Archives for January 2010

What Are Your Thoughts About Toyota’s Situation?

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not a big “news” reporting guy.

In other words, I rarely read a news story and then bang out an article around it since, honestly, this type of writing bores me beyond words.

But, unless you live under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about how Toyota is up against it in a big way making this a bit more than your normal, every day, news.

And then Brian, a reader of the blog, sent me the following email making me feel even more compelled to offer my two cents. Here is what Brian asked.

Ron – What are your thoughts on how Toyota is handling this huge recall? They seem committed to finding root cause (using 8D methods like 5 Whys? etc) since they suspended sales of 8 models. But I think they should have drilled deep to ID root cause & corrective action BEFORE they suspended sales… because the media seems to be grilling Toyota over the “half-baked” plan of suspending sales before recall actions happen. Huge PR black-eye for Toyo, don’t you agree?

I’ve owned Toyota car for many years, luckily our RAV4 is not in the recall this time.

All the best,


Most lean practitioners understand the concept of Jidoka. It’s a pillar of the Toyota Production System.

The basic premise of jidoka is to immediately stop what you’re doing once an issue has been identified.

At that point, if it’s feasible and safe, a temporary solution may be implemented allowing things to start back up.

Then, a more thorough root cause analysis will be done allowing for a permanent countermeasure to be implemented ensuring the problem never occurs again.

When to Stop the Line?

Now, many are questioning the way Toyota is handling this. Some think they’re crazy for stopping production like they have.

Me, I don’t think they’re crazy at all. In fact, if anything, I think they waited too long.

I am not sure when they first realized the severity of the problem… but I am guessing it was some time ago. So, once the problem was identified I think they should have stopped production then and there.

But, to be fair, perhaps they did stop as quickly as possible. I am there so I don’t want to be too judgmental.

Sticks and Stones

Now, what about the press? Is the Toyota PR team doing the right things?

My guess is Toyota is far more concerned with finding a root cause and implementing a countermeasure then they are about how to spin the press machine.

So, sure, Toyota is feeling the pain right now. Their stock has taken a beating and many of their competitors are jumping for joy.

But it will not surprise me to see Toyota not only survive this devastating issue but also come out of it stronger than ever.

What do you think?

So, I’m curious. What do you think about the way Toyota is handling this problem? Are they doomed to become the next GM begging for bail out money? Or will they come out of this stronger than ever?

Live Strategy Deployment Video Workshop

I recently facilitated two different Hoshin Kanri (aka Policy Deployment) workshops.  Both have been extremely successful and the teams I worked with were able to reflect, align, and energize all at the same time.

I plan to write more on hoshin kanri in the future… but until then I am excited to share with you an event the good folks over at the Lean Enterprise Institute and ThedaCare (lean thinking healthcare organization) are about to put on.

A Unique Two-Part Learning Event

Specifically, on February 24, 2010 you will have the opportunity to join an interactive video event being put on by Healthcare Value Leaders at ThedaCare via a two part learning experience.

  • Part 1 of the event includes a 30-minute pre-recorded video showing how the ThedaCare Improvement System works and how Strategy Deployment helps focus leaders and staff on making improvements that affect healthcare quality, cost, and delivery.
  • Part 2 of the event, and the part I am most intrigued by, is a 60-minute Live Q&A Video Event where Dr. John Toussaint will answer your questions on various topics related to Policy Deployment.

How to Join The Event

The cost of the event is $499, which is a great price considering your entire organization can benefit from it.  To learn more and register for the event please follow this link.

Please note I have no affiliation with this event and earn no money if you do decide to join the event.

Preview Video

Here is a short preview video explaining more about the event.  Be sure to check it out.

Going Analog

Technology is great, no doubt about it.

After all… it’s because of the Internet and computers you’re reading these words.  Not so long ago this wouldn’t have been possible.

So, let me be clear, I am not a technology snob… with one exception.

Go Analog First

If you are creating a process map, value stream map, fishbone diagram, or any other lean / six sigma tool such as this I beg you to go analog first.

And by analog I mean grab some paper, pencils, and post it notes and go after it.

You see, by going analog you’re not going to be concerned with how pretty things look or if the tops of the boxes align since, in the end, those things don’t matter!

Instead, you’re going to be focused on capturing the ideas and opinions of your team as you work to improve your process.

Then Go Digital If You’d Like

Then, once you and your team are satisfied with the fruits of your analog labor you may decide to document your work electronically using computer software like MS Excel.  I often do this but only after wearing out 10 to 12 pencil erasers.

