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A recent conversation with a friend of mine who is a continuous improvement director at a sizable North American corporation yielded some personal insights for him and general ones about being a technical change leader. This story is shared with his permission, in hopes that it will help someone else in a similar situation. Details have been changed to provide anonymity.

My friend, whom we will call Alan, has been at his new job less than a year. Previously he was the Lean leader for a private, mid-sized company. He is now responsible for designing the corporate approach to business excellence and rolling it out across multiple locations as well as various corporate functions.

When he was first hired, there was great enthusiasm. Improvement opportunities were everywhere. He quickly demonstrated his value to the company through his technical prowess at diagnosing their situation and designing Lean systems to implement. But for one reason or another, Alan explained, real change was coming slowly. Alan wondered if his new company was on the way to becoming yet another “Lean failure” statistic. Alan called because he had a solution in mind. His plan was give a presentation the leadership about they needed to do to support Lean. If plan A didn’t work, plan B was to find another job.

Alan didn’t hear himself doing. I asked him to reflect objectively on his words. He was assigning blame to people without looking at the system problems. “The number one reason for lean failure is lack of leadership support.” We hear this all of the time. This is a poor problem statement. It takes the easy way out by assigning a psychological reason i.e. “bad leader” rather than a system reason e.g. “the incentives for leaders are not aligned with Lean behaviors.” Blaming poor leadership is unbecoming of a CI manager or anyone who claims to practice Lean thinking. Alan, was better than that.

After this reset, we clarified the issue and broke down the problem. Did a conversational equivalent of a go see, talking through several point-of-cause stories. We agreed that he was struggling with the soft side. He understood the business problems his leadership team wanted to address with Lean, but not their history or context. He had demonstrated his technical prowess, but had not built the trust with decision makers. He had explained his findings and ideas in sophisticated and clever ways, rather than simple, familiar ones. He had not adapted to his audience, nor they to him. Alan’s experience is a fairly common instance of great science failing to gain acceptance because the scientist and layman fail to first make a human connection.

Despite his weakness, Alan had survived and even thrived in his previous company. He had grown up there and the leadership team understood him. They knew that he was passionate about Lean and gifted at the technical aspects, but needed help in getting his ideas across to people. They provided cover for him. They spent time preparing the groundwork for Alan’s most ambitious efforts. His leadership team was competent at change management. Though unintentional, this limited Alan’s growth. His weakness was only exposed once he took his new and bigger job. His bosses at the previous company saw no reason to stretch Alan by having him take on the soft side when he was so good at delivering the technical side.

Neither Alan nor his new employer did a good job of grasping the current situation when starting out together. Alan didn’t have enough self-awareness to know what he didn’t know. He didn’t suspect how far out of his depth he might be in his new job. He was aware that he had been getting change management help from his leadership team in his previous company, but didn’t grasp its full value. It never occurred to Alan that he might not have the same support, credibility or relationships in his new company. Nor could he know how critical this would be in a large and bureaucratic organization. The company that hired Alan did not know enough about Lean to ask what mix of technical and soft skills their new CI leader needed, or how to effectively mentor and on-board Alan over his first months. These are common system problems when hiring change leaders.

Alan is moving forward with plan C. He will take his leadership team through a reflection process to understand gaps in expectations versus actual in their Lean transformation so far. He will lead a problem-solving exercise and work with them on countermeasures. At the same time, he will be mentored by a senior analyst on his team who has been there for decades at the company. Alan has a new appreciation for soft skills. He has reframed them a set of techniques. He is up for the challenge.

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This week’s guest is our Director of Customer Success, Steve Kane. Ron and Steve talked all about Steve’s coaching journey, including using kata, the power of the right mindset, what it means to be a coach, and more. An MP3 audio version of this episode is available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn: 
  • Steve’s background in medical device manufacturing (3:29)
  • His role at Gemba Academy (4:12)
  • Why Steve is so passionate about coaching (7:46)
  • His realization about kata (10:59)
  • How Steve is applying what he learned from his coaching training (23:21)
  • The difference between a coach and a consultant (27:25)
  • The difference between a coach and a mentor (28:45)
  • Whether or not a combination of the roles is possible (31:17)
  • How Steve knows if he’s being successful as a coach (37:15)
  • Steve’s final words of wisdom (40:01)
Podcast Resources Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes! Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone. The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

 NEW! You can now follow the podcast on Spotify here

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

What Do You Think?

