Monday, December 5, 2016

Reflection - the Breakfast of Champions

By Pascal Dennis

Reflection entails. honest, humble acceptance of successes & failures, strengths & weaknesses.

Hansei, as the Japanese call it.

Reflection is the countermeasure to hubris, overweening pride & arrogance, that destroyer of people and organization.

Reflection is central to all great religions, in the form of prayer, meditation, and rumination.

In some traditions the acolyte leaves civilization and seeks reflection in solitude.

In my experience, reflection requires both solitude, as well as, the camaraderie of one's team.

Thus, questions like 'What have I learned?’ naturally lead to 'What did we learn?'

Reflection, of course, reflects the Adjust phase of Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle.

We close of the loop thereby, and lay the foundation for next year's PDCA loop.

A couple of points here:

To close the loop, we need to observe each PDCA phase.

Otherwise, we suffer the debilitating ailment I call Scatter - one group does the Plan, another Deploys the Plan, yet a third Checks the Plan.

Result: lousy results and little learning.

Scatter is at epidemic proportions, especially in large organizations.

So important activities need a deployment leader, ‘key thinker’, ‘chief engineer’ or equivalent to ‘wrap their arms around the problem’, observe each PDCA phase, and thereby harvest & share the learning.

Best regards,


Monday, November 28, 2016

Lean and the Martial Arts

By Pascal Dennis

Fall down seven times, get up eight times
Toyota proverb

I first stumbled onto the martial arts when I fifteen years old. I was shooting baskets at the YMCA with my pal, Pete Stathakos, when we a series of loud slams followed by raucous applause emanating from the large wrestling room.

We hurried over. What we encountered there has informed my life ever since. Bruce Stiles sensei, fresh from years of intense study with Kanai-sensei of Boston Aikikai was giving a demonstration with members of his newly launched Toronto Aikikai club.

Later I learned that Kanai-sensei was a ‘Shihan’ or senior sensei who had studied with the founder, Morehei Ueshiba.

Stiles-sensei was demonstrating core techniques against multiple attackers. Power, movement, discipline intense focus, and an obvious consideration and respect between the participants. Stiles-sensei drove his attackers into the mat so hard, I was amazed they were able to rise again.

In fact, they rolled out of throws and rose smoothly to attack again. Everybody on the mat seemed powerful, elegant, tireless and respectful. At the end, Bruce and his students knelt and bowed to one another, and then bowed to a picture of an old Japanese gent. The gallery burst into wild applause. Stiles-sensei thanked everyone for coming, answered audience questions, and the demonstration came to an end.

I joined the club of course and for the next fifteen years would attend 3 or 4 times a week. I learned the seven virtues of bushido: Yuki = courage; Jin = charity; Gi = justice; Rei = courtesy; Makoto = honesty; Chugi = fidelity; Meiyo = honor, which corresponded closely to the Cardinal

Virtues I learned at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Sunday School. Aikido helped me through Engineering school and Business school.

Then I heard that Toyota was opening a major factory in the Waterloo region about 90 minutes from my home. I was interviewed by the President, Mr. Watanabe. After a few perfunctory questions about my training and experience, he said, “Tell me about aikido.”

Mr. Watanabe closed his eyes as I described my senseis, training and dojo. He opened his eyes and smiled. “You are a serious student, Pascal-san – good! Toyota is also like a dojo…” Turns out he had studied both judo and aikido. I got the job and my apprenticeship began in earnest.

Mr. Watanabe was right. Toyota felt very much like a martial arts dojo. In fact, before stepping onto the shop floor, I felt like bowing, as a sign of respect to my team members, and to the art of management.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because it’s still the same. Lean is ‘do’, in other words, a ‘path’, very similar to aikido, judo, karate-do and other martial arts.

A set of techniques becomes a path when they connect to your deeper being and purpose. A path provides constancy of purpose. The great senseis, whether in the martial arts or in management tend to be extraordinarily long-lived.

Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, Joe Juran, Eiji Toyoda were all active well into their 90’s!

All this matters because the single most important quality in Lean (and the martial arts) is tenacity, which the ancients called Fortitude. Great senseis, and great organizations have it in spades.

Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

Lean, aikido, judo, karate… it’s all the same.

Best regards,


Monday, November 21, 2016

Lean Means Don’t Be a Dumb-Ass

By Pascal Dennis

I owe this gem to our friends & colleagues in the great state of Alabama.

Our partners there have a way with words, and a fine appreciation of Lean fundamentals.

