Monday, March 19, 2018

Four Hundred Thousand Views – Thanks, Folks

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

What if nobody reads the damned thing?
Pascal Dennis

A few weeks ago the Lean Pathways Blog team & I observed a milestone, a footprint in time: 400,000 views

We’re humbled and grateful. Thank you all for reading our humble & imperfect offerings. When we started in 2010, I didn’t know if you’d be interested.

But I felt it was important to do, in some small way, what kind Japanese senseis did for me when I was a young, thick engineer.

There is a right way of managing, of leading, of being. There are core standards of behavior, just as there are core technical standards in the great professions.

Leadership is informed and governed the Great Virtues, just as Chemical Engineering, the profession I was trained in, is informed and governed by the laws of chemistry, physics, mass transfer, heat transfer and the like.

Our blog seeks to highlight these core principles of leadership and management, which are the foundation of achievement, growth & fun.

These principles will become even more important as the Digital revolution accelerates. I coach more and more IT executives and they are hungry for a solid foundation.

You can’t reach for the stars unless you’re rooted in the earth. The great technologies of our day – Internet of Things, Drones, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Blockchain, Robotics, 3-D printing and the like – will change the world. If we root them in the core principles of leadership, the change will be for the better.

So we’ll continue to blog, kibitz & reflect on Lean, Agile, Digital and the eternal verities.

Tip of the hat to the splendid LPI Blog team – Dianne Caton, our graphic artist, and Steve Macleod, our IT leader.

Thanks, Di and Steve, for all your fine work & support.

And thanks to you all for your interest, fine questions and feedback.

Here’s to eight more safe, happy and engaging years,


Monday, March 5, 2018

Lean, Agile and the Martial Arts

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Fall down seven times, get up eight times
Aikido 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 and what we encountered there has informed my life ever since. The newly launched Toronto Aikikai club was giving a demonstration for an enthusiastic audience.

What did I see that day that made such a lasting impression?

Power, movement, discipline, intense focus, and an obvious consideration and respect between the participants. Everybody on the mat seemed powerful, tireless and respectful.

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.

These lined up well with the Cardinal Virtues I learned at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Sunday School. Aikido helped me through Engineering school and Business school and with the ups & downs of life.

Then I heard Toyota was opening a major factory in the Waterloo region about 90 minutes from my home. My application was accepted and after a series of preliminary interviews, I met 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. “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 all the same. Lean, and its close cousin, Agile, are a ‘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!

The single most important quality in life, leadership and the martial arts is tenacity, which the ancients called Fortitude. Great senseis, and great organizations have it in spades. Decades later, I’m still practicing Aikido and hope to continue till they lower me down (or shoot what’s left of me out of a cannon =)

Last thing. Despite all my failings, I’ve just been promoted to Ni-Dan. My deep thanks & respect to Nakamura-sensei and Barnes-sensei of Aikido Hokuryukai


Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

Best regards,


Monday, February 19, 2018

Your Pain is Your Genius

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

The Obstacle is the Way - Epictetus

I quote one of my heroes, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Ryan Holiday also turned the phrase into a fine book [ LINK ]

What’s it mean in the context of management and leadership?

In Strategy one of our most important tasks is identifying ‘where the shoe pinches’. Imagine we’re a hospital and our biggest problem is Patient Harm. Do we have the courage and humility to talk it openly?

“Folks, we have a big problem…” Can we analyse our mis-medications, infections, and medical errors openly? Can we look at historical trends, compare ourselves to other hospitals and other industries, and produce Pareto charts by type of harm, care line, procedure, time, location and the like?

Or imagine we’re a provider of on-line streaming and our biggest problem is Downtime. Can we talk it openly? Can we analyze incidents, quality rate, overall equipment effectiveness, Mean-Time-To-Repair, Mean-Time-Between-Failure and the like?

Can we also look at historical trends and compare our performance to that of industry leaders like Netflix? Can we break our incidents down and produce Pareto charts by type of outage, service, channel, type of equipment, location and the like?

The obstacle is the way – for the hospital and for the on-line streaming provider. Finding where the shoe pinches, and fixing it, is the path to excellence. To be sure, Design is also central. We have to connect with our patients or customers and understand their needs and journeys.

But there too, the obstacle is the way. Understanding the patient or customer journey entails understanding the ‘pain points’, and designing them out. (And if you get really good, designing in delightful moments, but that’s a topic for another blog.)

As an aside, football fans will recognize this principle in the great teams & coaches. The great Alabama Crimson Tide coach, Nick Saban, invariably talks about it in interviews. (Same is true for New England Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick, though some believe he is nefarious =)

All this takes courage & humility, of course, qualities that have always been rare. (Otherwise, would we talk about them so much?)

Much of my personal practice entails coaches senior executives and Boards. Job One is often dispelling the ‘Everything is Just Great’ syndrome.

But that too, is a topic for another blog.

Be strong, be honest and remember that your pain is your genius.

Best regards,


Monday, February 5, 2018

Strategy and the Worlds of Thought & Experience

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Strategy, like all problem solving, entails moving fluidly between the worlds of Thought & Experience.

We begin by trying to understand our core problem in the world of thought. We reflect on core strategic questions such as:

  • What happened last year, and why?
  • What worked, what did not work, and why?
  • What do our customers expect of us?
  • What do we need to achieve this year?
  • What are our biggest obstacles?
  • What’s changed in our environment?
  • How capable is our team & our processes?

We use analytical tools like the ‘Q7’ and ‘New 7’ Quality Tools to begin to dispel the fog. Based on our understanding of our customers, organization, industry, technology etc. we begin form hypotheses around the core questions. (A professor pal tells me this is called ‘deductive reasoning’.)

Now we’re ready to ‘go see’ the world of experience. We want to sample as much of this world as we can. In a large organization, we should visit as many sites as possible. Stand in a circle if you can, as Taiichi Ohno suggest, until you see what’s actually happening. Then go somewhere else and do the same. It’s akin to crossing a river by jumping stone to stone, lingering a while at each. The more we sample, the more likely we are to grasp the underlying situation. (My pal tells me this is ‘inductive reasoning’.)

We then return to the world of thought to define the strategic problem (What Is Actually Happening & What Should Be Happening), what’s preventing us, and what we might do about it.

This movement between thought & experience is central to strategy and problem solving in general.

We need to be comfortable in both worlds - one hand digging deep into the earth, the other reaching for the sky.

Thought without action is lifeless. Action without thought is aimless.