Roots of Lean

Today and tomorrow, I have the pleasure of taking part in a Lean Six Sigma summit being hosted by our corporation. One of today’s presenters was Mike Micklewright. He posed many challenging and introspective questions to our lean champions. One of his best points was that lean is not about copying Toyota and rolling out a set of cookie-cutter tools. He suggested that the roots of lean lie in three fundamental principles:

  1. Elimination of waste
  2. Focus on cashflow
  3. Respect for people

From these three principles, Toyota systematically invented the lean system that we hold in high regard today. Although the three principles are debatable, I like the point of his thinking.
He talked a bit about how American companies used to embrace TQM, then moved to Six Sigma. He mentioned that Toyota started on this journey several decades ago. It occurred to me that there is a fundamental difference between the American experience and the Toyota experience. In the Toyota experience, they learned a basic attitude from Ford, Deming, Juran, and others. With this attitude, they continuously used basic principles to invent customized solutions for unique problems. Over decades, they continuously labored to perfect and systemize their countermeasures.
In the U.S. experience, we saw TQM, QFD, Six Sigma, and Lean roll out in our corporations as systemized best practices of leading companies. These systemized “best in class” practices consist of toolsets supported by underlying principles. Is there a big difference between TQM, QFD, Six Sigma, and Lean? Personally, I don’t think so. The underlying principles all came from Ford, Deming, and Juran. The problem is each generation of “innovators” that has stamped his or her copyrighted brand onto quality has also added tools and slightly different language to help sell a new movement. Rather than build on the fundamentals (like Toyota does), we have been relearning everything over and over again. Sounds like waste to me. If only we could embrace something and commit to it for decades, we would have plenty of U.S. companies that are just like Toyota right now.
My two questions to blog readers:
1. Are there presently any U.S. companies out there with successful “home grown” quality programs built on fundamentals?
2.What do you consider to be the three or four fundamental principles of lean and quality?

Lean in Science

Originally published on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog in 2007.

Lean in Science. Cookie cutters are really good at cutting cookies, but you can’t bake a cake with them. This is my general attitude towards the tools-based approach to Lean. For the past couple years, I’ve been involved in an interesting Lean transformation. We’re trying to apply it to science.

To prepare for implementation, I took our corporate black belt training and also attended the Lean Experience at the Lean Learning Center. In the course of my study, I found Spear and Bowen’s 1999 HBR article, “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System.” It has since become my favorite piece of Lean literature. You can read a review here, but I highly recommend that you buy it.

Spear and Bowen’s extensive analysis of the Toyota Production System extracted four basic rules behind all the various Lean tools. The rules:

Rule 1: All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.

Rule 2: Every customer-suuplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send request and receive responses.

Rule 3: The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.

Rule 4: Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.

The real gem for people in my industry is Rule 4. Scientists are a notoriously skeptical bunch. When you tell them that they will benefit from a system that is used to make cars, every red flag in the room goes up. I often hear statements like, “We are not a factory, so lean doesn’t apply to us.” A scientist can tell me that Lean doesn’t apply to research, but he can’t tell me that the scientific method doesn’t apply to research. In fact, when I tell him that what we are doing is applying the scientific method more rigorously, what else can a scientist do but applaud?

Thanks to a reframing of what it means to be Lean, we are crushing that cookie cutter and driving, what I call, “Lean Spirit(TM)” into the organization. With Lean Spirit, traditional countermeasures don’t matter. We’ve got the rules that allow us to create custom countermeasures that fit our problems. Lean Spirit is the way to become your own Toyota, not to become a copy of Toyota. Thank you Drs. Spear and Bowen.

Psychology & Lean

Originally published on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog in 2007.

Extraversion or introversion. How do those personality traits figure into a Lean implementation? I have seen very event driven implementations of Lean. There are Kaizen blitzes, Value Stream Mappings, 6S events, and others. I think it is safe to say that extraverts have an easier time with all the typical Lean activities that require extensive interpersonal interaction. As an event goes on, the extravert can maintain a constant energy level and becomes more animated as the group gets more involved.

A refresher on introversion and extraversion can be found at Wikipedia:

Most people believe that an extravert is a person who is friendly and outgoing. While that may be true, that is not the true meaning of extraversion. Basically, an extravert is a person who is energized by being around other people. This is the opposite of an introvert who is energized by being alone.

I’ve heard many reasons why Lean won’t work. Although we are familiar with how to overcome many of these objections, the apprehension may have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with implementation. People have a funny way of creating seemingly logical arguments to validate feelings. If you are trying to implement Lean in an environment full of people that cherish their independence and “alone time,” consider modifying your implementation to appeal to the introvert lifestyle.