But, please oh please, don’t run to the computer first as you’ll do nothing but limit the possibilities of your team.

Do You Agree?

What do you think?  Do you agree with me?  Do you prefer to go analog first?  Do you use a computer at all for things like fishbone diagrams and value stream mapping?

Introducing the 5 Why “So What” Test

We, over at Gemba Academy, are busy finishing up our 8 Step Practical Problem Solving course which is modeled after the Toyota Business Practice (TBP) methodology.

In one of the modules we’re exploring 5 Why Analysis in more detail since we’ve learned that many people think they know how 5 Why works… but often fail to come to the results they desire.

We’re teaching our students many “techniques” often left out of this important problem solving approach including something we call the “so what” test.   Some also refer to this as the “therefore” test.

Here’s how it works.

The Milk is Spoiled

Let’s say the “problem” we’re investigating is the fact the milk in the refrigerator has spoiled… a simple example most people have experienced at one time in their life (hopefully you smelled the milk before you drank it… but I digress).

So, the 5 Why analysis (5 is just a number…  sometimes you’ll need to ask more whys and sometimes you’ll need to ask less) might go like this.

1. Why did the milk spoil?

It was left in the fridge for too long.

2. Why was it left in the fridge for too long?

We didn’t drink it fast enough.

3. Why didn’t we drink it fast enough?

We had more milk cartons than we needed.

4. Why did we have more milk cartons than we needed?

We bought more milk cartons than we needed the last time we went shopping.

5. Why did we buy more milk cartons than we needed the last time we went shopping?

There was a sale on milk and we tried to save money.

Ask So

Once you are done with your 5 Why analysis there is still an important, yet often left out, step.

Namely, we must add the word “so” at the end of the each response while then working back to the top to make sure it all makes sense.  Let’s see how this works with our example.

There was a sale on milk and we tried to save money…


We bought more milk cartons than we needed the last time we went shopping…


We had more milk cartons than we needed…


We didn’t drink it fast enough…


It was left in the fridge for too long…


The milk spoiled.

Simple But Powerful

While this may seem like a simple exercise I promise you there will be times when the “cause and effect” relationship of your 5 Why analysis makes no sense after adding the word “so” to the end of the statement and working backwards.

When this is the case, making the necessary adjustments will make your 5 Why analysis far more accurate and powerful.

How Do You Do This?

Have you ever used this method before?  Or, do you have another method to check the cause and effect relationship of your 5 Why analysis?

2 Ways to Handle Varying Inventory Levels When Creating Value Stream Maps

Shaunak, a reader of LSS Academy, recently sent me the following question via email.

By the way, if you have ever have questions related to continuous improvement (lean and/or six sigma) feel free to email me.  I will do my very best to answer.

Hi Ron,

I have very quick question for you.

The level of inventory keeps changing all day, so when we draw the current state map, how to count the inventory?

I mean to ask: suppose SWIP decided is 20 pieces. At a point in time, inventory can be anything between 0-20.

Should we consider inventory level at the time when we are drawing the map or should we take the average inventory for the shift?


Common Question

This is one of the most common questions I hear when teaching value stream mapping.

Specifically, if we draw the current state value stream map on Monday, and there are 42 pieces of inventory between stations A and B… but then I come back Wednesday and there are now 68 pieces… which do I document on my value stream map – 42 or 68?

Two Approaches to Handling This Problem

As with anything, there are several ways to approach this problem. Allow me to share two approaches I have personally used.

  • Document what you see on Monday (42) and aggressively move on towards your improved future state.
  • Study the situation over the span of a few days or weeks and note the inventory levels as both a measure of central tendency (mean or median) and measure of dispersion (standard deviation or range).

Mura Lives

Now, something else I’d like to mention is if you find yourself dealing with highly erratic inventory levels day in and day out you likely have other, more serious, problems besides not knowing what to draw on your value stream map.

Specifically, you’re likely dealing with severe case of mura (unevenness) due to a lack of heijunka (production leveling).

Don’t Agonize Over Details

So, instead of spending hours and hours, even days, worrying about what inventory levels to write on the VSM just document something and get focused on improving flow, preferably one piece at a time, while also working on finding a way to smooth and/or level production via heijunka.

You see, in the end, moving towards the ideal state is what lean is all about and this cannot happen if we never take that first, and often scary, step towards the improved future state.

How Would You Handle This Situation?

With this all said, I am curious on how you handle this situation.

How do you react to varying inventory levels on your value stream maps?  And for those in transactional worlds, even health care worlds, how do you deal with varying queue times?

