How to Problem Solve with a Virtual Team

By Ron Pereira

Brainstorming, done correctly, can be extremely powerful.

In a traditional brainstorming session a group of people normally come together with a bunch of Post-It notes and/or a white board. Folks often log their ideas on said Post-It notes and stick them to the wall.

But what happens in a virtual environment? In other words, how can a group of people that work in different locations collaborate and problem solve?

Well, this is the exact situation the Gemba Academy team finds themselves in on a regular basis since our team is pretty much evenly split between Texas and California.

Enter Trello

In order to virtually collaborate we leverage many different tools including Skype, Google Hangouts, and a powerful (and free) tool called Trello.

Trello is a cloud based tool that allows teams to collaborate by creating “boards.” We use Trello for many things such as how to share improvement ideas, track projects, etc.

But, in this article, I want to share how we use Trello to work through a problem solving exercise.

Clarifying the Problem

Now, while we’re far from perfect we do our best to follow the Practical Problem Solving process.

First, we do our best to clarify the problem, break the problem down, and then set SMART targets.

Analyzing Root Causes

At this point all team members are asked to reflect on the problem, or problems, and document their own ideas as to what could be causing the issues.

We like for everyone to initially do this on their own so no one is biased by others.

Once everyone has a day or two to do this self reflection we come back together via Skype or Google Hangout. This allows us to see each other through web cams, etc. While this may not sound like that big of a deal I really believe it’s vitally important to see one another.

So, once we’ve all arrived the facilitator (often Kevin Meyer for us) opens up a blank Trello board that looks something like we see in Figure 1 (click image to enlarge).

Figure 1

Figure 1

At this point the facilitator will ask each person to share their ideas on what some potential root causes might be.  I stress potential since, at this point, we truly are brainstorming so wild ideas are just fine.

As ideas are shared the facilitator documents each of them as new Trello cards which, for us, serve as virtual Post-It notes!  The facilitator does their very best to not paraphrase, and when necessary, asks the person with the ideas to slow down so they can accurately capture the idea.

At this point, the Trello board begins to look like Figure 2 (click image to enlarge).


Figure 2

Once one person is done the facilitator moves on to the next person and asks them to share their ideas as to what the potential root causes might be.

In a recent Gemba Academy problem solving “jam session” a team of 4 people generated close to 75 potential root causes which, initially were all logged in a single Trello column.  Figure 3 shows an example of 20 ideas just to give you a point of reference.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Time for Affinity Diagram

Once the team is happy with their list of potential root causes it’s time to begin to organize the ideas into columns.  Some refer to this technique as affinity diagramming.

Basically, we’re looking for common themes or groups of ideas.  For example, in a manufacturing example some groups may consist of “Product Quality,” “Maintenance,” and “Safety.”

Once these groupings have names new Trello columns are created as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4

Figure 4

At this point, the team then discusses which group each potential root cause belongs to.  In some cases an “Other” group may need to be created.  Once the team agrees each card is simply moved to the appropriate column as shown in Figure 5.  You’ll notice the “Potential Root Causes” column is now empty.  It can be left to capture additional ideas or deleted if the team is happy with where they are.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Discussion Time

Now, what’s interesting is that, up to this point, there hasn’t been any “discussion” of what people think of the various ideas.  Instead, the group was only focused on capturing as many ideas as possible and then grouping them accordingly.

But, once we’re at this point it is time to begin open, and honest, discussion.  So, to start, the facilitator adds “Discussion” to each column so it’s clear where the discussion started.  Team members are now able to share their thoughts and opinions while also asking clarifying questions.

The facilitator documents these discussion points as accurately as possible since, we believe, this open discussion is the secret to successful problem solving.

To be clear, this discussion may take more than one meeting.  In fact, depending on the challenge at hand this entire problem solving process could take weeks or even months.

But, once all team members have shared their thoughts and ideas the Trello board may start to look something like we see in Figure 6.  Please note you may end up having more (or less) discussion cards than you do idea cards.  This is totally fine.  We just want to ensure that every team member has their say and gets all their questions answered.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Brainstorming Potential Countermeasures

Now then, once we’re at this point it’s time to finally move into my favorite part of problem solving… dreaming up potential countermeasures!