As a subject matter expert on being an introvert, I offer the following pointers for appealing to people like me:

  1. Reduce the number of events and create tools that can be performed individually or in small private groups.
  2. Focus on rules and principles. The underlying theory of Lean will captivate an introvert. Much more appealing is a discussion about the Four Rules or a discussion about the Five Principles (Value, Value Stream, Flow, Pull, Perfection). The 8 Wastes are cool, but they are only corollaries to the underlying philosophy.
  3. Spread out events so that some people can recharge between sessions. I led a Kaizen that met one day a week for a couple hours for many weeks. Not typical, but it really helped everyone in the room stay focused for the short time we met. Nobody ever snapped from fatigue and we got a lot of stuff done.
  4. Make your introverts into your Lean research staff. People like me enjoy the opportunity to apply rules and principles in new ways. As we sit in our office, we will research best practices and use them in combination with Lean principles to craft new ways of being Lean.

An organization that uses some of these tips will really help guys and gals like me warm up to Lean and see how it can positively affect the company.

Quality Systems and Innovation

Originally published on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog in 2007.

The June 11, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek features a great story about 3M’s recent problems with Six Sigma, “At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity.”

As a Lean Six Sigma black belt at my company, I find that reading these types of articles continuously reminds me that neither Lean nor Six Sigma is a panacea.

The article talks about how 3M is scaling back on Six Sigma. Notably, they are taking it out of the research labs at 3M. The article states that many companies have moved away from the quality focus of Six Sigma and now just see it as cost cutting. I think this is true. 3M’s new CEO chose to scale back so that the scientists could get back to thinking about big ideas.

I think that we can learn from this, but we have to be careful how we take it. Six Sigma or Lean is a framework. If you value quality, you will use the framework to improve quality. If you value cost cutting, you will use the framework to cut costs. The problem with most companies is that when they role out the framework, they role out what the company values at the same time. The message is not “Lean Six Sigma is a framework of problem solving rules and principles.” Instead, the message is “Lean Six Sigma lets us cut costs by 50% with Kaizens and Value Streams.” The second statement solves your problem before you even know what it is. In psychology, this is called presupposition and it is a very powerful way to influence people to come to a predetermined conclusion. In this case, the conclusion is that Lean or Six Sigma is all about cost cutting. I’m going to call this S.S.A.M.E. (Six Sigma as Misguidedly Executed), but common.

3M wanted to innovate again. Seeing that Six Sigma was synonymous with cost cutting, they either had to create a company-wide culture change to decouple Six Sigma from cost cutting or try something different. 3M recognized that their R&D staff already knew how to innovate, so they rolled back the clock and let them have their space again.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Although I think the framework can be used for evolutionary and revolutionary innovation, I think 3M did a good thing by scaling back. There is nothing worse than applying the wrong metrics and value system (cost cutting) to a function that is supposed to be focusing on something completely different (creating the next incredible invention that will change the face of the earth.)

Lean and Six Sigma Behaviors

Originally published on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog in 2006.

Before Lean, many of the activities that are presently structured as Lean projects used to take place anyway. They flew under corporate radar because the communication pathway was not established to let management know about these grassroots level improvements. Management would find out about them from powerpoint presentations in much the same way they presently find out about scientific work.

Lean has created a transparent reporting mechanism through the use of standardized charters and outbriefs. This reporting mechanism raises the activities into the radar. All of a sudden, management knows what is going on and asks questions. The positive side is that if you can execute, measure, and show improvement, you will be celebrated, given more freedom, and more responsibility. The negative is that if you don’t, the transparent system will not let you hide.

You will be given more chances, but sustained underperformance will not be tolerated and eventually management will take action. (Everyone fails once in a while. If you never fail, you aren’t taking enough risks.) So, the transparent system is great for very communicative high performers. Of course, this is the type of person that companies like Toyota, Motorola, and GE seek. These companies use the systems of Lean and Six Sigma to encourage certain behaviors that lead to high performance among their employees. They reward employees based on these high performance and communicative behaviors.

Companies that have struggled to execute successful Lean and Six Sigma compaigns have not grasped that the secret is not the tools. The secret is the reward and reinforcement structure behind the behaviors. Lean and Six Sigma processes set the stage for proper behaviors, but they do not cause proper behavior. Proper behavior is caused by the positive reinforcement of proper behavior. That is from Psychology 101. The tip here is to know that Lean and Six Sigma are transparent systems that allow management to see and reward high performers.

Hyundai’s Definition of Quality

Business Week ran an article about some of Hyundai’s recent problems. One of them seems to be a misguided quality program. Although the article says that,

In recent years, no other major automaker has boosted sales and quality as fast the the Korean company.

The article later goes on to say that Hyundai’s idea of quality is not Lean.

Rather than improving the way it makes cars to minimize defects à la Toyota Motor Corp., Hyundai stepped up inspections and testing. The result: It needs two-thirds more man-hours to build each car than Nissan and Toyota do.

This is a great example of focusing on local optima (great quality) at the expense of systematic improvements (continuous improvement of the manufacturing process and lower costs).