Monday, December 10, 2018

Is Five Why Analysis Too Simplistic for Complex Problems?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

A common question, especially in industries that are just now learning the Lean Business System.

Problem solving is a kata - a set of core forms that we practice over & over, hopefully under the guidance of a capable sensei.

When practicing the problem solving kata, we pull in the tools we need including, Five Why, Ishikawa, Process Flow Diagrams, SIPOC etc.

It's a mistake to structure any problem solving discussion in either/or terms.

It's not Five Why OR Ishikawa OR Process Flow Diagram OR FMEA.

To paraphrase Hemingway, "it's all true." We pull in what we need.

Another common mistake is underestimating Five Why.

"Five Why is too simple for me. I want a more complex tool, because this is a complex problem. (And I am a very complex guy!)"

In consulting practice we've used Five Why to get to the root cause of complex design, supply chain and organizational problems.

Five Why is especially helpful when we've clearly defined a Direct Cause.

Often there are multiple causes, and we need to apply Five Why sequentially to get to the root cause of each.

A common failure mode is not understanding the three types of Root Causes - Inadequate Standard, Inadequate Adherence to Standard, Inadequate System.

These are derived from the splendid NASA and Loss Control literature & are invaluable because they point to actionable root causes.

In summary, problem solving is a kata and not unlike trying to hit a curve ball, shoot hoops, or hit a golf ball.

(All of which baffle me...)

You practice, practice, practice the core skills & movements.

Then, if you're very lucky, the day comes you can do it unconsciously.

Best regards,


Monday, November 26, 2018

Singapore FinTech Festival & the Shape of Things to Come

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Just back from a splendid week in hot, sticky & smart Singapore and the FinTech Festival.

Despite the jet lag, I thought I’d send out a quick note, with more to follow (when I’m vertical again.)

I took in as many Innovation Labs as I could, talked to umpteen start-ups and met splendid developers. I saw the Eight Essential Technologies* in action & gained some sense of what’s here and what’s coming.

The Festival was focused on banking and insurance, but it’s clear that “analogue” industries will be changed at least as much as “digital” industries. (The line between them has been erased, no?)

Consider the TUAS expansion project, which will triple Port of Singapore’s size – (it’s already one of the world’s biggest and best.)

The new port will be a ‘Smart’ port, with digital technology, sensors, automated cranes, driverless vehicles, drones to inspect equipment, and a smart grid. The goal is seamless and efficient port clearance and a 50% cut in turnaround times – (already best in class).

Meanwhile, Maersk and other shipping companies are using Blockchain to create seamless and efficient flow of goods around the world. One focus area is Trade Finance.

The goal is to make a complex, wasteful, error-laden process involving multiple actors (buyer, seller, intermediaries, multiple banks, regulators and insurers) – virtually instantaneous.

FinTech’s effect on people will likely be even more profound.

Prime Minister Modi’s simple and powerful address summarized the effect to date India to date:
  • One billion identity cards – which allow people to open bank accounts, and qualify for government services
  • One billion new bank accounts – and all that implies (e.g. savings accounts, credit cards, micro-loans, insurance etc.)
  • 200 million new micro-loans…

The numbers and implications are awe-inspiring: innumerable people in innumerable small villages across a vast sub-continent will have better lives.

Now they can get paid directly, securely grow their savings, qualify for small loans, insurance and healthcare.

Less waste and hassle; more dignity and choice.

Here’s a deep bow to all the fine people I’ve met. Looking forward to getting to know you all better! Bravo Singapore!

All for now,


Monday, November 12, 2018

Toyota’s New Rivals & ‘ Life and Death Battle’

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

We are in a 'life & death battle' against our new rivals, Akio Toyoda

Mr. Toyoda is not talking about Volkswagen, GM or Audi…he means Google & Waymo, Uber, Lyft and the rest.

Ironic, no? After seven decades of unparalleled (analogue) excellence, the world’s greatest manufacturer is facing a mortal threat from digital companies

After developing & deploying of the legendary Toyota Production System (TPS) in facilities around the world, Toyota is finding it’s not enough.

TPS is necessary to be sure, as Elon Musk and Tesla are finding to their chagrin, but not sufficient. We have to deepen and extend the Toyota business system with digital methods.

A tough challenge for a proud, conservative company that historically has been slow to adopt digital technology.

For example, in the 1990’s at our old TMMC plant in Cambridge Ontario, providing computers to managers and group leaders was a big deal, which generated much soul-searching.

