Monday, November 28, 2011

"No Bozos -- Ever"

By Pascal Dennis

"No Bozos - Ever" Steve Jobs mantra!

An interesting expression of the Jim Collins principle, "Get the right people on this bus."

Hard to argue with the wisdom. Excellence entails prolonged focus by exceptional people on a noble goal.

Bozos distract teams from what's most important & ultimately degrade performance.

So, no bozos indeed.

But there are pitfalls.

What is a bozo? Do we have objective, fair criteria?

Or is our process a popularity contest?

Are we humane? Does everybody get a fair shot at proving themselves?

Do we have clear, simple standards for processes, hiring, performance, and strategy deployment?

If the answer to some of these questions is NO, then all bets are off.

I've found that people labeled as troublemakers (or "bozos") are simply bored or frustrated by the chaos all around them.

Give good people clear objectives, quick feedback, and the ability to improve their processes - and they flourish!

By contrast, "stars" that have risen in chaotic cultures often fall apart, when we clear the fog with standards, visual management and good processes.

I call this "splitting" and it's common in transformations.

So, let's heed the wisdom of Steve Jobs and Jim Collins with the caveats noted above.

Be fair and objective. Provide clear standards, quick feedback and clear direction.

Kaizen your recruitment process. Be clear on what you want in new team members & creative in how to check for those qualities.

Above all, be humane.

Everybody deserves a fair chance.

If you've hired people that don't fit - help them find a place where they do.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Gary Kasparov and the Breakfast of Champions

By Pascal Dennis

Chess is arguably our greatest strategy game.

More books have been written about than for all other games combined.

Chess has infused our language: checkmate, stalemate, opening phase, end game, gambit...

Chess has such a strong hold on the human mind that chess champions are notoriously eccentric.

(Check out the recent, excellent documentary called Bobby Fischer vs. The Rest of the World)

Gary Kasparov, the greatest chess player of them all, is the exception.

After retiring in 2005, he has devoted himself to exposing Vladimir Putin's corrupt regime, and to leading Russia's fledgling pro-democracy forces.

He is also successful entrepreneur and author, and is happily married.

So his recent book about chess and business strategy is especially important.

It's called How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves - from the Board to the Boardroom.
Kasparov's insights into excellence are especially interesting.

What makes a champion?

Frequent, frank - even ruthless - reflection and self-assessment, Kasparov tells us.

Indeed, if we think of elite performers across a range of endeavors - Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods (pre-implosion), Yoyo Ma, Yitzhak Perlman come to mind - we see the same pattern.

What's this got to do with you?

The Lean Business System is about elite performance.

It's best practitioners - Toyota, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, United Technologies, Alcoa, Danaher and the like - ruthlessly self-assess, and adjust based on what they see.

Our improvement kata - tip of the hat to my pal, Mike Rother, is our driving force.

Here at Lean Pathways we've boiled the kata down - and call it Four-Step-Problem-Solving.

(There are others. I'm not into theology - pick a good one & get going...)

We supplement our kata with Brain Booster Pocket Cards and Apps.

But it's all about reflection and adjustment thereby - the Breakfast of Champions.

More about Kasparov in future blogs.

Sayonara ya'll.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to Basics

By Al Norval

The dog days of summer have passed, fall is here, the air is crisp and winter is just around the corner. It’s one of my favorite times of year which means it’s football season. As I write this, training camps have broken and the regular season is well under way. It’s mid-season so every team is still in the race.

What do football and Lean have in common? Many things, the most important being how they pay attention to the basics. The basics of football are blocking and tackling. The basics of Lean are making problems visible and problem solving.

Football training camps that began several weeks ago, opened with the basics of blocking & tackling. Why do they start with the basics? In football, the teams have to block and tackle on every play. If they can’t get those right, there is no way they can get the more advanced plays right. The basics of blocking and tackling are a foundation for everything else. They need to be good at the foundational basics so they can build upon them. If not, it’s like building a house of cards and we all know teams like that.

The basics of Lean are found in the foundation of the House of Lean. Like football, Lean needs a solid foundation of Standard & Stable processes to build upon. Lean uses 5S and Visual Management to make waste and problems visible and a simple problem solving process to engage team members in solving problems. The outcome of problem solving often is standards and/ or standardized work by which the improvements are locked in. By solving problems and strengthening the underlying processes, we build a solid foundation upon which to move into JIT and Jidoka.

So, standards and standardized work lock in improvements. Sounds like football again where each play is standardized work and where more advanced options build upon the foundational standard plays.

For more on basics and Lean, see the Lean Manifesto at

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lean Enterprise Workshops December 6 - 8 in Jacksonville, Florida

Dear friends,

I've been privileged to work with the Lean Enterprise Institute for almost a decade now.

They're great people whose mission is to "change the world!" -- and they mean it.

Join me and other faculty members of the Lean Enterprise Institute as we present a series of workshops in Jacksonville, Florida on December 6-8 focused on developing leadership and problem-solving skills.

Along with workshops there is an opportunity to take a gemba walk at two local companies harnessing the power of lean thinking (Medtronic, Inc. and Bahri Dental) and to attend a Lunch & Learn session with LEI CEO John Shook.

To read more about the event and to register, visit

Hope to see you there.


Monday, November 14, 2011

American Manufacturing Basics

By Al Norval

It’s hard to believe but in 1979, the US Manufacturing workforce peaked at 19.5 million jobs. Since then US Manufacturing jobs have declined by about 40% to 11.7 million jobs with much of the job loss occurring in the last decade. About half the job loss is due to jobs displaced by Chinese manufacturing and much of the rest due to improved labor productivity. Yet with productivity up substantially, the US is still the world’s manufacturing leader producing 19% of the world’s goods compared to China’s 15.6%.

