Jan 24, 2006

To be fair to Bill Ford

I picked on Bill Ford for talking about innovation in a nonspecific way, but I also liked a number of things he said. I hope he can stay with the long term view he says Ford will take, and stick to his resolve to kick the addiction to price incentives. Rediscovering the company's strengths and building on them sounds worthwhile -- we will see.

I'm not sure Mark Fields gets it. He was saying some of the right things, but didn't have the look in his eyes that I've come to recognize in people who understand Toyota-exemplified principles.

They are at the helm of a gigantic oil tanker headed for an iceberg, and the engines are cutting out. Unfortunately, there are a lot of us standing on the deck.

Jan 23, 2006

Karen's irreverent dictionary

Innovation: 1. How the Ford Motor Company is going to prevail, according to Bill Ford. 2. Something that sounds really good and sounds like it might be new, but we don't know what it is, how we will know it when we see it, how we will decide whether or not to do it, or how we will make it happen. 3. Something "innovators" will come up with once we find a few. 3. Something new and probably worthwhile now but which won't be worth much by the time we remove the obstacle that prevents us from making it happen.

Jan 18, 2006

True kaizen

I recently read Yogesh Vaghani’s article on Milton Plastics, in AME’s Target magazine, about the company’s kaizen initiative.

I stopped dead in my mental tracks when I encountered his definition of kaizen: “Continual and systematic training of the mind leading to continuous improvement in performance.”

There were four words I’ve never seen in the definition – “training of the mind”! It was a “this changes everything” moment – an aha!

“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. “Everyone knows lean is about people.”

The common definition of kaizen is probably similar to what is found in the “Lean Lexicon” from the Lean Enterprise Institute: “Continuous improvement of an entire value stream or an individual process to create more value with less waste.” That certainly states well what we want to see wherever kaizen is being practiced.

Masaaki Imai, one of the kings of kaizen, moves closer to Vaghani’s definition when he opens his book, “Kaizen,” by calling it “ongoing improvement involving everyone -- top management, managers and workers.” He goes on to say kaizen in Japan takes the form of a “process-oriented way of thinking versus the West’s innovation- and results-oriented thinking.” He says it is so “deeply ingrained in the minds of both managers and workers that they often do not even realize that they are thinking ‘kaizen.’”

Indeed, it seems to fall into the category of the unspoken obvious, the tacit or profound knowledge that people walk around with when lean becomes part of their work.

But I keep coming back to those words, “training of the mind.” Not to get too far into linguistics, semantics, semiotics or neurology, but encountering a word makes a dent in the brain. It sets off a cascade of associations, memories, feelings, and ideas. Vaghani’s definition places the emphasis on training. And training what? The mind. Once that is done, improvement follows.

It’s why people say Toyota produces people, not just automobiles. Training of minds so that they think kaizen whatever they are doing. It may be why people say that implementing the Toyota Production System is easy to talk about but hard to do.

Those four words are now permanently part of my definition: Training the mind. Learning more about the system you work in. Learning from others. Thanks, Yogesh, for adding your insight to our thinking.

Jan 15, 2006

Visible web - red-tagging

When we began one of our web cleanup projects, there was an obvious 5S exercise to perform – sort out the useless stuff. Even if it was pretty clear to me what needed to go, the content owners had to make the decisions.

Poking around our office’s supply cabinets, I found several packs of red stickers – dots about half an inch in diameter. With the web site represented in paper, the team members could sticker any page that we didn’t need before we began any redesign. These are the rules I gave them:

1. In your judgment, does this page serve a SIGNIFICANT purpose? If not, red-tag it.
2. More than one person can add a red tag to a page.
3. In addition to content owners and Call Center representatives, “Outsiders” can red-tag pages. Content owners should invite some “fresh eyes” to participate.
4. One red tag per page per person, please.
5. Content owner reviews red-tagged pages.
6. If content owner can offer a CONVINCING justification (use sticky note), red tag is suspended.
7. If Call Center representative can offer a CONVINCING justification (use sticky note), red tag is suspended.
8. Red-tagged pages will be taken off the display and put aside. If a page is BLATANTLY USELESS, a removal request can go to IT now.
9. Before any red-tagged pages go to IT, up- and down-links must be researched and resolved. (Karen can do this for you.)
10. Pages must be archived by us. IT won’t do that. [Archiving later became unexpectedly difficult.]

The clean-up processes evolved from one project to the next. With the first team that attacked their website area, I unpinned their red-tagged pages and threw them in the corner of the cubicle we were using. Drama. With the team whose pages were posted in the aisle, I found a cardboard box and labeled it “rejects.” As a pack rat myself, I gave the team the security of knowing that the rejects would not actually be deleted before the project completion, in case something turned out to be indispensable .

Among my lessons learned was the importance of metrics. At some points in these projects I usually counted something, but I did a poor job of keeping metrics visual and a very poor job of recording them for longer-term reference. I can tell you that simply by red-tagging we removed hundreds of pages from the web site.

Jan 13, 2006


When I encounter obstacles or get frustrated at the slowness of change, I try to repeat these phrases to myself:

All in good time.
It's not about me.
How can I help?

Not a cure, but a bit of calm in the midst of chaos.

Jan 2, 2006

Lessons (not?) learned

Reflecting upon my website kaizen projects, it’s dawning on me that the word “my” betrays a fundamental weakness. It’s not about me, is it? It doesn’t matter how well I created new templates or simplified flow if nothing took place in the heads of my fellow team members.

I was focusing on “what” was to be changed, but not paying enough attention to the “who.” For the “how” I did better, by facilitating teams to make their own decisions within an evolving improvement process. The process itself evolved as previous teams tried out tools and established which worked better than others. Still, I find myself calling it “my” process.

Did we set learning as an objective? No. Did we discuss what we wanted to learn through events? No. Did we have a debriefing meeting to talk about what we learned? No, not yet. Did our boss ask what we learned from our projects? Not that I can remember. (Well, my memory is rather faulty, so I could be wrong on this one.)

Jamie Flinchbaugh, in an article in Lean Directions called " 'Event lean' prevents a company from becoming genuinely lean,"* says sustainability requires a team to make frequent use of lean tools, with management’s clear support. Repeated use is one way adults learn. And none of the teams got together again for continuous improvement.

I find teachers everywhere, and there was one team that taught me that the effectiveness of a lean leader is in the learning that results. This group of SME staff members responsible for member services started by improving the section of the website devoted to helping chapter officers carry out their leadership activities and communicate with HQ.

Almost simultaneously with completing their project, they were given responsibility for the web pages related to a high-level committee. Without prompting, they decided to use the web improvement process they had just worked with on this new set of pages. They invited me to come to their scheduled meetings, and it soon became apparent that they didn’t need me to facilitate this time.

Thanks to their initiative, I learned that learning is a critical objective in a lean project. Without it, all you have is an event. Improvements get stale, discipline relaxes and achievements drift into the fog of history.

I intend to put this lesson learned to work in the next lean project I participate in.

*See the "Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean" link in this blog's links list.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm