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Posts Tagged ‘Practical Guide Volume 1’

There is no specific ‘Next Step’ at this point in Phase 1. People explore Lean in their own ways. We encourage you to continue to learn as much as you can to get to the point where you decide to move forward and can start taking concrete steps.

The decision to become Lean, or to embrace any continuous improvement philosophy for that matter, is not to be taken lightly. While the results can be incredible, about three out of every four companies do not achieve the results that they expected when they began their Lean journey.

In addition, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to change the DNA of a company. And make no mistake. That is what you need to do if you want to create a culture of continuous improvement. So, it’s going to take a lot of work and there is still a three in four chance that you won’t get what you want out of it. Why, then, should you, or anyone, take on the challenge of becoming Lean?

Prerequisites

Make sure you understand the benefits of Lean prior to deciding if the transition is right for you. This lesson is about assessing your organization for potential pitfalls. You need a good feel for what the upside is before assessing obstacles.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: Varies, depending upon the level of assessment/discussion you need to do in your specific situation.

Difficulty: High

Risk: High

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We have a complete Lean Overview module in Volume 2, but it is hard to make a decision to move forward without at least a cursory introduction to the specifics of Lean.

This section is a summary of our Lean overview, and is intended to provide you with some information so you know what you are getting yourself into.

We’ve put a lot of terms (with links) into the discussion below. Don’t spend too much time following them, though. As you progress through later sections of this practical guide, you’ll be introduced to them at the appropriate time. They are just included here so you can look deeper into the terms that might have you on the fence about whether to commit to continuous improvement or not.

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Tribal knowledge is the unwritten collective wisdom of an organization. It refers to the tradition of tribes handing information down from generation to generation in the time before the written word was developed.

In the same fashion, when information is not document properly, it must be passed from employee to employee.

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Creating a new corporate culture is a monumental challenge in the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, many organizations make it more difficult on themselves than it needs to be. Often these self-imposed obstacles seem trivial, but can have an oversized impact because of their repetitive nature.

The way you store information is one of these forms of barriers. As you progress on your Lean journey, you will find that there is a load of knowledge and information that you must manage effectively. You will have training materials, both internally developed and content that you have purchased. You will have loads of forms and other sorts of tools that will be used throughout the organization. You will have calendars, checklists, evaluations, audit documentation, and more. And that does not even include your process documents or best practices.

The easier it is to find and share information without corrupting the versions the document, the easier your journey will be.

Prerequisites

You must have a program leader selected prior to developing your knowledge management system.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: >1 Day

The time for this task is fairly minimal to get started. Setting up the folder structure and creating the core process will not take long. There is quite a bit of ongoing work, though, to make sure the system adapts to your changing requirements as well as to make sure that the organization adheres to the process.

Difficulty: Low

Setting up the folder structure and creating the core process is fairly simple. It will, however, be increasingly difficult down the road as the amount of continuous improvement knowledge you are managing grows at an accelerating pace.

Risk: Medium

The risk of getting this step wrong is more related to psychology than technology. Any mistakes you make in your structure can be fairly easily fixed through cut and paste efforts, though it can be time-consuming. Unfortunately, though, those mistakes will have an impact on the people using the system. If they find it difficult to locate what they’re looking for, or unwieldy to maintain their documentation, they will tally the problem in the “reasons Lean does not work” category.

In the early stages of a cultural shift, every hiccup in a process has a potential to contribute to derailing the transformation. Because people will be relying on information extensively, the impact of a poor knowledge management process will be amplified.

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A successful continuous improvement program is built upon effective training materials, information, and tools. The forms you choose to use, the philosophies you adopt, the books you read, the slides you teach from, the videos you watch, and even the processes you copy and improve upon form the backbone of your improvement effort. Choose well, and your journey becomes much easier. Select poorly, and you can be fighting obstacles for years to come.

This section is intended to provide you with a better understanding of what is available to help you, and who will be providing you with that information.

Prerequisites

None, though previous continuous improvement experience leads to more informed decisions when selecting providers and materials to build a training program.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: 1-3 Days (may be longer if you review multiple providers)

Difficulty: Medium

Risk: Moderate

Materials Required

  • Various review materials to assess options

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The program leader is the organization’s guide while creating a culture of continuous improvement. This person will work closely with senior management and will act their behalf when directing the organization on its journey.

This person is part project manager, part coach and mentor, part consultant, and part bulldozer. He or she is responsible for helping chart the course the organization will take, developing the skills the team will need to get there, and leading the organization down the chosen path.

The hiring of a program leader presents a special catch-22 challenge. It can be hard to commit to hiring a senior individual without a clear understanding of how the company will conduct its transformation. But without someone guiding the organization, it can be a challenge to figure out what, or who, it needs to be successful.  

Prerequisites

There are no prerequisites for this section.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: 1-3(+) days. The time will vary based on the selection process used, the number of potential candidates, and the makeup of the decision making body. While the time invested may be a total of 1-3 days, there is generally a much longer lead time from when the senior leaders decide to hire a program leader until the time he or she shows up for work.

