GA 021 | Shadows or Reality? Plato’s Cave Allegory with Ron Pereira

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GA021_ShadowsThe more I study lean the more I realize its deep philosophical roots… Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a great example of this.

As such, in this short episode, I’d like to invite you inside a dark and dreary cave where we’re challenged to determine what’s real or simply shadows on the wall.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview can be found here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • A brief summary of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (2:32)
  • How this allegory relates to continuous improvement (6:34)

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Full Written Transcript

[Ron] You’re listening to episode 21 with Ron Pereira. [background music]

[Announcer] Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.

[Ron] Hey there, this is Ron Pereira from Gemba Academy and I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy podcast… as always, I definitely want to thank you for taking the time to listen to the show and for watching our continuous improvement videos over at GembaAcademy.com.

Like we did a few weeks ago… I’m going to be flying solo today.

We do have many more guests lined up but we plan to mix some shorter solo shows like this one in from time to time to keep things fresh and fun!

Obviously, your feedback is very important to us so please let us know what you think of our approach to these podcasts… if you prefer one style over another or have new ideas please do me a huge favor and leave a comment at the bottom of the show notes for this episode which can be found at GembaPodcast.com/21. And that’s 2-1 for twenty-one. So, GembaPodcast.com/21.

Now then, during this episode I do plan to get a little philosophical but don’t worry… since the things we’re going to explore are immediately applicable to any continuous improvement practitioner.

In fact, even if you’re not a practitioner of continuous improvement I’m confident the lessons will resonate with you as well. So, let’s get to the show.

[music transition]

[Ron] One of my passions in life is to learn new things. And while I definitely enjoy reading books focused on continuous improvement I also enjoy studying philosophy.

And what’s even more interesting is the more I learn about people like Taiichi Ohno the more I realize their teaching is extremely rich with philosophical thought.

And for those that don’t know Taichii Ohno is one of the chief architects of the Toyota Production System which is where the Lean Thinking concepts we know and love find their roots.

In any event, today I want to explore one of Plato’s famous allegories since I see a tremendous relationship between it and the

many challenges we, as continuous improvement practitioners, face.

Now, this particular allegory is written as a dialogue between Plato’s brother Glaucon and his mentor Socrates.

The gist of the allegory goes something like this.

Plato asks us to imagine a cave. Inside the cave are people bound by their feet and neck and, as a result, are only able to look straight ahead at the wall in front of them.

Behind these people are steep steps that have been cut through the cave and lead to the outside world.

Above these steps is a large crevice that’s been cut into the cave wall where a large fire burns.

And, as a result of the light of this blazing fire, the prisoners can see their own shadows on the wall.

Next, we’re told there’s a walk way built in between the prisoners and the fire. You might imagine this walkway looking like a modern day mezzanine or catwalk built up around a factory.

The key to this walkway is that it’s placed directly between the prisoners and the fire. Additionally, there’s a wall on this walkway that people can walk behind without being seen similar to the way puppeteers work behind a wall.

And, as it turns out, people do in fact walk behind this wall while holding up various puppet like shapes and figures which, due to

the light of the fire, cast additional shadows on the wall. You can think of this as one of the first cinemas ever built!

When all combined these various shadows, along with the echo’s of the people talking on the walkway, create the only reality these shackled prisoners have ever known.

In other words, the only thing these prisoners believe to be “real” are the shadows they see on the walls and the echoing voices of the people moving along the walkway.

And, to be fair, since these shadows are the only thing these cave inhabitants have ever seen who could really blame them?

At this point, Socrates asks Glaucon to imagine someone from the outside world entering the cave and unshackling one of the prisoners.

Initially, the now free person turns around and is immediately overwhelmed… he sees the steep steps, the incredible fire, the walkway, and the puppet like shapes being held up behind the wall.

The prisoner is now totally conflicted and struggles to make sense of what’s actually true. In other words, the freed man wonders what’s real… these new objects he’s never seen or the familiar shadows on the wall?

At this point in the story we’re told the person is then drug from the cave and forced to go outside.

And, as you can imagine, the bright light of the sun nearly blinds

the man… but, once his eyes adjust, the newly liberated person is completely overcome with emotion.

The freed man is now blown away and desperate to share this incredible news with his fellow cave dwellers… as such he goes back to the cave and attempts to explain this new amazing reality to the other shackled prisoners.

Sadly, the other inhabitants don’t want to hear anything about some fantastic outside world.

You see, these people have grown comfortable with their life and don’t appreciate this excited person’s attempt to destroy the only reality they’ve ever known.

And, believe it or not, since the freed person now struggles to even recognize the old shadows on the wall the shackled prisoners actually mock him explaining how this new amazing world of his has actually caused him to lose his edge.

And, as incredible as it may seem, the shackled prisoners go so far as to warn the freed man that if he dare tries to release any of them they’ll do everything in their power to kill him.

With all of this said, the story concludes with Socrates explaining to Glaucon, that the freed person must return to the cave in order to share their enlightenment with the shackled prisoners, even if it results in death.

So, let me ask you a few questions. As you move forward with your life – both personally and professionally – how many shadows are you mistaking for reality?

And as it pertains to continuous improvement how many cave inhabitants are battling you as you attempt to unshackle them and show them a new, improved, reality?

Put another way, group think and attitudes like “this is the way we’ve always done it” and “you wouldn’t understand… our business is different” may in fact be nothing more than shadows on the wall.

Our challenge as continuous improvement practitioners is to never stop learning or seeking better ways of working. Additionally, we should do everything in our power to enlighten as many people as we can with the good news that is continuous improvement.

And, if we do happen to encounter modern day cave dwellers who have never seen, or experienced, how powerful – and life changing – authentic lean thinking can be, we must be willing to unshackle them and drag them along even at the risk of being mocked and ridiculed.

And, while it won’t be easy… imagine the incredible impact each of us can make if we’re even mildly successful.

Again, thanks so much for listening to our podcast… I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this episode… so please head over to GembaPodcast.com/21 and scroll to the bottom of the post and leave a comment.

Specifically, I’m truly interested to hear your take on this famous allegory. I’d also love to know whether you’ve encountered so- called cave dwellers? Or perhaps you were once a cave dweller yourself and found a way to break free.

No matter your story I’d really enjoy hearing from you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Gemba Academy Podcast. Now it’s time to sign up for a free Gemba Academy preview subscription over at http://GembaAcademy.com.

Gain immediate access to more than one hour of free Lean, and Six Sigma training at http://GembaAcademy.com

What Do You Think?

How do you interpret Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? Have you encountered any Cave Dwellers?

GA 020 | Developing People Through Autonomy with Steve Kane

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GA020_Steve_Kane-1

Today’s guest is our own Sales & Marketing Director, Steve Kane.

Prior to joining us at Gemba Academy, Steve served as Vice President of Operations at Specialty Silicone Fabricators.  With many years of real – hands on – lean experience, Steve has lots of lessons to share.

In this episode, Steve and Ron explore the topic of autonomous teams.  Specifically, Steve shares how to develop people through autonomy and why doing so can revolutionize any business no matter the industry.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview can be found here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Steve’s career background… think motorcycles! (02:24)
  • Steve’s role at Specialty Silicone Fabricators (4:00)
  • The quote that inspires Steve (5:16)
  • What working at SSF was like before implementing autonomous teams (6:40)
  • The definition of autonomous teams (10:10)
  • How Steve learned about autonomous teams (11:58)
  • The bold method Steve used to implement autonomous teams at SSF’s Michigan plant (16:40)
  • Some of the challenges SSF faced those first weeks after implementation (22:54)
  • How Steve brought this same concept back to the Paso Robles plant (31:30)
  • What Steve would’ve done differently (33:56)
  • How to learn more about autonomous teams (38:08)
  • Steve’s definition of “Respect for People” (39:42)
  • Steve’s definition of a Kaizen Culture (41:37)
  • The best advice Steve has ever received (42:57)
  • Steve’s personal productivity habit (43:28)
  • Steve’s answer to the new lean leadership scenario (45:00)
  • Steve’s final words of wisdom (47:57)

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And if you’ve never listened to an audio book today is your lucky day since you’re able to download a free audio book over at our favorite audio book provider – Audible.

Simply click this link to claim your free audio book.

Please note you will need to sign up, which includes providing your credit card, but if you’re not happy with the service you can easily cancel the subscription after downloading your free audio book before your free trial expires.

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CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Gemba Academy podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is definitely Android friendly.

Full Written Transcript

 GA 20 Steve Kane

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 20 with Steve Kane.

[background music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there. This is Ron Pereira from Gemba Academy, and I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy Podcast.

As always, thank you so much for listening to our show and for watching our Lean and Six Sigma training videos over at gembaacademy.com.

We definitely appreciate each and every one of you. I’m extremely excited to welcome Steve Kane to the show today. The reason for this excitement is because Steve recently joined the Gemba Academy team as our Director of Sales and Marketing.

Now, long time customers of Gemba Academy will remember Steve from a previous Gemba Live! episode and a webinar.

For those that don’t know him, Steve is an extremely talented lean thinker with many years of lean leadership experience. Before joining Gemba Academy, Steve was the vice-president of operations for Specialty Silicone Fabricators in Paso Robles, California.

Now, during this show, Steve and I talk about the topic of autonomous teams. In fact, Steve walks us through the exact process he and his leadership team followed at SSF in order to implement autonomous teams across three different plants.

If you are not familiar with autonomous teams, don’t worry. Steve explains what they are and how they may be able to add tremendous value to your company. Now, show notes which will include links to everything we talk about can be found over at gembapodcast.com/20. Enough for me, let’s get to the show.

[music]

Ron: Steve, thanks so much for taking time to come on to the show. Where are you calling in from today, Steve?

Steve Kane: I’m calling in from Paso Robles, California.

Ron: I mentioned in the intro just now, Steve, that we welcomed you to the Gemba Academy team, officially on the podcast, welcome and we’re happy to have you on board.

Steve: Thanks. I’m super excited to be a part of the company.

Ron: Let’s go ahead and just start with, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your background and really how did you first come to learn about this lean thinking world that we live in.

Steve: Sure. It started many years ago. I was working in the motorcycle industry at a BMW motorcycle dealership.

We had a really good web presence. This was the early days of web retail. I was the manager running this organization, where I had parts and goods coming in through a single door everyday, we were sending out dozens and dozens of shipments everyday.

I came to realize that I really needed to improve flow through this department. It was a small space. Multiple people working in there. I had this idea that material should flow like water, and we should keep things as smooth as possible.

I just started exercising that idea and made some incremental improvements, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when I went into the medical device industry, where I began to understand that this whole idea of flow and reducing waste…there was actually a science behind it, and there were people who devoted there careers to this idea.

That’s where I learned that lean had a name, and there was some real serious thinking behind it. It seemed intuitive. Then, when I learned about it, it really validated my thinking, and I really got excited and started studying it.

Ron: All right. Tell us a little bit about…your most recent position before coming onto Gemba Academy was Vice President with Specialty Silicone Fabricators, which is great friends of the show and the Gemba Academy.

We’ve done videos over there and everything. Tell us a little bit of what you did there.

Steve: Yeah. That was a great experience. I started on the production floor making silicon components and moved into sales a couple of years later and, eventually, went to our Michigan facility. SSF is based in Paso Robles, California, and I had an opportunity to go to a satellite factory in Northern Michigan.

I spent three and a half years there as an Operations Manager and, eventually, came back to the Paso Robles plant as the Vice President of Operations.

Ron: Nice. That’s a very strong lean thinking organization thanks to you and your predecessor, Kevin, who’s also on the board with us here at Gemba Academy.

We’re going to talk more about SSF here in a bit, but what we like to do at the start of all of our shows, Steve, is have our guest share a quotation related to continuous improvement or leadership that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Steve?

Steve: It’s a quote from Vincent Lombardi. “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”

Ron: What does that really mean to you?

Steve: Regardless of where anybody is in life, position at work, position socially, things at home, the quality of your life is in direct proportion to you being truly excellent at whatever it is that you do.

Whether it’s being a good spouse, a good baseball player, a good student, give it your best, and you’ll get the best out of life as a result of your contributions.

Ron: I love that. My father used to say stuff. He said, “If, one day, you’re a street sweeper, you be the best street sweeper you can be.” Right?

Steve: Right.

Ron: No matter what you do. That’s great advice. The topic of our show today is autonomous teams. We’re going to dig in to what they are and all the rest of it sharing some stories of how these teams positively impacted and currently impact SSF.

Before we get into that, why don’t you talk a little bit about the workplace at SSF before autonomous teams were put into place.

Steve: Sure. For me, it really started at our Michigan plant. I went in as the Operations Manager, and I was from California, not only did I not know the people there in the plant, I was not familiar with the culture in Northern Michigan, and what is work like for folks in Northern Michigan.

When I went in and got to know people and some time went by, one of the things I noticed was that people were not really happy. They didn’t really seem to enjoy coming to work, certainly, didn’t enjoy the end of the day like they felt like they really had gotten something done. They weren’t smiling when they left…was really the impression.

It was enough of an issue that my leadership team and I…I had a few supervisors on the leadership team with me, and we noticed that we had to have this weekly meeting just to navigate through the interpersonal relationship problems on the floor. Employees wouldn’t want to work together, couldn’t stand next to each other in the same line.

One person wouldn’t like the way somebody else did something. There was an atmosphere of negativity, and I couldn’t figure out why. One other things was I came in and replaced the first Lean manager of that plant. A manager, rotated in from Paso Robles, was there for two years before going back to Paso Robles, and he got Lean going there.

He started with 5S. The plant really looked great. He started with One Piece Flow, which was surprisingly difficult to implement. One thing I noticed was out on the production floor, people would do this One Piece Flow in the assembly process, and then, when I’d leave, they’d go back to batch processing.

In this plant, keep in mind, we manufactured small surgical components. These are things that are just a few inches long and a fairly simple assembly. It’s assembled half by machine and half by hand. It’s easy to put 30, 40, 50 of these things in one hand at a time and do some assembly, but we really insisted One Piece Flow, and we’d show it’s faster, it’s easier, it’s better quality.

We’d show all the data behind it, but, for some reason, it just wouldn’t stick. “What in the world is going wrong?” I scratched my head “Why?” It was really easy to come down as the leader and say, “You must do this, and we’ll discipline anybody who doesn’t.”

While that did have some effect short term, it didn’t last. Still, we struggled. “Why can’t we get it to stick?” That’s kind of what the culture was like when I got there.

Ron: Let’s get into, at a high level, before we learn about your experience with autonomous teams at SSF, what are they? What are autonomous teams?

Steve: The most important part is team. Everybody in the organization is a team. Every single person not only identifies with the team, but they understand the team’s role in the company, and how it connects to the company and the customer.

Each member of the team serves the team and works to make sure that the team is successful. The autonomous part is that the team runs itself.

Ron: When you say a team, is it like a value stream team? You will have a whole value stream, and they’re one autonomous team?

Steve: Actually, smaller teams within that. I kind of describe it as a football team. You can say we’re all one team, but within that, there’s offense, there’s defense, there’s special teams.

You break it down even further. The offensive line. They go off and practice. The backs will practice together. Then, eventually, everybody comes together as a whole team.

Similar thing where a value stream may be large enough that you could have dozens of people and several smaller teams that are more focused on certain steps along the value stream. In the Michigan plant, we had a few basic processes, and we set up teams by process. It just so happened that these processes required about four people, five people per team, so that just happened to work out for us.

Ron: How did you learn about autonomous teams?

Steve: SSF is really forward thinking. We insisted that five people throughout the company go to AME throughout the year. I think this was in 2010.

One of the people who went in 2010 was one of our supervisors. She was actually in charge of supply chain and everything that supported production, but she had a background in human resources.

When she went to the AME Conference, the international conference, she focused on the culture, value stream, of training at AME. She’s very much into the leadership and the people side of the business, that’s what she focused on. She sat in a one hour talk that was presented by Larry Davis, the President of Daman Products in Indiana.

He talked all about culture. The culture at Daman Products. He referred to it as a customer focused culture. This is where everybody in the factory…you don’t work for your boss. You work with your team to help your customer be successful. One of the bigger concepts there is that the people who actually make a product, they’re the ones who run the factory. They’re the ones who run the business.

The leader’s job is to teach, coach, mentor, inspire. Nikki learned about this. She was really excited. She came back, and she said, “Hey, I think I found what we’re missing. The missing link is this customer focused culture.” Of course, I’m really excited about it. “Tell me about it.” She said, “Well, yeah, essentially, what we need to do is let the operators on the floor run the factory.”

Those weren’t her exact words, but that was the idea. I was thinking, “Are you nuts? I can’t get these people to do One Piece Flow without direct supervision. How can I trust them to run the factory?” Later found out that was exactly the flaw in my thinking. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

That’s how we learned about it. As we go through our weekly human resources meeting…all of our internal conflicts, and the problems we were having with quality. The problems we were having with delivery and overtime. Nikki would very carefully mention, “The customer focused culture. This kind of a problem would work itself out, because the people on the floor would figure out how to solve the problem rather than the manager deciding how to solve the problem.

Later, with hindsight, I realized that I was really the classic, conventional manager resistant to Lean. “We’re special.” “That doesn’t work here.” I had all of these excuses for that. “No way, I’m not going to hand over running the plant to the operators. That won’t work.” I was just convinced of it.

She was very, very tactful. She was very persistent for a few months. She would just bring up these things, and she would show how this would work. “Here’s an instant where customer focused culture would have a positive effect.”

After awhile, quite frankly, I got a little tired of hearing this, I said, “Fine. What do we do? What’s our next step?” She said, “Well, the President of Daman Products said that…he invited us over. It’s only a four hour drive. We can go visit and learn more about it.” “OK, set it up.”

She did. She set up the hotels, all the scheduling. I drove down there with my team of supervisors. After listening to him speak for about 30 minutes, I felt like this light went on over my head. “Oh, I get it. I completely get it.” I think the big thing that I learned was people tend to perform the way they’re treated. Thinking back, “How have I been treating people?” That is what drove me to learn more.

Ron: You’ve learned what it is. Nikki has inspired you and persisted, it sounded like. [laughs]

Steve: Right.

Ron: …to keep pushing this forward, because she believed in it so much. You went to a company, and you saw how they did it. Now, you have an idea what it’s all about. The next question is how did you go about implementing it, I guess, in your Michigan plant, right? That’s where you started.

Steve: Right. We, as a team, spent half a day there at Daman Products really learning about it. We talked to operators, supervisors, engineers to really get a feel for the culture. It’s this culture of a very high level of responsibility.

The thing is people were engaged. They were satisfied. They were motivated. They improved things on their own. We just thought we really wanted our people to be able to feel that day in and day out. Driving home from Indiana, we were thinking, “If we’re going to do this, we really need to plan it out right and make sure we do this correctly.”

As we’re talking about it over four hours, plus the time it took us to stop for dinner, and strategizing, we came to the realization that we’re not experts on this. We really can’t come in with this master plan, step-by-step, and this is how it’s going to work.

We decided the best plan that we’re going to have is we’re just going to get everybody together and say, “Hey, look, here’s the vision. This is what we really want for everybody here. We want you to be engaged. We want you to enjoy your work. We want you to have a rewarding experience at work. We want you to smile on the way in and smile by the time you leave.”

We had this vision, “To start, we’re going to share the vision with them, and we’re going to just figure it out, one step at a time, as we get through it.” We went back to the plant, and that following day we called an all-employee meeting in the afternoon.

This is a plant of about 30 people. The size of the plant was pretty significant in how we were able to launch this. We just got everybody together, and we started off by acknowledging, “Raise your hand if you really enjoy your work.” Nobody did.

“Raise your hand if you feel like you really accomplish something by the time you go home at the end of the day, or you feel like you had a really rewarding day. Raise your hand if you feel like you’re in control of your career path and you feel like you’re growing.”

We pointed some of these things out, and I just mentioned, “Hey, you know, I’d really like that to change. I would love for everybody to really enjoy their work.” We went into a lot of detail about all the positive benefits that we’d really like people to get out of the workplace.

We told them, “Hey, look. Starting tomorrow morning, you are going to be in charge of the plant. You’re going to run this plant. You’re going to be the operators on the production floor. You’ll be responsible for on time delivery, you’ll be responsible for quality.

You’re going to be responsible for scheduling all of production, sourcing your raw materials, bringing that in. You will be responsible for job assignments, scheduling, time off, all of these things. All aspects of the workplace are going to be your responsibility.”

Of course, people were looking back at me, their eyes as wide as saucers, and they had the same response I had with Nikki, originally, “Are you nuts?”

[laughter]

Steve: I told them, “There’s nothing different between you and me as far as professional responsibility goes, but there’s this expectation that the manager is going to hold you accountable for following the rules.

I’m not going to do that anymore. That’s going to be your job. You’ll hold yourself accountable. Team members, you’re going to hold each other accountable. We all perform at the same professional level, we all know the rules, we know our policies, we know how to do things.

Also, I’m really not the master of running this factory. The reality is all of you are, and you do it every single day. The only thing that’s different now is you’re going to understand that it’s your responsibility to do this. It’s going to be your choices that make us successful.”

Ron: What if they didn’t know how to do something? What if they didn’t know how to source materials, or they didn’t know how to do some financial reporting, or whatever it is, that needed to be done? How did you handle that?

Steve: We told them, “You will do all of these things. When you don’t understand what to do, I will be out on the production floor along with all the supervisors. We’ll be here all day as long as you need us.

When you have a question, I promise you I will not answer your question for you.

[laughter]

Steve: The look I got from people…a kind of disbelief, confused…I just wanted to explain, “Hey, look. I can’t spoon-feed information to you and show you how to do things, and have you retain it.

When you come to me with a question, I’m going to respond with a question because there’s a good chance that you or other people around you may already know, and you might just need some coaching along to help you. The idea’s that if there’s something that you’re not familiar with, I want you to truly learn it so, then, you can also teach it.”

That was the method we had. Something that was really important about this was that the supervisors and I were truly in lockstep. We believed in this, we knew it was the right thing to do, and we trusted each other. We said, “No matter what, we back each other up. We will be available to the people on the floor all day, as much as they need us. If we have other office work that needs to get done, we’ll do it after-hours if we have to. The people come first.”

That was a really fundamental and important element that we were truly in lockstep, in that regard.

Ron: You’ve got these things in place now. Some operators are wide-eyed, unsure, but they’re going to fight through it. For the first few months of practicing this concept, how did it go? What were some of the struggles? Let’s start there.

Steve: I described it as a few weeks of chaos, really. Remember we said, “Starting tomorrow, you’ll decide when to come to work, you’ll decide job assignments and all that. The supervisor is not going to do that anymore.”

We actually even took the supervisor off the production floor to create some distance for the purpose of having the teams work the problems out on their own before coming to anybody, to the supervisor, for help. We were there, we were available, but we were just a little bit separated to let people struggle enough to come up with the good questions.

The folks were having some issues with these responsibilities. There was a little bit of disagreement on job assignments, “Hey, it’s up to you. You’ve got to work it out, who’s going to do what.”

One of the things we told folks, “When you’re making these decisions, whether it’s a critical quality decision, just a job assignment decision, or anything in between, here are three questions that you need to ask yourself, am I helping the customer be successful? Am I helping my team be successful? Am I doing the right things for the right reasons?

If you’re doing all three of those things, you’re probably heading down the right path and things are going to work out just fine, but you’ve got to work it out with your team.”

We had people not agreeing on job assignments, when to bring materials to the floor, how to go about doing the administrative tasks. We had one particular employee who really enjoyed running the automated floor polisher, the thing with the big tank and the scrubbing wheel…

Ron: I’ve always wanted to drive one of those [laughs].

Steve: They are fun, actually. We had this great polished floor in the warehouse and a lot of empty space. He enjoyed running that thing. We’re super busy, working really hard to get a shipment up, he’s out in the warehouse polishing the floor.

I go to talk to him, “Hey ya! Tell me what’s going on.” “Well, you know, I’m polishing the floor.” I go, “OK. Great. Does that really need to be done right now?” And he says, “Well, it’s good to keep the floor clean, and you said I can do whatever I want. It is my decision to pick my work assignment.”

“Yes, that’s true, but remember, I also said you have to ask yourself if you’re helping the customer be successful, if you’re helping your team be successful, if you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

And he stopped, scratched his head a little bit, and he said, “Ah, yeah. OK” He went back on to the production floor and started helping out. We had those kinds of issues. What we found was the less leadership got involved in that the more sustained the improvements were. People worked problems out for themselves, and the team were holding each other accountable.

“Ray, hey. Your break was supposed to be 15 minutes. That was 20 minutes ago, you need to be back on time.” Those kinds of things. When the teammates were saying these things, the message really stuck. In the past, where the supervisor said it, it didn’t.

We had a few weeks of this turmoil. Then, it was like we turned the corner and things started to really smooth out. The people were getting along better. After three months, I remember talking to the rest of the leadership team and asking, “What do you have going on, today? I’m really not all that busy.” They were saying, “Yeah, me too. I feel like I don’t have so many tasks to deal with.”

We looked at our agenda for our HR meeting that we had over the week, and we shifted from conflict to ideas like, “When are we going to have our next pizza party? When are we going to do something to celebrate this accomplishment?”

It turned from being an agenda of dealing with challenges to an agenda of dealing with successes and celebration. That’s when it hit us, “Hey. Wait a minute. This is actually working.”

There was a really rewarding moment of, “Gosh! We really hit a home run here, we really did something right.” We called an all-employee meeting, and we talked to everybody who wanted to give some feedback on how things were going.

They acknowledged that we had some struggles, but things seemed to be getting better. I told everybody that, “First of all, I’m just truly impressed with the professionalism that everybody brings to the team, and the way that the team is performing.

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect in such a short period of time. I had dreamed that, hopefully, we could get to this level in about a year, but it only took about three months.” Once we hit that point, then it was like the momentum, really, just picked up, and the performance really improved.

Ron: Somebody’s going to sit back, be skeptic, and say, “Oh, yeah. That sounds great. Now, the managers should be sitting back planning pizza parties.” What was going on with the leadership, then? Once this thing’s really moving, it’s a well oiled machine, what’s the role of the leadership then?

Steve: It’s really easy to think that the supervisor’s or the manager’s job is either simple or almost nonexistent at that point. If you’re not telling people what to do, what are you doing?

The leader’s job is to teach, coach, mentor, and inspire. The coaching that goes along…we talk to everybody in a pretty short period of time, just how to run things day-to-day. The reality is most of the knowledge which is out there is a matter of cultivating it and getting it out.