So, at this point, the team members begin to throw out ideas for how to potentially counter the various potential root causes.  Each team member can take a turn or everyone can begin to share ideas as they think of them.

But, as we show in Figure 7, a new section called “Potential Countermeasures” is added to each column and the various potential countermeasures are documented below this point.  Again, the number of countermeasures per column will vary depending on the circumstances.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Action Plan

Next, once the team has shared all of their potential countermeasure ideas… it’s time to document an action plan.  In some cases, this may mean creating a series of A3 documents.  And, in other cases, simple experiments can be assigned to team members and noted on the Trello board as we see in Figure 8.

Figure 8

Figure 8

No matter the process used it’s absolutely critical that an action plan of next steps be discussed and agreed upon… including when follow-up meetings will occur.

Problem Solving is Dynamic

Finally, it goes without saying that problem solving – in person or virtually – is most definitely a dynamic process.  As such, your Trello board (or whatever system you use) will most definitely change over time as experiments are completed and you, and your team, learn more about your process.

How Do You Problem Solve Virtually?

So, what do you think?  I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts on the approach shared in this article.

I’d also love to hear how you, and your virtual teams, go about problem solving in a virtual environment.

Ron’s Favorite Gemba Academy Podcast Episodes

PastedGraphic-1Gemba Academy Podcast StatsOn April 30, 2014 we released the first two Gemba Academy podcasts. To be 100% transparent, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

When we started the download “numbers” weren’t huge but, as you can see in the graph, we’ve seen steady growth ever since.

And while seeing this growth is fun, and humbling, we’re far more excited when we hear existing customers tell us that they listen to the show every week… or when a new Gemba Academy customer tells us they’ve been listening to the show for some time.

I am proud of the fact that we’ve released a new episode every week… I’m convinced this consistency has been one of the keys to our success. Of course, the most important key to success has been the amazing guests that have taken time out of their schedule to visit with us.

So, what I wanted to do in this article was present a few of my favorite episodes which, admittedly, is very hard to do since we’ve had so many awesome guests.

And, if you’ve not listened to the show, I’d encourage you to subscribe to the show on either iTunes or, if you’re an Android user, Stitcher. This way you can binge listen to past episodes while always being ready for new shows that are released every Thursday morning!

Again, thank you to everyone that listens to the show. And thank you to all past (and future) guests that have come onto the show. We obviously wouldn’t exist without you!

Oh, and I do want to give a special shout out to Greg Nickell for all the amazing editing work he does with our videos and our podcast. You’re amazing, Greg!

OK, here are some of my favorite episodes. Just click the green title to listen to that episode.  Happy listening!

1. The Courage to Lead with Simon Sinek

I had the privilege of interviewing Simon Sinek, whose 2009 TED talk has been viewed over 23 million times. Author of two best-selling books, Simon provided some truly life-changing insights on lean, human behavior, marketing strategy, and much more. This is definitely an episode to share.

2. Learning, Focus, and Innovation with Matthew May

Matt May is one of my favorite lean thinkers and in this episode we talk about “main things.” Matt is a deep thinker but is also an incredible communicator.

3. Creating a Successful Lean Enterprise with Rick Harris

In this episode, Rick Harris, author of the “red & green books,”  takes us on the most technical episode we’ve ever done.  If you’re a serious lean thinker you must listen to this!

4. The Lean Startup with Eric Ries

This episodes guest is Eric Ries, an entrepreneur and author, famous for being at the forefront of the lean startup movement. This episode has plenty of great insight for those both in and outside of the lean startup realm, covering topics like consumer value, waste, and minimal viable products.

5. Six Years Later: Our Journey with the Gemba Academy Team

Lastly, this short episode most definitely took the longest to edit and produce… but it’s also one of my favorites since it tells the story of how Gemba Academy got started and how we’ve grown up (and continue to learn and grow) over the years.

There is much more!

I could go on and one with others… but I want to keep this post manageable.

But, I do encourage you to check out all of our other episodes while also subscribing to the podcast (for free) on iTunes or Stitcher. iPhone users can easily find us in the podcast app. Just search for Gemba Academy.