Difficulty: High. Selecting the right person for this job can be challenging, especially when there are several decision makers with competing interests. This is likely to be compounded by the pressure to get started on the transformation.

Risk: High. The right program leader will make or break an organization’s effort to develop a business management system. There is also a risk associated with lost opportunity if the program leader hiring process takes too long.

Materials Required

  • No special materials are required for this section.

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Organizations that thrive at continuous improvement often do so because they have a staff of dedicated experts acting as guides on their Lean journeys. There are a few different flavors to how these people are assigned, though.

  1. People are assigned to a leadership role such as VP of Operational Excellence or Director of Continuous Improvement. These are generally executive level positions that have oversight on how the organization implements Lean. While they may coach junior leaders, they generally are not engaged at the project level.
  2. People are assigned to an internal consulting organization. They might be called something like the Lean Promotion Office or the Process Excellence Team. They are available to coach managers, lead or facilitate kaizen teams, and conduct training.
  3. People are assigned to a resource team. This group provides talented individuals to either backfill teams working on projects, or can actually participate in kaizen activity. It will typically have a few individuals with special skills like welding assigned on a somewhat permanent basis. The majority of the resource team, though, is filled by the personnel who were freed up through productivity gains. Instead of hiring new team members from outside the company, managers fill their job openings from this group. A big benefit is that they gain significant improvement experience all a part of the resource team.

This poll question focuses on number two. I’d like to find out what you think the appropriate internal expert ratio within the organization is. To keep things uniform, let’s consider companies that have been focusing on continuous improvement for a couple years but still don’t have a fully developed Lean culture.

Note: Please let me know at info@velaction.com if you have problems voting. We recently made some changes to our site that may affect this feature.


How many hands- on internal experts should a company have on their staff to help them along their Lean journey? Feel free to add comments at the bottom of this page to explain your choice.

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One of the common misperceptions about Lean is that it is effective only in a manufacturing environment. While it is true that this is where it has its roots, the principles of continuous improvement that went along with Lean manufacturing were used throughout Toyota in its early days. The most tangible, obvious application of Lean, though, was on the shop floor. When people first became interested in what Toyota was doing, they focused on what was easy to see.

Fast-forward many years, and as Lean started becoming more mainstream, some of its forward thinkers came to the same conclusion that Toyota did years earlier. They asked themselves, if these basic principles worked to produce widgets, could they also be used to process information and manage a company?

The answer has been a resounding yes. Initially, Lean spread from the shop floor in manufacturing organizations to their back offices. Then it became ingrained in their management systems. Eventually, as people moved about the workforce, they brought their continuous improvement lessons with them. A marketer in a manufacturing company could apply the same tools in a service organization. As more examples of this repurposing became available, the concept of the Lean office really took off.

Eventually, more specialized forms of Lean followed. The healthcare industry looked at the success of formal continuous improvement efforts, and created its own version. Lean government is on the rise. There are rumblings of Lean education are growing louder.

The truth, though, is that many of the Lean tools are not a seamless fit. SMED looks different in the office than it does on a large CNC machine. Takt time is less rhythmic in service environments. Kanban cards are far more useful to track buckets of bolts than to track ones and zeros on a computer network.

But the power of Lean is not in its tools. It lies in its systematic way of thinking about problems and the focus on flow. Those concepts transfer well across most industries and functions.

A final point is that Lean has evolved significantly. In its original usage, it was most commonly called Lean manufacturing. Over the years, “manufacturing” has increasingly dropped off. Lean has also become much more synonymous to the generic term “continuous improvement” than to the original set of tools that started in the books Lean Thinking and The Machine That Changed the World.

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One of the questions that many people have when they start a Lean journey is, “How long will it take?” Now, the truth is, this question is nearly impossible to answer. The motivation and resources of the company, the quality of the leadership, the presence of a crisis, and a host of other factors affect the speed with which a company embraces change.

Compounding the issue is the fact that there is no clear line of demarcation where a company is not Lean one day, and then has a continuous improvement culture the next. And even if there was a clear line, most companies that actually are becoming Lean will realize that there are better things to spend resources measuring than how Lean one is. So, knowing that this is not really a question that can be answered, I am going to ask it anyway.

How long will it take a typical company to become Lean? 

The purpose is really to get a sense for how hard the Lean community feels a Lean journey is. Unfortunately, many companies that undertake the challenge of adopting Lean principles abandon the process before the cultural changes take root. I suspect a large part of that stems from the fact that they did not know what they were getting into when they started. As the transition drags on and the champions move to different positions, it is easy for the budding continuous improvement culture to whither. Having a better understanding of the time and resources they will have to commit will discourage those that are on the bubble and better prepare those that are willing to do what it takes to change.


How long will it take a typical company to become "Lean"?