That was happening. Then what? We’re doing one piece flow. How do we improve upon that? What does the customer need from us? Some of the Lean concepts I was trying to teach in the past. In Takt Time, for instance, I would ask people, “How many parts do you need to manufacture today?” “I don’t know. I work a 10 hour shift, I just come in, I make parts, and then, at the end of my shift, I go home.”

Here’s how you figure out how many parts need to be made in order to deliver on time to the customer, what your production rate is, what the difference is, how much overtime you will need to work today if you’re not on target? Again, something I couldn’t get to stick because I was forcing it on.

After we made this change and told the team, “Hey. You’re responsible for on time delivery. It’s going to be up to you to make sure that you get quality products out to the customer. Then, the operator started asking, “I have x number of days to get this order finished. How many parts do I need to make in a day?”

Here’s the concept on it, “Actually, let’s go to Gemba Academy. Here’s the video on Takt Time.” We would tech this concept and then…the question, “Here’s Takt Time. How many parts do I make in an hour?” “I really don’t know. Let’s time it.”

These fundamental parts of Lean were really starting to come out. They were organic. People needed these tools.

Ron: They had a problem.

Steve: If they had a problem to solve, exactly. Then Lean really started to kick off, because people needed to do this to be successful. They implemented day by hour report. We would ask people to stand in the Ohno circle for half an hour. The past, they would just stand there and daydream, presumably.

But after, they would stand and they would really watch and they’d come up with an idea. Then, they created the Kaizen Newspaper and tracking these ideas, and how to fix things. Again, the momentum just really got going.

Ron: Love it. The Michigan plant was off and running. I understand you also then took this concept to the California plant, right? Is that accurate?

Steve: Right. Yeah, it is. Just before I moved to the Paso Robles plant, there was this initiative to abolish performance appraisals company-wide. SSF has three factories. We had people from all three factories involved. We want to abolish performance appraisals, but how do we do it?

That’s where we in Michigan said we implemented this idea of autonomous teams. This has been the result and we feel that the appraisals really aren’t appropriate, because the feedback in the moment and it’s usually effective. We started getting up all rolling throughout the company.

Then, I moved back to Paso Robles where I became the vice president of operations. I was in charge of manufacturing at all three of our factories. We really drove this idea home at that point. It really started to spread.

Our task in plant was about twice the size of the Michigan plant. Again, the customer focus culture, the autonomous teams, it took off quickly and they really tried with it. In the Paso Robles plant, I actually learned a lot trying to implement that this is a factory of 150 or so people, several managers, several supervisors.

It came to them with, “Hey look, here’s this great idea. Isn’t it wonderful? Let’s do it.” That was a fatal flaw in my thinking that I really…I didn’t do what was critically important that we did do in Michigan, which was the leadership team was on the same page. We all thoroughly understood it. We believed in it and then together, we launched it.

It was a top down mistake that I made in Paso Robles. It took longer to gain some traction with it, but we did it. We were very persistent with it. It just took a lot longer to get going. In Michigan, things were just stellar in three months. In the Paso Robles plant, the mistakes I made really slowed things down, but we did get there.

Ron: If you had to do it over again in Paso Robles, what would you have done differently? Would you have brought them out to Michigan maybe to show them? What do you think?

Steve: Actually, that I would not do because we did have some people go to Michigan. I really encouraged them to, “Hey, really pay attention to culture. Bring back some ideas.” That actually kind of put in with some responsibility on them and then also, it’s a comparison which we don’t like being compared to others, right?

It’s just saying Michigan’s wonderful, but Paso Robles really needs to improve, which isn’t the case.

In retrospect, what I should have done, and what I would do again if I were to take on a similar role, would be to spend the time and get to understand the challenges that leadership faces, and also, the challenges of folks on the floor face and take the time to get all the leaders in on board with a the autonomous team’s idea, and really make sure that we’re all together on it and that there’s a real sense of unity on the idea before launching it.

Also, in a very large…larger organization, larger than 30 people in Michigan, those of us with office jobs and other assignments — we had a few engineers, supervisors — we could afford to spend all of our time on the production floor for a while. In the larger plant, there’s so much going on that we couldn’t do that. We couldn’t ask our quality team to do that.

They’re busy with audits and documentation and so many other things, and the customer care group. They’re so busy with other things. It’s really difficult to get absolutely everybody on board doing the same thing at the same time. We have to develop a better strategy for that, but it’s really just a shift in thinking and that takes a lot of discussion.

One of the things that I did with this one, I implemented the idea in Michigan along with my leadership team that we decided that we were not going to ask for a permission to do this. We could have…I could have run it by the company president, who was Kevin at the time, by the way, or the director of HR. There are a couple of reasons for that.

One was that Kevin really supported people taking rests, calculated rests that it wouldn’t hurt anybody, but experimenting and trying things and learning from it. I knew if I went to the rest of the management team, it would just be a huge obstacle to overcome just to get it going. I rationalized my thinking with communicating the fact that we will change policies.

We will not change any of our eyes of documentation. We follow our policies. We follow our quality system to the letter as we always have. We’re going to shift our leadership style and that’s really what it’s about. It’s not this monumental shift to the company. It’s just changing the way you interact with people.

Ron: Love it. We’re recording this right now and the early audios. We’re going to be doing…you’re going to be doing, I should say, Steve a webinar here with Gemba Academy on August 20, 2014, titled Empowering Employees with Autonomous Teams. This is going to be free.

If anybody listening to this and is interested in checking that out, I got to double check when we’re going to release this episode. Even if it’s after August 20, that’s not a big deal because that webinar will have it up for free for 30 days. I could definitely encourage people that want to learn a little bit more about this concept to check that webinar out.

There’s something that Steve and I, and Kevin, we’ve been talking about this possibly doing a formal course on this topic of autonomous teams. Beyond that, Steve, if someone wants to learn more about this concept, what advice do you have for them?

Steve: If you’d like to learn more about it, of course, the webinar is the first step. In that webinar, I will discuss the fundamental principles involved. It takes a little bit of time, so we weren’t able to get into it during this podcast. But there are some key principles there and that would certainly help.

Also, if anybody wanted to contact me to get some tips or pointers on it, I’d be really happy to talk to them about it. But there are plenty of books out there, similar to this. The Servant is one that comes to mind.

Just really believing that the idea is that a leader’s job is to lead…the leader’s job is to teach, coach, mentor, and inspire. I mean that is a fundamental philosophy. I think it’s going to send you in the right direction. I encourage the webinar and of course, you can look me up, as well.

Ron: Yeah, awesome. Let’s go ahead and transition into the quick fire section. As I mentioned in the intro, we are…we’ve actually changed up the quick fire sites in a little bit and we’ve added some new questions and taken some questions out. We actually got some feedback that folks wanted to change that up a little bit.

I thought that was an interesting idea. Actually, Steve, I’ve actually added one that you and I haven’t been talked about. We’re going to keep this thing extremely real. I’m going keep you on your toes. The first question, Steve, is what does respect for people mean to you?

Steve: That is an incredibly deep subject. Respect for people, it’s so much…it goes so far beyond being professional and polite and kind to people.

It’s about making sure people are sufficiently challenged that they have a rewarding experience at work, which I believe it really comes from being challenged that they have the resources they need to learn and to grow, that they are brought into the organization.

Not just to perform the task at their fingertips, but that they’re really truly treated as an important part of a company. They are involved with the company’s success and information is shared with them. They’re not asset…I have trouble with the idea that people are best asset. It implies ownership.

Something about respect for people tells me…it just makes me think that there isn’t any ownership there. We have to remember people are not obligated to work for us. We need to create an environment where they want to be here. They want to succeed and they want our customers succeed. I think Richard Bronson said something along the lines of, “Train your people well enough that they can lead and treat them well enough that they don’t want to.”

Ron: Nice. I like that. Here’s a new question for you. This came to me as we were talking earlier. When you hear the phrase Kaizen Culture, what comes to your mind?

Steve: To me, that’s improving something really every day. If you’re going to work with a thought process of what am I going to improve today and it doesn’t have to be the big earth-shattering change, but that small incremental change that is going to be better for the customer, better for your team, better for the company, and ultimately better for you as the worker.

Ron: Yeah. We just got back…as you know, Steve, we just got back from our friend’s at FastCap there. We visited their new factory and Paul Aker is the president of that company. We were visiting…we were doing a walk-through Monday morning and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of tours today.”

We were in there videotaping all kind of stuff. He said, “I actually came in last night to do my improvement because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get it done today.” I was like, “What do you mean you did your improvement?”

He said, “My two second improvement.” Everyone at FastCap including Paul, the president and owner of the company, makes a two-second improvement every day. I’m like, “Wow. That’s a Kaizen Culture.”

Steve: That’s absolutely a shining example.

Ron: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Steve: “Don’t underestimate what people are capable off.” It’s really easy to do, particularly on a factory floor, where somebody is doing one particular task and then an opportunity comes up. The question is who do we want to do this? Don’t discount people because of any preconceived notions. Let people prove their abilities.

Ron: Yes, nice. Steve, do you have one personal productivity habit that others might benefit from?

Steve: I really try to sustain five S of the workplace. The thinking is that my desktop reflects my thinking or my state of mind. It’s really easy for the desktop to get cluttered. When that happens, the same thing is happening in my thought process. Keeping things clean at the desktop, it’s the same reason we teach 5S, right?

The same reason we do it in the factory floor that it’s not only that I can reach what I need when I need it, but it’s about that clarity of thought and that I can stand cast because I have this highly organized workplace. My suggestion is take time at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day to stay organized.

Ron: You’re also a stand-up desk guy too, is that right?

Steve: I am. I’m standing right now, actually.

Ron: Me too. I love it. I think that’s actually in a very similar vain. It’s like if I sit down, I get all comfortable and relaxed. It’s OK when you’re reading a book, but standing up and then working, I find standing is definitely better for me, at least.

Steve: Yeah, it certainly keeps me moving.

Ron: Here’s another new question. Thanks to Steve for helping me kind of craft this, but I think this is going to be a good one for future episodes. Here’s the back story. You’re a Lean thinker, Steve, who has just been hired as a general manager of a company.

This company needs to improve their processes and ways of working. As it turns out, you’ve now discovered after you’ve been hired that many of the senior managers that you’re dealing with, they aren’t quite as enthused about your Lean thinking background and ideas as you are. With this said, what would you do and why?

Steve: First thing that comes in mind is language. If you want to understand somebody or you want somebody else to understand you, you need to speak their language rather than having them try to learn your language. Going into things, I would focus more on what resonates with the other members of the team, rather than using the Lean lingo and do it the lean way and try to force ideas on other people.

You can share the ideas without getting hooked or too attached to the Lean terminology and show how improvements will benefit the company. If you’re dealing with the CFO, for instance, and you’re talking about continues improvement, the CFO might ask something along the lines of why are we spending time dealing this, when are we going to see the results in the financial statement?

Being able to explain, this is getting incremental and we’re can do this little by little and we won’t see the financials improved because this is one of that. But having the culture of this type of improvement is going to improve flow, improve or reduce the amount of labor per part, and start speaking the CFO’s language. Then it starts to resonate a little bit more.

It can start focusing on things like on this blind item of the financials, I want to improve this. I want to get our cost down. In order to that, I’m going to implement these steps. With human resources, I may talk to be more concerned about retention and employee engagement and satisfaction and talk about respecting people and some leadership things, and maybe trying to pull the HR executive in that way.

It’s about…again, it’s about speaking their language and touching on the things that really resonate with the other members of the team and the company as a whole, and keeping focus on what is it we’re trying to accomplish as a company.

Ron: Nice. In the CFO, you’re going to also kind of sneak in Jean Cunningham’s book “Real Numbers,” right?

[laughter]

Ron: Yeah, very good. All right. Steve, thank you so much for coming on to this show. We are so excited to have you on board here at Gemba Academy. Why don’t we just wrap this thing up, Steve, with you sharing some final words of wisdom and then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you?

Steve: Sure. The final words of wisdom, if you think about the House of Ling — I think it’s from Toyota — the two pillars of Ling being continuous improvement and respect for people. Just really remember that those two pillars need to be a bit more strength. Their continuous improvement, the activities in the Lean tools on one side.

But remember that the strength of the respect for people side has to be at least strong. It’s really the people who make the tools work. Make sure that everybody is getting the support and attention they need to use the tools. To get a hold of me, you can get me at steve@gembaacademy.com. I’ll be happy to correspond with you.

Ron: Yeah, fantastic. Again, depending on when this comes out, we’re going to…Steve’s going to do a webinar on August 20th that’s free to anyone. You don’t have to be a subscriber to Gemba Academy on Empowering Employees with Autonomous Team. Even if this episode comes out after that, don’t worry.

The recorded version will be available for 30 days after that. I definitely encourage people to check that out. Steve, we’ve been talking for almost 45…little bit longer than 45 minutes, I guess it’s time for us to get back to do some other work here. But thanks for taking the time again. I’m sure we’ll have you back on the show again down the road.

Steve: You’re welcome, Ron, and thank you so much.

Ron: All right, take care.

[music]

What Do You Think?

Have you ever been a part of an organization that utilizes autonomous teams? Did you feel it was effective? Why or why not?

GA 019 | Leveraging Lean as a Business Strategy with Jean Cunningham

Play

GA019_Jean_Cunningham

Today’s guest is Jean Cunningham, one of the original Lean Accounting thought leaders. Jean is an incredibly knowledgable and insightful consultant and it was such a privilege to interview her.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview can be found here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Jean’s career history and background (2:30)
  • The quote that inspires Jean the most (4:24)
  • Why Jean believes that lean is a strategy, not an initiative (5:44)
  • What financial results you can expect from implementing lean (7:55)
  • Jean’s elevator speech on Lean Accounting and its role in an organization (14:01)
  • What organizational development has to do with lean (16:50)
  • Jean’s definition of “Respect for People” (20:54)
  • The problems Jean is currently trying to solve (22:02)
  • The best advice Jean has ever received (24:17)
  • Jean’s personal productivity habit (25:30)
  • Jean’s final words of wisdom…think Toyota (30:11)

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Full Written Transcript

 GA 19 Jean Cunningham

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 19 with Jean Cunningham.

Welcome to the Gemba Academy podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey, there. This is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy. I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy podcast.

Now, if this is the first time that you’ve listened to this show I’d like to welcome and thank you for checking the show out. And for our long-time listeners I would also like to thank you for your continued support. We definitely appreciate it.

Now, I do have one quick Gemba Academy update. We’ve recently released an incredible Gemba live episode where we featured Menlo Innovations, a software development company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While I’m obviously a little biased, I do think the episode turned out great.

If you’re not a Gemba Academy customer and want to take a sneak peek at this episode, while also exploring the more than 600 other Lean and Six Sigma training videos we have, all you have to do is visit GembaAcademy.com and signup for a three-day full access trial subscription.

Today’s guest is Jean Cunnningham. Jean is one of the original Lean Accounting thought leaders of the world. In fact, the first accounting book that I read on Lean Accounting called “Real Numbers” was written by Jean.

While we do touch on Lean Accounting during this show, Jean and I spend most of our time talking about how Lean is actually a business strategy and not simply an initiative.

Show notes, which will include links to everything Jean and I talk about, can be found over at GembaPodcast.com/19, which is “19.” Again, that’s GembaPodcast.com/19.

Enough from me, let’s get to the show.

[music]

Ron: Jean, thanks so much for coming onto the show. Where are you calling in from today?

Jean Cunningham: I live in Evanston, Illinois, one of the best suburbs of Chicago.

Ron: Home of the Wildcats, right?

Jean: That’s right. That’s right, yeah.

Ron: Mark Graban’s old stomping grounds, right?

[laughs]

Most people listening to the podcast will know of your background, but for those that don’t; why don’t you tell a little about yourself, your background, Jean?

Jean: Sure, I’d be glad to. I have been a CFO for two manufacturing companies that adopted Lean and I was exposed to the Toyota production system in the early 1990s at a company called Lantech. Lantech went on to be featured in the book “Lean Thinking” that Womack and Jones wrote.

I was there 13 years. While I was there we deployed the concepts of Lean in every part of our company, including, of course, the accounting and finance areas, and ended up changing a lot of how we used cost information and used financial information in the company so that we eliminated it as a barrier to our improvement efforts.

That got a lot of interest. Along with Orest Fiume who was the CEO at Wiremold Corporation, we together wrote a book called “Real Numbers: Management Accounting For a Lean Organization.”

Later I went one and wrote second book, “Easier, Simpler, Faster: Systems Strategy for Lean IT,” which was about the role of IT in our Lean organization, sharing our stories in both books. Both books did go on to be recognized with a Shingo Prize.

Now, after a corporate career, I help companies with applying Lean beyond manufacturing.

Ron: Yes, and I’m a big, big fan of your work. I think your Lean Accounting work is the first stuff that I had ever read on the topic. It’s fascinating, so it’s an honor to speak with you, by the way.

Jean: Thank you.

[laughter]

Ron: The way that that I like to start all of our shows, Jean, is with our guest sharing a quotation, maybe it’s leadership or continuous improvement slanted, that inspires them. What quotation inspires you?

Jean: There’s one by Nelson Mandela that I’m particularly excited by. It was in an article that he did for “Harvard Business Review” years ago about leadership.

He said, “A leader is like a shepherd letting the nimble run out ahead, knowing that others will follow, all along leading from behind.” I think that it really speaks to how important it is as a leader to create the opportunity for all of the people in the organization to contribute to the improvement, and the strength, and the success of an organization.

Even though different people might have different skills, some may be more nimble, running forward, and seeing, and advancing the cause, and pulling the rest of the people who have a common interest into that future.

Ron: Just to level-set everyone that’s listening to this, Jean and I have been collaborating a little bit on what questions we were going to kind of go over the meat of this interview. Jean sent a bunch of questions in and what I’ve done is I’ve kind of mixed them all up and she has no idea what I’m about to ask and in what order. Let’s see how it turns out here.

The first question, though, Jean is we talk about Lean as perhaps a business strategy or perhaps it’s an initiative. What’s your opinion? Is Lean a business strategy initiative, and maybe what’s the difference between those two approaches?

Jean: Right. I definitely believe that Lean is a strategy, meaning it is a strategy of leadership and management. However, I think that to get interest in this strategy in this different way of managing, you usually have to start with getting people interested.

As an initiative, it would not at all be uncommon and perhaps not a bad way, in my opinion, to introduce the concepts of Lean to the organization, where you can do some things, have some improvement events, improve a particular process that’s troublesome and begin to let people see, oh, there’s a different way that we could improve the work that we do, there’s a different way that we could look at the work that we do and get interest.

But eventually, the real success with Lean concepts is when it really becomes the way that you do everything. You may have an initiative to introduce a new product. You want to use Lean concepts to do that as quickly and as effectively and with voice of customer as possible.

You may have an initiative to improve capacity within a particular part of the organization that is constrained. Well, using Lean thinking and problem solving and engagement of people and the different tools that we have with Lean bring it to that problem.

Your initiative might be to implement a new ERP system. In other words, the initiatives are things you want to get done, and the strategy is the methods and methodologies that you use to achieve the initiatives that you have selected that are the most meaningful to take your company into the future.

Ron: I got it. What about the financial impact of Lean? Maybe some organizations are very bottom line driven, ROI driven, whatever it might be. What can folks expect to see in terms of financial impact?

Jean: I base my opinion based on my experience. I’m sure different people have different experiences, but to me, when I first was in my very first improvement activity that we had at our company and I saw how, in four days, that we could transform how we made — in this case, it was conveyors — from a long drawn-out process to a very constrained, concise process that we could make conveyors one at a time, that’s when I knew as a finance professional that this was completely different than anything we had done before.

My experience was that there was no other activity, strategy, point of view that I had ever been exposed to that could result and improve business performance than what I saw in this one week period of time.

Say that is that if you fundamentally change how you do things and you do them more quickly with less resource and at a higher quality, you cannot help but have better financial results.

Now, the financial reports themselves might make it hard to see because of the traditional of general accepted accounting principles, things of how we deal with cost and inventory. But taking that aside, there’s no question in my mind at all whether you’re a manufacturer or you’re not a manufacturer, that if you are in fact making things more quickly with less resources at a higher quality, there’s no way that your company’s financial results cannot be improved.

And in fact, I’ll go a step further and say that if you’re applying Lean principles and you’re doing Lean activities and you are not seeing financial improvement, there’s something wrong with your strategy and how you’re applying it.

Ron: Yes. You’ve a finance professional background. What’s your opinion on tracking financial benefits when it comes to continuous improvement activities? Should people be trying to quantify the benefits of their kaizen event from the previous week? What are your thoughts there?

Jean: Trying to track on an event by event basis financial impact is a complete and utter waste of time. In fact, it should be the ninth waste. It’s just not. The benefit does not come at one point in time. It’s a cumulative effect.

There are corporate realities, however. Many corporations are not yet to the point that they’ve truly adopted Lean as a strategy. They still look at it as an initiative. In order to keep that initiative alive long enough for the real benefits to be released, many organizations do have to do some tracking on events.

We should see it for really what it is. It is a stop-gap measure for organizations to use because they’re not yet fully experiencing the dynamic power of Lean thinking within the organization. Once they see it and feel it, the need to track it is dramatically diminished.

The other part of tracking, though, I do think is important, but not from a financial point of view, the tracking of what’s happening with the improvements that we’ve made. We can’t just make an improvement and walk away. That is not a Lean strategy, that’s just hit-and-run activity.

You really do have to incorporate into your management practices that, as you make improvements, you’re constantly monitoring, doing PDCA to say what’s happened, what we need to do next, what we learned from this last experiment. That kind of tracking I do think is particularly important.

Ron: I remember back when I worked in industry, I won’t name names of the guilty, but I remember being a young practitioner of continuous improvement and spending as much time quantifying the benefits of our project work as we did the actual project.

It was just a pity that we had to waste so much time when we could have been out making other things better. Instead, we were using multiple regressions to demonstrate [laughs] how to save as much money over the next five years…it was a mess! Your words resonate with me.

Jean: You really bring up a point that is also relevant when we think about Lean and the role of the finance function. Like your example of where you are being really pushed to evaluate the financial impact, you may or may not have had the financial skills, the knowledge of how the accounting system works.

One of the things that I do think has a very valuable role for finance professionals and Lean organizations is, actually for the finance folks, to be part of the Lean efforts in other parts of the company so that they can have a firsthand understanding of the benefits and figure out how to help the organization with understanding what’s going on, where they see it in their financial statements so that they can get some feedback.

I consider improvements really experiments. You think you know what’s going to happen by making this change, but you don’t really know until you actually have made the change and lived with it. I consider that an experiment, a scientific method.

The finance professionals, I really feel, can play a very active and valuable role to partnering with the people who are making changes in the organization to get that reflection back of what’s going on.

Ron: The next question I want to transition into, Jean, is…Gemba Academy customers know that and maybe have seen Jean with my business partner Kevin. They did a great interview, and Jean was waxing poetic about all of the things of Lean Accounting.

What I want to do now is just transition into accounting a little bit, in more particular, and talk about Lean Accounting. Maybe some folks at a high level have heard of it, but they’re not exactly sure what it’s all about. Give us an elevator speech on what this whole thing called Lean Accounting is really all about and maybe what role it plays in an organization’s Lean Journey.

Jean: Excellent. I’d love to. I’m passionate on this topic. I always love to talk about this. Trying to keep it at the right level, the first thing to know about Lean Accounting…there are really in my view two parts of Lean Accounting.

One is applying the Lean principles and concepts, two the accounting function itself, how to take waste out of the operational work that accounts to things like paying bills, collecting money, closing the books, et cetera.

That’s very valuable work. Really, just like every part, every other function within a lean company should be learning about and applying Lean principles, accounting should, too.

The other part of Lean Accounting is what I would call accounting for Lean, which is basically how we can ensure that the financial information that you provide in an organization is simple to understand and supports the Lean behaviors that we’re really driving for, in the factory.

If we’re driving for producing at the rate of customer demand, we certainly don’t want financial information that is rewarding building as much as you can. Where this gets complex and where people are interested in really learning about it is really the cost methodologies, in most manufacturing companies.

Many manufacturing companies use standard cost accounting, and they think they have to or they’re not sure why they do. Really, Lean Accounting is an alternative way of thinking about how we present cost information while continuing to comply with generally accepted accounting principles.

Ron: If you’re interested, Gemba Academy covers it, and again we’ve interviewed Jean. At a minimum, I want to really recommend your book, “Real Numbers.” It’s a fantastic book. If you’re a leader of people in a business and you’ve not read that book, you really need to get it. We will link to it in the show notes of this episode.

The last question of this section, Jean, that I have for you. I know that you spend a lot of time in your consulting work, talking about how Lean can be leveraged as a method of organizational development. Is this like an HR thing? What’s it all about when we talk about organizational development in Lean?

Jean: Good question. My view on organizational development in Lean really aggregates a variety of different things that we might attribute to a particular function within an organization. I see it as really holistic.

Here’s how I put this in context. People of course, human relations departments, are responsible, in larger companies, for making sure they have the right people in the right seats at the right time. People are also one of the largest costs of most organizations. It’s what we spend a lot of money on — maybe material more — but people certainly a lot.

Lean is about uncovering capacity within the organization. This capacity could be in the form of something as straightforward and traditional as production capability and capacity. It also is about capacity of people, that we’re not having people do things that our customers don’t care about, which is what we call waste in Lean terms.

Now if you take those three concepts together and you say, “We want to create capacity in people so that the real important work that customers want done that we can use our people on those things and not things that are waste.” If you do that, what happens?

One, you don’t have to hire as many people because you have people whose freed-up capacity exists. You don’t have to train them. You don’t have to hire them. You don’t have to re-teach them about this crazy thing called Lean. You have people.

Ron: No turnover.

Jean: Pardon me?

Ron: There’s no turnover? Things like that are very little.

Jean: Far less turnover. If you’re really engaging your workforce, why would they want to go somewhere else? If you’re really elevating. The next thing that happens from that, of course, you don’t have to hire as many people and you can do more. Guess what? You make more money. This is a really good idea if you’re a business.

Last of all, you create the capacity to focus on the key initiatives that you have as an organization. If you have done a strategic deployment plan and you’ve identified the key initiatives, who do you want to have do those things? You want your key people to do that.

You want people to be able to dedicate time, not just do it along with everything else that they do every day, but actually be able to pull people out of the organization, give them extremely meaningful developmental activities as well as pushing your company forward with the most important initiatives that you have.

