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This Lean blog is dedicated to providing useful Lean information that both changes the way you think about continuous improvement, and gives you tools to act on those changes. It is the only blog backed by The Continuous Improvement Companion, our extensive Lean reference guide.

I recently had an interesting experience on LinkedIn. On occasion, I answer discussion questions where I think I can add value. One such question mentioned that Dr. Liker recommends Toyota alumni to lead Lean transformations, and questioned why companies would be interested in advanced degrees and certifications.

The question was intriguing to me, as I am always curious about how little Lean measures its own performance. Sure, there are measures within a company about productivity or lead time, but there is little in the aggregate. It is extremely hard to find any real, believable data about the effectiveness of continuous improvement programs. There is nothing about the success rate, the time it takes to transform, or even how you would quantify that a company has, in fact, transformed. The LinkedIn question highlighted that issue. Any answer would be anecdotal without facts and data to support it.

So, I responded to the question with a few points.

  1. This is an opinion question. Ironically, there are no facts and data to answer this question about who is better at driving a system that thrives on facts and data.
  2. Certifications are an indicator of someone who is willing to set goals and act on them to improve. Regardless of the effectiveness of the certification, the people going down this path act in alignment with Lean principles. (Note: There was actually a response before mine that said something similar.)
  3. Toyota is not necessarily the best at Lean. I did an article a while back that compared historical quality trends of automakers, and while Toyota was strong, there were at least three other comparable companies. (In fact, Toyota was not the best in 4 of the 5 years I looked at.) I also mentioned that I suspect that a large part of Toyota’s high profit margin comes from being able to charge more for cars based upon a reputation that is not necessarily supported by data. The point was that “Toyota DNA” may not actually be better than the DNA from other high-performing companies.
  4. Finally, I mentioned that Dr. Liker is vested in Toyota’s dominance in Lean. Nearly all of his popular work focuses on it. It would be surprising to see him say anything other than recommending Toyota alumni. While his information is extremely helpful and I recommend his books, Toyota is not the only game in town.

The interesting part was not my response, or even the question. The issue that inspired me to write this article was that when I was pinged about a new response, I noticed that mine and the one before it were both missing. There was a new response, though, that supported the Toyota DNA claim, and the questioner had even added a few responses of his own. Apparently, unless there was a glitch, the person starting the discussion purged the contrary responses.

(UPDATE 12/31/14: Turns out, I’ve got some egg on my face here. The person did not delete my responses, but rather had posted the same question more than once. What I saw were comments on a different discussion board. The Toyota points still stand. The social media points are still valid, but are based on a misunderstanding, so are just theoretical rather than actually based on a real event.)

Interestingly, this is about the most un-Toyota like thing that one could do. Now I am not a Toyota alumni and the gentleman posting the question was. But it seems to me that if you go about collecting data in a problem solving effort, you don’t discard the data points that don’t agree with your presumption about the solution.

Additionally, Toyota is focused on respect for people. It felt disrespectful to me to ask for an opinion, and let people spend the time responding, only to delete them from the discussion thread.

So what’s the point of this article? There are actually a few points. The first two are related to behaviors within a company. (1) Don’t waste time asking questions if you are already set in your opinion. It will just create conflict. (2) When hiring, don’t make assumptions about people’s performance based on pedigree. Look into what the qualifications actually mean, and try to focus on facts and data.

The final point relates to social media etiquette. The last few years have been a boon for continuous improvement efforts. In addition to sites such as, social media allows people to interact about questions in ways that can make Lean transitions monumentally easier. You can find people to act as mentors, get questions answered, or arrange tours. You can link up with groups that meet for coffee in your area to discuss improvement issues. You can get recommendations about services or materials. You can learn about job openings, or do some background checks on candidates. But don’t forget that social media augments the real world, it does not replace it. There are still people on the other side of that screen. Your online reputation carries over into the real world. Behave online as you would towards actual people.

I like to end articles asking for your opinion. I’m curious if you agree that it is inappropriate to delete comments that you don’t agree with from a professional social media thread, or if you have the right to remove those that you don’t like. I am not talking about rude or profane or obscene or spammy responses. I’m talking about bona fide responses that don’t agree with your opinion.

Your thoughts?

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Think about what trust is. It is, in effect, a shortcut. It means that you have faith in something, or someone, and have stopped double-checking on all expectations.

If you trust your mechanic, you stop visiting different shops to get a problem looked at. If you trust a salesperson, you stop spending as much time verifying claims. If you trust your neighbors, you might feel comfortable leaving the garage door open while you are in the back yard.

The same holds true at work. If you trust your employees, you don’t need to check up on them as much. If you trust your vendors, you can give them access to do replenishment in your facility. The list goes on. Trust improves efficiency and effectiveness.


Read the section “Build Relationships” before this one.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: N/A. (Ongoing principle)

Difficulty: High. While people are, by nature, social, they are also wary. Developing trust can be a challenge, especially where relationships have been strained.

Risk: High.

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Continuous data can have any value within a given range. Compare this to discrete data which is limited in the values it takes.

For example, the number of dots on a pair of dice or the number of wheels on a car limit you to a finite set of values. Measuring the size of the dice or the temperature of those wheels, with a precise enough measuring device, could give you infinite results. The dice might be 0.746″ and 0.748″, for example.

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CRM stands for customer relationship management. It essentially is the practice of taking an active approach to understanding how a company interacts with its customers and creating a strategy to manage that relationship for both current and future customers.

In practice, CRM is typically used to describe software systems, of which many are available.

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PDSA stands for Plan-Do-Study-Act, or less commonly, Plan-Do-Study-Adjust.

It is a structured, iterative problem-solving approach popularized by W. Edwards Deming, who originally was mentored on the process by Walter Shewhart. With that origin in mind, it should come as no surprise that this method is also known as the Deming cycle.

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Little’s Law is a basic mathematics equation for calculating lead time. In the layman’s version, it says:

Lead time = Number of units in WIP / Average Production Rate

Let’s say you had 34 items in work-in-process, and you produce 10 per day. That means that it will take any new item 3.4 working days to make its way through your system.

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