What does it really mean to be a coach?

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Kaizen (改善) is a Japanese word meaning “improvement”. The symbol kai means to change, to renew, to correct something that is wrong, and zen means “good” – there is no relation to Zen Buddhism. The word kaizen itself does not imply “continuous” or “continual” or never-ending. However, in modern business, kaizen refers to a particular brand of continuous improvement activity that engages all functions and all people in an organization in pursuing both personal and process excellence.

We trace the modern history of kaizen to Toyota Motor Corporation in the second half of the twentieth century. In the early 1950s Toyota found itself nearly bankrupt, was forced by banks to restructure, and vowed to never be in that position again. They adopted many business practices from the West including the Creative Ideas Suggestion System based on what they observed in Henry Ford factories, and Dr. Deming’s ideas on quality management including Quality Circles and the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. From the U.S. War Department’s 1942 Training Within Industry practices, the Job Methods approach became a model for the kaizen approach. Toyota made the most out of their shortages of cash, advanced manufacturing assets or top-tier university talent, by doggedly correcting their flaws and experimenting with radical new methods in their factory and supply chain. After decades of kaizen, their eponymous production system was recognized as the best in the world. Described as “lean manufacturing” it is widely imitated today.

Kaizen was introduced to the popular consciousness in 1986 with the publication of Masaaki Imai’s book of the same title. This was followed by study mission to Japan to see kaizen and the Toyota Production System up close, and soon by Japanese consultants teaching these same ideas to companies in the U.S. and the world. Efforts at frontline engagement in improvement by copying elements such as Quality Circles and suggestion boxes had their day. But these efforts were rarely continuous. An early but lingering misunderstanding about kaizen resulted from the practice of these consultants demonstrating kaizen through intensive three to five-day marketing events. Within mere days, companies saw double digit improvements in productivity, inventory, quality, space, lead-time, and safety. They wanted more of this condensed, rapid improvement, and the kaizen event was popularized. Many missed the fact that the vast majority of sustainable long-term benefits from kaizen comes from the low-key approach of small daily improvements by everyone.

In practice, a kaizen is any improvement, a big one-time event or as a series of small changes. It can be done in a variety of ways, individually, with natural work groups or in project teams. What makes kaizen special is not any specific step-by-step method, format, technique, or its Japanese name. Kaizen is notably as a way of doing improvement activity based on a deeply-held set of principles. The following is a ten-point summary of these principles.

1. Combine vision with action. Although kaizen is rooted in making many small improvements day-to-day, this must be with a long-term goal in mind. This begins with defining our purpose. Who do we serve and what do we want to accomplish? What do we hear when we listen to the needs of our customers, our family, own health and well-being? What does “good” look like? We clarify a vision of an ideal state. We can’t achieve this all at once, but we can find problems or obstacles, and correct them one by one.

Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world. – Nelson Mandela

2. Be the tortoise and not the hare. In Aesop’s fable, the quick hare ridicules the slow tortoise. So the tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare dashes out ahead, looks back at the tortoise who seems to be barely moving, and takes a nap. The tortoise continues his slow and steady pace. The hare wakes from his nap to find that the tortoise has finished the race. There is nothing wrong being able to go fast when needed. The lesson is that we can win in the long run by improving a little bit every day.

3. Little strokes fell great oaks. Seemingly impossible challenges can be accomplished through the accumulation of many small efforts. Improving performance by 50% may seem impossible. However, an improvement of 1% per week results in a compounded improvement of 65% after one year. Not only do small improvements add up to big results, this process changes our brain. The focus on small changes reduces our fear.  The repetition of small successes builds our belief and confidence. This makes us more likely to continue striving in the face of challenges.

4. Quick and dirty beats delayed perfection. When we are faced with a problem, the first step is to contain it, provide relief, and ensure that it does not get worse. As customers, we appreciate a partial immediate resolution of our complaint, rather than waiting days or weeks for the promise of a complete resolution. In continuous improvement, a quick-and-dirty improvement that we can test, learn from, and decide whether to invest in and develop further, is more valuable than a perfect solution at a later date. So-called perfect solutions rarely go exactly as planned, cost more, and the delay prevents us both from gaining immediate relief and valuable learning about the problem.