In my experience, the companies that do that are going to see tremendous improvement in profitability. They’re going to tremendous improvement in capacity creation. Business growth is going to be better. It all completely fits together. It’s fully institutional organizational development thinking.

Ron: Nice. Love it. All right Jean. Let’s go ahead and transition now into my favorite part of the show which we’re calling the Quick fire section. This is where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve been doing, but now we’re going to focus in on Jean a little bit. OK? [laughs]

Jean: [laughs]

Ron: In the Lean community, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of respect for people and how it’s equally important to really anything out there, if not more important. Really defining what respect for people is can be difficult. What does respect for people mean to you?

Jean: Respect for people to me is not about being kind and nice. Respect for people is about realizing that every single person in your company has something to offer. You have to create space for people to offer something other than just having their head down, doing what they did the last 10, 20, 30 years.

Creating a space for them to work on where your company is going, whether that’s managing for daily improvement, daily huddle boards, whether that’s Kaizen events, whether that’s training, cross-training opportunities, switching up jobs with other people. It doesn’t really matter which things you do. The ultimate respect for people is realizing that every single person has something to offer to your company that you have not yet figured out what it is.

Ron: The most common question we get, again, by the academy, is where do we start? In our case, what video should we watch first or whatever it might be. The question that we try to ask back as much as possible is, “I don’t know. What kind of problems are you trying to solve”? A question that we like to ask our guests is, “What problems are you trying to solve right now maybe in your work or with a client or anything like that”?

Jean: I have another book I want to write, and I’m trying to get it written.

[laughs]

Ron: That’s a problem, capacity management maybe.

[laughs]

Jean: I’m very fortunate. I have lots of folks that I get to help. The time to stop and write down interesting learnings, things are challenging for me, to be honest. I get done with a client, an event during a week, or I’ve done a speech, or we’ve done some coaching. Quite honestly, I’m tired at the end. It takes a lot of work. You’re on your feet all day, airplanes, and you’re traveling.

It’s not always the best time to go, “OK. What was this real insight that I got this week that I could leverage over to other people”? My husband is very involved with our business together. He does the back office. He’s always saying to me, “Jean, you’ve got to write that down. What a great story.” I get home. We take a walk a lot. We have this wonderful neighborhood we live in in Evanston.

We do a lot of walking. I’ll be telling him all about what’s happened. He’ll say, “Oh, Jean. You have to write that down.” I think that’s my personal challenge right now, just writing this down. We do learn from each other. As much as I knew when I left the corporate world, I know so much more now. By interacting with other people is how we learn from each other.

Having cross-functional activities within your company where you can really learn from each other, it’s far more powerful than we could ever first think that it would be.

Ron: I’m trying to find on my iPhone here, I use this from time to time, the little recorder, the voice recorder. Next time your husband says you need to do it, the voice recorder, turn it on your smartphone and talk into it. That way, at least you’ll have it in audio format.

[laughs]

Jean: [laughs] Thanks for that suggestion.

Ron: Potential counter measure.

[laughs]

Jean: There you go.

[laughs]

Ron: Jean, what’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Jean: Don’t always feel like you have to talk first. I’m a high energy, type A person. I got some really good guidance one that said, “Vary your style a little bit. Sit back sometimes, let other people go to the forefront at different times.” That Nelson Mandela quote that I started with really touches me in that way. We do have different times. Sometimes we need to be nimble and going out ahead.

Sometimes we need to follow. Sometimes we just need to be creating in the environment for others to do that. I learned a lot when my eyes were opened to that feedback.

Ron: I actually just interviewed a gentleman names Mike Grogan. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Mike, but he’s in Tanzania, Africa, right now working in the hospitals over there. When I asked him a similar question, he said, “Talk less, listen more.” That’s what he wanted to do. Talk less, listen more, and empathize more, he said.

I really like that. Very similar answer. Do you have maybe a personal productivity habit that other might before from?

Jean: I have a Macbook Air, and I love the sticky feature. I use the sticky feature a lot. I have different sticky notes for different things. I have one in particular which is what I have to do this weekend once I get home. What are the business things I need to do? I keep on another sticky the books that I want to read next so that I can get them onto my Kindle.

If I have my Kindle with me, I’ll just put the books that I want to read in samples, right away, right from the newspaper. That way, I can do a little sample read before I decide. I had to put it on another piece of paper and put it on a sticky. I get it directly into my Kindle is another good one. Just having a really consistent place where you put the things that you really don’t want to forget about, I find that helps a lot.

Ron: I’m a big Mac user as well, but I’m more old school, I’m like, these are my stickies [laughs] opposed to notes.

Jean: They used to be. I’m on the road all the time. My office is my laptop now. In fact, when we bought this house, I had to have an office and all this sort of stuff. To be quite honest, now with the Macbook Air, I sit in an easy chair a lot of the time and do my writing. I do write every month.

I have a newsletter, and so I write for my newsletter. That is one of the ways I try to capture my experiences. That’s a little bit of a counter measure as well. It forces me to write something every month.

Ron: I love your newsletter, too. I get it.

[laughs]

Jean: Thank you.

[laughs]

Ron: Jean, if you could recommend one book related to continuous improvement or leadership, and it can’t be your own book, we’ve already plugged that one, what would it be and why?

Jean: I don’t want to offend any of my author friends.

[laughs]

Ron: [laughs]

Jean: I have a lot. I will say that I’m particularly entranced right now with Art Byrne’s, “The Lean Turnaround.” I read it right after it came out. I really feel that Art’s voice as a CEO and repetitive CEO is very straightforward. It’s a great book for CEOs.

In fact, I’ve told my clients that if the CEO and the CFO read it, they get a little discount. [laughs] If you’re a CEO and you read Art’s book and you don’t do this, you’re not paying attention.

Ron: Give the name of the book again.

Jean: “The Lean Turnaround.”

Ron: “The Lean Turnaround.” We’ll link to that in the show notes as well.

Jean: That would be great.

Ron: The last question. Speaking of CEOs, imagine that you’ve sold your consulting business for a billion dollars and now you’re bored. You go back into industry, and you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company who was unfortunately struggling with quality, productivity, morale. Really, they’re just a mess. You were hired because of your continuous improvement background, your experiences and success.

As it turns out, the CEO has given you complete operational and PNL control, so you are totally in charge. With this said, what would you do on your first week on the job?

Jean: I would be looking for a good pilot. I would be looking for a part of the business that’s important, not something off to the side, not something trivial, a very important part of the business. I would create a pilot that would go all the way from the whole order generation side all the way through to after-market.

I would begin a pilot that would include not only the application, training people what to do in the application, but it would be a full pilot that would include the non-manufacturing components as well. We’d probably start out with a very high level value stream map of that pilot area.

The first week is to find that pilot area and to find a couple of pals, people that can come together. They’ll be there in shadow and really start to see and to begin, right from the beginning, leveraging the knowledge and the way of looking at things.

Ron: Love it. Thank you so much for coming onto this show, Jean. I know you’re super busy, and so we really appreciate your time. Why don’t we wrap up the show with you sharing some final words of wisdom? Tell people how they can connect with you on social media.

Jean: Sure. I’ll be glad to. Words of wisdom. The Toyota production system has really changed my life, not just my business life, which it certainly has. When I was in the corporate world, it completely changed from struggling to being way out ahead and that, but it also has changed my life in the ability to really touch people.

When I have the opportunity to work with clients, it’s great when I see results, but there’s nothing like someone who comes up to you afterwards and says, “I had just about given up, and I’m ready to come back and work at this some more,” or “I never thought it would be possible,” or “I never thought that person would listen to me.”

When I hear that people have been touched by and renewed by thinking about this kind of strategy and how it can work within their company. I feel like I get the opportunity to touch people, and it’s incredibly rewarding. It’s very personal. I have a lot of passion for this work, and I get to work with so many other people who do. That’s really beautiful.

In terms of connecting on social media, I have a website, jeancunninghamconsulting.com. I post different things up there but also can get to my newsletter that I publish through the website. Anybody can sign up for it, and I’d love for you to do that. There are some links to other videos.

I’m on LinkedIn. I don’t use LinkedIn a lot, but I am on LinkedIn. My website and the newsletter are my predominant way of communicating with people. You can send me an email through the website as well, with a question. I’m more than happy to get them.

Ron: Fantastic. We’ll link everything up in the show notes.

[background music]

Ron: Thanks again, Jean, for coming on. I need to interview you in person. We’ll do some more videos and all that kind of stuff. Kevin can’t take all the credit for all the great videos with you.

[laughter]

Ron: I’ll get on there as well.

Jean: Good.

Ron: All right. Thanks again, and take care.

Jean: Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Gemba Academy Podcast. Now it’s time to take a free, no strings attached, fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy’s School of Lean and Six Sigma over at gembaacademy.com. Gain immediate access to more than 500 Lean and Six Sigma training videos free of charge at gembaacademy.com.

[music]

What Do You Think?

Is lean a business strategy, or an initiative? Why or why not?

GA 018 | Lean Product & Process Development with Jim Morgan

Play

GA018_Jim_MorganToday’s guest is Jim Morgan, President of the EMC Network and Senior Advisor at the Lean Enterprise Institute.

With an impressive and diverse career, including ten years at Ford where he worked directly with CEO Alan Mulally, Jim has an abundance of lean knowledge to share with us including how Lean Thinking applies to Product & Process Development.

Specifically, Jim shares why Lean Product & Process Development is such a powerful concept and how, at its core, actually revolves around people.

Lean Product & Process Development Exchange Conference

Lastly, as you’ll hear, you can save $100 by using the coupon code “Gemba” when registering for the Lean Product & Process Development Exchange.  

This conference really excites me… especially since Dave Pericak, Chief Engineer Ford Motor Company, will speak about the 2015 Ford Mustang’s product development process!  You can learn more about this conference here and be sure to use the coupon code “Gemba” to save $100.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post.

An MP3 version is also available for download here and a downloadable PDF transcript of the interview can be found here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Jim’s background and lean history, including his time at Ford (3:13)
  • Jim’s favorite inspirational quotes (7:43)
  • What kind of experiences Jim has had as a lean researcher (9:03)
  • How Jim would go back and improve his book if he could (12:17)
  • Jim’s definition of Lean Product & Process Development (13:45)
  • How and why LPPD is people-centric (16:12)
  • The many benefits of LPPD (18:14)
  • The challenges of LPPD, and what it takes to overcome them (19:42)
  • What leaders can do to discover and implement LPPD (21:18)
  • Jim’s definition of “Respect for People” (23:17)
  • One problem Jim is trying to solve (24:26)
  • The best advice Jim has ever received…it involves Jiu Jitsu! (25:23)
  • Jim’s simple but powerful personal productivity habit (27:51)
  • Jim’s final words of wisdom (31:19)

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Full Written Transcript

 GA 018 | Lean Product & Process Development with Jim Morgan

Ron Pereira: You’re listening to episode 18 with Jim Morgan.

[background music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Gemba Academy podcast. The show that’s focused on helping individuals and computers achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense and now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron: Hey there, this is Ron Pereira from Gemba Academy. I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy podcast. As always, thank you so much for listening to this podcast and for watching out Lean and Six Sigma training videos over at gembaacademy.com.

Today’s guest is Jim Morgan. Now, Jim is the President of EMC Network, a research and consulting firm specializing in engineering management in both product and process development. Jim’s also a senior advisor at the Lean Enterprise Institute. As you’ll hear during the show, Jim has an amazing background including having held senior leadership positions at Ford, where he worked directly with CEO Alan Mulally.

Now, during the show, Jim and I talk all about lean product development. Well, specifically we talk about what lean product development is and how it’s so very different from the more traditional product development approach many companies take.

As you’ll hear during the show, Jim is also the conference chair for the upcoming Lean Product and Process Development Exchange, which is being held September 23rd through 24th, 2014 in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Now to learn more about this conference, simple go to gembapodcast.com/conference and use the promo code “Gemba” in order to receive $100 discount.

Now I will say that this conference looks really good. Folks like Jim Womack are going to speak and additionally the chief engineer of the new Ford Mustang will also speak, which is incredibly cool, if you ask me.

So, again, go to gembapodcast.com/conference to learn more and use promo code “Gemba” to save $100. Full disclosure, Gemba Academy isn’t being compensated at all for this recommendation. We’re just really excited about the work Jim and his team are doing.

The show notes for this episode, including links to everything we talk about can be found over at gembapodcast.com/18 which is 1-8. So again, gembapodcast.com/18. Enough from me, let’s to the show.

[music]

Ron: All right, Jim, well thank you so much for coming onto this show. So where you calling from today?

Jim Morgan: It’s my pleasure to be here. I really appreciate this opportunity. I’m up in Traverse City, Michigan today.

Ron: Nice. Well, right before we came online, we were kidding about all these Michigan guys taking over the lean world and everybody who’s followed me for a while knows that I’m a big Ohio State guy. We just won’t go into college football or anything like that, I guess. [laughs]

Jim: We’ll call a truce.

Ron: There you go. All right, Jim, why don’t you go ahead and start things off by giving a little bit of a history on your background and maybe how did you first come to learn about lean thinking?

Jim: Sure, I recently retired from Ford just last year. I’m currently working with the Lean Enterprise Institute who has major initiative in lean product and process development. I’m also working a bit with LPPDE, the Lean Product Process Product Development Exchange, helping them with their conference.

Before this, as I mentioned, I worked at Ford as the Global Director for Body, Safety, and Stamping engineering. Prior to that, I worked at a major tier one global automotive supplied called, “TDM.” Of course, you mentioned the University of Michigan connection already.

Ron: Tell us a little bit about Ford was where you were at the longest, I’m assuming, am I right?

Jim: It was a mix. I spent the last 10 years at Ford. The first two, as the director of their global product development system and then the last eight, as I mentioned, as the global director for body, safety, and stamping.

Ron: You were able to work with some of the top leadership of Ford, am I correct in that assumption?

Jim: Yeah, I was really fortunate to work for some great leaders including Alan Mulally, who was just phenomenal leader. I had an opportunity to learn a lot from him and several other people along the way at Ford. They’re just incredibly talented organization.

Ron: You’ve written a book. Tell us a little bit about your book, Jim.

Jim: The book is called, “The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology.” It’s a book I co-authored with Jeff Liker, based on the research I did at the University of Michigan, when I was working on my engineering PhD.

Ron: Nice. You mentioned earlier, you made mentioned to some conferences that you’re involved with. Talk a little bit more about that and maybe some details, and some specifics. It’s the middle of July, when we’re recording this. It will be somewhat dated, but go ahead and talk about what you got going on for the next year or so.

Jim: Yeah, a couple of things. One, I mentioned a work that I’m currently doing with Lean Enterprise Institute.

One of the things that we’re doing, I think, that’s really interesting is we have a group of partner companies from a number of different industries that are working together to improve their product development systems. Both based on the things that I’ve learned and others have learned in research and in practice but also in working together on a number of projects so that we’re learning together.

At the same time we’re improving their systems, we’re also advancing the state of lean product development knowledge. It’s really exciting. The other thing is there is a conference in September at Raleigh-Durham, September 23rd and 24th. It’s called the Lean Product Process Development Exchange which is just that.

It’s a where a number of practitioner companies from almost every industry you can think of comes together to share their insights and experiences in product development and improving their product development systems.

We also have a great lineup of keynotes like Jim Womack and Jeff Liker. We have vice presidents from Goodyear and from General Electric. We also have the chief engineer for the Mustang Program, as a plenary, a group. The Mustang is particularly interesting this year, of course, because it’s the 50th anniversary. It’s just an incredible car. Dave Pericak, who’s the chief engineer and a good friend of mine, just has some great stories and experiences about how chief engineers work to deliver value to the customer.

Ron: Very cool. We’re going to have links to everything, your book, all the conferences that you’ve been talking about over at the show notes which can be found at gembapodcast.com/18.

All right, well Jim, what we like to do to kick off all of our episodes is have our guest share a quotation. It could be leadership, lean, produce development; it can be anything that inspires you. What quotation inspires you, Jim?

Jim: There’s a couple. If I can share two?

Ron: Yeah.

Jim: The first one has to do with organizations and individuals and their relationships with each other for high levels of performance and continuous improvement. It comes, it’s an old chord from Kipling.

“The strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf.” I think that’s really a profound way of looking at that relationship and how each can strengthen the other. Then, a personal quote is from Epictetus, who was a stoic philosopher and that is, “No man is free who is not master of himself.”

Ron: What does that mean to you that last one?

Jim: That means not getting caught up in things, not getting on the hook as Epictetus talks about all the time. Whether it’s fads in management or whether it’s other things that take away from your personal freedom like substance abuse and things like that.

Ron: All right, very good. As I mentioned in the intro, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about lean product development here in this episode. It’s the theme.

You have an interesting background, Jim, with lean product development as an executive but also, as a researcher in the field. Why don’t you just share a little bit about your experiences both as an executive and researcher?

Jim: Happy to. I talked a little bit about it in the beginning but I worked in the industry for about 10 or 12 years before deciding to the University of Michigan to get my PhD. I ran into just a hotbed of lean zealots.

L. Ward was there, Jeff Liker, John Shook, and by extension, Jim Womack. It was a real epiphany for me, because of my discussions with them; I decided to do my dissertation on product development at Toyota.

I did about a two and a half year comparative study of Toyota product development with a number of their competitors. I found, not only that they were far better, far more successful with regard to lead time, cost, quality, transaction prices, almost every element of product development, but that their system was profoundly different than what their competitors were using and what we had seen quite honestly anywhere else in industry.

We sort of organized what we saw into a socio-technical model and identified what we thought were key attributes that made their system so powerful. That socio-technical model is really what provided that basis for the Toyota Product Development System book that I later wrote with Jeff.

After I finished the book, instead of staying in academics or doing consulting, I actually went to work at Ford, where I had this incredible opportunity to work with just some phenomenal people in their product-driven revitalization. If you recall at that time, sort of seven or eight years ago, Ford was in a really bad place. Allen joined the company, probably about a year and a half after I got there, maybe a year after I got there. He really focused the entire organization on creating products that our customers would want and would pay for. In order to that, we had to completely reinvent the development system.

We had to change our organizations and of course, we had to completely reinvent the entire product portfolio. That was just a powerful experience for me. As much as I learned my time at researching Toyota, I learned so much more trying to implement what’s exactly right. I learned from my colleagues at Ford as well.

It was a great experience. As I mentioned, I retired last year and now have an equally unique experience to work with guys like Jim Womack and John Shook at the Lean Enterprise Institute. Also, this group of partner companies that we’re working with to sort of take all these to the next level.

Ron: You wrote the book then you kind of add some experiences there at Ford. If you had to go back and change anything in the book, would you?

Jim: It’s funny, I’ve been ask that question a couple of times. I think it’s a great question. I think there are probably two things that I think would improve the book.

One is there’s not nearly enough focus on product. It’s a product development book that doesn’t talk enough about product, believe it or not. It focuses on the system and how to deliver great products. But the role of product in bringing the entire enterprise together the drive for product excellence, I think that could be clearer in the book. Then of course, because I hadn’t really been experienced in implementing it, there wasn’t enough in the book on how to go do this.

It’s an observation. We try to describe as accurately as we could what we saw and what the differences were some of the specific practices. We hadn’t gone out and actually sort of worked on transforming an organization before we wrote the book. I think that’s another thing that would strengthen it.

Ron: Very good. Let’s take one step back here. At a high level, kind of an elevator speech level, what is Lean Product Process Development? How is it different from traditional or other types of product development models out there.

Jim: Like any lean system, it starts with deeply understanding the customer, understanding the environment and the unique value that your product can actually deliver. Until you understand what the product really needs to be and how it delivers value. There’s no point in going any further. It really stresses this idea of immersing yourself in the environment.

There are great stories about the Sienna minivan chief engineer who spent a year driving around North America. There are lots of stories about Dave Pericak in the Mustang Community. It’s way more than just sort of asking your customer, that’s certainly part of it. But having this deep understanding and design is about context. Understanding that context, experimenting using a set-based approach where you look at multiple design solution alternatives as opposed to rating on a single one. The chief engineer concept paper that allows you to communicate this vision with the rest of the organization and get aligned around what it needs to be and who’s going to do what in order to deliver it, that’s crucial upfront.

Once you understand that, it’s about creating flow. Sound familiar to you for Lean and precession and speed getting to market. There are a number of different techniques and tools and methodologies that you can use like compatibility before completion to minimize rework, synchronizing activities across function so you can really do concur in engineering in a powerful way.

A system of standards that allows you to not reinvent things that I need to program. I really focus on learning a knowledge creation, longer term, how to use design reviews, how to attest failure in order to learn. I mean it’s just so many things that really make up this portion. But more important than anything else and I think what really differentiates lean product and process development is this focus on people. It’s a people-centric system. It’s focused on developing people and product simultaneously in different ways to do that.

It’s all about creating a sustainable system for developing great people and great products so that you can have profitable values streams as outward used to say. It’s a system that continues to build on itself because it is focused on developing people. I think that’s missing from a lot of other approaches to product development.

Ron: Being a Michigan man, I’m assuming that you’re aware of a gentleman named Richard Sheridan and he’s at Menlo Innovation there in Ann Arbor. Are you familiar with those guys?

Jim: Absolutely. Rich is actually a really good friend of mine. We’ve had a lot of interactions and we’re very aligned as you probably can tell.

Ron: Yeah. I mean we just got done visiting them. We’re actually editing the footage. Just how you were talking about adding contacts to your products and understanding the end user and just a way that they go about it with their high tech anthropologist, I mean it’s incredible, right?

I mean, I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about here. It’s really understanding what the customer wants and needs and drawing pictures and cartoons and whatever needs to do. You need to do to make that happen. But so many people like this in a tradition sense maybe don’t do that, right?

Jim: That’s exactly right. Whether you use high-tech anthropologists or the cheap engineer, you really need to have this vision for what the product needs to be. It makes all the difference in the world if you’re creating this for somebody, as opposed to just creating it. That’s the big difference.

Ron: You’ve talked about some benefits of this. Maybe expand on that a little bit more? Aside from Ford, are there any other companies out there that had success with this type of an approach?

Jim: We talked about that deeper understanding that you achieved with this, which is really powerful to create better, more successful products, clearly improved quality, no matter how you measure it, lower cost, and more manufacturable products, certainly, because of the collaboration that is just fundamental to this approach, faster lead times and, actually, on time delivery is something that a lot of product developers struggle with.

It’s also a way to bring the entire organization together. Product development isn’t an engineering thing. It’s an enterprise thing, where you need to bring engineering, industrial design, marketing, and manufacturing finance purchasing altogether.

The product of that company is the one thing that they all have in common. It’s really a powerful lever to bring the organization and to do serious work around creating a lean enterprise.

Ron: I’m sure it’s not all roses with lean product development. What are some of the challenges when you try to implement this type of program?

Jim: Clearly, achieving high levels of collaboration can be tough in some organizations. Some organizations have been walled off for so long it can be difficult to break down those barriers.

I know at Ford, the combination of being in a bit of a crisis, quite honestly, for the company and having leadership like Alan’s, John Fleming’s, and others’ allowed us to break down those barriers. If you don’t have that kind of leadership commitment, it can be very challenging to implement something like this.

Also, getting access to actionable knowledge. There’s a lot of information out there, there’s a lot of different consultants out there, who may or may not be very knowledgeable about theory, but don’t have a lot of hands-on experience.

Also, companies tend to hold their product development information really close to the vest. It can be difficult to get information to get started on this journey. Those are two key challenges that people have when they start to go down this path.

Ron: Like you said, product development is an area that a lot of companies are going to hold very close to their vest, for obvious reasons. It’s their livelihood, if you will.

Let’s say that there’s an executive or a leader, right now, listening to this episode who we could define as traditional in their product development approach. What can they do to learn more about lean product and process development? What can they do to go about implementing it in their organization?

Jim: Just as a starting point, there are some good books, “The Toyota Product Development System” that I mentioned before. I guess I have a little bit of a bias there.

There’s also the “Lean Product and Process Development” book that LEI’s published. It’s based on work by Al Ward and Durward Sobek. Then, Taka Fujimoto, who’s a Professor at the University of Tokyo, has also done some great work in high-performance product development.

To get beyond books, things like the learning partnership that we’ve set up at the Lean Enterprise Institute is really a powerful hands-on way to learn and expand the scope of your learning group by working with these other companies. Then, of course, the Lean Product and Process Development Exchange Conference that’s in September, where are companies from pharmaceutical software, hardware medical devices, appliance, automotive are all coming together to share their experiences.

Ron: It sounds wonderful. Obviously, you don’t have to be in manufacturing to practice this type of thinking. [jokingly] Look at Menlo, they don’t make widgets.

Jim: That’s exactly right, Ron. The principles are the same. They do cross boundaries and they’re very powerful. Figuring out exactly how to adapt them to your particular environment and how they manifest themselves in terms of specific practices, that’s the challenge. The principles are pretty powerful.

Ron: Yes. Very good. All right, Jim. Let’s go ahead and transition now into my favorite part of this show, which we’re calling The Quick Fire section. This is where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve already been doing, but now we’re going to really focus in on Jim. We’re going to put a magnifying glass on you.

The first question is, we, lean thinkers, spend a lot of time talking about respect for people and how important that is to an authentic lean thinking approach. Putting your finger on what respect for people means can be difficult, if not impossible, to some, in your opinion, what does respect for people mean?

Jim: There are two important elements. The first one is just acting with integrity. Say what you’re going to do, do what you say. Being that way in you interactions with people is important. Then, treating people as highly capable professionals, holding them to the same high standards that you hold yourself to. Those two things will go a long way in your interactions with people.

Ron: Nice. What’s one problem you’re trying to solve right now, Jim?

Jim: [jokingly] Just one?

[laughter]

Jim: For me, right now, time management is a bit of a challenge. I, as I mentioned, just retired from an environment that was highly structured. We had a very mature cadence. The workload was tremendous, but there was a cadenced way to deal with things.

Now, in a more independent role with just incredible demand, I think I underestimated the level of demand for lean product development; I’m struggling a bit with time management.

Ron: What are some counter measures you’re thinking about? You have any in mind?

Jim: Yes. I’m working to create a similar cadence to what I’ve worked to in the past. When you have a lot of outside entities you’re dealing with, the cooperation level can be mixed, I guess is the best way to put it.

Ron: [laughs] To be polite, right?

Jim: Yes, exactly.

Ron: Jim, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jim: I’ve received a lot of great advice. I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of wonderful mentors, including Alan. The best advice I ever got actually came from outside of industry, and that’s “Leave your ego at the door.”

I’ve been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for quite a while, which I think we talked about.