Lean is ‘simple’, is it not?
  1. Define Purpose clearly
  2. Make problems visible at all levels
  3. Treat people with respect – team members, customers, suppliers and the community
  4. Involve everybody In problem solving
Lean methods like visual management, standardized work, Help Chains and the like are about making problems visible, so we can fix them.

Once the problem is visible, the countermeasure is often obvious, no?

To be sure, some problems (e.g. Strategic, Design, Supply Chain, machine, information flow etc.) are complex and have multiple causes.

Countermeasures reveal themselves only after much reflection and experimentation. Lean methods enable this process. (Without them we often jump to a dumb-ass ‘countermeasure’)

An old Henny Youngman joke goes like this:

Henny, flapping his arms like wings. “I went to my doctor and told him it hurts when I do this!” Henny makes a face. “The doctor told me, don’t do that!”

Lean methods help us understand what ‘that’ is, so we can fix it.

Our challenge is that we often learn dumb-ass things in college and in dysfunctional organizations. Things like, let’s hide our problems, let’s brutalize our team members, let’s try to hoodwink our customers, and the like.

The truth will out.

Don’t be a dumb-ass.

Best regards,


PS Andy & Me and the Hospital, my latest, describes how not to be a dumb-ass in healthcare.

Get a copy today & tell me what you think!

Monday, November 14, 2016

How Does a Fukushima Culture Evolve?

By Pascal Dennis
A fish rots from the head.
Sicilian proverb
That’s how I was taught at TMMC our fine old plant in Cambridge Ontario. But evidently, there’s a very different mental model in nuclear power industry.

The past few years I’ve reported the extraordinary story surrounding the nuclear meltdown at three Fukushima reactors in 2011. Well, the truth is finally out.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPPCO) President Naomi Hirose, and senior director Takafumi Anegawa have formally apologized to the people and President of Japan for TEPPCO’s lying about the biggest problem a nuclear power company can have.

An investigative report released last Thursday by three company-appointed lawyers said TEPCO's then-president, Masataka Shimizu, instructed officials not to use the phrase ‘meltdown’ under pressure from the prime minister's office, though the investigators found no proof of such pressure.

The report said TEPCO officials, who had suggested possible meltdowns, stopped using the description after March 14, 2011, when Shimizu's instruction was delivered to the vice president at the time, Sakae Muto, in a memo at a televised news conference. Shimizu had a company official show Muto his memo and tell him the prime minister's office has banned the specific words.

Government officials also softened their language on the reactor conditions around the same time, the report said.

Former officials at the prime minister's office have denied the allegation. Mama mia…

How do such cultures evolve?

Hubris is humanity’s original sin – so the Great Books tell us. Pride cometh before the Fall…

Power, you’ll have heard me say, too often means the power to do stupid things. “Look at me – I am President/CEO/COO/CFO/CMO/SVP…! I have climbed to the top of the mountain. Why should I follow your lowly standards?”

Standards go out the window – Ethics, respect for people, including team members, customers and the community go first. “A fish rots from the head.”

Operational standards soon follow – front line work, critical safety work (e.g. Lock Out/Tag Out, and Confined Space Entry…), managerial work like team huddles, Leader STW and the like.

Before too long everybody is lying. Organizations facing severe competition soon totter & collapse. The examples are too numerous to mention.

If the organization is ‘protected’ (e.g. oligopoly, government monopoly etc.), this can go on for years, the costs passed on to captive customers. (The ultimate sign of disrespect, no?)

Eventually, though the termite-infested structure wobbles, then falls down entirely. The shareholders, or in TEPPCO’s case, the Japanese people, are left to pick up the pieces.

(The collapse of standards in major institutions has broader societal implications, of course. Standards are our shields, no? They help us distinguish right from wrong, and thus make problems visible, so we can fix them.

Historian Edward Gibbons tell us that the Roman Empire collapsed when the nobles were no longer strong enough to carry their own shields. The Romans, Gibbons suggests, ‘outsourced’ standards, which he called ‘civic virtue’, to barbarians.)

What’s the countermeasure?

Visibility, visibility, visibility. We humans are tricky, lazy & dishonest. Monopolies, oligopolies, NGO’s and others lacking public oversight have repeatedly succumbed to hubris’ siren song.

Taiichi Ohno, chief architect of the Toyota Production System, went to factory floor every day to go see what was happening, warts and all. Reality keeps us humble and TPS methods at heart are about making problems visible.

St. Jerome kept a human skull of his table. How many of leaders have such humility?

The best leaders I know try to build a management system and a culture that makes problems visible at each level. Then on a regular basis, they go see what’s there, and help out where they can.

We safely assume that Mr. Hirose and his merry band, and their ilk around the world, do no such thing.

Best regards,