5. A stitch in time saves nine. It is human nature to avoid uncomfortable discussion about problems. We hope they will go away, or that someone else will take responsibility. But when problems go unaddressed, they grow larger. A continuous improvement culture celebrates making problems visible so that they can be caught at the earliest possible moment, while they are still small.

6. Constraints inspire creativity. The Toyota Production System came to be because they had “no people, no cash, no machines” in the early days. Were it not for these constraints, Toyota would have taken the easier path of duplicating the “industry standard” manufacturing practices of the time, achieving the same wasteful methods and practices. Their constraints forced them to use their wits, not their wallet, to find creative ways to get the most out of what they had. Necessity was the mother of invention. The human mind makes better choices when it is not faced with an abundance of choices. When we have limits of time or resources, we look more carefully at the problem, think harder, and focus on what we can do with available resources. Even as we make improvements, we must set clear constraints for ourselves. The new method must be followed as the standard, or “current best way”. This allows us to continue to think creatively about how to make it easier and better. These kaizen principles are also an example of a set of constraints that help us to focus our thinking and action.

7. Go see for yourself to get the facts. Central to the kaizen approach is a focus on the gemba – the place where we can observe the real situation and get the facts. Humans are prone to opinions, jumping to conclusions, championing preferred solutions regardless of their fit to the situation. We may wish to rely on data, reports, opinion or conjecture, from the comfort of our offices. Yet we must investigate the actual situation and get the facts as early as possible whenever we engage in problem-solving or improvement activity.

8. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In order to correct a problem and prevent it from recurring, we must address the root cause. When problem-solving is not fact-based, we throw money and time at symptoms, providing temporary relief but seldom a long-term cure. Investigation root causes is only possibly by going to the point of cause, creating a blame-free environment and asking “How?” and “Why?” repeatedly until we find potential root causes to address.

9. Good process, good results. Continuous improvement is not a matter of chance. By following a good process, based on proven principles, we can deliver good results consistently. Whenever the result is not good, we can check whether we followed our plan closely, stuck to our principles. We can always improve our process, learning from our mistakes. When we fail to follow a good process, but achieve good results anyway because of fortunate circumstances, we must recognize this is not sustainable and modify our approach so that we do not rely on luck.

10. Respect for humanity. Many of these principles such as cause-and-effect, the power of small improvements compounding over time, and the benefit of faster cycles of feedback from small actions are based on laws of our universe. Like gravity, these are timeless and tested. It is not sensible to repeatedly violate these laws. Many of these principles also work with, and not against, the best parts of human nature. We must hope for and imagine a better future, but must also break our big, scary goals into small, concrete, actionable steps. Rather than tackle a large project, aim for perfection, and experience inevitable delays and frustrations, kaizen encourages us to try out a “good enough” solution, learn and build on that, gaining both confidence and knowledge. The kaizen approach insists on “go see”, recognizing that people are clever, and will arrive at solutions intuitively, become attached to their ideas, and defend them regardless of facts on the ground. We must make problems visible because humans process and respond to visual signals very well. Kaizen is as much about respecting and developing people as it is about improving processes.

More than thirty years since the concept was introduced to the West, today kaizen is widely practiced in industry, healthcare, government, banking, education, psychotherapy, personal fitness, professional sports, and more. For something that is so simple, accessible and effective it is almost surprising that kaizen has not yet become a household word, a part of daily practice for everyone. The challenge of adopting kaizen is not a technical one, but a human one. It requires that we are honest with ourselves, that we are willing to be patient, to persevere in the face of difficulties. It requires that we recognize and work to overcome parts of our human nature that assigns blame to others, jumps to conclusions, or aims for immediate perfection and becomes discouraged by failure. Kaizen is a social endeavor. We need to improve for ourselves and for others. We need others to encourage and keeps us accountable for striving toward our goals.