Ron: Yes. My son does it as well. Fantastic!

Jim: It’s great. One of the most important things I learned there, and also learned in leadership, is to leave your ego at the door. You can really get frozen. It can freeze you up, it can stop you from progressing. That was pretty good advice.

Ron: Just to talk a little Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu because I’m fascinated by it. I grew up as a wrestler. I didn’t do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but…similar concepts. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is such a humbling experience! I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to tap, eventually. Right?

Jim: Absolutely! It’s unforgiving. You can’t rationalize it away. You tap to get over it. Business industry can be a lot the same way. It can be very humbling. If you spend a lot of time rationalizing things away, you don’t make progress.

Ron: Conversely, you are going to submit. When I say, “Tap,” some people might not know what we’re talking about. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, if you get someone in a hold or a move and you’ve got them and they can’t get out, and you’re going to hurt them, potentially, if you continue, they’ll tap on your back, and then the person stops.

What I love about that concept, Jim, is…even watching my son, he’s seven years old, he will get submitted and he’ll tap. He’ll bounce up, he’ll slap hands, knuckle up, and then he’ll go again! Then, he will submit someone, but there’s no bragging about it. It’s like if you get submitted, OK, if you submit, OK. You just carry on and slap hands and knuckle up, and go again.

There are tremendous parallels to the business world that we are going to win and we are going to lose. It’s how we react in both situations that is going to tell our stories. Right?

Jim: That’s exactly right, Ron. That’s why I think it’s so powerful. That’s why I continue to huff and puff, and continue to roll even as an older guy.

Ron: Nice! I love it. Do you have a personal productivity habit that others might benefit from?

Jim: I think focus. I think deciding what your priorities are, what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do is really critical. You can really get caught up in a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of stuff. You can find out that you’re working really hard and not making any progress unless you’re really focused on what it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Ron: My business partner, Kevin, is going to love you for that because his biggest mantra for all of us is to stay focused and not get distracted, which is so easy to do. Right?

Jim: Yes, exactly.

Ron: We’ve talked a lot about different lean product development books and so forth. Can you recommend, maybe, another book on leadership or continuous improvement that you’d recommend folks check out?

Jim: There are so many. I’m an avid reader and it’s just almost unfair to pick. Lately, I’m a big fan of the Peter Drucker stuff. He was way ahead of his time. He had some incredible insights that still ring true today.

I’ve done a bit of fooling around with Mike Rother’s “Toyota Kata” stuff. There are elements there that are important. I think the Jeff Liker book on Toyota leadership is a good book, and John Shook’s “Managing to Learn.” There are a lot of books. If I had to pick one, it would be the Peter Drucker stuff.

Ron: Nice. The last question, and I can’t wait to ask you this because you come to the table with an incredible amount of real executive leadership. Let’s imagine, Jim, that you’ve got the itch to get back into industry and you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company who’s struggling with quality, productivity, really they’re just a mess in.

You are hired, obviously, because of your background, your experiences, and successes. As it turns out, the CEO that hired you has given you complete operational and penal control and trust that you’re going to ride the ship.

With this said, Jim, what would your first week on the job look like? What would do and why?

Jim: Just like with product development, the first step is always to work to deeply understand, to go to the Gemba and see what’s going on, to go to the factory floor, the engineering spaces. Talk to people, review the data, meet with people both inside and outside the organization, especially customers and suppliers, or third party people that look at the industry.

The big thing is to really understand what’s going on because you can’t diagnose, let alone prescribe before you examine the patient. I think that first week would be spent trying to deeply understand what’s going on.

Ron: All right, Jim, well, thank you so much for taking time. I know you’re super busy, so I really appreciate you taking some time out to talk with us.

Let’s go ahead and wrap this show up with you sharing some final words of wisdom and then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you via social media?

Jim: I think I’ve expounded all of my wisdom.

[laughter]

Jim: I’m really passionate about this topic, almost all topics Lean, but especially Lean product development. I’m always happy to exchange with people.

You can reach me at jmor990@aol.com, is probably the easiest way and also through the Lean Enterprises Institute I can be contacted. Again, this is a topic I’m passionate about, I’m always happy to talk. Thanks for inviting me today, Ron.

Ron: I’m sure most people listening to this know that but lean.org is going to get you to the LEI website, right?

Jim: That’s correct.

[background music]

Ron: Well, thanks again, Jim. Hopefully, we’ll get to meet in person one day. Your work really inspires me. So, keep it up and thanks again.

Jim: Thanks so much, Ron. I hope we get to meet but not in Columbus.

[laughter]

Ron: OK. Take care.

Jim: Bye.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Gemba Academy Podcast. Now it’s time to sign up for a free Gemba Academy preview subscription over at gembaacademy.com.

Gain immediate access to more than one hour of free Lean, and Six Sigma training at gembaacademy.com.

[music]

What Do You Think?

Are you familiar with Lean Process & Product Development? How would you define it?

What’s Faster: One Piece Flow or Mass Production? Watch This Envelope Stuffing Simulation To Find Out!

OPFWe recently re-shot the first video I ever created back in 2008.

Specifically, this video shows the difference between one piece flow and mass production.

I first learned of this simulation many years ago while reading the book Lean Thinking.  In the book, James Womack writes about how he asked his children how they’d approach the stuffing of envelopes.

He wrote how his kids, like most of us, were initially drawn to mass production but later learned how one piece flow was, in fact, superior.

So, check the video out and let me know what you think.  Is it smoke and mirrors?  Perhaps I was working “faster” during the one piece flow part of the simulation?

I’d also encourage you to do the simulation yourself to see if you get the same results.

So check out the video and let us know what you think.

GA 016 | Developing Lean Leaders with Jamie Flinchbaugh

Play

jamie-flinchbaugh-2010-170This episode’s guest is Jamie Flinchbaugh, who has over 20 years of lean transformation experience. I’ve followed his work for years and was so excited to finally connect with him on this episode.

Jamie is such a down-to-earth guy… I’ll think you’ll enjoy listening to us talk about everything from Lean Accounting to our kids’ soccer teams.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Jamie’s lean career history (2:42)
  • The quote that has inspired Jamie for over 15 years (4:08)
  • Jamie’s definition of a Lean Leader, and why it’s a verb, not a noun (6:07)
  • Why Lean Leadership is often overlooked (9:05)
  • How Lean Accounting fits into Lean Leadership (10:14)
  • The best way to coach leaders, in Jamie’s opinion (13:43)
  • How lower level practitioners can succeed without leadership support (15:56)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Jamie (19:13)
  • The one problem Jamie is really trying to solve at the moment (20:51)
  • The best and most unique advice Jamie has ever received (21:52)
  • Jamie’s simple but effective personal productivity habit (22:49)
  • Jamie’s final words of wisdom (28:58)

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Full Written Transcript

 GA | 16 Jamie Flinchbaugh

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 16 with Jamie Flinchbaugh.

[background music]

Announcer: Welcome to the “Gemba Academy Podcast,” the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense. Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there, this is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy. I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy Podcast. As always, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to listen to what we’re up to.

Today, I’m excited to welcome a guest to the show named Jamie Flinchbaugh. I’ve followed Jamie’s work for many, many years. He’s been blogging and writing and doing other kinds of lean thinking activities out there. But, I’ve never had the fortune of actually meeting Jamie, so I was really excited to finally get to talk to him a little bit on this episode.

Jamie has written a really good book — we’re going to talk about it in the episode — called the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.” It’s one of my favorite lean thinking books and actually, one of the earlier books that I read on my journey. He’s a really good guy. He’s very active in the consulting, especially the C-Level of organizations.

We’re going to have links to all of Jamie’s websites over at the show notes, which you’ll find at gembapodcast.com/16.

During this interview, Jamie and I really focused on the topic of lean leadership and how to go about developing lean leaders within organizations. We talked about all kinds of things and everything from our experience as soccer coaches to lean accounting and what practitioners you might not have seen your leadership support should do, what they can do to improve their parts of the world.

I think you’re going to enjoy this show. Again, the show notes can be found over at gembapodcast.com/16. Enough for me, let’s get to the show.

All right, Jamie, thank you so much for coming on to the show. Where are you calling in from today?

Jamie Flinchbaugh: Ron, thanks for having me. I’m calling in from my home office in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Ron: Nice. How’s the weather in Pennsylvania?

Jamie: Well, it’s pretty hot today, I’ll tell you.

Ron: My family and I just took a big road trip and we were up through Canada, then over to Ohio and Michigan and all that. We got to experience good old midwestern weather. It was actually beautiful when we were in that part of the other world there. It’s very cool.

Jamie, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and your company and what you do these days.

Jamie: Well, I’ve been working on lean transformation for over 20 years, a lot of time inside companies like Harley-Davidson, Chrysler Corporation, DTE Energy. Co-founded with Andy Carlino the Lean Learning Center 13 years ago now, and worked with clients all over the world and spend most of my time with executive coaching and also a transformation strategy.

Ron: One of my favorite lean books is something that you had a part in and that was “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.” Tell us a little bit about that book.

Jamie: When we wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean,” this was Andy Carlino and myself, we really tried to look at what we thought was wrong with lean journeys. We also looked at topics nobody was writing about. At the time, nobody was writing about lean principles or lean leadership.

So, this became the centerpieces of what the book was about. A lot of it is just a collection of our advising experience, hence the name. The experience we gathered throughout our travels from both inside and outside companies.

Ron: We’ll link to that for everyone over at gembapodcast.com/16. We definitely recommend that book if you haven’t already read it.

Jamie, so the way that we like to kick off all of our shows is with our guests sharing a quote that maybe it’s related to lean or leadership or continues improvement that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Jamie?

Jamie: One that I’ve actually carried with me for probably 15 years now, maybe even longer, is by a guy named Frank Tyger and it’s “Experience is not what you’ve been through, it’s what you take from it.” I always loved that because there’s two ways to go through life — I mean they just go through statically or you learn from every moment. It is about how you learn through all your experiences.

Ron: I love that. I was actually going through your website a little bit today, your blog and digging in. As far as much as I care about everyone and I’ve been following your blog for a long time, but I saw something that it was interesting. I never knew this about you that you’re a big soccer guy and play it and enjoy it with your kids. I’m guessing there are lots of lessons that you’ve learned from sports as well, right?

Jamie: Well, absolutely. I coached travel team for the last couple years. I think the two things that I’ve learned the most is that both from a process standpoint and from a people standpoint, all the pieces have to work together. On the team, I coach, which is my daughter’s team, we worked a lot on team harmony and cohesion and team spirit. We worked a lot on the interaction on the field as well, the mechanics and the process of a team. You can have all the great stars you want. But unless the team works together, you don’t accomplish anything.

Ron: How old are the girls?

Jamie: The team I coach is now moving into under 13.

Ron: Nice. I’ve also coached my kid’s soccer team, so I quite enjoy it.

Jamie, the topic today, as I mentioned in the intro, is kind of lean leadership. What I wanted to start with is what is a lean leader and how would you define this role for lack of a better word?

Jamie: For one, I’d start with defining it as an act. Meaning that lean leaders and the job that we do, it’s not a person in a leadership role in a company that’s doing lean. That’s just simply the role that you have.

Lean leadership really is a process. It’s an act. It’s a verb. So, it’s how you show up in the organization. There are lots of new answers to defining it but to me, the single word is engagement. There are a lot of people that I meet that are highly supportive of their company’s lean journey, highly supportive of their team.

But if you actually said show me the things that you personally do to enable the lean journey, it’s hard to say. They write checks. They show up advance. They kick things off. They encourage. But they don’t really do lean themselves. There’s a big, big gap between support and engage.

Ron: Back when I worked in industry, I was always blown away if we were doing an event somewhere. Next thing you know there was one particular gentleman. I think he was a…I don’t know, senior vice president. He’s very, very senior in the organization. This guy showed up on Monday morning in blue jeans and a t-shirt and he joined us that week, like the whole thing. He wasn’t just there for a little bit, crawling around. I’ll tell you, people were blown away by this guy actively engaging. Like you said, he wasn’t there just to kick it off or there for the report at the end. Is that kind of what you’re talking about with the active engagement or is there something else?

Jamie: I think that’s a good example. Of course, there are more ways than one to be engaged. Showing up to kick it off and then showing up to the report at the end, that’s a fantastic way to support. But actually to participate, there are two sides of it.

One is the support you show the team that is more than just the support you show up by kicking things off. But more importantly, I think you’ve wholly get what it takes for your people to go through and make an improvement because you’re doing it too. You are part of the process. You actually see that it’s not so easy, that there are real barriers, both cultural barriers and political barriers and procedural barriers and focus barriers, these all sorts of barriers.

You get to understand that far better if you’re actually trying to do it too versus simply just encouraging others. I think there are a couple sides of it. But whether it’s the day to day improvements, whether it’s real A3 or 5Y problem solving, whether it’s participating in workshop events like that, I think it’s during the work, not just encouraging it.

Ron: Why isn’t leadership development a bigger part of most people’s lean road maps?

Jamie: I think the biggest reason is that too many of the road maps are led by individual contributors or other people that don’t know what it takes to do that role. They don’t even know what to ask for. They know that they’re not getting lean leadership from their executives and leaders and managers, but they don’t know what to look for. They don’t know what to ask for.

As a result, they kind of know that they’re not getting it and they’ll be vocal about it. But they don’t know what to actually ask for. The limits of what they’re asking for falls into the domain of support.

They never actually ask their leaders to learn a new behavior, change how they spend their time, change how they solve problems themselves. I think often because they don’t have an empathy and insight into what it takes to actually do that executive or leadership role.

Ron: I’m curious on your thoughts. Something that we’ve talked about and covered recently here at Gemba Academy is the topic of lean accounting. How do you think that fits into the whole concept of lean leadership?

Jamie: Well, that’s interesting. They’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of the Lean Accounting Summit. I helped kick off the first one, and one of my premises, early on, is that…I would hear a lot of complaints that we can’t do the right thing, because the accounting systems don’t let us.

It always bothered me a great deal. To me, the premise was that if there’s a leadership that knows what the right thing is, and their accounting systems don’t quite reflect the right thing, and they still don’t do the right thing, they no longer deserve to sit in that chair.

If you know what the right thing is, but you’re not going to get rewarded for it financially because your accounting system is, you’re no longer a leader. I don’t think you deserve to have that chair anymore. If you know what the right thing is, you should do it at whatever the cost.

To me, that’s one of the most important intersections between lean accounting and lean leadership. Lean leadership is making the decision. Just because your accounting systems don’t support it, you still have to make the right decision.

Now, we want our accounting systems to be better. That’s the other part of lean leadership. Let’s transform how we do things, but we can’t use it as an excuse.

Ron: Right. Do you think it’s possible for private companies, publicly traded companies, just companies in general to be extremely effective with the whole lean enterprise, lean thinking concept, without traditional cost accounting, if they are doing traditional cost accounting? Can they succeed?

Jamie: Yeah. I’ve seen them succeed, so I think so. I think it’s easier in the private companies. Just because as long as the family or the owners of the company…Whether it’s private equity or it’s a family held business, and we’ve worked a lot with both.

They can simply make the decision. They aren’t held hostage to a dogmatic view of the organization based simply on a set of numbers. They can establish a vision. They can say, “We know what’s right. We think this is the right direction, and we choose to go there.”

It’s harder in a public company, but it’s still by no means…leadership is leadership and shareholders recognize it. They sometimes will challenge it, but as long as you can tell people where you’re going, which you at least have an obligation to do, they can make a decision whether they support that direction or not.

I think it’s easier if we have numbers that better reflect the true process, better reflect the true cost and not just the transactional cost. I know this is sort of an impossible vision, but I still support Tom Johnson’s long standing view of lean accounting.

Our main goal is to get accounting out of management. I think it’s still an important tool. It’s still a part of the process, but, again, we shouldn’t be held hostage by just looking at a number.

Ron: Back to leaders here. What about the process of coaching leaders? What’s the best way to go about that?

Jamie: I think the two biggest mistakes that I see people make when coaching leaders, one is that any true coach is in it for the other person. If you find a good sports coach, for example, you really are there to help that other person succeed.

They’re there for the team. They want the team to do well, and the individuals on the team to do well. Too often, I see coaches “coaching.” People call it coaching, but it’s really their agenda, and not the person-they’re-coaching’s agenda.

It’s one thing to have a vision that supersedes or is elevated beyond the person you’re coaching. There’s nothing wrong with that. Making it about what you want versus what the coachee wants. Making it about your success versus about the other person’s success. That’s a recipe for failure.

Ron: Yeah. Along the same lines, being in the youth sports world, I see that also with parents. The bad leadership parents, if you will, are the ones living vicariously through their kid. The kid obviously isn’t passionate, but mom or dad sure is. It can go both ways, right?

Jamie: Absolutely. I could hijack this conversation with stories just about that topic, but I won’t.

Ron: Exactly.

Jamie: I think the other thing that I think is the second biggest mistake is just not having a process for coaching. People go in and say, “Yeah, I share my wisdom, and I do what I call drive by coaching. I pop in a few comments here and there.”

But, they don’t really have a process, a plan. They don’t really practice “Plan, Do, Check, Act” within their coaching. I think that’s critical. I think you need a process. You need a technique. You need a methodology. Without that, just like any process, without a process, very unlikely to get to your destination. I think that’s true of coaching as well.

Ron: The last question. I’m going to kind of turn the tables a little bit. We’ve been talking about lean leaders and so forth, but what about if someone is, maybe, a frontline associate. They’re passionate about lean. They’re fighting the good fight on a daily basis.

But, they’re not a supervisor. They’re not a manager. They’re not in, technically, a leadership position, if you will. Let’s say that this practitioner doesn’t have senior leadership support.

Maybe, like you said, there’s folks that…They’ll turn up then take off or something like that, but they’re not really behind these practitioners. And when the going gets tough, oh, we don’t have time for that lean stuff or that continued improvement stuff.

These practitioners who want to succeed, but they don’t have that leadership support, what can they do?

Jamie: I think the whole idea is that they don’t have the decision rights for stuff that is larger than their domain. But, they do have decision rights for their domain.

I remember one of our very first classes when we opened the Lean Learning Center. We had a supervisor from a large tractor company. He said, “What can I do? I’m just a supervisor of 11 people.”

All right. Take 11 people and the decisions that you own, and go apply lean. Go do a good job. If you’re doing it to drive performance, as long as you’re not trying to change other people’s worlds where you don’t have the decision rights, nobody is going to hold you back.

Now, you’re not going to change the company that way, but you’re at least going to do a better job. Quite frankly, if you do a better job regardless of whether you put a name on it or not, you’re more likely to get promoted. Now, your decision rights are broader.

It can be frustrating that there’s lots of things going on around you that aren’t headed in the right direction and aren’t supportive and aren’t part of lean. But, take the ones that you can control and do a good job with that and support the people you do support.

Ron: I love that. I love hearing the stories of how the guy was a machinist and worked his way up. Now, he’s the CEO. He probably did exactly what you just described. He made his job better or her job better. The next thing you know they move up and move up. The next thing they’re running the company.

Jamie: Even when you get to that point, everybody things that eventually we need to get the CEO on board when I can get the CEO. CEOs have bosses too, between banks and shareholders and customers and regulators who all put restrictions on them.

I’ve met CEOs who thought they were finally ready to rule the roost, and they spend 60 percent of their time on regulators, banks, and boards. They have very little time to actually run the company. You take the hand you’re dealt, and you take the constraints you have. You work the best you can within those boundaries.

Ron: Excellent. Let’s transition now into my favorite part of the show, which we call the Quick Fire section. This is where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve been doing, but now we’re going to really focus in on Jamie a little bit.

We lean thinkers spend a lot of time talking about respect for people and how important it is to always do that. To put your finger on what does respect for people mean or look like, that can be difficult. What does respect for people mean to you, Jamie?

Jamie: Let me start by saying what I think it isn’t. I think it isn’t about being nice. It doesn’t mean you have to be mean. That’s not the heart of it, even though I often see people thinking that’s the heart of it. To me, the heart of it is really around developing people and the fact that I want the people around me to be better off, to be more capable, to have more ownership, whatever that might be, than they did before I found them.

I want people to grow. That, to me, is respect for people. Sometimes it involves coaching. Sometimes it’s about giving them opportunity. Sometimes it’s about giving them degrees of freedom. Whatever it is that helps those people develop and take more ownership over their lives and develop more capability, that, to me, is the ultimate respect for people. Sometimes doing those things means you won’t be their friend and they may not like everything you’ve done, but they’re still better off for it.

Ron: Exactly. One of the most common questions we get at the academy with videos and what not is, “What video should I watch first?” Our response is normally, “What problems are you trying to solve? What ails you, if you will?” I’m always curious. What’s one problem that you’re trying to solve right now, Jamie?

Jamie: I think related to the topic, I’m really trying to solve the self-development of leaders, helping leaders find ways to manage their own self-development. I spend a lot of my time coaching people. Bandwidth becomes the biggest problem. I only have so many hours to go around and work with people. They can only pay for so many visits.

I’m really trying to find ways, techniques, methodologies that really get leaders to take significant ownership over how they manage their own learning cycle and their own development. Of course, time management becomes a big part of that, because that’s a big constraint on everybody’s plates today. That’s one of the problems I’ve been trying to solve of late.

Ron: Jamie, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jamie: I think the best advice is more unique. There’s lots of generic advice that’s always very good. Make every career decision based on learning first. I’ve twice taken pay cuts specifically because what I was going to go do next I was going to learn more in.

Whether it’s joining a board of directors, I recently joined the board of a 120 year old company. The sole reason was I wanted to learn how they did that. That’s really cool, 120 years. To make every career decision, the first factor is, “What are you going to learn?” I’ve really tried to apply that in every career decision I’ve made. I think it’s served me pretty well.

Ron: Jamie, do you have a personal productivity habit that others might benefit from?

Jamie: The thing that works for me is I have weekly standard work. I call it control point standardization. Others might call it leader standard work or even manager standard work. I have one sheet of paper that really lays out my routine of what’s important each week.

Mostly, it’s things that I don’t naturally do, that are easy to get distracted from. It changes over time based on my priorities changing or based on me developing good habits, in which case I don’t need good reminders anymore.

I have a part of it that’s the same every single week. Part of it is about laying out my priorities each week. Part of it is based on reflection. Part of it is just based on capturing actions. I have standard work that I practice each and every week.

I’m not inherently built for discipline. When I commit to a process, I can be disciplined, but if I don’t have that process, it’s very easy to lose focus and get distracted by the shiny object. That’s what’s worked well for me.

Ron: How do you monitor how well you’re doing? Do you check things off?

Jamie: It’s each week I have the things I do every single week, and I have the things that I plan to do that week as priorities. I just look at how many of those standard things I actually got done and how many of the priorities I actually got accomplished.

They’ll be really bad weeks because of a combination and lack of focus. I got very few of my top priorities finished. Well, that’s a good lesson. Figure out why and do better the next week. I don’t turn it into a metric, but it’s pretty obvious at the end of the week whether I was focused or not.

Ron: If you could recommend one book, and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” is obviously something that we recommend, but in addition to that, if you could recommend one other book related to continuous improvement or leadership, what would it be and why?

Jamie: I think the book that has had the biggest impact on me, and it’s not exactly an easy one to recommend because it is hard to read, is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl. It’s a pretty powerful book. It was written while Frankl was in the concentration camps.

It really is about purpose and man’s search for meaning. What is our purpose? Finding your purpose and having that be the driving force in all that you do, your decisions, your behaviors, and your focus, just creating meaning to overcome all the adversity.

Adversity without mean to overcome it is a horrible way to exist. Adversity in the face of a purpose is very tolerable. The way it was written, the context in which it was written and, of course, the message itself, it’s just been a very powerful book. It’s been a long time since I read it last, but a very powerful book for me and several others that I know that have read it as well.

Ron: I’ve not read it. Why do you say it’s difficult to read? His writing style?

Jamie: Some of it is the writing style, but some of it also is just the fact that it’s written from the confines of concentration camp. The context under which it’s written…I wrote half of my book sitting at a coffee shop. He didn’t quite have the same nice conditions for thinking through his message and his research and everything else. That became really what made, I think, the message so powerful is that his life’s purpose is what carries him through.

Ron: Last question, Jamie. Imagine you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company that’s struggling with quality, productivity, poor moral. Really they’re just a mess. You were hired because of your experience and your past successes.

The CEO that hires you is giving you complete operational and P&L control. They trust that you’re going to right this ship. With this said, what would you do on your first week and why?

Jamie: I think I have to first cautiously answer that by saying that if I had a pat answer for that under all conditions, it would probably be the wrong one. I think you have to read each situation and develop a unique plan. I think in a general sense, my base plan going into a situation like that would be to really spend the entire first week getting a deep sense of current reality.

I’d probably start with the customers, going off visiting as many customers as possible. Of course, it varies greatly if it’s a consumer products company than if it’s a three client business to business company. I’d want to first get an understanding of what’s the clients are saying about us. What is their opinion? What is their perspective? What is their experience? What do they value?

I’d then want to understand the employee side. What’s their context? Do they feel appreciated, under appreciated, engaged, unengaged?

Third, I’d want to understand the process. I’d want to go from beginning to end and walk the value stream basically.

Fourth, and again, logistically, it never quite works out in a linear way, but fourth I’d want to understand the strategy and the management and how the strategy affects management, meaning does everyone know where they’re going, do they not know where they’re going? Do they have a work plan to get there? Are they just reacting to what’s in front of them? How does management do their work and how clearly connected are they to the strategy of the company? In a week’s time, you can get a good baseline on each of those and at least know where to dig in a little bit deeper next.

Ron: Very good. Thank you so much for taking time to come onto the show. Let’s go ahead and wrap it up with you offering some final words of wisdom. Then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you on social media or any other outlet that you prefer?

Jamie: Certainly. My most important advice that I’ve been finding lately is ownership. People have to take ownership over their situation. I get a lot of people who talk to me about, “I can’t get my boss to do this. My situation isn’t right. I can’t make these things happen.”

Those are just problems that we have to own and say, “I’m part of that problem, because it does surround me. Just the fact that I haven’t found a way yet makes me part of the problem. I’ve either solved it, or I’m part of it. I can’t detach from it.”

Invest yourself in where you need to go. Really ask yourself how far you’re willing to go to make your own personal vision happen. If you think you need to turn left, what is it going to take to turn left? What are you willing to sacrifice, give up, risk, or take on and persevere with to make that, achieve that outcome? We can’t sit around and wait for things to happen for us. We really have to take that ownership.

Ron: How can people connect with you?

Jamie: I think the easiest place is on my blog, jamieflinchbaugh.com. I’ve been writing there for awhile. I intend to get back to writing a little more frequently than I have been. Hopefully, I’ll have a fairly steady pace of content, but also you can reach me directly through the website.

You can also find me on Twitter at @flinchbaugh. You can find me at leanlearningcenter.com as well. Those are probably the easiest places to find me or just to follow me.

Ron: All right, very good. It’s July 2nd, today, when we’re recording this. We won’t release this for a few more weeks, but happy fourth of July. Good luck with your daughter’s soccer team. Do you guys enter into your year change right now? Is that how it works there?

Jamie: Well, our year change, but we’re also, you know, tournaments, practice, and already time to get ready for football.

Ron: Very good. All right. Thanks again, Jamie. Be well.

Jamie: Thank you. Same to you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the “Gemba Academy Podcast.” Now, it’s time to take a free, no strings attached, fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy’s School of Lean and Six Sigma over at gembaacademy.com.

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[music]

What Do You Think?

What does it take to develop a solid lean leader? Is it a role, or a process?

GA 015 | Lean Healthcare in Tanzania with Mike Grogan

Play

In ActionToday’s guest is Mike Grogan, who works for CCBRT, a medical relief clinic in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

This episode is particularly inspiring…Mike’s answers stayed with me long after our conversation was over.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Mike got started in continuous improvement (3:15)
  • Mike’s favorite inspirational quotation (4:30)
  • Why Mike moved to Tanzania (6:05)
  • What it is like to teach lean in the developing world, particularly in healthcare (12:07)
  • The impacts of lean that Mike has seen to date, and the one Mike is most proud of (15:20)
  • The biggest challenge Mike has faced (19:45)
  • Why Mike feels he is meant to be in this line of work (22:30)
  • Mike’s description of “what Africa does to you” (28:00)
  • What you can do to help in your own community (if you can’t move to Africa) (31:40)
  • Mike’s definition of “Respect for People,” or as he puts, “Respect for Humanity” (35:18)
  • The one problem Mike is currently facing (38:05)
  • The best advice Mike has ever received (39:34)
  • Mike’s personal productivity habit (40:59)
  • Mike’s powerful final words of wisdom (50:53)

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Full Written Transcript

 GA 15 Mike Grogan

Announcer: You’re listening to Episode 15 with Mike Grogan.

Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast! The show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense. Now, here’s your host Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there! This is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy, and I’d like to welcome you to another episode of the Gemba Academy Podcast. As always, thank you so much for taking time to listen to the show. We truly do appreciate each and every one of you. Today, I’m excited to welcome Mike Grogan to the show.

Mike, as you’ll learn is doing some incredible work in Tanzania, Africa where he’s primarily working with hospitals. As you’ll soon hear, Mike is extremely passionate about the work he’s doing, and is without question an incredible example of what it means to truly respect people.

Next, I wanted to point out that we’ve recently formed a new partnership with audible.com. If you’re interested in downloading a free audio book, definitely check this episode’s show notes out for all the details. These show notes can be found over at gembapodcast.com/15, which is 1-5. It’s gembapodcast.com/15.

Finally, I truly believe in being as transparent as possible, even when mistakes are made. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my own standard work when it came to recording this episode. Specifically, we use Skype to record these interviews.

Within Skype, you have to select a microphone that you’d like to use. We’d just gotten done with our morning Gemba Academy team Skype call, where I used my Mac’s Thunderbolt monitor, the microphone in the monitor, so all the other folks in our studio can talk to our colleagues around the country.

Guess what? I didn’t reselect my fancy studio mic that I’m using right now for the podcast. I was actually using the Thunderbolt microphone, so my audio quality isn’t quite as good as it normally is. I apologize for that, but my part of the show isn’t as important as what Mike shares.

We’ll just chalk it up as an excellent lesson learned and move on. Enough from me. Let’s get to the show.

All right, Mike. Thanks so much for coming onto the show. Where are you calling in from today?

Mike Grogan: I am calling in from sunny Tanzania in East Africa.

Ron: I think that you definitely win the award for being the furthest away to do a podcast so far with us, so fantastic! We’re going to explore why it is that you are in Africa here in a bit, but before that, talk a bit about your background, who you are, Mike, and your experience.

How you got into this whole continuous improvement thing. You do have an interesting accent, so maybe you could talk about that as well.

Mike: I’m originally from Ireland, which is the give-away for my accent. I was first exposed to lean thinking continuous improvements back in 2006. I worked for a local pharmaceutical company for seven-and-a-half years and they were going through, or experimenting with lean thinking.

That company was Merck. I spent three years with them in the UK. I did another three-and-a-half years with them in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania. From there, I decided to move on to take the vast body of knowledge that I learned, and to join a not-for-profit healthcare provider here in Tanzania.

In a sense, I’m a child of manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing, and in the last two years I transitioned into spreading this thinking into healthcare, and in particular, in the African healthcare system. I feel very fortunate to get exposed to this in my career.

Ron: We’re going to really think that’s obviously the whole spirit of this episode. Before we get into that, Mike, we like to start all of our shows with our guest sharing a quotation, perhaps it’s Lean or leadership, anything that’s related to that kind of side of the world that inspires you. What quotation inspires you, Mike?

Mike: For me, if I had to pick one, I would say, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I first heard that from reading John C. Maxwell’s material, but Theodore Roosevelt was the originator of that quote, or whatever originator means.

For me, it is a powerful sticky quotation that has stayed with me in my career in terms of the importance of relationship, and trust in a leadership, or coaching role.

Ron: Let’s just get into it because I’m dying to learn more. By the way, just so all the Gemba Academy customers know, Kevin Meyer, my business partner and co-founder of Gemba Academy, was recently in Africa with his family. He met up with Mike and they actually shot some video together. That hasn’t been released yet.

This podcast will definitely be out before that video is released. From what I understand, I haven’t actually even seen it yet, Mike, but from what I understand it’s some powerful stuff. First of all, thank you for doing that, Mike, and opening your doors to us and our video cameras.

Let’s just start, Mike, with at a high level why are you in Africa? What are you doing there? Are you part of an organization? Are you there on your own? Just give us a little bit of background.

Mike: Yeah, this is the same question my mother asked me. What am I doing here?

[laughter]

Mike: First of all, I’m a huge fan of this podcast. I’m not saying this because I’m trying to impress anyone but I’ve listened to all of these podcasts. Actually, the podcast you had with my good friend Steve Bell…

Ron: Yes.

Mike: …was the reason I found out that Kevin was in Africa. I asked Steve to reached out to Kevin.

Would you believe he came in for about six hours, him and his wife, to our facility? We got to do some video footage which was beautiful. It really was.

To answer your question of why I came here, I first came to Africa as a tourist back in 2010. When I lived in England one of my roommates was Tanzanian and his sister was getting married. He invited me as his friend to come to that wedding. For me, I was a child of the west. I had never left Europe or North America.

It was the first time out of that comfort zone. I certainly stuck out at the wedding. I was the only non-Tanzanian at the wedding. [laughs] So you can imagine what the photos looked like. For what really took out for me…What made that trip special and very impactful? It was the first time I saw women and children in poverty. The consequences of not having the opportunities that you and I and more so our listeners were blessed with. I never really appreciated that to that level, and what I saw with my eyes and heard the stories, it just devastated me.

It left something imprinted inside me that I needed to do something. It took me a while to finally know that that something was to actually quit the US and move full time to Africa. I went a year later for two weeks to volunteer. Then I went another year after that for five weeks to volunteer. The experience was the most, was the greatest work I’ve ever done in my life, and a sense of fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

Ron: Let’s go back to that first trip that you went on as a volunteer. What did you do on those first few trips? What kind of activities were you doing?

Mike: [laughs] When I reflect on it now, I laugh about how ineffective I probably was.

In a sense, I did primarily PowerPoint. “Death by PowerPoint” as I sometimes joke about. I essentially tried to focus on one topic and it was just introducing what I introduced to them as scientific problem solving. Different names, Deming, Kaizen, PDCA, however we wanted to phrase it, the scientific method of problem solving.

Ron: So you did start with guns blazing, if you will, with continuous improvement?

Mike: Yeah, I went straight in and introduced how you could. It was all theoretical because of the limit of time we didn’t get to use this theory on an example. But the feedback I got…half the time was classrooms and the other half was one-on-ones. But the feedback I got from the colleagues in that short two weeks was that this was useful.

Ron: Who were you teaching? Who were you working with?

Mike: I got connected to a small not for profit hospital in the city of Dar es Salaam. It’s bizarre how these things work, but a friend of mine in church who is Tanzanian, her cousin was a professor in Dar es Salaam. One of her students was the CEO of this healthcare provider and essentially through that connection my invitation letter got sent to him.

He was excited. We did a two-week experimentation and the feedback was, “We want you back.”Actually, on my last day there, he offered me a full-time job. To be honest, I was too scared to leave. It took me a year later procrastination and self-doubt to finally realize that was the right thing to do.

Ron: Do you remember the first improvement that you guys ever made?

Mike: The first improvement that I always involved hands-on with was in my second trip. Learning the lessons from my first volunteer trip, the second one trip was focused on issue on procurement. Essentially, with another colleague of mine, Emily, together we did facilitate an improvement event, workshop, whatever different names we have for us.

As well as doing training on this time, I introduce them to the management systems with…I focus less on training and more hands-on work with them on the application of problem solving in procurement issue.

The problem they had was a stuck out, essentially good. Application with scientific method, we help them address that problem. Essentially, one of the biggest takeaways that I got from feedback from the colleagues was that concept of gold seat just to help them in how to see ways and how to see the gaps, both in the operational standards and then the management standards.

That gave me a lot of satisfaction from that event we did. It was a big two-week event that the tangible improvements can’t prove enough, just improvements that change the processes but of course the greatest improvements. Maybe that’s planting a seed for a change and thanking and potentially inhabits.

Ron: At high a level, what’s it like teaching Lean in a developing world, especially in the world of healthcare in the developing world?

Mike: Notice expect to my manufacturing colleagues was I’m a child of Lean manufacturing. What healthcare gives me, let me just answer for healthcare, is that extraordinary sense of contribution, because we’re so close to patient.

When I worked in pharmaceutical manufacturer, yes, I was proud of the healthcare system but very much off-string in terms of back scene and talent manufacturer. In healthcare, every single day, we have work in a disability hospital and we’re building maternity hospital to see…knowing that your work is contributing to adding a better quality, better quality and a safe outcome for that child or a mother, it just gives you extraordinary job satisfaction. I think that that feedback loop is more apparent in the healthcare industry.

Ron: What about the developing world side of things? Obviously, working in a hospital in Dallas, Fort Worth is going to be different than [laughs] Tanzania, right?

Mike: Yeah. Many Westerners may answer this question very differently. I reflected a lot on that. Even my answer a year ago would have been…My answer today is very much different than my answer a year ago.

The key thing is meeting people where they’re at. It’s so easy to come here. Just like Kevin a few weeks ago and compare our hospital here with a hospital in North America, if you get into that comparison trap, it’s very dangerous, because there’s so many gaps. There were so many gaps. In terms of quality, we just even pick one metric of maternal debts.

In some cases, it’s 500 times what it is in a hospital in North America. It’s tragic and heartbreaking.

I try and help meet people where they’re in. Always remember, it’s not that people I work with have less time with me. Absolutely not the case at all. I was coached for two years. I would’ve said I had worked for big multinational company that poured so much into my own development.

I’m so fortunate, and that you are not at a higher level, I have two great parents, the best gift I ever got in my life. Not everyone would get those luxuries whether they’re at home or their career development.

Many people who are asked and helping them with their thinking. As long as people who just, and leader, keep that in mind, you still can be very successful in developing more context.

Ron: You’ve talked about some of the initial improvements that you made there. What are some other successes that you’ve realized over your time there so far?

Mike: People ask me about the successes or the impact question, this being called generous continuous improvements. Thinking is making. I split my answer into two. There’s the visible piece and there’s the invisible piece.

The invisible impact is obviously a lot easier to see. What I mean by that is improvements with med in terms of reducing the safety risk for staff, reducing wait times for patients. We’re taking steps out of procurement processes. Taking steps out of various documentation processes.

Probably I could spend the next hour giving example after example of improvements the teams worked on.

Ron: Let’s dig in a little. Tell me one that you’re extremely proud of? Let’s put it that way.

Mike: [laughs] Hopefully I’m not diverging away from…

Ron: No, don’t worry. We’re just having a conversation.

Mike: I’ll share one that was some of the proudest moments that I had. Some of the proudest moments that I’ve had is when I saw the student become a teacher. That, for me, was [laughs] beautiful.

One of my heroes, Dr. Brenda, met her to a podcast last year with a mutual friend, Mark Graban. This woman is the most passionate woman I’ve ever met. She deeply, deeply cares about the mothers that are losing their lives and massive risk by giving birth into the African healthcare system.

Just to see her so passionate about developing herself, becoming a better leader, and coaching her colleagues, that gives me the extraordinary sense applied knowing that I’d played a part in her development.

My answer truly is seeing her shine and her call to others on this improvement rather than a Pacific improvement that we met on the ground. Hopefully, I didn’t diverge.

Ron: No. That’s beautiful. I can even sense in your voice that this is a deeply, almost an emotional topic for you and something that you’re deeply passionate about. This is not about me, but a side story that I can relate to you. Back when I worked in the industry, I worked at a company. I was actually in the UK. We were visiting a facility, and saw a young man.

He was working the night shift. He was, I don’t know, 25 years old. Big smile, I’d never forget the look on his face.

Walked up to him before we were leaving that evening and shook his hand, and asked him what he was going to be doing. He told us some of the things that he had planned for that evening. There were just a few folks working that evening. The next morning, we pulled up. There was closed-circuit TV all over the place and police everywhere. Come to find out that there was an accident. I won’t get to any details, but he passed away because of his situation. It chokes me up, thinking about it today.

There were things that probably could have been done better from, say, a continuous improvement perspective, whether it’s standard work or whether it’s just various processes that could’ve been improved. I personally feel some responsibility for that, because I was part of that leadership team that we’re putting these programs in place. Make no mistake that the work that we do as continuous improvement practitioners can have life and death impact, not just in a hospital, in a factory or wherever it might be.

I can hear that in your voice, in how important the work that you’re doing. Keep it up. I know the next thing I want to transition into is some of the challenges that you’re feeling and that you face. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that, Mike?

Mike: First of all, thanks for sharing, Ron. I don’t want this podcast to be exclusive about healthcare or Africa. Some of the lessons I’m learning here and we’re sharing here and discussing are very applicable in our communities where we live throughout the world.

Once again, about a year ago, I may have answered differently. A year ago, I may have point this to the obvious, which would be the lack of resources, the fact that I’m the only Lean coach or healthcare provider of 450 so people.

I would point that things that are people as biggest challenges. Where I am now, I am very proud of this answer of what my biggest challenge truly is, and it is me. We have found the enemy, and it is I. The biggest challenge is me. The biggest reason why this organization hasn’t developed as fast enough on its continuous improvement journey is because of me, because of my limitations as a coach.

There are advantages and disadvantages to that realization. Realizing that my own development and the fanatically developing in myself will allow me to contribute better to the organization and drive the organization forward is something that’s within my control. It’s very easy to point outside, but the biggest challenges are my own limitations.

Me and you and others listening to this may be perceived as experts, but I’m certainly a lifelong student of continuous improvement. The day I say that I master this is the day I stop learning and the day I stop leading and stop influencing others. There’s so much in this body of knowledge that we call continuous improvement.

The better I get at this, the more effective I can be at supporting some of the managers and doctors that I work with on a day to day basis.

Ron: Sometimes I feel like the more that I learn, the more that I realize I don’t know. It’s funny you say that, because Kevin and I were joking the other day. Even within Gemba Academy, we do our very best to practice Lean principles throughout our company and documentation and standard work and so forth.

We have struggles. We’re not perfect. We’re not invaluable. It’s like, we can teach other people, but it’s hard to do it yourself.

Just something that I wanted to ask you is, and you led onto this a little bit earlier. Why are you doing this, Mike? Obviously, you’re a talented young man who could be doing also additional incredible work. You’re obviously doing incredible work now, but you could be doing incredible work anywhere in the world.

Mike: I spent a lot of time reflecting on this. At different stages of my life, I had a different answer to this, just like my last answers. I’m going to use this opportunity to share my faith, my faith and God. I believe that it’s God’s purpose for my life to be here at this season of my life. I believe that He created this opportunity to see people in tremendous suffering.

As a part of my mission here on Earth, He wants me to do something about. The more I give, the more I get back, in a way.

I mean that all respect to my fantastic colleagues that I work with in North America and Europe. Tomorrow, I’ve got a coaching appointment with my one of my favorite people, Dr. Fatima. She goes through so much adversity. She works in one of the government hospitals and helping coaching clinical skills on maternal health.

This woman sees death every single day, another tragic loss of a child, of a mother. 99 percent of the cases, avoidable, avoidable, avoidable. I’m one of the very few resources that she has, that she can talk about these things. I help with her with the various challenges she has in trying to influence others.

This woman is my hero. She goes through so much challenges and adversity in her week. Knowing that I somehow helped her in her journey to be more effective or more efficient just gives me strong satisfaction.

The one-liner is why I’m here, I believe, and I won’t know until I die, but I believe this is part of my own destiny, part of my own vision. For this season of my life, I’ve been so lucky with the times that I’ve been given and the development I got today, and I’m still growing, but this season is to give back and to contribute.

There’s massive challenges living in this part of the world, but it’s still the best — definitely, in terms of career, the best, and spiritually – decision I’ve ever made.

Ron: That’s beautiful. I know there are people of many different faiths and traditions listening to this. This isn’t meant to be a sermon or anything like that but I couldn’t help but think of when you said that, the words of Jesus in Matthew. He said, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you do for one at least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me.”

I think you’re truly living those words there. I really admire you for that, Mike, and hope you’ll continue. How long do you plan to stay? Do you have any ideas?

Mike: [laughs] The same question my mom asked…

Ron: Me and your mom got to get on the phone, man, and hook up, did you talk a little bit, chat about Mike and his life. [laughs]

Mike: I don’t want to let CCBRT down. The CCBRT, the hospital I work with here, I think failure on my end if I don’t leave them with habits whenever I do this item, that if the senior leaders, those key, talk and the directors, the heads of departments, those key people, a few people I influence.

If they don’t have change of habits, those continuous improvement habits, after I leave, I think I failed. In addition, if I haven’t set them up with other support, whether it be from people listening to this podcast or other people that I connect with last year and a half or so, almost two years, then I’ve also failed.

If it dies after I leave, that’s a sign of failure. I think that that’s important. I can’t leave until I put them in a place where they can continue on this journey. I don’t fully know the answer, but I can say with a bit of certainty that I’m not ready to go back to the developed world.

If I do leave Africa or leave this particular assignment, I would like to stay in a developing world context, whether it be somewhere in Asia or elsewhere in Africa, just because that I get so much satisfaction out of seeing people grow and develop and contributing to someone that’s bigger than self, advancing society. This is still a question mark. Sorry, Mom, if you’re listening to this.

Ron: I can imagine how incredibly proud she is of you, though. Goodness gracious. What do you do for fun? What does a Friday night look like?

Mike: [laughs] I just had lunch with some friends today, or discussing what Africa does to you. Three of us came to the conclusion that Africa, or this life that we’re living here as expats, it exposes things of your character that you never knew existed. I’ll be totally honest. This is one of the most challenging seasons of my life.

I have been at very many low points, but at the same time, it is the greatest spirit of growth in my life. I’m going back to what I said earlier. I do not regret for an instant what I’ve done.

Essentially, I thought it was loneliness at first. I will repeat it back later to you. It’s an important message to share. I thought it was loneliness at first, but it really wasn’t loneliness that I was suffering from. It was essentially that I didn’t know how to manage being on my own.Yes, when you do come to places like this, you get a lot of down time on your own. There are many dangers that come with that. In those times, you get to figure out what’s most important or figuring out so much stuff about yourself.

I really feel this experience is going to be back so much more than I can give back in terms of learning about myself and understanding what’s most important, putting first things first.

I’ve certainly matured. Probably, more so in this year and a half than the 10 year before that. Maybe I didn’t answer your question, but certainly, there are absolutely so much avenues. There’s still a big expat population here. Even though I’m recovering from food poisoning the last few days, I do play soccer about two or three times a week. I got some great friends both at work and outside of work. It’s certainly different. It’s not like a night out in Philly.

Ron: We’re recording this right now in the middle of July. It will be released a few weeks later. The World Cup is in full swing, and we have our final now with Argentina and Germany. Are you guys following the World Cup?

Mike: Oh, yeah. It’s fantastic to see how passionate the Africans get over football. I’m sure they were very disappointed when their representatives didn’t progress further, but yeah, it’s a beautiful sport. I used to get depressed about sports. [laughs] I’m sure a lot of listeners do when their team doesn’t get through, or whatever disappointment. But this experience in Africa has shown me, it’s perspective.

Ron: I’m a big baseball fan, and my Texas Rangers are in last place. They just lost to the horrible Houston Astros, got swept. Then I was just thinking I’ve got six healthy kids and a wife that loves me, and a great career, so things could be worse. [laughs]

Mike, the last question I have for you in this section is, what can people do that are listening to this right now? I can’t imagine if someone has listened to this point of the show, that they’re not touched by your words, and the work, and your mission that you are doing over there. What can people do to help?

Mike: I’ve thought a lot about this, and previous answers would have been come to Africa. Quit your job, move your kids over. I know, I’m realistic here, I know for 99.99 percent of listeners that’s not possible. Maybe my message is not necessarily to my cause here in Africa, but maybe is the higher level cause, that sense of contribution to society.

Yes, of course maybe we’ll share details of that foundation in North America where people can contribute to it. I would love, like when Kevin was here and many others. We have John Tucson from the center for healthcare coming here later in August, and many other visitors have come. I open up those doors to people to directly contact me if you want to spend some time here. But for those who can’t spend time, or can’t quit everything and move over, I will ask them to reflect on their own communities and organizations. Because this continuous improvement thing is pretty special. It’s golden. We know it works. How can we give back?

Ron: Are there websites people can visit to learn more? We will link to everything in this show notes. I don’t want to call out the show notes number right now because I’m not exactly sure what those will be. I will have those in the intro and the outro of this episode. But where can people go to learn more?

Mike: Obviously the CCBRT website which I’ll give, the Kupona Foundation websites. I’ll give my personal website, I’m on LinkedIn.

Ron: Go ahead give one right now, at least. Just call it out for someone who is listening to iTunes on an airplane.

Mike: KuponaFoundation.org.

Ron: Spell that.

Mike: Hopefully I won’t butcher the spelling, because it’s one of my strengths.

Ron: Type it into your browser. We can edit this pause out. Don’t worry.

Mike: KuponaFoundation.org.

Ron: KuponaFoundation.org.

Mike: I’ve written a blog on it as well. It’s our presence in North America.

Ron: What’s your website, your blog website?

Mike: My personal website is MikeGroganConsulting.com. It’s probably best to connect with me via LinkedIn.

Ron: We’ll have all those links in the show notes, so that’s fantastic. Let’s go ahead and transition now into the quick fire section. We’re going to keep digging in and learning more about who you are, Mike. The first question, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about this already, but I want to keep exploring it because it’s such a powerful topic.

We lean practitioners, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of respect for people. It’s one of the pillars of what we do here as lean thinkers. But if you were to explain what respect for people is or define it, it can be tough. What does that mean? What does respect for people mean to you, Mike?

Mike: I could spend the next hour. This is my favorite principle of lean thinking, respect for people. Because without it, nothing is sustainable. Actually, my good friend, a fellow interviewee that you interviewed, Joel Gross.

Ron: Yes.

Mike: On his fantastic web page, I was a guest blogger, a writer on that. I wrote a more detailed answer.

Ron: I’ll link to that, but I’m going to put you on the spot now. You’ve got to give us an elevator speech on respect for people.

Mike: Here’s the 60 second elevator. I prefer the phrase respect for humanity.

Ron: John Miller actually explained that’s better, as you heard on that episode.

Mike: Yes, John Miller.

Ron: A better translation.

Mike: Fantastic lean thinker, John. It really goes back, you’ve really got to care about your people. You really must have the belief that the greatest resource in your organization is human potential, and that you really must be conscious and look at this from a manager perspective, how your actions and behaviors have an impact, a direct impact on the quality of life of your employee.

If people don’t appreciate that, that’s the first problem to solve. If they don’t make that link, I’d even push people as far as if you don’t feel that you care about your people, you don’t think that people are your greatest resource, then maybe you’re in the wrong job.

Maybe you have to deeply reflect, because I know we have assets, we have machines, whatever it may be, but if it’s people that leave a legacy, not the buildings or equipment. One of my favorite writers or thinkers on human development, human models is Tony Robbins. I’m addicted to his stuff, but he talks about the six human needs — certainty, variation, significance, connection/love, rules and contributions.

I think that there’s a beautiful link there to respect for humanity, in terms for the manager, and of course be aware of those human needs and to do actions that add value to those needs, and not detract from them. I can talk for hours and hours, but that’s the gist of it.

Ron: That’s excellent. Everything you said so far, we’ve been talking for 30 minutes or so, it’s all about respecting people, what you’re doing over there. That’s fantastic.

Mike, what’s one problem that you’re currently trying to solve?

Mike: I’m looking introspectively, and I think the problem I’m trying to solve is how can I become more effective at Gemba with dialogues with the senior executives that I’m working with? I’m really reflecting on how I learned that continuous approval is always the most effective way, and I really believe that the most effective aha moments and experiences came from one on one with my sensei at the place of work.

I’m trying to master those times I have with those leaders. Some of those experiments, I’m very excited because they create a pull where they want to meet me more frequently. Some, I haven’t got as much pull, so I’m trying to master, how can I develop a standard work for those kind of jobs, so that a leader finds they get this certain value.

At a very high level, essentially I’m asking three questions all the time, and that is the process. What is the operation standard? How do we know if it’s working, as in what is the management standard, and how are we improving these standards? I do want to master the standard work and become a more effective coach in those kind of work, so I am doing a lot of self reflection on that.

Ron: Mike, what’s the best advice you ever received?

Mike: “Michael, the more you talk, the less they learn.”

Ron: Who told you that, your mom?

[laughter]

Mike: I’m sure I did too much talking when I was a kid. I actually credit this to a guy named Ron Webber, a master black belt in a former company. Ron was a fantastic LSS teacher, and the most impactful advice was, maybe I’ve got better advice, but this advice was the single most stickiest advice I’ve ever got.