This is quite a dilemma. Labor productivity must go up to enable US Manufacturers to compete with off shore manufacturers who often have lower labor rates. Yet as labor productivity goes up, we face having unused labor.

How do we deal with this in the Lean world? We want labor productivity yet this can often mean job losses as fewer people are required to maintain the same output.

Let’s go back to the basics of Lean and remember the principle of “Respect for Humanity”. This is very deep and can have multiple interpretations but in this case it means that improvements in labor productivity must never result in lay-offs or people being let go to “cash out the gains”. Instead Lean views the unused labor as unused capacity to produce more goods and produce more improvement. Rather than overproduce goods (one of the biggest causes of waste), people are used to drive out waste and solve problems resulting in stronger processes. This allows Manufacturing to work with Sales and Marketing to open new markets and launch new products, both of which drive up volume and use up the excess capacity that was generated.

Organizations that do this are on an upward spiral. The more improvement they get, the more people can be freed up to drive more improvement. At each loop, costs go down allowing volume to go up driving a need to use some people to produce the additional goods.

Sometimes this is short term pain for long term gain as it takes time to develop new markets and launch new products but isn’t that just another opportunity to apply Lean?

This all becomes possible if we view Lean as a growth strategy, rather than a cost reduction strategy and we stay true to the basic principles of Lean including “Respect for Humanity”.

For more on this and other Lean principles see the Lean Manifesto at


Alistair Norval

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Humor in Adult Learning

By Al Norval

We in the Lean community have a unique challenge. We need to be both students as well as teachers at the same time. While we are rapidly learning and applying many new things, we have an obligation to teach others in our work groups or organizations what we have learned. Part of this is the concept of Yokoten, the rapid sharing of information laterally throughout the organization. This requires a mature Lean organization with systems and structures developed to ensure this happens. More on the topic of Yokoten in a later blog.

For today, I wanted to talk about teaching and adult learning. Adults learn differently from children. Kids are sponges for information. Adults on the other hand are full up or overloaded with information. In order to learn, adults have to replace what they have previously learned. To make matters more complicated, adult retention of things they have learned can be as low as around 10%.

In summary, adults are tougher to teach and retain less of what we teach them. This makes it tough for us in the Lean community to fulfill our role as a teacher.

What are some possible countermeasures to this?

The first countermeasure is “Learn by Do”. The act of applying the learning drives it deeper and makes it real. But what is it about “Doing” that drives higher learning and retention? Because people are involved in “Doing”, their brains create more neural connections with the activity than with just passive listening to a talk about the subject. The more active the participation, the more neural connections are formed and the higher the learning and retention. That’s why just listening to lectures has low learning while Learn by Doing has a much higher retention rate of the learning.

But how to drive the learning even higher?

The first is to teach others. We learn by teaching. After all, you’ve got to know a subject before you can teach it. Nothing tests your knowledge of a subject as much as trying to teach others.

Lastly, adults learn best when the learning environment is light and has some humor. Again we can see how humor creates more neural connections by triggering emotions and so enhances the learning experience.

How to add humor to the learning environment – through the use of images. Not all of us are comedians so we need props. Images with a light, humorous touch provide that and help create a learning environment that is conducive to adults both learning and retaining what has been taught.

Putting this all together, a process of a little training using light images, followed by doing, followed by rapid feedback creates rapid learning cycles that drive home the key learning points in adults. Practicing these ourselves enables us in the Lean community to fulfill our mission as being both students and teachers.

For more information on the use of Lean images to add some humor into your training, visit the Lean Pathways Shop.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Social Media & the Lean Business System -- Risks & Opportunities

By Pascal Dennis,

Been thinking a lot about this lately.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, as well as, the abundance of cell phone apps -- what do they mean for Lean thinkers?

Seems to me social media represent a powerful new learning channel -- provided we keep the fundamentals in mind.

Yokoten -- means shared, lateral, experiential learning.

We learn by doing -- not by browsing.

If we spend too much time at our screens -- we sacrifice depth.

Depth of understanding requires action followed by reflection -- away from your screen.

Use the screen to supplement your knowledge.

Then turn the damned thing off and get to the gemba, where you must practice, practice, practice.

Social media are marvelous, helpful and oh so seductive. Used properly, they're a boon.

But they're no substitute for experience, for the school of hard knocks, of growth & learning.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Curing What Ails Our Hospitals

By Al Norval

I read this article in a recent issue of Fortune magazine and have to admit it was the catchy title that caught my interest. "Curing What Ails Our Hospitals” went on to talk about a new design for hospitals that dealt with three problems that afflict most current hospitals. That is:

Energy Efficiency
High Cost

The article stated that infections were the leading cause of death in US hospitals.

In a play on words, the article quoted Norman Cousins saying that “A hospital is no place for a person who was seriously ill”.

I think that one line summarizes the state of Healthcare in North America.

Rather than just stating the obvious, the authors did offer several countermeasures. I’ve summarized the approach this way – improving the quality of patient care by reducing hospital induced infections will result in lower a length of stay for many patients. A shorter length of stay translates into savings and improved patient (Customer) satisfaction. Combine that with energy efficient buildings and a focus on prevention using team based care and the costs of healthcare can be brought back into line. Makes sense to me – I’d be interested in your opinions.

Their ideas for team based care included small neighbourhood hospitals which sounded a lot like SMED and small lot size needed for flow. Flow occurs in the absence of waste and I could visualize many waste reduction ideas in their design. Having the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others involved in patient care work as a team eliminates many forms of waste and more importantly allows the team to problem solve quickly and efficiently.

It all comes back to the basics of Lean:

Eliminate waste
Focus on the Customer
Engage team members in problem solving

By doing this, costs will take care of themselves.