Kanji and Humility

“We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.”
– Rabindranath Tagore

My friend, and fellow Texas lean blogger / Big Ten college football fanatic, Mark Graban wrote an article earlier this week summarizing ten things he wished lean practitioners wouldn’t say in 2010.

It’s a good list and I recommend you check it out… but there were aspects of his list I respectfully don’t agree with… namely that the:

“Lean movement has gotten a bit carried away in embracing Japanese words.”

Now, to not misquote Mark he does say that he is “not opposed to all things or words of Japanese origin” but Mark’s point, which seems to be shared by several of his readers, is that the overuse of Japanese words is not always positive.

I disagreed with Mark in my comment to his post and then I read Mike Wroblewski’s article on the same topic and my resolve to continue using Japanese words became even stronger.

If you visit only one other blog today you must read Mike’s article.

Does it really matter?

To be sure, this topic of Japanese words has been hotly debated over the years and I imagine it will continue to be debated for a long time.

But the question worth asking is does it really matter? I mean Mark spent valuable time on his well written article, Mike spent time, and now here I am spending time.

Wouldn’t the 3 of us be better off writing about how to make lean work or sharing articles of lean success instead of debating this? Maybe.

Then again, maybe not.


You see if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years of practicing lean it’s that humility is at the heart of what we’re all trying to do.

I truly believe that without humility we’re all doomed.

In fact, the day we wake up and feel like we know all the answers or don’t need to ask why or don’t need to study and learn from those that have come before us we’re all destined for failure and government bail outs. Wait? Ah, never mind.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that any tool or concept with Japanese roots should be referred to by its Japanese name.

To attempt to rename or translate to an English equivalent, even a poor equivalent such as when people try to say hansei means reflection, shows a lack of respect to those who paved the lean road before us… in my opinion.

So, yes, it’s Hoshin Kanri not Policy Deployment. It’s kanban not signal or sign. And it’s heijunka (hey-june-kah) not production leveling.

Oh, and to give our German friends their props it’s takt time not, ah heck I don’t even know what people attempt to call this when they’re bothered by the German language!

And, finally, to give my fellow American people their props let’s be sure to reference the awesome work of those that pioneered the TWI movement in all its English language glory.

Please Be Courteous

With all of this said… if you do join those of us proud to stand behind the original Japanese words there is some important advice I’d like to leave you with.

Namely, when you use these terms do so respectfully while quickly explaining what the words mean as well as why you feel using the Japanese word is important.

You see, saying heijunka may sound impressive… but if you’re saying it just to make yourself look clever, or worse yet to intimidate others with your apparent wisdom, you’re completely defeating the purpose and I beg you to stop. You’re not helping.

Do You Agree?

So, dear readers, what do you think of this hotly debated topic?

I know some of you disagree with me… and that’s OK. I’d appreciate hearing your opinion. And I know some of you agree with me and I’d love to hear why.

What do you think?

3 Ways to Stop Failing at New Years Resolutions

As we start off the new year one thing is for certain… there will be lots of resolutions stated.

Everything from weight loss to improving the way money is managed will be focused in on for, at the very least, 7 to 10 days.

Yep.  You’ll more than likely fail at whatever you’re setting out to do.  Sorry.  Just trying to speak the truth.

That’s the bad news.  Want the good news?

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Here are some tips I’d like to propose for goal setting, I mean New Years Resolutions.

1. Get Real

If you’ve not worked out for 11 years don’t set a goal to work out for 2 hours every day of the week.  That’s not realistic.

Instead, start small and set a goal to work out 3 times a week for 10 minutes a session.  Then, once you are successful crank it up a bit more and increase it to 15 minutes, etc.

It’s good to be aggressive.  I love aggression.  But it’s even better to be real.  So no matter what your goal is be realistic and set a goal you’re confident you can succeed at.

2. Shhh… Write it Down

Instead of announcing your goal to every friend and Facebook follower you have… just write it down on a piece of paper you will see each and every day.  Perhaps you can tape it to your bathroom mirror.

In other words… this goal of yours belong to one person.  You.  You don’t need to make a big deal about it.  Just set it and go for it.

Having an accountability partner is OK… but I am not a big fan of announcing your goals to the whole world.

3. Think of Others First

Finally, the last tip I’d like to offer you is this.  Instead of focusing on a goal for yourself… why not set a goal to help others in some way.

The fact others will benefit from you just may be the catalyst you need to finally nail that resolution.

And the best part… success is contagious.  So once you succeed at helping others you just may have the motivation you need to help yourself.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree with my list?  What would you add?