Because it made me reflect, and there’s not an instant where I teach, whether in a classroom or in a one on one, where somehow the words come back to me. “No Michael, you need to listen more, you need to listen more, you need to sympathize more, you need to empathize more.” I know the problem many people have, and maybe now I talk too much, the sound of my charming Irish voice is not what everyone wants to hear all the time.

Ron: Your accent is definitely cooler than mine, so I’d rather you talk to me. Somebody told me a long time ago, I don’t remember who it was, that God gave us two ears and one mouth, use it in that proportion. [laughs] Wonderful.

Next question. Do you have a personal productivity habit that others might benefit from?

Mike: Yes. Many, many. But because you’re asking, the most impactful ones, I would say it’s the application of data and getting things done has had an extraordinary impact on my productivity. There’s a great book by Charles Dewey called “The Power of Habits,” and in the book he talks about keystone habits.

In a nutshell, keystone habits are certain habits that have a fertilizer impact on other habits. So for getting things done, there are loads of great things in the getting things done system. But if there are two keystone habits that really drive productivity is never, ever keep anything in your head for the rest of your life, and emptying your inbox every 24 to 48 hours.

Sometimes people laugh at me, because I’m always walking around with a pen and paper. Sometimes, when I used to drive to work, if an idea came into my mind, I would pull over and write the idea down into my iPhone or whatever tool I had at the time. It is the worst place you can store things, in your mind.

Ron: I use my voice recorder on my iPhone. I hit the record button while I’m driving, and I will talk into it and remember it that way.

Mike: I’ve got two more things. From an effectiveness perspective, I also encourage people to study habit number three of the seven habits, putting first things first. That’s part of the material. I really believe that the application of that material has changed my life. To highlight one thing out of it, the importance of the “not to do” list.

It was Peter Drucker who said us coaches we had a tendency to tell people what to do, where instead we should be focusing on what not to do. So for me, I have a very active “not to do” list which I often add to through my reflection sessions. But knowing what not to say no to is an extraordinary sense of power, because you say “Yes” to what’s most important.

Ron: Mike, if you could recommend one book related to continuous improvement or leadership, what would it be and why?

Mike: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I’ve read it probably eight times. I’m not trying to boast, but I think people need to. A good friend of mine said recently, I’m in the habit of reading a vast amount of material. Which is good, but there’s still a huge gap between what I know and what I do. It’s essentially one of the biggest gaps in the world, between knowing and doing.

I’m trying to get into the habit of those few key books, to go back and maybe every year, every six months for certain books, to go back and re-read. I have another couple of books that I recommend in particular, continuous improvement books.

Regardless of where you are, and I’ve had friends who are nurses, to pastors, to doctors, coaches, podcast interviewers. Wherever you are at a stage in life, the seven habits is just an extraordinary amount of material in that. The application of it has changed my life, in that I know listening to previous people who give interviews, they’ve been tortured by this because they’ve got so many. But apart from that, I’d like to.

Ron: Go ahead, no problem.

Mike: In the classic continuous approval world, number one is two books that fundamentally changed my thinking. “Toyota Kata,” there’s enough written about that by your previous interviewees, so I won’t add to it anymore. You have to read it, people. And number two, some book that hasn’t got as much attention, but it’s a book called “Creating a Lean Culture” by David Mann.

That book is focused on management systems, and I really believe when I look back on the many lean transition failures, or failed results, that it links back to the absence of a lean management system. Leaders not having the tools, and not knowing what behaviors they need to do.

That book is fantastic, and I really have gone back to it maybe six or seven times, reading it, reflecting on it and trying to use that as a base to be a better coach. Sorry to interrupt, for our friends in healthcare the David Mann book is very biased towards manufacturing. Our colleagues that are in healthcare, our good friends from the Pedicare Center for Healthcare Value, Kim Barnas released a fantastic book that has the same kinds of principles that David Mann talks about, but the application here is in healthcare, and that’s the book “Beyond Heroes.”

For those listeners that are in healthcare, maybe David Mann’s book would be useful, but I hope people are not turned off by the manufacturing examples. But if you want a pure healthcare industry example, Kim’s book is fantastic. “Beyond Heroes”, I want to add that as well.

Ron: Not to put you on the spot. This isn’t even a fair question, I shouldn’t even ask it, but I’m going to anyhow. Do you think “Toyota Kata” might be the best lean thinking book ever written?

Mike: I’m going to steal a phrase my good friend Joel said, Joel Gross, and it depends where you are in your journey to read a book. If it’s the first book you read, I don’t think you may get as much value. Just like I’ve never done an MBA, but from speaking to people who have done MBA, they are grateful they’ve done it after they have a certain amount of years in the industry, they reflect on it.

Why “Toyota Kata” was so powerful for me was because I could reflect on all of my failures, and all of the time of success and failures, whatever it may be. Because of that, I took so much out of it.

Ron: That makes perfect sense. So yeah, maybe have a bit of a journey and then go to it. Yeah, excellent. Last question, Mike. Imagine that you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company that’s struggling with quality, productivity, hourly, it’s just a mess. You were hired because obviously your incredible background and experiences and past success.

As it turns out, the CEO that hired you is giving you complete operational control and trust, yet you are going to right the ship. So with this said, what would your first week on the job look like? What would you do, and why?

Mike: I listened to all the answers of all the previous TSO people that you’ve interviewed, and part of me thinks “Do I say the same thing, or do you want me to try to come up with something different?” In a nutshell, things previous people have answered about the goal set mindset, sympathize, empathize, observations, talking to clients, staff and stakeholders.

If I were to pinpoint what I would try to do in the first week, I would try to get as much one on one time with my direct reports as I could. One on one time would include both in the office and in the Gemba, because I really want them to know who I am.

Spend less time introducing myself, and more time listening to their frustrations. My old sensei introduced me to something called the 10-question challenge, which was essentially 10 questions but asking the same 10 in terms of what are your frustrations, what are your challenges? So, really listening, listening, listening. Going back to that phrase, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Some previous interviews have said the power of empathy. My sensei told me “Michael, do not underestimate the power of empathy. Empathize, empathize, empathize.”

I would spend much time with not just direct reports, but other frontline workers, as much time learning and listening in the first week. Outside of that first week, I would as best I can try to develop models. What I mean by that is an inch wide, mile deep experiment on a lean management system focused on a business problem. Maybe that lean management system may be with my team, maybe that’s in a particular department, but doing my best to show what good looks like, in terms of not just systems, but the behaviors that go with it. That would be one of the key things that I would do in the first week.

Ron: Mike, thank you so much for coming onto the show. Just let me say, on behalf of everyone listening to this, perhaps they would like to say this to you. Again, they can send you an email, but thank you for everything that you’re doing for the people over there.

You’re doing work that truly matters, and so I’m really inspired by you and what you’re doing there. Why don’t we wrap this show up, Mike, with you sharing some final words of wisdom? Then tell people again how they can connect with you via your favorite social media outlets.

Mike: In terms of final words that I would share with people, perhaps one of the reasons that people listened to this podcast was that all of us have got something in common, and that’s our passion for continuous improvement. But I don’t want people to listen to this because of, perhaps, the interest in my story, of some guy who quit his job in the corporate world and moved to Africa.

I really don’t want people to have that takeaway that this was about me. I really want them to reflect to themselves about their story and to get spiritual or to get really deep, but it’s essentially what are you going to do with the rest of your life? If we’re brutally honest, the vast majority of people do not have a great life.

The vast majority of people do not reach their potential. The vast majority of people do not fulfill their destiny. Now, I want to make a clear definition between yeah, people may be successful, but there’s a huge difference between being successful and reaching your potential.

So many people towards the end of their life live with so many regrets. A study was done some time ago about what the three biggest life regrets. They said the three biggest life regrets can be categorized into I didn’t take enough risks, I didn’t reflect enough, and I didn’t do enough things that would live on long after I’m gone, a legacy. This podcast was not necessarily about encouraging people to quit and move to Africa.

I really want people to reflect on the gifts they’ve been given. They can act. There is so much time, and there is time to act. The two actions I ask people to reflect on is growth, your own personal growth. The greatest investment you can make in life is yourself, as Benjamin Franklin said. Expanding your capacity, expanding your capability, your understanding of this beautiful thing of continuous improvements that we are so fortunate, because the more you can invest in yourself, the more you can give back, the more you can contribute to society, to advancing society.

Especially in developing people, and history has shown us so much, there’s so much data to show, that it’s the greatest way we can advance a society, whether that be our children or our communities. The heartbreak that’s happening in Africa right now is by developing people. That’s proven time and time again. These goals that we have of continuous improvement, the world is in desperate, desperate need for it.

Once again, I’m not asking people…I welcome people to connect with me if they’re interested in coming for a period of time.

Look around in their own communities, whether it be their local churches, local not-for-profits, their library, whatever it may be. Opportunities are, some of them even in their own company, to mentor, to share, to share this knowledge with, to experiment on ways that they can give back.

I really believe to have a fulfilled life, to live the purpose, we must grow and contribute. That really is the ingredients or the formula a great life of reaching your potential and setting your destiny.

Ron: You mentioned earlier LinkedIn was the best way to get you?

Mike: Most people are on LinkedIn.

Ron: It’s Mike Grogan, right, or is it Michael?

Mike: It’s both. I put both in, in case you mis-search me. Mike Grogan or Michael Grogan, you’ll be able to find me, as well as I’ll give a link to my own personal website, Mike Grogan Consulting, and the component website, CCBRT website, and my own personal email, which I’m sure have the show notes. These are many ways to connect with me.

Ron: Thanks again, Mike, for everything that you’re doing. Again, Gemba Academy customers, keep your eye peeled, because we’re going to bring Mike to life in video here. Probably within the next month, we’ll have some footage up of Kevin’s visit with you there in Africa.

[background music]

Ron: Keep up the good work, my man. Keep fighting, keep doing the work that you’re doing, because it truly is incredible. You really do inspire me.

Mike: I appreciate it, Ron, but I’m very humble the way I am. I’m so lucky to get this opportunity. I feel very fortunate, and I appreciate your comments.

Ron: Be well.

Mike: Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Gemba Academy podcast. Now, it’s time to take a free, no strings attached, fully functional test drive of Gemba Academy’s school of Lean and Six Sigma over at gembaacademy.com.

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GA 014 | Lean Leadership with Adam Zak

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This week’s podcast guest is Adam Zak, a Lean Executive Recruiter.

With a diverse background in lean thinking, accounting, finance, and management Adam uses his unique perspective to share some truly powerful advice.

If you’re looking to hire someone to jumpstart your company’s lean journey, this episode’s for you!

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Adam got into lean recruiting (2:20)
  • Adam’s two inspirational quotes (4:25)
  • What being a “Lean Leader” really means (6:11)
  • What companies need to do to be strong lean thinkers (12:07)
  • The two mistakes companies make when hiring lean specialists (18:20)
  • Adam’s one-word solution for middle level associates struggling to prove the power of lean to their bosses (20:53)
  • Adam’s interpretation of “Respect for People” (23:58)
  • The best advice Adam has ever received (25:18)
  • Adam’s personal productivity habit (26:23)
  • Adam’s three final phrases of wisdom (33:10)

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Full Written Transcript

Announcer: You’re listening to episode 14, with Adam Zak.

[music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.

Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there, welcome to another episode of the Gemba Academy Podcast. As always, thank you so much for taking time to listen to the show.

Now, one quick Gemba Academy tidbit I wanted to share is that we’re now offering a free, full access, three day trial to our School of Lean and School of Six Sigma. To be honest, we found our best sales tool is to simply let people have a sneak peek at what we have to offer and then let them make a decision on whether they want to buy or not.

If you’re not a Gemba Academy customer and are interested in learning more about what we have to offer, please head over to gembaacademy.com and request a three day trial. You’ll see a link right there on the home page. If you’re already a Gemba Academy customer, thank you so much. We truly do appreciate your business.

Today, I’m joined by a gentleman named Adam Zak. Adam is actually an executive recruiter who specializes in the Lean thinking space. But as you’ll quickly notice, Adam isn’t your normal executive recruiter since he has an incredibly deep understanding of what authentic Lean Leadership is all about.

During the show, Adam and I focus on the topic of Lean Leadership, including what makes strong companies successful. The show notes, including links to everything Adam and I talk about, can be found over at gembapodcast.com/14. That’s 1-4.

Enough for me, let’s get to the show.

All right, Adam, thank you so much for taking time to visit with us today.

Adam Zak: Ron, it’s really a pleasure to be here with you today. Thank you for having me.

Ron: Yeah. Where are you calling in from today, Adam? What part of the country?

Adam: I’m in the Midwest, just outside of Chicago in the Northwest suburbs. The little town I live in and have an office in is called Barrington, Illinois. My family still thinks that I actually live out of O’Hare Airport.

Ron: Yeah, OK. [laughs]

Adam: What can I say?

Ron: All right. Let’s get things started. Just tell us a little bit about yourself, Adam. What do you do and maybe a little bit about your continuous improvement background and how you got into all this Lean thinking stuff.

Adam: Sure. I’ll keep it to a thumbnail sketch, sort of. A lot of people don’t know this, but I actually began my career as a CPA and a consultant with KPMG. That led to a number of financial and then general management roles in a few companies on the West Coast. One of those included a startup.

Eventually I wound up in a small venture capital firm for a few years. That’s where I helped build leadership teams for startups. That’s really what led to my entry, eventually, into executive recruiting. My executive search focus has been primarily operations. I conducted my first, what I’ll call, Lean recruiting project way back in 1996 for Robert Bosch Corporation.

Then more Lean executive searches followed soon after that. Today my work is all focused on Lean and split about 50/50 between line and staff rolls in both manufacturing and service companies. It’s fun. I get to create an impact on every company I work with, and I really love what I do.

Ron: The whole Lean tie-in thing, how did you get first exposed to that? Was that just at your previous companies?

Adam: I actually started doing continuous improvement pretty early in life. It seems I was always looking for better ways of doing things, even in the part time jobs I had in high school and college. In my junior year I heard about a company called Nightingale-Conant.

They used to record and sell these personal improvement tapes from speakers like Zig Ziglar, Dennis Whaley, Tom Hopkins. I was really conditioned to that message, and, of course, I’ve been trying to improve my golf game for many, many years. That hasn’t worked out real well. When I read “The Machine that Changed the World,” that just made perfect sense, so here I am.

Ron: Very cool. Adam, something that we like to do with all our guests to start the show is have them share a leadership or continuous improvement quotation that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Adam?

Adam: I’ve actually got two that I’d like to share with you, but they’re very closely related and sort of the foundation of my thinking on executive leadership. The first one is by John Quincy Adams. He said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are a leader.”

Peter Drucker expanded on that theme when he wrote, “Leadership is not magnetic personality. That can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not making friends and influencing people. That is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

I just want to add onto that, what I find interesting about those quotes is, first of all, they do not presume that leadership is only available to certain select individuals. I hear a clear message that anyone can be a leader at any level of the organization.

I also notice this external emphasis, it’s that focus on inspiring others to achieve, to improve, exceed expectations. I see a real direct correlation with Lean culture there.

Ron: Yeah, no I do, I love that. Adam, you’ve obviously been in this business for many years, like over 20 years. You’ve been recruiting Lean executives and whatnot. At a high level, what do you think, if you were to define a Lean leader, what is it? What do you look for when you’re recruiting these folks?

Adam: I’m going to tell you what it’s not. It’s not “Kaizen Kowboy.” That’s a term I actually coined back in 2004, you can Google that. It shows, actually, shows up in a book that productivity press published called “Lean Culture.” But it’s not about kaizen and it’s not about tools. It’s really about mindset and behavior.

Let me just give you some highlights, maybe four or five, six things. First of all, we look for system and process thinking, the ability to see processes as they underlie business activity. Then combining that with the belief that most systems, in fact, can be systemized and then improved. That’s probably the first thing. Again, that’s at the macro level.

Connecting directly to that is, I think you have to understand that the systems support the culture and then the culture, in turn, drives the system and the improvement to that system. That’s where the catalyst or the engine for growth and innovation turns into positive outcomes. People who can do those kinds of things really are at the top of their game.

I like this word, humility. A lot of people misinterpret what that means. I think humility is just knowing that you don’t know everything. Because if you assume you do, that really closes the door on any possibility that you’re going to learn anything new.

Executives who come to their roles with this attitude of humility really understand that they know very little about the whole enterprise and that their success will come only when they’re willing to tap into that great body of experience and expertise that’s flowing throughout their organizations. I think that’s a pretty important concept.

I got a couple, maybe three more I’ll touch on.

Self awareness, this is interesting, because it takes most people a long time to actually develop a keen sense of self awareness. It starts way back when your parents first ask questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Goes back to how and why you selected the college, major, first job, place to live. It’s about who you are, what do you like, what are you good at, what do you want. Those are all very tough questions.

But we used to think that that was one of those soft skills. What’s interesting is that there are a number of studies that have been done, and they clearly demonstrate that this one particular soft skill turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of an individual’s overall success. They mean that in terms of their life as well as their professional success.

The Oracle of Delphi, I don’t know the Greek for it, but the Oracle of Delphi said, “Know thyself.”

Vision, vision is, again, very important. That’s pretty simple, I think, to explain, difficult to actually address. But it’s pulling forth a structure from chaos. Then we talk a lot about future state and so helping define that. Then you’ve got to connect all those things to a business strategy, to design a process and to implement it.

You know what? None of those things are going to work without these last two, and those are heart and grit. Heart just means an open and sympathetic person who really relates to the needs of the team and understands their difficulties. It’s not just about business. People come to work every day with issues. They’ve got stuff going on in their lives.

The leader who understands that, and then works with them, and makes them comfortable with that, is much more able to really build the kind of teamwork and move the organization forward. Of course, grit, that’s discipline. Set the metrics, measure performance. Just go, “They’re willing to work hard, get stuff done, and drive towards the goal.”

Ron: I really like the one, heart. That really resonates with me. I interviewed Matt May a few weeks ago. He talked a lot about the importance of empathy, from a leadership perspective. I think there’s a lot of parallels with empathy and heart, and just really listening to people. That’s something that many folks don’t do very well.

Adam: I tell you, I’ve enjoyed every one of Matt’s books, and I think he’s one of the guys out there in our world who really gets that. I want to mention one other thing. None of these characteristics, by the way, show up on a resume. There’s no way to see that on a resume. Again, when I look for someone, on behalf of a client, I’ve really got to dig in.

I invest a huge amount of time in conversations with people, to get an understanding at a very deep level about the things they’ve accomplished and the how and the why. At the end of the day, that is how and why they’re going to either relate or not relate to the needs of that organization. Just important to consider.

Ron: Let’s turn tables a little bit. That’s a lot about on the individual, but what about on a company level? I guess we could look at it of, “How does a company attract and retain the best Lean leadership?” But on the flip side, what does a company need to do to be a strong, Lean-thinking, learning organization? What does that look like?

Adam: As I think about your question, what I don’t want to answer, from the standpoint of “What are the characteristics of a Lean organization?” What I would prefer to answer is, “What do companies need to put on the table? What do they need to be like or look like to make themselves attractive for a top-notch Lean executive?” Would that be OK?

Ron: Absolutely.

Adam: [laughs] Let’s talk about this one and get it out of the way, right up front. Money. Money is very important. Interestingly, however, it’s never the number-one reason why people join a company or why they leave a company. People, obviously, they’re working for a living. They expect a reasonable package.

They also want those rewards for the performance that they’re delivering, and maybe just a little bit more, if they get exceptional results. We’re done with money.

The other four key points are probably more in line with what’s…I guess we’re talking about meaning in work. The first of those would be good people want to do inspiring work. Maybe that’s too ambitious.

Daniel Pink, a very well-known author, writes about designing jobs which give people autonomy, mastery, and purpose. To me, that sounds a lot like incorporating that concept of respect for people, and then empowering them through how the position is designed. That’s really the target companies need to aim for when they’re creating these positions within the organization.

An organization has a right to ask people to succeed, but it also has an obligation to give them the tools and the development opportunities to do that. Again, that’s at every level, from executive level to middle managers to the people who actually do the real work. [laughs] The second major point, I think, is I call it enlightened leadership.

Again, from the CEO on down to that shift supervisor, most people don’t quit jobs because…Actually, there’s a lot of reasons why they quit them, but most people do quit jobs because they have a lousy boss. I think it boils down to that, more than any other reason. People need real-time feedback. They need sincere coaching, and they need opportunities to develop and grow within the organization.

If they don’t see those things, at some point, they are just not being satisfied. They’re not being fulfilled. Since that’s what companies look for when they want to hire a new person, wouldn’t it stand to reason that a company should already have people like that, who think that way and act that way, in the existing organization?

Next would be, just like we’re trying to improve our golf game, I think we’re always looking for other ways to improve our lives, professionally and personally. A company needs to offer a vision of a better future.

There’s just that certain excitement that inspires people to do their best work, when they know that they’re valued and that their excellent work can open doors and paths to a wide variety of interesting and challenging projects, assignment, positions in the future. Not just talking about promotions, by the way. It could be rotational opportunities into another function.

It could be a new geography, a new country. It could be another business unit. The challenge of that exposure and of adapting to new situations, solving new problems, is what keeps people going. It’s one of the strongest drivers of employee engagement at all levels. I have seen CEOs who have been so disengaged with their companies that they’re basically retired on the job.

They’re just not functioning because they don’t see a better future. It’s like a dead-end job, and boy, is that a disaster.

Ron: Are you familiar with Richard Sheridan and Menlo Innovations?

Adam: I am. I actually met Richard’s partner when I spoke at the last Shingo conference. They attended. I think they had won a prize of some kind. I’m not exactly sure, but yeah, I know a little bit about the company.

Ron: We’re actually visiting them next week. We’re going to visit Menlo there in Ann Arbor, Michigan to do, again, the live shoot. He wrote a book called “Joy, Inc.” I’m reading it right now, in fact. [laughs] It’s how he built a workplace people love. Part of what they really stress there at Menlo is they work in pairs. It’s software, so it’s a little bit different than your traditional, say, manufacturing company.

At the end of the day, their whole point of being is to build a workplace that is all about joy. It’s like, “Wow,” when you think about that. If you have that, the profits and everything else, they’re just going to follow naturally.

Adam: It’s interesting. I’ve read a lot about satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose in life, just because it relates to why people do the things they do. So many things you cannot pursue directly. They come only as a result of something else. That’s why we often say that the company that focuses its attention on profit will never become successful, because the profit is not, in and of itself, attainable. It is only the result of doing so many other things well that leads to that profit. I get it.

Ron: In your opinion, Adam, what are some of the biggest mistakes companies make when they try to recruit people for these, let’s say, Lean management roles?

Adam: There are really two that come to mind. They’re inter-related. The first one would be a lack of clear direction and agenda for a Lean initiative. Then, connecting to that would be the lack of a clear vision and metrics for the position in which someone needs to perform to make that happen. Let me back up and explain a little bit.

I think organizations can also suffer from a version of what I would call poor corporate self-awareness, or at least an inability to clearly articulate strategy and purpose around Lean. If the company’s unclear about how and why it wants to drive its Lean transformation, and what the expected outcome should be, it’s not really going to be able to zero in on exactly who would be the right individuals, the right leaders to bring into that situation.

One of my biggest recruiting challenges with these organizations is to help them understand what’s possible and what it’s going to take, from a leadership perspective, to get them where they want to go. Some companies also, then, have difficulties in laying out specific and clear requirements for the executive position, for the person they want to hire.

A lot of them will use a traditional fallback approach, where they’ll write a position description. They’ll talk about, “What college should this person have gone to? What degree should they have? What should be the companies that they’ve listed on their resume? What are the position titles?” and so on. Instead, the position profile really should be much more of an action-oriented document. It’s built on, “What is the person in this position going to need to accomplish? Against what tricks? Within which time frames?” It’s like building a house, in a sense. If a blueprint is inaccurate, or it’s incomplete, who knows what the house is going to look like? Assuming you can even begin construction once that thing is finished.

Again, I want to invest a lot of time up front, a lot of energy, in helping clients get that blueprint right. Get it as accurate and precise as possible before we ever launch a search.

Ron: Adam, my next question is — I really want to take a slightly different angle for this question — let’s say that we’ve got a middle manager or maybe even a practitioner-level associate who’s practicing Lean and practicing continuous improvement, and they’re really fighting the good fight.

Let’s say they’re on an airplane right now, and maybe they’re a little bit discouraged that their leadership, while they maybe have some support, it’s not real, deep authentic support. But this person is trying. They’re trying to fight that good fight. What advice do you have for that middle manager or that practitioner? What can they do to maybe manage up a bit? What advice do you have for that person?

Adam: I believe there’s really only one answer that actually makes practical sense. It’s one word. It’s data. Just data. In my experience, most of the Lean initiatives that actually succeed and last for more than a few years are led top-down, where the senior leadership team gets it.

In your case, in this particular situation, I would say to that person, “Look, if your senior leadership team understands data and they can be persuaded by your business case for Lean. Now you’ve got to have a lot of ammunition there. You’ve really got to do your homework. But if you can demonstrate a business case for Lean, then you have a shot at getting their attention and support. It needs to be a very clear, unambiguous business result. It’s got to be backed up by solid numbers, which I’ll add is very difficult in a traditional cost-accounting environment. You’ve got to be creative about how you help them interpret and understand those numbers. To have any chance of swaying opinion in your favor, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

My sense is that every company would like to achieve the benefits that a Lean transformation can offer. The problem here is that most just don’t want to do the hard work that will make that happen. They’ll use a shortcut to cut their way through activities. They won’t change the underlying system.

Ron: They want the five steps to being Lean that they can do in the next 30 days. [laughs]

Adam: Sometimes, they’ll want the 12-step program, but then they’ll say, “Let’s be Lean and cut it to six.” How’s that going to work out? Quite honestly, the other piece of advice I would have, if they’re running into that brick wall, maybe they should just send me their resume. [laughs]

Ron: You joke about that, but I also interviewed Bill Waddell recently, and that’s basically what he said. At the end of the day, if you come to a point in your career where you’ve done everything that you can and you’ve done it the right way, sometimes, certain companies, sadly, they don’t get it.

Realistically, if they don’t, the chances of them being around in 20 years are probably pretty slim, anyhow. [laughs] In today’s environment.

Adam: Makes sense.