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Hang around the Lean community for any length of time, and you will start to hear about the rivalry between Lean and Six Sigma. The two methodologies are the juggernauts of the continuous improvement world. While they are both focused on making operations work more smoothly, they have a slightly different approach in how they do that.

The traditional view is that Lean is focused on pulling wasteful steps and inventory out of a process, and Six Sigma is focused on removing variation. While that is true to some degree, neither methodology limits itself to just one or the other.

The truth is that there is a tremendous amount of overlap in the tools and processes of the two philosophies of improvement. For example the DMAIC cycle in Six Sigma closely parallels the PDCA cycle and its derivatives like the A3 report. A further similarity is that rather than being just toolkits, Lean and Six Sigma are both structured ways of thinking and problem solving.

As for the primary emphases of the methodologies, by no means should they be considered boundaries. Lean must reduce variation to make Standard Work effective and for kanban systems to run smoothly. When six Sigma projects pull variation of a process, it tends to take a great deal of waste with it.

As for differences, the biggest ones between the two lie in scope and in accessibility. Six Sigma contains a set of sophisticated statistical tools that are generally too complicated for most front-line employees to use effectively. Lean, on the other hand, uses tools that are fairly easy for anyone to grasp. For that reason, there are generally fewer Six Sigma experts in a company that people who can take on Lean projects. As a result, Lean projects can be of virtually any size and are more widespread.

Another reason that Six Sigma tends to be used for bigger projects is greater degree of certainty that its tools provide. This helps mitigate the risk of taking action when the stakes are high. Lean tends to promote taking action with a somewhat lower threshold of confidence. That’s not to say that Lean is done by the seat-of-the-pants. It just means that ANOVA is likely to be more accurate than a Pareto chart or a run chart, and can unearth more subtle nuances of a problem.

Because of the overhead on data collection and the limited number of people who can crunch the numbers, Six Sigma tends to be reserved for bigger projects with greater potential impact. Lean tends to be more commonly implemented with daily improvement and weeklong kaizen events.

The bottom line is that there are more similarities than differences in the approaches used by the two methodologies. In fact both have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. For that reason, in recent years, a blend of Lean and Six Sigma has been taking root. Not surprisingly, this hybrid is known as either Lean Sigma or Lean Six Sigma. 

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ANSWER:The short answer is no, but it helps. Of course, like anything, the consultant you choose has to be an effective one. But assuming that is the case, a consultant brings a lot of value to the table. He or she has seen a lot, both good and bad. That experience can be extremely beneficial to shorten your learning curve.

The consultant has likely honed his craft over the years, and can come up with a good development plan to guide you on your Lean journey. In addition, the consultant probably comes armed with a wealth of forms, tools, and training, or knowledge of where to get what you need.

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I recently become fascinated by crows. Turns out they are one of the smartest animals around, and can do some things that most other animals are incapable of. It dawned on me that many of their behaviors would make them outstanding at Lean.

  • Unity of Effort: During the winter months, crows fly home to roost in long streams that stretch across the sky. One passes nearly over my home every evening, and can last for 10 minutes or more as thousands of crows pass by. It is impressive looking. The same unified effort from a team practicing Lean can achieve similarly impressive results.
  • Combining Tools: Crows can think a few steps ahead, and use a series of tools to solve a problem. Similarly, in Lean efforts, a single tool is seldom useful on its own. For example, policy deployment, KPIs, countermeasures, and the various problem solving tools all go hand in hand to getting a team on track.

  • Modifying Tools: Crows have shown the ability to not only use tools, but also to modify them. One of the most amazing examples it that they will fashion a hook out of a twig to fish grubs out of holes. Using tools is important to Lean efforts, but modifying them to suit your needs is what separates the good from the great. When a tool doesn’t get good results in its traditional application, find a way to make it suit your needs. One example is the use of takt time in the office. Most administrative processes have some variation in them. Instead of tracking every single work unit, you can check progress a handful of times in a day. Special cause variation is much more distinguishable from normal variation when tracking is done in ‘time buckets’. (For the math minded among you, this works because of the central limit theorem).

  • Learning from Others: I recently watched an interesting documentary in which researchers presented nesting crows with a threat in the form of a person in a mask. The intent was to see if they taught their young to recognize the danger. Unfortunately, only one of the fledglings survived, but when the same threat was introduced a year later, the now-grown crow signaled its danger call. This was done even though the researcher didn’t act in a threatening manner. For crows, this ability to learn is crucial to survival. For continuous improvement efforts, it means that effort doesn’t have to be wasted reinventing the wheel. This corporate learning works best with a strong knowledge management system in place.
  • Thought Awareness:  Perhaps the example of the highest order thought process was that crows are aware that other crows think. The documentary showed a crow hiding food, and then watching the behavior of other crows to see if they knew about the stash. They realize that the other crow may be faking that they don’t know the hide location. In the same way, it is important to recognize that other people may have different ideas than you do about a change. Not everyone thinks about things the same way.

The bottom line? The next time someone refers to you as a birdbrain, take it as a compliment.

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