Derek’s Lean Story

iStock_000032641854_FullIt was a Monday morning around 7:30 AM. I walked into the training room and glanced around. I’d been in this training room many times before but something felt different… I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

I carried on and got prepared for the morning session. We were running a Quick Changeover Kaizen Event that week and my plan was to run through some basic training that morning… unfortunately Gemba Academy didn’t exist in those days so I had to do the training on the old fashioned way!

As I got my computer plugged in I continued to feel this weird vibe and borderline negative energy in the room. It was really starting to bug me.

Right about that time I spotted him. A man, whom I’ll call Derek, was sitting in the back row of the room.

Derek was in his late 50s. I’d seen him around the plant many times but had never had the opportunity to talk to him.

And, as it turns out, I could immediately tell that Derek wasn’t happy to be on this kaizen event team. He was slouched back in his chair, his arms were crossed, and he most definitely hadn’t woken up that morning with a bright and cheerful smile on this face.

I didn’t engage Derek right then and there… instead I decided to just press on and start the session.

We all went around the room and introduced ourselves… when it was Derek’s turn he mumbled his name and didn’t really offer anything else to the team.

Since he was in the very back of the room Derek was the last person to talk so I thanked him and pressed on with the training session.

We had a quick overview on what QCO was all about and immediately engaged the process.

We started by going to gemba, or the place the work was done, in order to see the machine we’d focus on. I did notice Derek’s confidence, and comfort level, rise the minute we stepped onto the shop floor. This was his world and there really wasn’t much Derek didn’t know about how the shop ran. You see, Derek had worked at this plant for more than 30 years and was extremely knowledgeable on how things worked and operated.

Unfortunately, Derek was never really properly introduced to lean or any sort of continuous improvement for that matter… so all this talk of kaizen events, and quick changeover, was completely foreign to him. That’s why, as it turns out, Derek didn’t arrive with the best attitude that particular Monday morning.

Now, part of the pre-work for this kaizen event had been to video tape several changeovers. So, after we visited the machine, and saw what we would focus on, we went back to the training room and began to dissect the recorded changeovers.

We broke all aspects of these changeovers into individual elements and noted how long each element lasted. For example, one element was summarized as follows, “Remove tooling plate” and it started at the 2:05 mark in the video and ended at the 3:00 mark totaling around 55 seconds.

The team was really getting into this process… and while he wasn’t actively participating Derek seemed to be leaning into what we were up to more than he had been. He was definitely paying attention and even offered a few suggestions as how to break the process down into meaningful elements.

As the event continued that week Derek became more and more engaged. In fact, he eventually caught fire and really helped our team come up with some immediate, and incredibly productive, improvements.

By the end of the event we had managed to reduce the changeover time by more than 50% and there were still improvements identified to be done after the event to make it even better.

And while the increased productivity was awesome… that wasn’t the best part of the week for me.

You see, during the end of week report out the kaizen event team members presented their results to the plant leadership. The presentation wasn’t fancy or glamorous. They used a flip chart to summarize their improvements and even brought some of the improved fixturing to the meeting to show it off.

All the team members took a turn to share some aspect of the event… and, eventually, it was Derek’s turn.

Now, to be clear, speaking in front of the room DEFINITELY wasn’t one of Derek’s favorite things to do… but he battled through it and talked though a few bullet points.

When he was done with his part the General Manager of the plant asked Derek how he felt about the event.

I’ll come 100% clean… sweat began to form on the top of my head as I really had no idea what Derek was about to say.

After the question was asked Derek paused, looked down at the ground for a few seconds, and then lifted his head and looked the GM directly in the eye.

Tears had begun to well in Derek’s eyes as he commenced to explain how no one, in the 30 years he had worked at this company, had ever listened to his ideas like his kaizen event team members did that week. Derek was deeply moved by this and his raw and honest emotion swept over that plant leadership team like nothing I’d ever seen before.

So, I’m going to ask you all a question. Do you know of any Derek’s in your facility or office or hospital?

If so, can you imagine if every Derek you knew could spend 3 to 5 days running a kaizen event and be totally transformed?