Ron: Adam, let’s go ahead and transition now to, actually, my favorite part of the show, which we call the quick-fire section. This is where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which obviously, you’ve been doing. But now we’re actually going to focus in a little bit on Adam. [laughs]

The first question that I have for you is we spend a lot of time in Lean talking about respect for people. It’s one of the pillars of continuous improvement, but it’s hard to put your finger on. What is that? What does respect for people mean to you?

Adam: I have a very personal definition, which I will typically share with clients, because they have that same question. Everybody reads about this, but what does this really mean? It has to be internalized. For me, it means recognizing individuals as they are and not as we would wish them to be. And then helping them attain as much of their potential, professionally as well as personally.

It’s not one of those soft things that business-people refer to at all. Of course, in the broader context, broader definition, we could start talking about all the pieces that go into that, that make that up. The transparency, the trust, responsibility, accountability. Really, it’s those values that connect back to that golden rule. Lots of things, but the core really is quite simple.

Ron: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Adam: There is a — I guess I’ll use the word “maxim” — a maxim in real estate development known as “highest and best use.” What basically that means is if you have a hot piece of property, piece of land in San Francisco, the highest and best use for that land is more likely to be a Trump Tower and not a Sonic burger joint, as much as I love Sonic burgers.

Here’s what I would say to every individual listening. Your time and energy, right now at this moment, are infinitely more valuable than that piece of real estate. Periodically, during the day, stop yourself and ask, “Are you using that time and energy in the best possible way? And what could you be doing instead that would be more powerful?”

What could you be doing with the greatest possible impacts that you are capable of delivering? You do that, and you’ll find that throughout the day, things will just go that much better for you.

Ron: Very good, Adam. Can you share maybe one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Adam: Yes, here’s one I’ve been using now. I’m not sure if it’s almost three years, possibly. I call it “reflect and record.” Immediately after every phone call, interview, meeting, any significant interaction. I’m not talking about just taking notes during the interview, for instance.

I’m talking about immediately after that significant interaction, I take just about a minute to reflect on and think about, “What were those key issues?” Then, I write those down. It forces me to decide what was important about that event or communication, and why. I want to make sure I write that down, too.

Over the years, I find that, as I do this, I’m getting better at evaluating and interpreting key points, setting priorities, and then deciding on next steps or plans of action. I look at it almost like a micro, personal PDA thing for my productivity throughout the day. It’s been very helpful.

Ron: Do you write it down, like pen and paper or electronically?

Adam: Yes, I write it down. Actually, I keep a notebook for just those reflections.

Ron: Nice. Do you ever go back and review those from years past? How does that work?

Adam: I’m glad you asked that question. I do. [laughs] I think you have to have a system. Probably for the last few years, since I’ve been involved in Lean, I’ve applied those principles to how I work. Sometimes, my personal life, as well. I do have a systemic approach as part of my standard work to go back and through those.

What’s interesting is that over time, you begin to see correlations. You begin to see patterns. That’s the base, the foundation, for learning and changing behavior. That’s why I think it’s a great system, because it’s beyond just the moment. It really begins to connect things over time. Again, those patterns are very important to recognize.

Ron: Last question, Adam. Here’s the scene. You’ve decided to go back into industry a little bit, and you’re not going to recruit anymore. You’ve sold your recruiting business for a billion dollars. Now, you’ve recently been hired, Adam, as a general manager of a company. This company is struggling. They’re struggling with quality, productivity, poor morale. Really, they’re a mess.

You were hired because the CEO believes in you and your background and really feels that you’re going to be able to right this ship. They’ve given you complete operational and P&L control. This is your baby. With this said, Adam, what would you do in your first week, and why?

Adam: First of all, I’ve got to tell you that this absolutely has to be a trick question, because there’s no way anybody’s going to buy my business for a billion dollars.

But having said that, many of us would recognize, right off the top, that a new executive coming into an unfamiliar organization, I don’t think you can really expect to roll out some sort of a 90-day turnaround plan, after just meeting and greeting the team in the first week. What I’d like to do is share a brief story about a client situation to what I think demonstrates something that’s just infinitely better. I was retained to do a search for a company’s new vice president of Lean supply chain. The CEO had actually been with the company for just over a year. He’d come to the realization that the supply-chain part of the business just wasn’t working.

Coaching, mentoring didn’t help. The VP was just not up to the job. I got the call, but here’s the thing. I didn’t get the call right away. That CEO personally moved the VP aside and then took the job himself. He took on the supply-chain role for the next six weeks. During that six-week period of time, he did everything. He was digging into supplier delivery issues, incoming quality problems.

He was reviewing supply contracts, looking at pricing variances. He went out to qualify a new vendor, outsource a deal. You name it, he did it. He had some help. He’s got a small staff there, but he dug into and touched every nook and cranny of that organization’s supply chain.

Ron: How big was his company, approximately?

Adam: About $250 million in revenue.

Ron: Wow. OK.

Adam: At the end of six weeks, he knew exactly what problems needed solving and what it would take to make that happen. Connecting back up to how we talked about how companies sometimes have a hard time pulling together a position profile, after that experience, boy, could he write a clear, concise profile for what he needed, specific metrics, time frames, why. That’s when I got the call.

I guess the lesson there, you’ve got to walk deep into the gemba to listen and understand and only then can you begin to act.

Ron: You know what’s fantastic about that, and also sad at the same time is that it’s great that that person did it. But gosh, it would have been even better if it didn’t take a crisis to get leaders to do what that person did. I often wonder why more leaders don’t just go to gemba more just to experience what their folks are dealing with. Because when they do, things like what you just described can happen before, like I said, a crisis occurs.

Adam: Let me address that in this particular case, because this CEO, again, was relatively new. He had come in, taken a look at the areas of the organization where he needed to prioritize issues. Initially, his time had been spent on operations, on manufacturing and other things. Guess what? It’s that case where you start lowering the level of the water running through the creek and something else shows up, the other rock.

What he had done initially is lowered the level on the operations side, the production, the manufacturing and the quality issues, and found that they needed fixing, and they did that. The minute they fixed that, all these supply chain problems became apparent. That’s when he jumped into this.

Ron: I got it, OK.

Adam: Logically, that worked. But you’re absolutely right, sometimes over time, we get lulled into a sense of security that things are going well. We need to not do that. We need to go back and revisit and revisit and revisit, because that’s the only way we can tell.

Ron: Excellent. Well, Adam, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to visit with us.

Why don’t we wrap up the show here, Adam, with you giving us some final words of wisdom? Then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you through your website, in any social media outlets that you’re active on.

Adam: OK. I have three, actually, they’re very short phrases. I’ll tell you what those are and then I’ll just spend a moment on each explaining what that means.

Number one, no shortcuts. Number two, no assumptions. Number three, no excuses.

Shortcuts, you can interpret that in two ways. Anything important that you want to achieve and sustain means hard work and takes time. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book in which he popularized the notion that 10,000 hours of practice is what’s necessary to achieve mastery of something. There’s a lot more to it that that, but that’s a topic for another podcast.

I’d say during the course of my search career, for instance, I’ve invested probably several years worth of time just in interviewing clients and candidates. I’m finally starting to get pretty good at it.

The other interpretation is that you can’t cut corners and also expect great results. That’s a really good argument for standard work and checklists, for instance. I know that the one time, somewhere down the road, if I forget to check a reference for the top candidate, we’re going to find out that that person never really did earn that rocket science degree from Stanford.

No assumptions. I think this is very difficult to do. This goes back to what we were talking about, how you’ve got to revisit and revisit and revisit areas. You cannot assume that things are working well. But that’s very difficult to do, because we’ve conditioned ourselves to rely heavily on past experiences and learnings. That’s now the framework, the lens through which we view and assess new situations, new people or issues.

Often enough to make it hurt, we assume something is like something else we know about and it’s not. That’s when you get into trouble, so that’s a bad habit. Don’t do it.

Finally, no excuses. Excuses are just a way of transferring accountability for something that you did that didn’t work out and you transfer it to another person, a place or a thing. You don’t learn a thing from shifting that blame and because you don’t learn anything, you’re just more likely to repeat that poor result again in the future. Don’t do that.

What’ll change when you don’t make excuses is you’ll like yourself more and your friends will like you more, too.

Ron: Maybe your significant other, too. Right?

Adam: Maybe that’s true, too.

All right. Social media. Easy enough. On LinkedIn, I’m Adam Zak, A-D-A-M-Z-A-K, all run together. On Twitter, I’m LeanThinker, and my newly updated website is leanrecruiter.com.

Ron: LeanThinker. How did you get that one? Man, you must have jumped on that quick.

Adam: I did. I did.

Ron: That’s awesome.

Adam: Or you could just Google Adam, A-D-A-M, Zak, Z-A-K, and you get like five pages.

Ron: You are like the Lean recruiting guru, man. If anybody out there is in the need of Lean related work, and I always send people to your website when people ask me. Because I’m obviously not in that part of the world. But I have a lot of people, made a lot of contacts over the years who, unfortunately, sometimes fortunately, they’re looking for other opportunities.

Adam: I thank you very kindly for that. I appreciate that.

Ron: Yeah. All right, Adam, thanks again and perhaps we can hook up again and do another interview down the road someday.

Adam: Awesome. We’ll find a new topic and do it again. It’s been my pleasure.

Ron: All right. Thank you.

Adam: Thanks.

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What is your personal definition of Lean Leadership? What makes a great Lean Leader?

GA 013 | Lean and Six Sigma in the Service Industry at West Texas A&M with Bryan Glenn

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2014-05-glennI’m thrilled to welcome Bryan Glenn as today’s podcast guest. As the Director of Purchasing and Inventory Services at West Texas A&M University, Bryan is responsible for the implementation of the school’s lean initiatives.

I think you’ll find Bryan’s story and the way things are changing for the better over at WTAMU pretty interesting, I know I did.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.  You can also view a video version below or by clicking here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Bryan’s favorite quote… it’s one of ours too! (4:28)
  • How WTAMU uses lean and six sigma across the campus (5:16)
  • How Bryan and his team reduced student hiring time from 90 days to 3 days (7:22)
  • A few of Bryan’s less successful projects (12:06)
  • Bryan’s view on why lean and six sigma applies to higher education (13:05)
  • What “Respect for People” means to Bryan (14:12)
  • The best advice Bryan has ever received (15:06)
  • Bryan’s personal productivity habit…think kaizen (16:30)
  • The next step on WTAMU’s lean journey (21:21)
  • Bryan’s closing words of wisdom (22:12)

Video of the Interview

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Full Written Transcript

Announcer: You’re listening to episode 13, with Bryan Glenn.

Announcer: [background music] Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast. The show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense. Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there. Welcome to another episode of the Gemba Academy Podcast. Hopefully you’re having an incredible day and week. As always, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to listen to what we’re up to here on the podcast. And also with our videos on Gemba Academy. We truly appreciate each and every one of you.

Today, I’m really excited to welcome Bryan Glenn to the show. Bryan is the Director of Purchasing and Inventory Services at West Texas A&M, which is located in Canyon, Texas. This was definitely a fun and very unique episode to record since it was the first podcast interview that’s also being produced as a video.

In fact, Bryan visited us here in our studio in Keller, Texas. We decided to run an experiment to see how producing both a video and podcast at the same time works out. We definitely want to hear your feedback. Needless to say, if you want to check the video out, please head over to gembapodcast.com/13 where we’ll have this interview available in both audio and video format.

In any event, during this episode Bryan and I discuss how West Texas A&M is practicing continuous improvement to improve the way the university operates. In full disclosure, West Texas A&M is a long-time Gemba Academy customer, so we do also talk about how they’re leveraging our training videos.

I do want to thank Bryan and West Texas A&M for their business as well as their willingness to share their story with the world. It’s our hope that it will inspire other higher education institutions, and really anyone who works in a service-focused industry.

Again, show notes in the video version of this episode can be found over at gembapodcast.com/13. Enough from me, let’s get to the show.

Hey, there! Welcome back. I am here with one of Gemba Academy’s customers, Bryan Glenn. Bryan, thank you so much for coming. What we’re doing here folks is, Bryan was in town, and so we said, “Come on over to the studios here.”

We’re going to make a video here, obviously, but we’re also going to try to convert this into a podcast. If you are listening to this through our podcast, you can actually come over to the Gemba Academy website and watch us on video as well. Brian, especially, is pretty handsome, so it’s probably better to look at the video than the podcast.

First of all, seriously, thank you for coming. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your school?

Bryan Glenn: I’m with West Texas A&M University. We’re located in Canyon, Texas. We have been around for 103 years.

Ron: 103?

Bryan: 103. We joined the A&M system in 1995. My real job is Director of Purchasing and Inventory Services. I was tapped about two years ago to roll out Lean Six Sigma and to hire out across the campus.

Ron: That’s great. How long have you guys been a customer of Gemba Academy?

Bryan: A little over 18 months, almost two years.

Ron: I don’t know if you know the story, but you were telling us, before the video started that your assistant said, “Hey you got to go check out this Gemba Academy, is that right?

Bryan: Actually it was the the president’s assistant, and our CEO. We were trying to find the perfect training tools and we couldn’t. She called me up one day and she said, “Hey, go check Gemba Academy and I did and I thought, “Man, this is perfect.”

Ron: Thank you to the young lady.

Bryan: Her name is Tracy Joss.

Ron: Tracy, thank you. [laughs]

Bryan: She will see this.

Ron: That’s great. What we’d like to do, Bryan, is start off with a quotation that inspires you, either leadership, Lean Six Sigma, doesn’t matter. What inspires you, what quotation?

Bryan: One of Deming’s, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” You guys use it. I really like that one.

Ron: Why do you think that’s so powerful?

Bryan: When you look at Lean Six Sigma, Lean, our Six Sigma, it’s about constant change. If you’re not changing, you’re dying. You have to change and evolve.

Ron: I love that. What we’re going to do here, Bryan, is we’re just going to talk a little bit about your program at West Texas A&M. It’s not meant to be a commercial for Gemba Academy, but obviously Gemba Academy plays a role in it. Tell us a little bit about your program in general. What are you guys doing? How are using Lean and Six Sigma in the higher education format?

Bryan: I sent a letter on email out to the campus-wide at the start of each semester asking staff and faculty who would like to sign up. So far, I have had 18 Green Belt candidates complete the course. We meet Wednesday afternoon for two hours and use the Gemba Academy training tools.

Then, we have several process improvement exercises we have developed and also a DOE exercise at the end. Once they complete Gemba Academy they have to take a test and pass it, and then they have to come to me with a project. They have to complete the Green Belt project using Six Sigma.

Once they complete the project, then they are ordered a Green Belt. We also are working with developing a Black Belt program and again, we’re using your resources to do so.

Ron: One thing that I want to point out is something that we talk to a lot of our customers about, is that Gemba Academy, we do offer our own certification program. We’ll mentor the person and so forth, but we are extremely excited when people are doing what you’re doing, which is using our content, and then using your own internal experts, such as yourself and other folks, that are experienced in this kind of stuff, and running your own certification program.

I think that’s fantastic. I’d love to hear of more companies doing this. Sure, we’d be happy to have people go through our certification program, but we don’t exist for certification, right?

Bryan: Right.

Ron: We exist to train people and to help organizations grow.

Bryan: Part of the process, once they are certified, the President/CEO wants to sign off on that certificate because he has total buy-in to what we’re doing. You have to have that top-down trickle.

Ron: That’s powerful. Let’s dig into it a little bit, though. Give us an example of one project that you can think of that was done and was successful.

Bryan: Being in the university, we have a lot of student workers. We got to examining what was going on, on hiring the student workers. It was taking anywhere up to 90 days to get a student worker onto payroll. Part of the reason, the approval form would sit in somebody’s email box, or on somebody’s desk.

Once we started using your tools, we found out that the piece of paperwork actually traveled a half a mile across campus. We used the process, we had the student employment people, and the payroll people meet and we came up with a process improvement. The form is now electronic, and it’s down to three days, which was the target our customers, the students, and the hiring managers wanted.

Ron: What was it before, again?

Bryan: Up to 90 days.

Ron: 90 to three.

Bryan: 90 to three, also made us compliant with federal and state regulations on having the paperwork in place.

Ron: That was a Green Belt project?

Bryan: Yes sir.

Ron: Walk us through that project. What kind of tools did they use, mapping, spaghetti diagrams, things like that?

Bryan: We started off with values training, then we process mapped. They actually walked the paperwork through.

Ron: Became the thing, right?

Bryan: They became the thing to see how long it took. The two departments just sitting down and talking, they understood that there were things that were not needed and not necessary. The huge factor was no one knew what the student, or the internal customer expected, and they were blown away at how three to five days was it.

Minor soft savings was $100 per hire. Hard savings, those students could go to work right then, and not just wait, and wait, and the semester is over and they can’t go to work.

Ron: How do you guys handle the whole savings things? I understand that you look at both hard savings and soft savings? Talk a little bit about that.

Bryan: Since we’re a service industry and most of our customers are students, we’re looking at increasing customer satisfaction. We want the students to have an enjoyable experience, and recommend us to others to go there, that we get what they need, it’s difficult on the soft saving part because we’re mainly dealing with customer satisfaction. There are minor savings, but we’re not saving millions of dollars. We never will.

Ron: I don’t think that’s your objective.

Bryan: That’s not our objective. It’s to make students want to come to West Texas A&M. We want to understand what they need.

Ron: Which by the way, ultimately, probably is worth millions in the long run.

Bryan: Yes.

Ron: You know what I mean? You can’t measure that, necessarily.

Bryan: I would like to take credit for our enrollment increase this past semester. We say that it was because we streamed on some processes, but I can’t. You never know.

Ron: Over the course of the next 20 years, it’s obvious that these things are going to be impacting that.

Bryan: We had a project that looked at residential housing. What students wanted, to find a dorm room. Before, it was all a paper process and it was very cumbersome. Through the process, we said, “Why don’t we go to a software company?” They can see the rooms online, and they can register online.

It tells them what paperwork they’re missing, and they’re not waiting on correspondence going back and forth. It’s increased the process, and made the students a lot happier.

Ron: Give us one more example.

Bryan: One more example is we print vouchers every year, and each voucher is a different color so we understand what year it was paid in. There’s a color code key there.

Ron: Vouchers, explain vouchers.

Bryan: A voucher is a check, a form of a check. The business office would have to order all this colored paper, and they may or may not use it in that given fiscal year, so they would be stuck with all this paper. We experimented with single printing of a voucher on one piece of paper, and it worked.

They pass the State of Texas, and met all the criteria, so they print them as they need them now. That’s about a $12,000 savings.

Ron: Nice. Lots of success, but not to put you on the spot here, but have there been any struggles or failures?

Bryan: There have been several failures. We were trying to develop an e-procurement system, and we were about to roll it out, and all of a sudden the system office said, “Nope, we’re going to do our own,” so we had to stop that one. There have been others where we get started, and we look at the scope and we say, “Man, we don’t want to boil the ocean. We need to back off and look at something a little different.”

We had one transcript from students coming into the college, we had to actually break it off into several different sub-processes to get it fixed, but it worked in the end. The gentleman that was running that project, he was trained in the Navy on their Lean Six Sigma so he had a very good understanding of it.

Ron: Great. Last question for this section, Bryan, Gemba Academy, we get a lot of phone calls from a lot of different types of companies, and honestly there’s a lot of higher education folks reaching out to us asking about how these things called Lean and Six Sigma can be applicable to their world.

What do you have to say to them? Are you a true believer for that Lean and Six Sigma should really be more involved in higher education process?

Bryan: Yes, definitely. Since introducing into higher ed two years ago, I have come across other institutions that are looking into creating a Lean Six Sigma program, are wanting to copy our model because they have seen the success.

The trouble is most of the Lean Six Sigma concepts have been built around manufacturing, and adapting them into the service environment. There’s some changes and some alterations you have to make, but I’m a true believer that it can work in the service industry, and we have made proof of it.

Ron: Yes, that’s fantastic. Let’s now transition, Bryan into what we’re calling the quick fire section of the podcast, but again, we’re going to do this on video as well. The first question is in lean we talk a lot about respect for people. It’s a key aspect of the whole lean body of knowledge. What does it mean to you, respect for people?

Bryan: When I conduct my Lean Six Sigma classes, that’s one important point that I try to make to the trainees, is that people are not the problem, there’s something else. You don’t go identifying a single person and singling them out, and saying, “It’s your fault. You’re the problem.” You have to have respect for the people.

That’s something we’ve learned. We have to actually comfort people when we introduce a project that we’re not going to take their job away from them. We are there to help them, and improve the way they do their job.

Ron: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, Bryan? Any advice.

Bryan: When I first started into the quality program, and that’s why it gets me back to the Deming quote. If you stop changing, stop growing, and stop learning, you’re dying. You see that around with companies all the time. They stick with, “This is the way we do it. It works, it’s not broken, why fix it?” and they ignore what’s going on around them.

Ron: I don’t know if you have listened to them, the Matthew May podcast that we did, but when we did that we were talking about the story of ice. Matt was talking about how ice 1.0 was you had the lake around you, and that’s how you got your ice when it froze.

Ice 2.0 the guys were hauling it around, and in ice 3.0 where there are factories and so forth. Problem was the guy that did ice 1.0 he wasn’t involved in 2.0 because he was so enthralled with his 1.0 process. I think it’s very similar to that, that we’ve got to keep our eyes open in moving forward, or you will perish, right, like that Deming says.

Bryan: Exactly. Just seeing it with the students, it’s amazing.

Ron: Do you have any personal productivity habits, Bryan, that you think others might benefit from?

Bryan: I tend to Kaizen everything I do, including kitchen cabinets, the pots and pans, desks, my desk is that way. Once you are a part of Lean Six Sigma you think in that realm. Does that make sense?

Ron: Yes, I know! [laughs]

Bryan: I mean it’s truly a different way of thinking and that’s something I tell the trainees, you’re going to start thinking a little differently. It’s amazing. Once the light comes on…

Ron: Yes, you can’t stop it.

Bryan: No, and you see them moving forward. You can tell the ones that get it.

Ron: I remember back when I worked in industry I visited a plant in Springville, Utah, I think that was the name of it. First, we were going to be running some events. We had a big quick changeover initiative where there were a lot of problems with changeover and these equipments.

The first event we did, oh my goodness, we had about 10 people arms crossed, and sour look on their faces, and by the end, they were totally on board. What happened was, the second and third time we came in there, we are walking through, and people were giving a dirty looks. We thought, oh great they hate us! But what it was, they were mad that we weren’t working in their area that week. It was like wow, what a change! It didn’t take long that they saw what was happening over here in these other areas, and they wanted some, right? So eventually, they got it as well.

Bryan: That environment has taken over at university also. I’ll get phone calls, “Can you fix this? Can you get this done?” and people see things that they want to take care of. We had the boards outside the elevator telling who had what office, and they were the Old felt, whites, number type. Well, now we’ve gone to digital, and that was one of the phone calls I got is can you find somebody to fix these, get these up to date, become some of these departments don’t even exist anymore.

Ron: Could you imagine that you would have had that two years ago? People calling you asking for improvements? That’s incredible. Imagine what it’s going to be like in five years if you guys keep going.

Bryan: Oh yeah,

Ron: It’s going to be incredible.

Bryan: You can tell the culture has definitely taken root.

Ron: That’s great. Bryan, if you could only recommend one book related to continuous improvement or leadership, what would it be and why?

Bryan: There is a book called “Lean Six Sigma for Service.” The author is…

[crosstalk]

Ron: I think it’s Michael George. We’ll look it up and put it in the show notes.

Bryan: Very good if you’re looking at introducing Lean Six Sigma in service. Not only does it cover higher ed, it covers hospitals, and even the office environment.

Ron: Great, well we’ll link up to that one. Last question, here’s the situation. You’ve been hired as the general manager at a company, and this company, Bryan, is struggling. They’ve got bad quality, bad productivity, morale is terrible. It’s just a mess. And you were hired, because they heard how incredible you did at West Texas A&M. West Texas A&M, he’s not going to leave, this is just a story.

[laughter]

Ron: This is a hypothetical story. But you’ve been hired, because of your past results. As it turns out, the CEO has giving you full operational, and P&L control. You are running the ship, OK? What would you do your first week and why?

Bryan: One of my other favorite books is the “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.”

[laughter]

Bryan: It talks in there about team-building,

Ron: OK.

Bryan: You can’t go in and massively change things at once. You’ve got people that are experienced that know their job There may be some underlying factors for why they’re not happy. First, get to know what’s going on, understand the situation. Use some of Six Sigma’s Lean tools. Hopefully they have a program in place already. If not, use those tools to understand what’s going on. You’re not going to quick fix it at once. That’s going to be impossible. It’s going to take time, and it’s going take learning. That’s what I would do.

[crosstalk]

Bryan: First you’ve got to get an understanding and implement something to initiate change to turn things around, and stay the course.

Ron: Yeah, so the last question, just kind of off the standard work here, but what’s next for West Texas A&M? What’s on the Lean and Six Sigma front?

Bryan: We have a candidate that wants to become a black belt, and we’re developing a black belt program. She came to me and asked what needed to be done, and I said go use Gemba’s checklist. It’s perfect. She’s working on ten projects, and she got the tools and information back using your check list. Hopefully, I’m wrapping up next week the next class that will graduate, and then in the fall we will offer it again. Hopefully I will have 15 like I did the first time around.

Ron: Nice, so the last thing is, go ahead and just wrap up with some final words of wisdom just for anyone that may be in the service industry, and then tell people how they could connect with you for social media, LinkedIn, Twitter. What’s the best way to get a hold of you?

Bryan: What was the first thing?

Ron: Final words of wisdom.

Bryan: Final words of wisdom. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You guys have the package. It’s easy, it’s presentable, it’s affordable. The students like it. Take it and adapt it to your own format, your own style. It’s real easy, very simple.

Ron: Are you on LinkedIn?

[crosstalk]

Bryan: Yeah, I’m Bryan Glenn on LinkedIn. You can also go to wtamu.edu.

Ron: Say that again, w…

Bryan: wtamu.edu, and in our search, we have a Lean Six Sigma page that has all the information, all of our projects that we worked on and how we used DMAIC Model. You can just search for my name, Bryan Glenn, B-r-y-a-n G-l-e-n-n, and it will pull up my contact information there.

Ron: Great. Is it OK for other folks contact you?

Bryan: Yeah. People can contact me who want to know how we’re doing it. If they need ideas or help, I’d be glad to.

Ron: Great.

Bryan: Networking is also key in this, because other people have other ideas and listening to how they have input is key.

Ron: Not to put you on the spot, but man we’d love to pack up these cameras and head on over to West Texas A&M and do a Gemba Live episode one day. So let’s talk with the powers that be…

[background music]

Bryan: Come on.