Within organizations, there are common challenges to the adoption of kaizen-style continuous improvement regardless of country, culture, size or type of organization. Kaizen is principle-based. Principles are mental constructs or beliefs. Therefore, continuous improvement stops when people stop believing. When leaders behave in ways that are inconsistent with their stated principles, this erodes belief. When systems or policies are put in place that violate stated principles, this erodes belief. When we say one thing and do another, we believe what we see, not what we hear. Kaizen succeeds when the its fundamental principles become not only the way we improve but the way we do everything.

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Just yesterday the Harvard Business Review presented an article by a London Business School professor suggesting that companies don’t always need a purpose beyond profit. I had to take a walk on the beach to get my blood pressure back to normal.

He starts off by lamenting that his school tries to instill in its students the desire to improve the human condition, but fails.

At London Business School, we often try to explain the purpose of our existence by showing pictures of our students who are working on environmental issues in rural India or improving sanitation in a township in South Africa. We also always highlight the wonderful work of our Professor of Economics, Elias Papaioannou, on clearing landmines in Mozambique. However, the reality of things is that most of our students go to work in management consulting, tech, or investment banking — even hedge funds.

I would suggest this in itself is a fundamental failure to teach the value, and non-financial rewards, of a worthy purpose beyond simply making money.  He then launches into how he believes the pursuit of profit has helped our world.

Economic growth, for example, is an effective way to reduce poverty – likely more so than aid – because it benefits the lowest income brackets in a country significantly. Moreover, increases in wages and wealth have been shown to have positive effects on other critical societal problems, such as crime, malnutrition, infant mortality, mental health, and general feelings of happiness.

That’s true, but context is needed.  The benefits of capitalism are optimized for the greater good when they are combined with a deeper purpose and constrained by appropriate guardrails.  I have lived in and visited countries where those guardrails didn’t exist, where new buildings collapse, drinking water is contaminated, healthcare quality is stratified between those who can and can’t afford it, and so forth.

And, yes, the opposite can and often does occur where the system is too restrictive and great ideas and investment can’t take root and thrive.  One of the most dramatic examples I’ve experienced was when I visited Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia, two countries formed at nearly the same time with the breakup of Yugoslavia, but with different sociopolitical values and economic systems and very different results.  Like everything in life, balance is needed.

A primary focus on profit also creates situations like the Boeing 737 MAX, where a decision to effectively design a new plane but not go through costly regulatory hurdles, and then make a necessary sensor an add-on option, cost hundreds of lives.  Or Facebook where chasing profit has meant compromising privacy (who is really their customer?) with fiascos like Cambridge Analytica.  Uber and background checks on drivers, Google and censorship in China, Wells Fargo and “improper” lending practices… there are innumerable other examples.

A primary focus on profit can create short term rewards, but can also create tremendous if not deadly long term reputation and financial damage and, most importantly, hurt people and society.  Purists would argue that the “invisible hand” will punish such situations, and eventually that’s probably true, but not before a lot of harm can be done.

The professor is correct, however, that many if not most corporate focus on purpose is just window dressing.

They come up with mission statements that appeal to some higher and lofty goals in society, proclaiming that they seek to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow” (Lego), “enable people to make new friends in different cultures” (Airbnb), and “inspire and nurture the human spirit” (Starbucks), rather than make money. Often, however, it seems to leave people feeling somewhat cynical rather than motivated.

Valid point.  Purpose, mission, vision, values, principles – they have to be more than words on a conference room wall.  They have to have true meaning and be driven and reinforced every day by leaders who also support employees who make tough decisions based on them. They have to be discussed, challenged, and embedded in culture and standard work.  I used to run a company where the owners intentionally refused to take orders for a certain class of very profitable products because it would conflict with their religious beliefs.  Making those kinds of decisions is tough, far more than a simple focus on profit, but the rewards, non-financial and even financial, are far greater.

The most successful organizations have a purpose that improves and satisfies a human need, place it in a foundation of principles rooted in sound ethics and integrity, and create customer value and delight by delivering a product to support the purpose.  They know profit is a byproduct, and a metric of how they are doing on their purpose.

I like to think we’ve done that at Gemba Academy, where our purpose is to improve the world by spreading the knowledge and power of continuous improvement.  To do that we hire great people, provide great benefits, continually reinforce a people-focused culture code, and endeavor to first understand and then help others, not just our customers, solve problems.  We try to add value to the community in everything we do, from our core products to our blog, podcasts, speaking, collaborating with organizations like AME and Lean Frontiers, and even working with what others might consider to be competitors.  To us we share a similar purpose.