“Will we lose touch with what’s actually happening on the shop floor?”

Grudgingly, our old senseis relented, though they continued to write their A3s in pencil.

And when it came to strategy or problem solving, they taught us to never trust the computer screen, and always to go and see for ourselves. Were they wrong?

Of course not. TPS and the great old senseis who disseminated TPS have changed the world. (They certainly changed me.)

But in an age of explosive technological change, Value – the raison d’etre of TPS – is a much more elusive target than it was in the 1990’s. And we have to change to keep up with it.

It’s no longer enough to build a splendid car – you also have to stuff it with splendid computers, connect to an ecosystem of enablers, and perhaps make it drive (fly?) by itself.

Which means you have to keep innovating forever. In short, continuous improvement is necessary, but not sufficient.

Whenever we need to create something new in conditions of extreme uncertainty, we need a new set of arrows in our quiver: continuous innovation.

Not everywhere, let me hasten to add. Continuous innovation everywhere, a common cliché & conceit these days, is a practical absurdity.

For example, if you’re making kitchen towels in a factory in Utah, extruding plastic auto parts in Michigan, or piloting a container ship up through the Suez Canal to Rotterdam, your focus will be continuously improving.

Safety, Quality, Delivery and all the related metrics (cycle times, OEE, work-in-process, changeover times etc.)

Every organization needs a foundation of standards and stability. The digital tsunami does not obsolesce these core needs – it depends on them.

But if you’re a product/service leader in any of these industries, the entire customer experience is your chessboard, and the Eight Essential Technologies* must inform your moves and thinking.

Wherever we need to create something new in conditions of extreme uncertainty, we need to learn to iterate to value, i.e. innovate continuously.

Imagine team members and leaders at a world class muffler manufacturer who have spent a few decades refining their Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) processes!

Sorry, we’ll be making fewer and fewer mufflers from now on…

So it goes when you focus on methods, and not the thinking behind them. SMED is a countermeasure to a specific problem. If SMED all you know, then digital is a big problem.

But if you understand the thinking behind SMED, and TPS as a whole, with hard work & reflection you should be able to apply it to new problems.

Humility is also a great enabler. It’s healthy to accept that what we did in the past is irrelevant to most people. What have you done for us lately, is a severe, but in my view, fair test.

Indeed, it’s the very question facing Akio Toyoda and his splendid organization.

Good luck!


Monday, October 29, 2018

The Power of One Page

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

In times of tumultuous change brevity is king.

Blah, blah, blah…doesn’t cut it when revenue is non-existent and investors are jittery.

Endless PowerPoint decks, no matter how slick, are tiresome and wasteful. The four-hour meeting that goes nowhere is downright irritating.

Less is more remains the cardinal rule in music, art, theater, and the world of business.

Lean masters of the past understood ‘less is more’ in their bones. Toyota in the early 1950’s, for example, was facing bankruptcy, union warfare and public condemnation.

They were a tenth as productive as the American juggernaut car companies, and had little capital with which to buy desperately needed machines.

They created the one-page storyboard, also known as the ‘A3’ (after the paper size), to enable quick effective & communication.

I have a number of friends who are retired Marine corps officers. They tell me that Marine Doctrine also emphasizes clear & simple communication – short stand-up meetings around a board (1-page) are the norm.

Our friends and colleagues in the start-up communities have absorbed this concept and now communicate with various ‘canvases’.

These address broad strategic issues such as Business Model and Value Proposition, as well as, tactical elements like Personas, Empathy Maps and Customer Journeys.

I’m heartened by such cross-fertilization. Both the giver and receiver profit, and develop empathy.

Quality is paramount, of course. A page full of garbage is just that. Clearly expressing a hypothesis and plan of action around a complex business problem or industry takes great skill and understanding.

You have to think deeply, and then get the hell out of the building. (Go see, as the Japanese like to say).

One page takes much longer, therefore, than ten. (You all know the famous Winston Churchill story by now…)

The power of one page emerges in all its glory when use it to tell stories.

Story-telling, narrative, is perhaps our most human quality. “Tell me a story, grandpa…”

“Well, once upon there was a little girl who lived with her family in a town by the sea. And one night she looked out her window and saw a beautiful white horse and the horse had wings…”

Will AI ever be able to make up an enchanting story, on demand (from a loved one)?

That’s the real Turing test, no?

In any event, I tip my hat to our digital & start-up friends. It's fun working with you & I encourage you to continue poaching ‘traditional’ Lean.

Best regards,