Now, to be clear, I don’t mean to say a single kaizen event will transform each and every employee you have into fanatical lean problem solvers.

But, then again, you just never know how someone’s life can be changed by investing a little time and energy into them.  I’ve seen some incredible things happen… perhaps you have or will too!

Fun With Measurement Systems Analysis – Part 2

Welcome back to the second, and final, part of this measurement systems analysis series.  If you didn’t read part 1 of this series please do before pressing on with this part.  We’ll wait on you!

Measurement System Analysis

Defined, MSA is used to quantify the amount of variation attributed to the measurement system rather than the product or process being studied. In other words, MSA allows us to understand how much of our observed variation is being caused by the measurement system.

When we’re working with variables, or continuous data, we’ll conduct what are called Gage R&R studies which is short for Gage Repeatability and Reproducibility Studies.  When we’re working with attribute data, we’ll conduct Attribute Agreement Analysis.

To be sure, MSA can be used throughout the DMAIC or PDCA process. In fact, you don’t even need to be doing a formal DMAIC or PDCA project to conduct an MSA.  As it relates to the DMAIC roadmap, MSA’s are usually done during the measure, analyze, or improve phases. Anytime you’re relying on data to make decisions, you should verify the measurement system can be trusted.  Put another way, if you’re ever unsure of your measurement system please perform a MSA no matter what phase of the project you’re in!Snip20150810_8

In fact, as an aside, I once worked with a team to improve the performance of an optical inspection measurement system. We spent around seven hours on the issue and the results were extraordinary since, as it turned out, this company was scrapping hundreds of thousands of dollars each week since their measurement system was rejecting good parts.

So, with this all said, let’s spend some time working through an actual example where we’re going to imagine we work for a company that produces nuts and bolts. For this particular study we want to know if we’re able to trust the measurement system used to measure the widths of the nuts that have a process tolerance of 0.5 mm.

Gage R&R Study

Since measuring the width of anything results in variables, or continuous data, we’ll be performing a Gage R&R Study.

For this study, we’ve chosen three operators – Bill, Kristen, and Tom – who will all use the same digital caliper to measure the widths of the 15 nuts that were selected.  All three operators will measure these 15 parts two different times.  Each nut has a unique marking that allows the operator to “grasp” it the same way each time to reduce noise in the experiment.  So, in summary, we have 3 operators, 15 parts, and 2 trials.

Tips for Setting Up Your MSA

Setting up a Gage R&R study is important so here are some suggestions.

First, you should randomly select between two and four operators. We find three to work extremely well. Next, the number of parts used should be enough so that when we multiply P, the number of parts, by O, the number of operators, the result is greater than 15.

If this isn’t possible or practical, you’ll want to increase the number of trials accordingly. We must do at least two trials, but for example, if P times O is less than 15, we’d want to do three trials.

We can use some simple math to ensure we set things up properly, but we can’t use math to help with what we feel is the single most important aspect of an MSA, and that’s setting the operators’ minds at ease.

If an operator has never been part of a formal MSA study chances are very good they’re going to be extremely nervous. Some may be downright scared. It’s absolutely critical that you let them know the point of the study is to better understand the process and that no one will be in trouble if they do poorly.

Finally, all the parts should be randomly handed to the operators.  Many times the facilitator will have the parts being measured organized behind a small wall or something so the operator doesn’t know which part is being handed to them.  Once the operator measures the part and announces the result the facilitator documents the results immediately.

Calculating With Minitab

Now, there are many ways to analyze a MSA.  For this article we’re going to show you how to analyze the results using Minitab.  We also share how to analyze a MSA using SigmaXL with our School of Six Sigma.  On a personal note, since I’m a Mac user, I love SigmaXL and use it often.

The first part of the Minitab output is a standard ANOVA table as shown below.  If you’re not sure what any of this means please be sure to check out our videos on inferential statistics.  We cover everything from the difference between the null and alternate hypothesis to what this talk of P-Values and such is all about!

And don’t worry if stats aren’t your thing… I personally promise you will understand it all by the time you finish our course materials.  We also do screen recordings so you know exactly what buttons to press within Minitab or SigmaXL.  No more 3-ring binders full of hundreds of slides with outdated screen shots needed!


