at a lean management transformation,…

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