We strongly believe that if we help make the world a better place, we will also be successful.  After ten years we know it’s true.

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This week’s guest is Amery Williams. Ron and Amery discussed cost reduction and its role in continuous improvement, which can sometimes be controversial. An MP3 audio version of this episode is available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn: 
  • Amery’s favorite quote (1:28)
  • How Amery got started with lean (3:12)
  • What Amery is up to these days (4:57)
  • How cost reduction makes a difference (6:01)
  • How Amery identifies where to cut costs (9:10)
  • Achieving a balance (11:05)
  • Quantifying the cost of poor quality (13:15)
  • The lean tools Amery finds helpful (16:46)
  • Practical tips for unearthing areas of financial waste (18:06)
  • About fishbone diagrams (19:41)
  • The value of video work instructions (21:44)
Podcast Resources Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes! Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone. The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

 NEW! You can now follow the podcast on Spotify here

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

What Do You Think?

How do you feel about cost reduction in the context of a lean initiative?

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A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with Jeff Kaas at his company Kaas Tailored. We discussed their approach to hoshin kanri, gemba walks, visual management, creating flow in a high-mix low-volume environment, and how they are adapting their approach to kaizen after 20 years of learning by doing. We featured Jeff in a podcast, and in the near future we will release an At the Gemba video series sharing what we discussed that day. Not only is this a great a “virtual tour” of Kaas Tailored and how they practice lean management, but it will demonstrate how they serve the community by teaching other organizations.

One lesson I took away from this visit with Jeff was how we be overlooking the essential place of pull in all things. Lean discussion tends to emphasize flow. The origins of awareness of Lean came from Just-in-Time, which is continuous flow production. Many understand Lean to mean identifying customer value, working in value streams to “flow where you can, pull where you must”. There is the popular but debatable notions that six sigma is about quality and “lean is about speed” or flow. Perhaps flow is more noticeable because in our general life experience because time, traffic, cash, water, and so many familiar things flow.

Jeff has set “True Pull” as one of his three long-term objectives for his company. The other two are to become three times better at behaviors and to cut muri, or overburden, in half. Flow is not one of the three. I seem to recall about 10 years ago asking why the objective was pull instead of flow and getting the reply, “Because flow is too hard for us,” in typical Jeff fashion. Today they do a great job with mixed-model flow, perhaps because they pursue true pull. Jeff thinks they still need to get better at pull, mainly in non-production processes that involve human decision-making and information flow.

One illustration of this is that for the past 10 years Jeff has been pushing kaizen. He wants everyone to be engaged in improving, every day. This is challenging in normal conditions, but more so when his 200 employees speak 14 languages. He realized that pushing kaizen was not “True Pull”. The fruit of kaizen should not only be better processes, but people who develop their ability to recognize problems, think through them, and work with others to make things better. Jeff did his best to make the kaizen process simple, clear, fair and supported by people who can coach, but even then the “push” caused some resentment. It becomes harder to find small improvements with regularity, to meet the goal for improvement ideas per person per month. Kaizen was an obligation rather than a joy.

This is a problem many organizations face as they mature in lean management. There is a balancing act between the quality of improvement ideas, the quantity of improvement ideas, and the percentage of people in the organization who are engaged in improving their work. What Jeff has found is that at this stage he needs to create more of a pull to engage people in kaizen, even if this means accepting a lower volume of kaizen ideas in the near term.

Lean begins with the customer pull (defined valued). We map the value stream simply to gather the broken pieces of the chain so we can connect them. We do this to move things along in a flow, but more importantly so that each process can feel the pulse or pull of the next, detect defects, and limit WIP. We pull on one end of the connected chain to see how the chain responds. Most of the time it doesn’t flow smoothly, as there are snags, links break, and we learn more about both the reality of our processes and the nature of customer pull. All through this process, we need to engage people by creating motivation, desire and purpose. That is the pursuit of true pull.

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A critical component of our Green Belt and Black Belt certification program are weekly coaching calls.  We’ve learned that staying in close contact with our candidates is vital to their success.

