Archive | September 2014

First do not harm


One of the principles of medicine is not to hurt your patient (“First do no harm”). The same happens with lean: the principle of “respect for people” is basic and applies both to your workers and your customers. As Mr. Ok once said to me, “respect for people means developing, challenging and listening to your people. You also show it if you are honest and apply to yourself the same rules you demand to others. It is not being nice. Sometimes telling somebody that he is wrong is the greatest mark of respect possible”.

A team that does not feel respected will not support and improve the process. Take into account the following:

  • Make your people work in improvement projects that make sense and are important. Few things are more frustrating that working hard in something nobody cares about (Purpose).
  • Never change anything without involving those who do the work. Let them develop their own ideas and decide what to implement. Let them try things you don’t agree with. Let them fail. Make them accountable for the results. (Autonomy).
  • Teach your people the lean concepts they need and then let them practice and teach others. Create experts who are a reference among their peers (Mastery).
  • Support the team and help them when they are in trouble, but don’t interfere or force them to implement the ideas you like.

Few lean projects fail because the tools and techniques have been used wrong. Even if this happens, there is always a second chance to try something different. Second chances are much harder to get when people do not feel respected.



Change is a strange animal. It is present everyday, all the time in our life. We are the people we are because of it. However, most people feel unsafe when change knocks at their door, especially if they feel they are not controlling it. This “lack of control” feeling happens very often in Lean projects. New ways of working (flow), making work visible (standards), making problems visible (visual management): all this can make everybody feel uncomfortable. Middle management and experienced staff are even more vulnerable to this sensation. The good news is that this fear to change can be mitigated.

In Lean, the amount of “change” you get is not proportional to the amount of “work” you put in place. It works instead pretty much as walking along a seesaw. At the beginning the slope is high, and every step is hard to take. A lot of energy is required to move one inch forward (Typically things don’t work the first time you try them, people don’t understand the counterintuitive lean concepts, performance and moral go down, almost everybody feels all this lean thing is a big error). Communication is key here. People who start believing and are working hard to make it happen need to be supported. They have to know that things apparently are not moving on, but this is only on the surface. Change is happening, but it is not visible yet.

Then, one day, something happens. A critical mass of people have learned how to work together to solve the initial problems and create flow. Issues are solved quicker than before, lead time goes down, less defects get to the customer, training is easier. The team has walked long enough along the seesaw to make it swing. Now the slope down is easy to walk, and more and more improvements are done with little extra effort. Change has happened. And this is great!

More information on changing and Lean can be found here:


Human motivation is one of the most powerful forces of the universe. A motivated person feels he is working in something larger than himself, increasing commitment and therefore the quality of the work. You really want a very motivated team in any improvement project. The problem is that nobody can motivate others, because motivation at its best comes from the inside. The best one can do is to promote the best environment for intrinsic motivation to happen. Research shows that the following aspects are critical and have to be present to get the most from your improvement team:

  • Autonomy: Allow the team to take their own decisions. Let them decide and implement. There are few better show stoppers for a team that noticing that managers have already decided what to do and will not consider their ideas.
  • Mastery: Allow the team to learn tools and use them to improve their own work. Create experts and let them teach their peers.
  • Purpose: Allow the team to work in problems that matter. Pick something that really needs to be solved.

This video is a nice introduction to these ideas on motivation:

How to mislead everybody



Visuals are great tools to reduce errors and increase speed. However they must be designed with care, because wrong visuals are worse than no visuals at all.

The picture above shows a signal in LA airport indicating the direction to the boarding gates. Apparently going either to the left or to the right is ok for anybody, but passengers soon find out that gates to the left are for business class and gates to the right for economy class. The signal is not strictly wrong but is definitely confusing. As a result, crowds of people were wandering around trying to find out were the boarding gates were, which produces waste in the “boarding process”: defects (wrong gate), waiting (queueing twice), transport (suitcases moving more than needed), motion (people moving more than needed),…

This is another example from Chicago airport:


This gate monitor showed for more than 2 hours a flight to LA, but the plane really flew to Las Vegas (as the rest of the monitors in the airport correctly indicated) . I counted more than 50 people who asked if Las Vegas was really the destination when they got to the gate. The gate crew called the maintenance department at least 2 times to repair the monitor (no success). When we were boarding, some passengers were still a bit worried about being on the wrong plane.

When designing visuals, don’t let them be misleading. A visual is a very simple and effective way of helping people. Make sure they really help.