Ron: …and make that happen.

Bryan: I’ve got people that would love to do it.

Ron: Fantastic! Thank you for coming in.

Bryan: Thank you sir, no problem.

Ron: Be well.

[background music]

What Do You Think?

What other ways can lean and six sigma be used to improve the service industry? How have you seen these methodologies used, either at your workplace or elsewhere?

 

GA 012 | Fostering a Culture of Continuous Improvement with Mike Thelen

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Today’s podcast guest is Mike Thelen, Senior Lean Consultant at the Kaizen Institute.

Mike is a great guy with a contagious passion for all things continuous improvement.  His advice on getting colleagues, managers, and industry professionals excited about lean is invaluable.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Mike’s early interest in continuous improvement…think toy cars! (1:47)
  • Mike’s favorite inspirational quotes (3:20)
  • How Mike got into consulting (6:25)
  • The key ingredient to starting your lean journey, according to Mike (8:02)
  • How to prove the power of lean to company leaders and decision makers (10:50)
  • Mike’s definition of an “active leader” (13:40)
  • The most thorough definition of “respect for people” we’ve had so far (16:05)
  • The best advice Mike has ever received (20:25)
  • Mike’s personal productivity habits (21:40)
  • Mike’s extreme experience with an Ohno circle…40 hours! (26:37)
  • Powerful words of wisdom from Mike (30:24)

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Ask a Question

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Full Written Transcript

Announcer:  You’re listening to episode 12 with Mike Thelen.

[background music begins]

Recording:  Welcome to the Gemba Academy Podcast, the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.

Now here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira:  Hey there, welcome to another episode of the Gemba Academy Podcast. As always thank you so much for taking time to listen to what we’re up to. Today I’m joined by Mike Thelen. Mike is a senior lean consultant at the Kaizen Institute where he helps companies improve their way of working.

[background music ends]

Ron:  During this show Mike and I talk about the keys to success as it pertains to developing and fostering a deep culture of continuous improvement.

Show notes, which will include links to everything Mike and I discuss, can be found over at gembapodcast.com/12, that’s 1‑2, gembapodcast.com/12. Enough for me. Let’s get to the show.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to visit with us today.

Mike Thelen:  My pleasure, I’m glad to be here.

Ron:  Where are you calling us from today, Mike?

Mike:  I am actually in Northwest Iowa, outside of Sioux City.

Ron:  How’s the temperature these days?

Mike:  A couple of days ago, it was gorgeous. Today, it’s rainy and cold. [laughs]

Ron:  The last time I saw you up in Iowa, it was brutally cold. [laughs]

Mike:  [laughs] [inaudible 01:36] for our January conference, and it was definitely eye‑opening, then.

Ron:  [laughs] We were real quick to move our stuff in and out, I can tell you that. Hey, Mike, why don’t we just start the process here? Tell us a little bit about your background and how you first came to learn about continuous improvement.

Mike:  Sure. It’s kind of funny. My mom would say that I was this way when I was little. I used to line my matchbox cards up along the wall of my bedroom by size.

Ron:  [laughs]

Mike:  You could say I was kind of early adherent to [inaudible 02:08]. I actually went into college and decided to go into management. I started with education, believe it or not. I was going to be a teacher and coach and then changed [inaudible 02:03] mind. My last year, I got into a course called, “Industrial management.” It happened by accident because they only offer it once every three or four years. I had a professor that used his own book that he’d written. This book was called, “Total Quality Management.”

Back in those days, that was the precursor to what Lean became. It stuck.

It was like, “Wow, this makes sense to me.” I was doing it on my own when I was in sales, straight out of college.

Then, about three years out of college, I went from sales manager of a large hotel to a third‑shift production supervisor at a small company. That was a pretty big transition.

We had an engineer there that had read a couple of books and he wanted to do this thing called, “Kanban” and liked this thing called, “Cellular flow and layout.” That was in the mid to late ’90s and that’s how it all started.

From there, I worked for some really good companies. I’ve been blessed with some really good mentors and it took hold. I’ve run with it ever since.

Ron:  Mike, one thing that we like to do at the start of every interview is to ask the guest to share one of their favorite quotations related to continuous improvement or leadership that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Mike?

Mike:  Wow, there are so many. I’ve read so many books and so many things stick out.

I used to do a lot with Mark Graban from the “LeanBlog.” He’s got a great collection of quotes. I put a few on there myself.

I always like what John [inaudible 03:53] said, “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught,” because I believe a big part of what we need to do as leaders is coach and mentor. Einstein’s comment that, “You can’t change today’s problems with today’s patterns of thinking, because it’s today’s thinking that’s created those problems.”

Probably, the two that I go to the most often, one is by Shigeo Shingo. I forget what book it was even, but he had said, “It’s the last quarter turn of the bolt that tightens it.”

I thought, “Man, you know, I’ve done so many setup reduction projections and watch them tighten in bolts of five different lengths for no reason whatsoever.” That one is really powerful to try to explain how simple things can be when you stop and look.

Ron:  It’s so much more than just quick changeover, isn’t it? It’s that, “Wow, you’re right.” Why do you even use a bolt?

Mike:  You look in office practices and, boy, there is so much paperwork and it’s always that last signature. Why do we have seven?

Ron:  Because it’s the big boss over there who says, “Yes” or “No” anyhow. The rest of us, why are we even doing it, right?

Mike:  Then, I use a personal one, one that I’ve twisted from other people that I’ve read and heard. A lot of times, when I do an event with a team, I will step back and about the second or third day and say, “OK, how do we get from ‘We can’t because’ to ‘What we would have to do?’”

That’s a big one, because it’s so easy that second or third day and say, “OK, how do we get from ‘We can’t because’ to ‘What would we have to do?’” That’s a big one, because it’s so easy that second or third day, it seems like, for people to say, “Well, we can’t do this, because this is false. We can’t do this because the server name’s obsolete. We can’t…” on and on.

That’s a big challenge, too, is to get people to go, “OK, forget why we can’t. Think of what we have to do to make it work.”

Ron:  I know this interview’s not about me, it’s about you, but I can’t help but think. You just reminded me of I was in the whole P90X movement a few years ago and that crazy guy, Tony Horton, or whatever his name is, he has probably one of the best quotes ever that I ever heard.

It is, “Don’t say you can’t, instead say I presently struggle with.” I love that. It’s like; I tell my kids, “Never say you can’t. You just say you presently struggle with.”

Mike:  That’s great.

Ron:  P90X wisdom there.

[laughter]

Ron:  Let’s talk about what you’re doing now. You recently moved into the consulting world. Is that correct?

Mike:  Yeah, when I got out of college, I went into sales. I had done sales through high school and college. I went into manufacturing in late 1997, ’98, somewhere back in there.

Just in January, I left the manufacturing arena and moved into consulting with a [inaudible 06:46].

Ron:  What’s been the biggest change for you, aside from being on airplane a lot more, probably? Other than that, what’s it like?

Mike:  Interesting. I’ve worked for large multi‑national companies, publicly held. I’ve worked for small privately held companies. I’ve always worked for companies where they heard about this or read about this and thought it’s been something they should do.

They said, “Hey, you’ve got some experience in this. Come do it.” Never had the moment and the ability to mentor at that high level executive and sit down and say, “You know, this is what you have to do.”

Being that peon that works below them, they blow you off as soon as you walk out the office door. As a consultant, it’s different, because they’re bringing you in and, frankly, they’re writing a check for you to come in and help them.

They’re much more receptive to listening to what you have to say and trying to take what you have to say and put it into action. That’s the big change I see is you walk into a facility and they ask you questions and they want to learn.

Ron:  They want you there or you wouldn’t be there, so that’s great.

[crosstalk]

Ron:  From your experience, Mike, even before consulting, and now as a consultant, what do you think are the keys to really success of making this stuff work and this stuff being Lean?

Mike:  Somebody in the organization has to be a zealot. They have to be nuts. They have to get the bug, read a book, want to learn more, go to a conference, and find a mentor. They’ve got be somebody who engulfs themselves in this, because you need that role that says, “This isn’t the Lean thing to do,” and puts the brakes on the organization.

We saw how easy it is to get cost focused. You need that person that says, “Now, wait a minutes. What’s this doing to quality? What’s this doing to safety? How’s this affecting our on‑time delivery?”

That zealot can be anybody. It can be internal or external, but you’ve got to have that power, that passion about doing this. You’ve got to have leadership engaged.

They’ve got to be out there visible. They can’t be the type to say, “We got this Lean leader we just hired and he’s going to do all the Lean stuff on the floor for us.”

Ron:  Let’s dig a little bit more about Lean zealot, so they could be internal or external, you said. Is it better if that zealot is a senior person, obviously? Or, can it go from grassroots up in your opinion?

Mike:  There are advantages and multiple ways. It’s funny. I just had a conversation with a plant leader about this the other day. We talked about the need for internal versus external.

I said, “The important thing is you’ve got one. It’s whatever you can do.” If you have an internal, that internal has to have knowledge.

If they don’t have knowledge, they’ve got to go actively get it. They’ve got to go and latch on to everything they can get to learn it and understand it.

The advantage of an external is that they’re usually someone who has that knowledge. You don’t get them that knowledge, and they’re not viewed as a prophet in their land as an internal likely is.

But you really have to be that person that’s the six‑year‑old who’s lining his Matchbox cars up along the wall. It’s got to be somebody that it’s just natural, and they believe it in it. I’ve always said when I was an internal guy that I have to be willing to lose my job.

Whether I’m that low‑end guy that’s trying to do grass‑roots or whether I’m a leader in the organization and I’m on a senior staff or a higher level, if you are the Lean guy and you’re the one that’s passionate about it, you have to be willing to stick to your guns when the company wants to move and do things that aren’t bad and be willing to risk putting your neck out there.

If you’re going to bow down every time they say, “Cost is the only thing we’re caring about,” then you’re not the right guy for the job.

Ron:  Well, what advice do you have for someone listening to this right now? Maybe they’re not a senior leader. Maybe they’re just a practitioner‑level internal Lean practitioner, and maybe they don’t have top‑level senior support.

Talk to that person right now. What encouragement can you give them, or what advice can you give them? Do they just need to pack up and go, or are there things that you think they can do internally?

Mike:  I’m trying to think. I think it was Jeffrey Liker. It was either Jeffrey Liker or Steven Spear. One of the two said, “You’ve got options. You can make the best with what you’ve got. You can go find greener pastures. You can make that decision.” Speaking as someone who’s been through some organizations, the pastures really are never greener. They’re just a different shade of green.

If you’re going to do this and you like this, and you’re going to go after it, you have to step up and go to the leadership. Pitch what you’re trying to do, go on the floor, and show the results. You’re not going to accomplish anything by sitting in a conference room or hiding in a cubicle.

You’ve got to get out, go take some risks on the floor, and prove how [inaudible 12:10], how [inaudible 12:11] flow, how the Lean principles do help, do matter, and do reduce costs as well as increase delivery and increase safety. Just really show them what it is and how it works. Think about it. You can certainly go somewhere else, but it doesn’t matter because you cannot give up. You’ve got to just keep pushing.

Ron:  I love that. In my last corporate job I would say that I was a director, so I was a pretty senior guy. At the end of the day I had bosses who, honestly, to them some of them were very sales‑focused. The fact that we had to make anything was more of an annoyance to them I think. [laughs] They were like, “Just sell it.” “Well, we actually have to make something, guys, here, too.”

That was a struggle for me, but what I found was eventually to your point I didn’t give up. I just went after it, tried to make things better, and then presented them real results, tangible results that hit the bottom line. They loved that, and soon they were huge zealots. They were not necessarily zealots, but they were on fire for it. They wanted more results.

They didn’t really even care how we got them. There was Lean, Six Sigma, whatever it might be. It’s like continuous improvement. Just keep making things better. Gosh, it was a publicly traded company, so they got to tell the street every quarter what they were doing. It was good for that as well. I love that advice. “Don’t give up.” I’m glad you said that. [laughs]

Back to the whole Lean zealot, you mentioned also a topic of leadership and active leadership. What do you mean by that though? What is an active leader?

Mike:  There’s a whole bunch of information on leadership, and there are so many different angles that people go and pursue. The funny thing is, when you look at what’s been made out as really good leaders whether it’s Peter Singh or other people who’ve written about it, it all comes down to the same principles.

That is, those people get out. They’re not chained to their desk. They get out on the floor. They listen. I think it was Jim Womack that always said, “Go. See. Ask why. Show respect.” Get out there. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Don’t just blow them off.

The hardest thing for us as we become higher‑up leaders is we got there because of what we know and what we’ve done. It’s hard to go back out on the floor sometimes and ask the entry‑level hourly guy how he can make this job better because we think, “Well, gee. We’ve been through that. We’ve learned from that. We know how to make it better.”

The toughest thing about what I call servant leadership is that we have to learn how to get them to see by asking the right questions. We can give all the answers we want, but if we give answers we don’t learn. The key is, go out. Go see. Be out on the floor. Ask questions. Even though you know the answer, ask the right questions for them to find the answer themselves.

I’ll be honest with you. From a leadership perspective you’ve got to be humble. You’ve got to have humility. You’ve got to be willing to listen to your zealot or your consultant or whatever you’re doing to bring in that power, that drive, and you have to remember that sometimes these people know more about things than you do.

I used to say leaders were Jack of all trades and master of none. That’s how we get to be leaders. Sometimes you need to listen to the masters who tend to be your zealots, your consultants. I don’t like the term “experts” because we’re never experts. I’ve been doing this for 15 years or more, and I learned something new last week.

You’ve got to listen to those people who are specialists in the area and can offer things that you might be seeing with your experience.

Ron:  Excellent. All right, Mike. Let’s transition now to my favorite part of the show, which we’re calling the “Quick Fire Section.” Basically what we’re going to do here is you’re going to keep sharing some of your wisdom, which you’ve been doing obviously, but now we’re going to transition. We’re going to talk about Mike. [laughs] OK?

The first question is in Lean we talk a lot about continuous improvement, and we also talk about respect for people. Many times when we say, “Well, what is respect for people?” no one can really put their finger on it. If someone were to ask you, “What is respect for people?” what would you say?

Mike:  Oh, wow. Believe it or not I have a list.

[laughter]

Ron:  OK.

[laughter]

Mike:  A few years ago we were sitting down, and a couple of us were jotting down ideas and what it is. Then I’m a techno‑freak, and I’m out LinkedIn quite a bit, which I probably shouldn’t be. Sometimes that can be a disastrous trap, but I get out on LinkedIn and get into some of these discussion groups.

I once posed this question to some people with Toyota experience, people with Lean experience, far more experience than I have to see what their answers were. Remarkably we all have very similar traits, and we also all had things that none of the others had thought of.

When I look at respect for people and the list that I have, which I’ve added to from my learnings and from my sharing with other people on LinkedIn, some of the big things, have passion. If you’re going to have respect for people, you’ve got to be passionate because nobody cares about the guy who’s got the monotone voice that’s just selling a number. It’s a lie.

You have to empower those who work for you. If you are too afraid to hand over responsibility, too afraid to give them a chance to succeed or fail, then you’re tightening the reins on them. You’ve got to give people the chance to go out and improve themselves, and that’s even at the hourly level. Give the folks a chance to make some improvements.

You don’t know what’s best for them. Challenge them. Challenge people. That’s the greatest thing. I’ve seen tremendous results when I’ve challenged people to come up with something, as opposed to yelling at them and telling them that they’re wrong.

You have to be willing to forgive. If they’re trying hard, and they make a mistake, and they fail, you’ve got to forgive them. You’ve got to pick them back up. Help them get there.

Some things that I see from place to place, both as a practitioner and now as a consultant, one thing is, what I call say do. If you say you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t say you’re going to do it and never get back with an answer.

To me that is probably the most disrespectful thing a leader can do is say, “I’ll look into that,” and three weeks later still you’re asking about, “What’s the deal with this?” because they don’t give you any feedback, any response.

You’ve got be willing as a leader to teach and mentor. You cannot just do the job for people. You have to coach them on how to do it.

I’ll throw one more out there that’s pretty heavy to me. You have to provide the right tools and the right opportunities. I can’t tell you to go do a setup reduction but not give you the tools you need to do a setup reduction, and I see that so much.

I remember one of my first events when I got my mentor, I got a mentor about half way through my career, which once I got him I couldn’t believe how much more I learned. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was; because I thought I knew what I was doing for the first eight or nine years.

I remember we were doing to the event, and I got a machinist that says, “You know, this would be easier if I had a 22 mm wrench that I could just leave at the back of the machine.”

I’m a farm kid. My dad was a farmer and a mechanic. I grew up working in the shop, and I knew all the part stores in town, and I said, “Well, let’s just go get one.” And the guy says, “We can’t. We’ve been trying to get one for months, and the production manager can’t find any.”

I drove out across town, used my company credit card, bought a 22 mm combination wrench, brought it back to him, 20 minutes after he asked for it

He was in shock. He’s like “I can’t believe you found that,” and I’m like, “Dude, I grew up on a farm. I know where to go buy tools. I’ve done that.”

That’s the case, if we don’t provide them with the right tools and the right opportunities. They’ve got ideas. They just can’t do anything if we don’t help them out.

Ron:  Mike, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Mike:  My mentor, I got him eight or nine years into the process. I thought I knew all this stuff. Then when I got to pair up with him, I realized that everything he did was good advice. To learn from a mentor was phenomenal. There wasn’t any specific piece of advice he gave me, but just the ability to learn from him was fantastic.

I always have to fall back on, I came up in a small town in the middle of the plain states and played sports, did all that, and my basketball coach had a saying. He put it out in front of us constantly in practice, and it was, “Don’t let what you can’t do keep you from what you can do.”

That’s probably, if I’m looking back over my entire life, that piece of advice is probably the best advice I ever received.

Ron:  I love it. There’s so much that we can learn from athletics and sports. That’s a great one. You grew up in Iowa right? Is that where you grew up?

Mike:  I grew up in South Dakota believe it or not.

Ron:  Oh I didn’t know that, all right. What about any personal productivity habits? Do you have any that others might benefit from?

Mike:  I use my computer like a filing system, and I am pretty much digital. I hardly do anything in paper anymore. I would suggest that when you do training material, I do a lot of training material on PowerPoint because it’s easy, and I use the note section, so that I’ve got my information down there to remind myself.

I write a personal A3 each year. I try to drive that and use that as my guide for what I’m going to do for the year, which I think is a big thing to sit down and say, “What do I want to accomplish this year?” in that A3 format, because it’s that, “What’s my current condition? What’s my future state?” and it helps keep you focused.

From a productivity standpoint, I have a goal of no more than 10 emails in my inbox by the end of each day.

Ron:  Let’s stop there. How do you do that? How do you accomplish that?

Mike:  [laughs] When I get them, I go through them, and if it’s stuff that I need to take action on, I try to take action on it. If not, it stays in the inbox until I have the action complete. If it’s stuff that I don’t need, I delete it. If it’s stuff that I want to keep for reference, then I file it. Again, I use my Outlook like a filing system, like a filing cabinet.

It takes discipline. I’m not going to, I get an email, go, “Ah gee, I don’t feel like doing that.” We all do that, “I don’t feel like doing that right now,” so I’ll set it off to the side. But, it is my goal that if I’ve got 11 or 12, and they’re all things that I’ve got to go do, then I’ve got to pick 2 or 3 and get them done, and get them down, so I’m below my 10 on my inbox. I try to manage that way.

It’s definitely a little different being a consultant now. It was a lot easier when I was a practitioner.

Ron:  Yeah, you’re not always by your email now, so you check at the end of the day, and it could be out of control on you.

Mike:  [inaudible 23:32] consulting isn’t something that you just go out to the floor quick and do it today. “I’ve got to meet with that client. I can’t meet with them until three weeks from today.”

I didn’t read the book first. I was this way naturally. But when I did find the book, it fit in with the way I do things. That is Dan Markovitz’s book, “A Factory of One.”

Ron:  Yeah.

Mike:  A short read, but that’s a great read for office people for dealing with personal productivity.

Ron:  Dan’s a good guy. We’ve had him on webinars. Yeah, it’s a fantastic book. So speaking of books, and you can’t use Factory of One now, if you could only recommend one book to someone maybe getting started with continuous improvement or leadership, what would it be and why?

Mike:  I answer that question all the time, and it’s a horrible answer, because it’s a struggle. My personal library here in my office is probably, I’m up over 200 books now, and I’ve read 85, 90 percent of them. I’ve got a reading list that really needs me to go fly somewhere so I can sit on a plane and read.

There are probably 10, 20 books in that group, that are really my go to books. If you’re going to pull the trigger and say I could only come up with one, the Bible that I use, if I’m going to use a term, the one that I always reference, that I look back in that matches what my mentor taught me the most, is probably “The Toyota Way.”

A lot of people are familiar with that book. A lot of people like “The Toyota Way Fieldbook,” because it’s easy. It’s a practical how‑to from the Toyota Way.

I do some teaching at the local community college, and I use The Toyota Way Fieldbook as one of my reference books for that class, because it’s easier for the class to read.

The Toyota Way is definitely my number one, although there are some other books that I would strongly urge people to read. “The Hitchhikers Guide to Lean,” by Jamie Flinchbaugh is very similar to what [inaudible 25:42] from my mentors.

One of the books that probably gets the least amount of attention that I’ve had the most success sharing with supervisors and managers is, “How to Prevent Lean Implementation Failures.”

Ron:  I’ve never read that one.

Mike:  My library is 20 feet away from me, on the back wall, but I believe it is by Larry Rubrich. It’s a real simple, digest size book. It’s maybe 140 pages. It’s small. I read that book, let’s see, it would have been 2006, so how long ago was that?

It’s a long time to look back, eight years ago, and I can still read that book, and not only can read it and go, “Oh yeah, there’s Ron, and there’s other people that I can see. Oh wait, that’s what I do. Oops,” that’s the power. It’s such a simple little book, but if you read that book and don’t see something that you yourself do, you’re not being honest with yourself.

Ron:  Awesome, last question, Mike. Imagine that you’ve decided to get back into the private sector, and you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company, and this company is struggling with lots of things, the quality, productivity, morale, they’re just a mess.

And you were hired because of your continuous improvement experience and past success. As it turns out the CEO that hired you has given you complete operational and P&L control and trust, that you’re going to right this ship. With this said, Mike, what would your first week on the job look like? What would you do, and why?

Mike:  It’s pretty easy what I’d would do the first week, and it’s probably contrary to what most people would think if they’re going to be a general manager. The most I ever learned, and the best way I ever learned, as torturous as it was, was when my mentor put me in an Ohno Circle for 40 hours.

Ron:  Go ahead and describe an Ohno Circle for those that might not know what you’re talking about there.

Mike:  My experience was we were on the production floor making electric motors, and I had a specific part of the line. He drew a circle on the floor, put me in it, and told me to stand there until he came and got me, which was eight hours later.

At the end of the eight hours, he asked me what I saw and those kinds of things, no guidance, no nothing. I shared what I saw, which apparently wasn’t what he wanted me to see [laughs], and the next day we do it over again. We did it for forty hours.

That was a full week, five days of standing out there for eight hours. The only time I left the circle was when the employees went to lunch. That’s why I had to take my lunch and be back when they were back up and running the line again.

It was amazing, because to start with I didn’t know what I was looking at. Then I started looking at the wastes, the standard seven wastes. Then I started looking at movement, and I started looking at how materials and how things came to the line and left the line, and it started making me realize that you can see so much when you just stop for a minute.

The power of it is, we do it a lot in manufacturing, but I’ve done the same in a customer service area, and in a design engineering area. I’ve sat and just watched for eight hours, and watched the paper flow, and how the phone rang, and how people flowed in and out, and you look and see how much time people spend going back and forth for things. It’s amazing.

My first week would be probably a day in each department, just standing in the middle of the department, trying to watch how things work, and capture what’s going on. And try to get a basis for what kind of waste we have and what kind of opportunities with flow, and, “How do we improve our flow, and do we improve our work process?” and not do anything to make changes.

Just observe. Just watch and learn for that first week. From there start laying out a plan with the leadership team, “Here’s what I saw. Let’s go to each department, and let’s talk to each group. Let’s see what they see, if they see the same thing I see.”

It’s amazing. I remember sitting through a customer service group, and I saw a lot of wasted time where they’re on hold waiting for one of the other departments to get back to them, or waiting for this, waiting for that. They had simple things like, “We’re going to change the length of a shaft from three inches to two and half inches.”

“Well that’s got to go to this guy to be approved. I can’t approve that.” Take all that stuff out, so if they can just respond to the customer while they’re right there on the phone, it was huge for us. It was powerful. If we wouldn’t have stopped to just watch that process, we’d never have seen it.

Ron:  Excellent. Mike, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to visit with us today. Why don’t we wrap things up with you sharing some final words of wisdom, and then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you on social media?

Mike:  My final word of wisdom is, “Don’t let anything stop you.” You’ve got to keep driving. I know it’s frustrating.

Sometimes that’s the joy of having a mentor. I remember calling my mentor from time to time even though he wasn’t on the clock when I called him on the phone and, “Hey, this is what’s going on,” or “this is how I feel.” “Man, what do I do here?”

Having that person who’s been there, who can guide you through it and coach you through it, is really powerful. But the big key is you’ve got to keep moving forward. Don’t let things bring you down. Don’t let things stop you from moving forward.

With that, I’m always open for questions, comments, advice, discussions. I’m on LinkedIn more than I should be because I get into discussions…

[crosstalk]

Ron:  LinkedIn. Are you Michael Thelen?

Mike:  I’m Michael D, middle initial D. So I’m Michael D. Thelen.

Ron:  Thelen is T‑H‑E‑L‑E‑N for those that are just listening.

Mike:  It’s correct. We’re having a [inaudible 31:37] on LinkedIn in discussion groups. I only participate in the Lean discussion groups. You won’t find me in, “How to increase your sales by 80 percent,” and all that kind of stuff.

Then, you can also find me on Twitter. I don’t do a lot of tweets, but I do tweet here and there. You can find me there @mdthelen, that’s M‑D‑T‑H‑E‑L‑E‑N.

Ron:  Great. All right, my friend. Thank you again. It’s always great catching up with you and hopefully we can go out and do another conference together. Maybe we’ll get you over here to [inaudible 32:09]. We’ll put you on video and make you a movie star.

[background music]

Mike:  There we go.

Ron:  [laughs] All right. Take care, Mike.

Mike:  Thanks a lot, Ron.

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