We’ve also learned that four, specific, questions asked at the right time and with the right intention are extremely value added.  Now, for those who practice Scientific Thinking these questions will look familiar.

Question 1: What’s your next step?  

Our coaching calls happen weekly so this “what’s your next step” question always focuses on the next 5 business days.   These next steps obviously vary depending on where the candidate is in the program.  For some, their next step may be, “Watch 45 minutes of video each day between 3:00 PM and 3:45 PM.”

For others who are actively working on their project it may be, “Complete FMEA with my team by the end of business on Friday and begin to act on countermeasures.”

Question 2: What do you think is going to happen?

Once the candidate has identified their next steps we always ask them to make a prediction on what is going to happen.  In the “video watching” example above this statement may go like this, “I think I’ll be able to pull it off but Wednesday may be harder since our VP is visiting and we have some unplanned meetings.”

At this point… the current coaching call is complete after any questions are answered or advice from the Gemba Academy coach is offered.

We then fast forward to the next coaching call where we continue with two more questions.

Question 3: What actually happened?

The candidate shares what actually happened.  The video watcher will explain what they accomplished and how many videos were watched.  The FMEA candidate will usually share their FMEA with their coach walking them through the process they followed.  And, obviously, any questions the candidate has are answered here and the Gemba Academy coach will offer suggestions and advice as needed.

Question 4: What did you learn?

Finally, the candidate will summarize what they learned.  First, they always reflect on what they learned from a “process” perspective.  For example, they might comment that, “I learned 45 minutes is perfect for all days but Friday where I’m able to do a full hour.”  And the FMEA person might comment, “I learned an FMEA takes far more time than I realized and that it can really grow when you really dig into the potential failure modes.”

The candidate will then reflect on what they learned from an academic or results perspective.

Documenting these Questions

And while walking through all of these questions is extremely value added… I believe the primary reason this process works is because the candidate documents all of these questions and their answers in a virtual project management software.

One Black Belt candidate recently commented that the reason they love this process is because it feels like a form of journaling.  They also see how much progress they are making by skimming through previous question loops.

Give it a Shot

So, if you ever find yourself coaching folks on a regular basis give these 4 questions a shot.  I even use variations of this with my children at home.  It works just as well as it does at work.  There is something magical about breaking things down into smaller steps.

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This week’s guest is Dr. William Harvey. William and Ron discussed William’s research on Toyota Kata, including his process and what he learned from other lean thinkers. An MP3 audio version of this episode is available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn: 
  • How William first learned about lean (3:14)
  • His start in the Marine Corps (4:45)
  • A quote from Henry David Thoreau (5:19)
  • How William learned to manage the process (6:06)
  • William’s research (8:27)
  • Karyn Ross’s role (9:07)
  • His process (11:21)
  • A story about Toyota Kata (12:27)
  • Ron’s story about sports and deliberate practice (15:47)
  • What William learned from Jess Orr (22:31)
  • What surprised William during his research (26:43)
  • The Implementation stage (29:51)
  • The Execution stage (31:31)
  • The Sustainment stage (32:41)
  • William’s current and target conditions (40:41)
  • His definition of success (41:31)
Podcast Resources Subscribe & Never Miss New Episodes! Click to Subscribe in iTunes

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone. The easiest way for iPhone users to listen to the show is via the free, and incredible, Podcast app.

 NEW! You can now follow the podcast on Spotify here

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

What Do You Think?

Do you have a story to share about kata? What has your experience with kata been like thus far?

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Gemba Academy Blog by Jon Miller - 3w ago

The New Year’s message to Toyota employees on January 8, 2019 by CEO Akio Toyoda’s was that times are changing. The automotive industry is in a once-in-a-century technological revolution. Products will need CASE: Connectivity, Autonomous, Sharing, Electrified. This requires new knowledge, skills, technology. The talks of change, bridging today to the future, is never abstract or visionary. Toyoda goes back to fundamentals and gets real. Here are some highlights.

Let’s be pros. What does Toyoda mean by “professionals”? He put up a slide with two Japanese words: specialization or “outstanding expertise in a specific area” and human ability. What special skill or ability do you bring? How good are you at working with other people?

