Archive | October 2014

A Daniel T. Jones conference


Last Friday I had the pleasure to attend a Daniel T. Jones conference. His speech was full of thoughts and insights about lean, based on his many years of experience. Some remarkable ideas he shared with the audience are:

Lean as a management system for delivering accelerated performance. This means that Lean is a dynamic system and not simply “a better way of using resources” (static). The 2 main differences with classic management (Taylorism) are a) Lean involves front line in improving their work and b) Lean promotes learning through repeated practice in solving problems

Classic management rules: “command and control” + “experts own improvement” + “compliance”. Lean transformation means: Focus (“From managing by data to closing vital few gaps”) + Build cooperation (“From silo politics to focus on delivering value”) + Building capabilities (“The organization supports front line learning”).

Learning practice a) begins with knowledge of the work creating a standard (TWI), b) deepens using PDCA /Lean tools and c) uses A3 to solve business problems

Management must move from “telling what to do” to “asking questions that provoke the right thinking”. Telling people what to do takes away responsibility from the person. Management main goals are a) find and frame problems by observing (at the gemba) front line learning and b) challenge, enable and remove obstacles for front line while they are solving problems.

And his final summary!

  • Expert roll-out does not work. It is not sustainable.
  • Lean is not a Copy-and-Paste exercise
  • Manager commitment is basic. The classic expectation “You are my lean expert, solve my problems for me” is an error.
  • Lean means everyday work. From everybody.
  • “Accelerated incremental learning” beats “big projects”
  • Management most important question is not “How can I help you?”. It is “What are your problems?”


Planet Lean

Planet Lean is a great resource to find articles, case studies and interviews about lean. Most collaborators belong or have worked with the Lean Enterprise Institute or one of their affiliates.

Taking data: the incredible power of the data sheet

If you work with Lean, taking data is something you will do sooner or later. There are several tools and templates available, but typically a sheet of paper and a pencil will work. Measuring services is not an exception, but the way of taking the information can be a little different. Normally you can start with a VSM for services and then you will probably need more detail from some specific activities. This is where the data sheet can help you. I’m attaching a picture of a data sheet example we’ve just used to help a person (who belongs to a service department) measure his work. This is the result and some tips.

Data sheet example

Tips: data sheet

  • Make sure you write the date: week/day/hour
  • Include the “measuring rules” in the data sheet, so that nobody forgets them. These are some things you might want to consider if you are measuring services:
    • Use the 10% rule: Every task that represents more that 10% of the total, should be considered separately (e.g. if you are measuring a week of work (40 hours), anything that lasts more that 4 hours should be considered as a separate activity)
    • However, don’t measure small tasks that don’t happen very often (e.g anything less than 10 minutes)
    • Separate “predictable” work from “unexpected” work. Predictable work can be easily prepared and allocated, unexpected work can ruin your day. They have to be handled differently. Agree upfront the meaning of “unexpected”.
    • Don’t aggregate tasks that are separated in the reality. (e.g. if you have had 3 one-hour-meetings to define customer requirements, write “1+1+1 hours”, instead of “3 hours”). It is not the same having big chunks of time than having small portions of time spread during your day.
    • Don’t measure things that are not work. Non-working activities belong to the personal life and have to be respected.
  • Group things that are similar. Separate things that are different.
  • Make totals by day and by activity. Pareto? Why not.
  • Write your data at least daily. Preferably take the data sheet with you and write down things as they happen. Don’t wait until the end of the week to write it all.

Tips: how to do it.

  • Teach people! Data sheets are easy to use, but some training can be priceless (and avoid useless data, reworks and frustration)
  • Never measure anybody’s work if you have not asked for permission and explained why you want the data and what you pretend to do with it. Do you want to kill your lean program? Fill your working area with people nobody knows, taking notes and asking strange questions.
  • Ask each person to measure their own work. Let them own the data. Sometimes this can be difficult or dangerous. If this is the case, do it yourself, but show your notes and numbers to the person being measured right after you are finished.
  • Review the datasheet frequently with the worker. It’s easy to make mistakes at the beginning. Don’t let them take wrong data for weeks.

These tips typically work and can help you take useful data with little effort. But don’t take them as universal laws that govern the world. Use you common sense, think and put in place a data sheet that makes sense for you.

What to do next? More information coming soon!

The spirit of Lean

Sometimes it is hard to explain what Lean really means. When talking to people new to this world, it can be really hard to make clear that tools and techniques are not the most important part. It is more about cultural transformation.

This article explains really well some of the more important aspects:

  • Lean needs a purpose. People must know why you are in business. You have to know too. Don’t go Lean until you know why you exist. You create value for your customer, this is where you must excel.
  • Lean is learning: teach your people continuously, let them try and fail. Don’t hide your problems, use them instead as a learning tool. Improvement is done best using baby steps.
  • Lean is about the process: a great process can only produce great results (value). Watching the process (at the gemba) is the only way to learn.
  • Lean is not about the money: Yes, money is important, but it is rarely the most important thing. Time (lead time), safety (ergonomics) or quality (defects) have typically more impact in customer satisfaction. Money can take care of itself.

“What is Lean?” is not easy to answer. Learn more from the experts:


Don’t live in a museum!


Visual management is a complex concept that is often misused. Its main problem is that it looks easy to do, but it is not. This sounds obvious, but there it goes anyway: “visual management” must be visual and must help manage a process (value stream). Easy, right? Not really.

  • “Visual” means that its main purpose is to make problems visible. Of course some visual boards have other extra uses, like showing the flow of the product or service, aligning your team, sharing metrics…. but if it does not show clearly if you are in trouble or not, you’ve missed the point.
  • “Management” means it must generate action. Problems are shown to know where the product is not flowing, find out why and put in place actions that correct the problem and hopefully eliminate it forever.

Visual controls can’t work alone. A board with nice colors won’t help you much without “Standard accountability processes” and “Leader standard work”. A great resource to learn more about this topic is “Creating a lean culture” by David Mann.

If your boards and panels don’t show problems or drive actions, you don’t have visual management, you have a museum.