A GPS for the TPS

One of the common objections we hear to doing kaizen is that “We’ve tried it before” and it didn’t work. It’s amazing that this could ever be a reason for people to stop trying, yet it is. Last summer I spent and inordinate amount of time lost on unfamiliar roads in Europe. But I never gave up, parked my car on the highway and just waited for something better to happen to me. I corrected course and kept driving. This is true of most of us who drive. What is the difference between our willingness to give up on the continuous improvement path and our determination to get there by car? These days when we drive our cars, we have three things things to keep us going:

  1. Clear destination
  2. An appointment
  3. A Global Positioning System

We’ve found that most people who “fail” on the continuous improvement journey have started out lacking one or more of these things.
First, the destination: there is none on the continuous improvement journey. It is still possible to know points along the routes, mileposts if you will, to know that we are still on the continuous improvement journey and going in the right direction. Some call this True North or “what good looks like”. A benchmarking visit to companies further along on the lean journey can help provide this vision of a clear destination.

When does lean fail? It fails all of the time in small ways, but only the real failure comes only when you stop trying. In the words of Harry Truman, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”

Second, we need a clear idea of where we need to be at given points in time. Whether we call this a sense of urgency, annual business goals, quarterly performance targets (*shudder*) or daily and hourly tracking against a target, we need to do continuous improvement with a keen sense of time, even to the second. Breaking down the target into “what by when” is a key step in continuous improvement that focuses our mind on what we need to do, by when. It gives us a point in time to check our progress.

Third, we need a friendly voice to tell us when we have taken the wrong turn on the lovely cow path or that we’ve been circling the ring road for 2 hours. We need to turn on our friend Tom Tom and listen, especially in unfamiliar territory. The equivalent to a GPS device in the continuous improvement journey is the concept of “image of excellence” or “ideal condition” of a value stream, and often the best place to find this is inside the head of someone who has already taken the journey. Just seeing world class sites cannot teach you about the human systems or the information systems that support what you see. How does a lean enterprise look and behave from the perspective of people, process and purpose? Asking a sensei to guide the vision and provide long-term direction is the best way. There are also various self-help books, guides and assessment tools people use for setting the course for the lean journey.
One of my projects this year has been updating our lean assessment tool. It’s a typical 1-5 scale questionnaire resulting in spider charts. Below is an example of one of the sections on quality management. It’s shaping up to be 100+ sub-categories organized around 12 major categories. Most companies have some version of a lean assessment chart. I’ve helped in the design / redesign of several over the years. I’ve compared and reviewed several lean assessments that readers have sent me or that our consultants have developed and used over the years. There is still much of what I call “incorrect knowledge” or GPS database maps that need to be updated, redrawn and clarified, in practically all of the existing lean assessment tools. What I’ve found interesting is not what people include but what people choose to leave out of their assessment tools.

Our goal is to develop and share this so that we can develop a consensus “GPS for the TPS” if you will, or a compass that covers the whole territory along the continuous improvement. A clear destination, I have. A GPS on what this product should look like: vague. An appointment… none so far. This project is yet another vying for my time. A side trip on the continuous improvement journey.

8 Comments

  1. Dan Markovitz

    May 6, 2009 - 5:55 pm

    Jon,
    I’m intrigued by the radar chart above. Why don’t you have a metric for 5S?
    Thanks,
    dan

  2. Jon

    May 6, 2009 - 8:23 pm

    Hi Dan
    We do have a 5S metric. This chart is only one of 12. There are 200+ categories (I counted today). So we can’t do one spider chart for all. We put 5S and workplace organization under a category we call Performance Management. The quality chart could accommodate 5S just as well. It is still under development and flexible.

  3. Jan Jochmann

    May 7, 2009 - 1:16 am

    Hi Jon,
    I really like your example with driving the car to reach the destination. Just as you don’t stop or go back when you are lost while driving (although someone maybe does), we shouldn’t stop in our continuous improvement efforts even if we fail to do something right the first time.
    I have a few questions related to the lean assesment tool (LAT) you mention:
    1. First of all, I would need more info about this LAT – how and when do you use it? What is the main purpose of it? Who is the target audience (“customer”) of it? (Maybe the next questions would be irrelevant after a bit of explanation)
    2. If there are 200+ categories, how many underlying questions are there for each category to evaluate?
    3. Doesn’t it take too much time time, questions, people, interviews, writing… to complete this LAT? (Or, how much value-added work is there?)
    4. What are the typical actions coming out from this assesment?
    5. Isn’t it too complicated? (200+ categories, 12 spider graphs, questions …) Could it be simplified, or “leaned”?
    Sorry for so many questions, but the only way to know is to ask (I know, even better is to try) 🙂
    I like the idea of sharing this with the lean community, maybe you are on the way to create a “standard lean GPS” 🙂
    Thanks and regards
    Jan

  4. Rick Bohan

    May 8, 2009 - 4:22 am

    Best 5S metric is “Go look”.
    200+ categories? That’s too many and any assessment using all of them will be too cumbersome.
    I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the time it takes to develop, administer, and “continuously improve” an assessment that covers over 200 categories would be better spent on creating improvement in something customers actually care about.

  5. Jon

    May 8, 2009 - 7:15 am

    Hi Rick
    Fair comment. Using all of them is unnecessary in most cases, since most companies are in no place to use the information that results from such a complete assessment. As you said, a “go see” assessment by an experienced lean practitioner can highlight the areas needing deeper diagnostic. The assessment tool is used as much for consensus-building among the management team as it is for fact-finding.
    I wouldn’t say that any of the 200 are optional, but some may not apply, for example if a company did no product development then those categories would not apply. It’s a case of “measure only what you want to improve.”
    This latest project with this assessment tool is in fact the result of several customers’ request and input over the years.

  6. marty

    May 15, 2009 - 1:50 pm

    I’m doing a similar assessment for each of the teams I am working with. I have whittled it down to only five categories however: Standards, Metrics, Dialogues, Improvements, and Recognition/Accountability

  7. Gilles

    September 14, 2009 - 7:24 am

    Hi Jon,
    I am really interested in your approach. How is it possible to find some good examples of this assessment for benchmarking in order to further develop our own model ?
    Thanks and regards

  8. Jon Miller

    September 15, 2009 - 2:30 pm

    Hi Gilles
    I will send you an example to look at. Of course we are also available to consult with you to develop your own model. 🙂