OK, as you see above, the Part P-value is 0.0 which means that the Part-to-Part variation is statistically significant. The interaction of Part x Operator is also statistically significant since its P-value is .016.  In most cases, any P-Value less than 0.05 will be assumed significant or, at a minimum, worthy of additional exploration.

Next, here’s the Gage R&R information. There’s definitely lots to take in here but we’ll point out the most important things we need to focus on.


First, the % Contribution section summarizes the percent of the variation that each component contributes to the total variation. The % Study Variation section, which we’ll show in another image below, summarizes the standard deviation percentage of each source to the total standard deviation. And the % Tolerance section summarizes the percentage of variation of each source compared to the part tolerance.

While every organization will need to determine this for themselves, the Automotive Industry Action Group has come up with some suggestions as to how to interpret these values.

AIAG MSA Suggestions Gage R&R

Specifically, they suggest that % Contribution values less than 1% represent an acceptable system. While % Contributions between 1% and 9% represent marginally acceptable systems. Anything over 9% is considered unacceptable.

For % Study Variation and % Tolerance acceptable values are anything less than 10% while marginal systems will be between 10% and 30% and anything over 30% is considered unacceptable.

When we look at the results of this study, we see a Total Gage R&R Percentage Contribution value of 3.5% which could be considered marginally acceptable since it’s between 1% and 9%. Minitab also shows us how this value is derived, namely 2.31% is due to repeatability, or within operator variation, while 1.19% is due to reproducibility, or between operator variation.

These values can help us understand where to focus our attention as we work to improve the system. Minitab also breaks the reproducibility values down by operator and the operator by Part interaction in this section.

Finally, the Part-to-Part variation is also noted. Since our goal is to ultimately measure individual parts, we want to see this variation figure high since this means we’re able to distinguish the difference between parts.

Let’s move on to the next section which includes %Study Variation and %Tolerance Variation.


Here we see our % Study Variation is 18.71% and our % Tolerance is 13.85% which means, again, we’re working with a marginally acceptable measurement system. Minitab also breaks these values down into finer increments here just like we saw in the section above.

Last, but certainly not least, our number of distinct categories is 7. Again, like we mentioned in part 1 of this series, we’d like to see this value greater than 5 which this value obviously is.

Let’s Get Graphical

In addition to these statistics, Minitab provides some nice graphs of this same data.


In the components of variation section, we see a graphical view of the different variation sources. Again, we want to see our Part-to-Part variation higher than everything else since that means we’re able to distinguish between parts.

Next, we also see an R Chart by Operator. This is helpful as it can tell us where individual operators struggled. You can see where Tom, the third operator, obviously struggled with two parts so we may want to visit with him in order to better understand what may have caused this issue.

In a perfect world, we don’t want to see any special cause variation in this R chart, but as long as we intend to identify and counter the root cause of this variation, it’s normally okay to press on unless we see wildly out of control variation across all operators.

The Xbar Chart by Operator graph is an interesting one since contrary to any other control chart we’ve ever looked at in this course, we actually prefer to see special cause variation since this represents part to part variation, which again, is what we ultimately want to measure.

At the top right of the graph we see Data by Part. This can help us identify if one part was harder to measure than another. For example, it seems like part 14 has the most variation. Perhaps there’s something about this part that makes it hard to measure. We also see the Data by Operator, which again, can be very useful information to help us work with each operator when applicable.

Finally, we see the Part x Operator Interaction graph in the lower right corner. If we remember, we saw a P-Value of .016 for this interaction which means it is statistically significant. As we can see in this graph, it seems like the operators struggled a bit with part 9 and 14 so we’d definitely want to take a look at these parts to see if there is anything we can learn and improve.


In summary after looking at the results of this Gage R&R, we’d conclude that this measurement system is marginally capable. Some next steps may include investigating the measurements with high ranges while also trying to understand why some parts were harder to measure than others.

We’d then want to repeat this study as needed. For example, if we gained an understanding of what made part 14 so hard to measure and we’re able to implement a countermeasure, we could repeat the study and see how we do.

We’d also want to repeat the study with different operators while also doing the study with this same group at a later date to ensure that the measurement process is stable over time.