Let’s talk real world. The two-phrase explanation of their real world is Toyota Production System and cost-reduction. This is about business excellence and remaining competitive. This is the foundation.

Let’s get real about the future. Toyoda has no pretense about his company’s approach to product innovation. A slide shows an upward arrows from Imitation to Improvement to Innovation. Yes, the CASE revolution requires innovation, but he essentially says, “Let’s do what we do well, improve incrementally, and innovation will come,” rather than announcing big bets on new technology or chasing trends.

Let’s go to the real place. Toyoda spends a lot of time talking about the gemba. He stresses that he considers any “flesh-and-blood” (血が通ってる職場)workplace to be a gemba even if it is an office. This expression can mean means physical rather than abstract, humane rather than mechanical, warm and compassionate rather than formal and bureaucratic. It is interesting that what Toyoda considers a “gemba” is not primarily “where we add value to the customer” or “where the work gets done” but where the best of humanity is in evidence.

Let’s be real about respect. After showing a video of networking dinner of senior gemba leaders from across Toyota, he says that immediate mutual respect between them is possible because they “speak a common technical language and are genuine professionals.” They understand the shared struggle to gain technical skill. “In the face of technical skill, we can all become humble.” There is always a higher level of skill, we can always learn more, and develop higher levels of technology. It is a humble reminder that scientific knowledge and technical skill are greater than any one of us.

What is a real Toyota leader? The current culture at Toyota is that they value a leader as someone who manages rather than takes action themselves, as a person who has very few weaknesses rather than a person with an extraordinary ability, as a person who brings years of service rather than youth and skill. He wants to change this. He envisions Toyota as a company in which everyone strives to improve themselves and become a “white cap”. The white caps are Chief Leaders oversee 3 to 4 Group Leaders (who themselves oversee 5 to 8 Team Leaders). The CLs are responsible for maintaining a high level of technical know-how and developing those below them. Toyota has been reviewing this structure, roles and responsibilities, and how to bring more young people into the CL roles over the past five years.

Let’s be real about your career. Toyoda’s message is refreshingly honest. “You’re doing this for you, not for Toyota.” Everyone in the room recognizes that lifelong guaranteed employment is no longer a reality. He does not ask the employees to sacrifice and dedicate themselves to the growth of Toyota, with the promise of long-term mutual benefit. He says, “Develop yourselves for your own benefit,” and “Aim to become a professional who can compete outside of Toyota, even without using our name.” In other words, use your time at Toyota as a stepping stone to further your own life and career goals. At the same time he says that Toyota management will strive to build an environment that will make people want to work at Toyota from the bottom of their hearts.” This is a new spin on Taiichi Ohno’s “game of wits” or friendly competition between leader and worker, towards a common goal. Employees improve their skills and employability while management improves the desirability and opportunities to grow at Toyota.

Akio Toyoda continues to take Toyota the “back to basics”, laying out a vision for the future by reflecting deeply on their guiding principles. We are familiar with the importance of gemba, which derives from the principle of genchi genbutsu (going to the scene to confirm for ourselves). Even this comes from a deeper principle that we can only change our reality for the better if we get real, face the truth, speak plainly and engage people as individuals.

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This week we’re sharing an incredible keynote by Dr. Jeffrey Liker that he gave at KataCon5 earlier this year. Dr. Liker shared a wealth of information regarding his background, his lean journey, and the lessons he’s learned along the way. An MP3 audio version of this episode is available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn: 
  • How Dr. Liker got to where he is today (3:53)
  • The reason Dr. Liker became interested in Toyota (15:03)
  • Why he wrote The Toyota Way (17:28)
  • The messages he got from Lean Thinking (19:21)
  • Dr. Liker’s model (21:56)
  • How the tools of lean affect the process (25:30)
  • The problem we’ve historically had with lean (26:41)
  • A defining moment for Dr. Liker (27:14)
  • What Taiichi Ohno was trying to teach (35:04)
  • The importance of having the right philosophy (40:13)
  • What kata did for Dr. Liker (42:04)
  • The real challenge of consulting (46:10)
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What Do You Think?

What, in your opinion, are the most important takeaways from Dr. Liker’s keynote?

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