To be sure, MSA shouldn’t be a one and done activity.  If I had my wish every organization would have recurring MSA as part of their Standard Work.  It’s that important.

Thanks for sticking with me on this series.  I hope it was helpful.  If you have any questions please be sure to let me know in the comments section below.  You can also contact me directly using the Contact Form on our website.

Watch This Series in a Single Video

Now then, if video is your thing, or perhaps you need to run through all of this material one more time, we’d encourage you to watch the video below.

When you click on the image you’ll be directed to another part of our website where you can click on the “Gage R&R (15:15)” link.  Doing this will launch the video free of charge.  English, Spanish, and Chinese captions are also available (simply click the CC button).  Enjoy and happy MSAing!


Fun With Measurement Systems Analysis – Part 1

By Ron Pereira

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to visit many different companies across the world.  During these visits I’ve seen some amazing examples of continuous improvement in action.

But, to be blunt, there is one aspect of continuous improvement I simply don’t see practiced enough – measurement systems analysis.

So, what I want to do in this article is offer an overview of what measurement systems analysis (MSA) is all about.  If you’d like to learn more please request a free trial to Gemba Academy where you can dig into this topic even more.


Being able to attack variation is an extremely important aspect of continuous improvement. But variation is a tricky opponent. The variation we see isn’t always what we think it is.  Allow me to explain with a simple diagram (click picture to enlarge it).

Gage R&R Variation

At the top, we see the observed process variation. In other words, this is the data that we’d use to conduct a Process Capability Study where obviously, we’re interested in understanding how our process variation is behaving.

Unfortunately, there are two things that make up our total observed process variation, the actual process variation and the measurement variation. Put another way, it’s entirely possible that the variation we’re observing is mostly due to the measurement system and continuing to attack the actual process variation won’t help at all.

Our actual process variation consists of short-term, long-term, and part-to-part variation. Measurement variation consists of several characteristics including accuracy, repeatability, reproducibility, stability, and resolution.

Measurement System Characteristics

Let’s spend some time discussing each of these important measurement system characteristics.

First, accuracy is the ability of the gage to measure the true value of a part on average.  In other words, it’s possible for a measurement system to have high variability but still be accurate so long as the average value of the measurements are close to the true value.

Next, repeatability, which is a component of precision, is attained when the same person takes multiple measurements and gets the same, or similar, results each time.

A close cousin to repeatability is reproducibility, the second component of Precision. Reproducibility is attained when other people get the same, or similar results, you do when measuring the same item.

While repeatability focuses on how well you measure something, reproducibility compares your measurement performance to other people’s measurement performance.

Next, stability is attained when measurements taken by the same person, or gage, vary little over time. In other words, it shouldn’t matter what day of the week or time of day it is. We should always be able to measure in an accurate and repeatable manner.

Last, but certainly not least, sufficient resolution means that your measurement system provides at least five, more preferably, distinct values in the range you’re measuring.

Sufficient Resolution

For example, let’s say we wanted to measure the heights of three children with a scale that only measures to the nearest foot. When we did this, our results were 3 feet for child one, 4 feet for child two, and 5 feet for child three. In other words, we only had three distinct values.

As it turns out, the key to ensuring we have adequate resolution is by determining the amount of discrimination our scale needs.  Discrimination refers to the number of decimal places that can be measured by the system.  Increments of measure should be approximately one‐tenth of the width of the product specification or process variation.

For example, let’s say that we’re working with a process that has an upper customer specification limit of 80 mm and a lower customer specification limit of 60 mm.

Discrimination GRR

When we subtract 60 from 80, we learn that our tolerance is 20 mm. In other words, this measurement system needs to be able to discriminate to at least 2 mm since 20 mm divided by 10 is 2 mm.

Measurement Systems Analysis

We’ve covered a lot of terms and concepts so far which may make you feel a little overwhelmed. The good news is we have an extremely powerful tool at our disposal that wraps everything that we’ve discussed up into a single statistical tool called Measurement Systems Analysis, or MSA for short.

But, since this article is getting pretty long… and your head may be spinning a bit right about now I’m going to continue this MSA story in a second article which, if you’re ready, you can now read here!

Again, if video is your thing, and you’re interested in learning MUCH more about MSA and many other topics be sure to request a free Gemba Academy trial and demo today.  Nick, Leslie, and the rest of our team are ready to help you out!

Fun with Tennis Balls

Snip20150703_5If you’re American and are reading this on July 4…  Happy Independence Day!

I recently delivered a live workshop to a group of printing professionals.  The talk was a combination of Practical Problem Solving and Quick Changeover (SMED).  And rather than having me ramble on for an hour I decided to work in a fun, and very easy to duplicate, lean simulation that involves 8 tennis balls!

You can see part 1 of this video below… to see the other 8 videos you’ll need to have a paid subscription to Gemba Academy.  But, since we prefer a totally stress free sales process, we do offer a no strings attached 7-day trial.

You’ll find the full presentation in our Gemba Live section of videos.  The full name is “Printers & Imaging Association.”

If you’re reading this via email or RSS feed you may need to click through to the article in order to see the video.


GA 064 | Leading in a Lean Environment with Kent Bradley

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.


Today’s guest, Kent Bradley, has more than 20 years of lean experience and an impressive career path. Kent and I have known each other for years, but we sat down to talk specifically about what it means to play a coaching and/or leadership role in a lean setting.

An MP3 version of this episode is available for download here

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Kent’s background and what he’s up to these days (2:09)
  • The two quotes that inspire Kent (4:38)
  • What leadership coaching to engage teams is all about (6:47)
  • The first prerequisite to becoming a good lean leader (12:21)
  • The second prerequisite (13:37)
  • The third prerequisite (19:20)
  • One of Kent’s success stories with this method (23:35)
  • The role senior leadership plays in the transition (26:28)
  • What Kent would say to his younger self (27:52)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Kent (29:51)
  • The best leadership example Kent has witnessed (30:51)
  • Kent’s personal productivity habit (33:31)
  • What has surprised Kent in the last year (34:40)
  • What Kent does to recharge and refocus (36:01)
  • The skill Kent feels he needs to improve (36:58)
  • Kent’s final words of wisdom (39:19)

Podcast Resources

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!


Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

You can download it here. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

What characteristics and/or behaviors make for a great lean leader?

GA 063 | Practical Problem Solving: Part Two with Jon Miller

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.


In the second part of our Practical Problem Solving course, GA Co-Founder Jon Miller and I dive deep into Step 4, which centers around root cause analysis. Together we discuss the do’s and don’ts of implementing this crucial step.

An MP3 version of this episode is available for download here

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • The quote that relates to root cause analysis (5:11)
  • Jon’s definition of root cause analysis (7:56)
  • Why there are likely dozens of root causes (15:15)
  • How just a handful of tools can solve your problems (16:25)
  • How to approach root cause analysis (18:40)
  • What the 5 Whys are and how to use them (23:28)
  • Why problem-solving isn’t always linear (30:06)
  • A few other ways to practice root cause analysis (34:12)
  • How to keep yourself from jumping steps (40:05)
  • A sneak peek of the next Practical Problem Solving installment (44:08)

Podcast Resources

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!


Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

You can download it here. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

Describe your experience(s) with root cause analysis. How does it bring clarity to the situation?

GA 062 | Lean for the Long Term with Ken Rolfes

Press the play button above to listen to the episode. If you’re reading this via email or RSS click the image below to listen to the episode.


Today’s episode features Ken Rolfes, a longtime lean thinker, author, and AME affiliate. Ken and I discussed a variety of continuous improvement topics, but we mostly focused on Ken’s exciting new book, Lean for the Long Term.

An MP3 version of this episode is available for download here

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What Ken is up to these days (2:36)
  • The quote that inspires Ken (6:04)
  • All about Ken’s new book, Lean for the Long Term (8:25)
  • The meaning behind the title (11:56)
  • The role of lean versus cost accounting (24:24)
  • Why leaders need to be multilingual (27:26)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Ken (41:09)
  • The best advice Ken has ever received (42:30)
  • Ken’s personal productivity habit (43:58)
  • What has surprised Ken in the last year (46:07)
  • The skill Ken feels he needs to improve (47:41)
  • Ken’s final words of wisdom (50:17)

Podcast Resources

Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes!


Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

You can download it here. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

What Do You Think?

Can you identify with Ken’s take on continuous improvement? What do you agree with? What do you feel differently about?

The Power of Essentialism

EssentialismGreg’s wife was scheduled to give birth to a baby girl on Friday.

Upon hearing this wonderful news Greg’s boss explained, in a rather direct way, “Friday would be a very bad day to have the baby.”

You see, as it turns out, Greg was needed at an extremely important client meeting this same Friday and missing it, no matter the reason, wasn’t acceptable to Greg’s boss.

Well, Friday came along and, as planned, Greg’s wife delivered a beautiful, and healthy, baby girl. Greg was there. That’s the good news.

The bad news happened shortly after Greg’s daughter was born. I’ll let Greg explain it.

“As it turns out, my manager picked me up from he hospital, took me to the appointment, and I was completely dazed the whole time. Afterwards they said to me, which I thought was interesting, they said, the client will respect you for the choice you’ve made. That isn’t the impression I got from the clients, to be honest. But even if it was, and even if some extraordinary thing had come from it, which it did not, surely I had made a fool’s bargain.

And this was where, at least looking back, I said, I’ve learned this lesson. If you don’t prioritize your life, then someone else will. And what I found is that I’m not alone.”

The “Greg” in this this true story is Greg McKeown, author of the bestseller Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less which, I can safely say, is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time.

What is Essentialism?

Put simply, Essentialism is all about fighting the false idea that we can have it all if we do it all.

Let me be clear, Essentialism isn’t a new type of to-do list system or sophisticated time management program. Instead, the Essentialist simply strives to become more selective in what they choose to do.

Put another way, the Essentialist seeks out time to create space while developing routines and habits that allow them to focus on the vital few important aspects of their lives.

How Do We Do This?

The first step to becoming an Essentialist is to realize that we live in a busyness bubble… as such, we have to decide we’re going to become an Essentialist.

In the book McKeown shares a 4-part plan for making the transition and I’d definitely recommend you study it deeply… but there were a few things that really impacted me.

Is it a Hell Yes?

First, the Essentialist needs to become comfortable saying no. This is very hard for many of us since we don’t want to upset, or disappoint, others.

But, here’s the thing, when we say yes to everyone, and everything, we’ll most likely upset and disappoint many of people anyhow since we won’t be able to do a good job at anything since we’re simply stretched too thin.

So, if it helps, simply start by not saying “YES!” immediately. Instead, politely ask if it would be OK for you to think about the request.

Then, once you have time to reflect and think you’ll want to ask yourself a simple question. Is my answer to this request, or question, hell yes? If it’s not, chances are very good you should respectfully say no.

At Gemba Academy we’re constantly coming up with new ideas while also being approached by others with many exciting thoughts and proposals. In the past, we used to get bogged down and, at times, overwhelmed, with these new ideas and requests.

Now, we simply challenge one another with the simple question, “Is it a hell yes?” In just about every case it’s not which allows us to free our minds and truly focus on delivering maximum value to our customers.

And when we do respond with “Hell Yes!” (which, as an aside, we recently did with some new technology we’re now exploring) our team is totally energized and focused since we have clarity of purpose.

Creates Space

Next, the Essentialist creates space to think and prioritize.

My colleagues Kevin and Steve are my role models when it comes to this. They both start, and end, their day by journaling what they did and plan to do.

Put another way, they make it a point to plan their day around what they need to do instead of what others want them to do.


Finally, we’ve covered the importance of sleep in our Culture of Kaizen course and McKeown also stresses how important sleep is for the Essentialist to thrive.

So, if you take nothing else from this article, or this book, this may be the most important advice of all.  We must protect the most important asset in our control – our mind and body – by getting enough rest.

Much More

Again, McKeown shares many more ideas and concepts in the book… but, at least for me, the ideas of saying no when it’s not “hell yes,” creating space to think and reflect, and getting adequate sleep resonated deeply with me.

Here’s a short video of Greg McKeown explaining more about the book. And here’s a longer video of a talk Greg gave at Google.