Archive | November 2014

The ogre principle


Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Donkey: Example?
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Shrek: No!
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
[walks off]
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. CAKE! Everybody loves cake! Cakes have layers!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait.”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!

Changing is like an ogre. Stinky? Maybe. Makes you cry? Sometimes. And be sure that most people don’t like it.

And changing certainly has layers: it’s easy (well, not that “easy”, but you know what I mean) to simply focus on the process and forget everything else, but this is an error. There are many aspects to consider, some of the most important are:

  1. The “productive” process: what activities you do.
    • Is there a work standard?
    • Is the work standard used as a continuous improvement tool?
    • Are critical operation points clearly indicated?
    • Are quality parameters clearly indicated?
    • Is work balanced and shyncronized?
  2. The “management” process: how you control work.
    • Is work flow visible?
    • Is performance visible?
    • Are problems evident?
    • Are escalation processes clear?
  3. People: those who do the work.
    • Is there enough capacity?
    • Do operators have the correct skills / training?
  4. Structure:how people is organized
    • Does the structure promote fast problem solving?
    • Does the structure promote communication?
    • Is there a clear process owner?
  5. Leadership: leaders behaviours
    • Do leaders check frequently the process at the gemba?
    • Do leaders remove the barriers that prevent improvement?

These questions are just some examples, a comprenhensive reference checklist can be found in many Lean books (one of my favorites: “New shop floor management” by Kiyoshi Suzaki). All these aspects are very important and should be evaluated during any improvement process. Sometimes one of them is more important than the rest, but failing to see the complete picture can cause a unexpected (but probable) failure.

Problems? Great!


It is incredible how enlightening can it be to observe a company/department handling issues. It is a great indicator of the level of maturity in problem solving and team building, which are 2 key skills for Lean. Companies generally must make a journey from a low-developed problem solving culture to a more advanced one, which takes time and needs a lot of management support. These are typical steps in that journey:

– Blaming (“it’s not my fault”): We all are probably programmed to react this way: our DNA is shouting “It was not me!” as a self-defence instrument. It shows lack of trust among team members and no focus at all in what really matters: WHY things happened (and not WHO did them). As a consequence, problems are never solved. Problem solving tools are useless in this case and implementing them is pure waste. What the team needs is to rebuild trust first: without this nothing else will work.

– Justification (“it’s not so important”): Sometimes you find teams who cooperate well, but when they investigate problems, their focus is in proving that the impact was low, the problem was not so important and therefore life can go on without major changes. Although impact evaluation is important to know if the product/service has been affected, this situation is worse than it seems. In many cases problems are hidden when the justification is not obvious. It does not promote a problem solving culture and issues can be seen as “things that happen that nobody can stop”. And with this mindset problems are rarely eliminated so they will come back again and again.

– Cause-hunting (“anything goes”): In some cases, teams are genuinely encouraged to know why things happened. They analyze, investigate and come back with a big list of so-called root causes. These lists generally contain 3 type of causes:

1) what caused the problem
2) what could have mitigated the effect
3) what could have make you discover the problem

Only the first are real root causes. Actions that try to”find out if something bad happened” or “mitigate the effect of problems” are good things to do; however they don’t eliminate the problem, which is the ultimate goal of problem solving. Bad news here: “discovering problems” and “mitigating effects” is generally much easier than “eliminating the problem forever”

– Root cause analysis (“solve the problem forever”): Some might say that this approach is very similar to the previous one. It is not. Many techniques are the same, but the cultural approach is totally different. Working hard to eliminate the problems is the only real path for continuous improvement.

Having problems is not a problem. Doing nothing to solve them is a big one.


Excellent page with reports, templates and great, great interviews. Don’t miss the queueing theory section!

Are audits useful?


Let’s be perfectly clear: Audits are a means, not a goal.

Lean management is based in 3 main elements: “Visual Controls”, “Daily Accountability Processes” and “Standard Work for Leaders” (you can find all you want to know about this topic in the worderful book “Creating a Lean Culture” by David Mann). Audits, in a sense of monitoring both the process and the results, fit best in the “standard work for leaders” category.

Audits main purpose is to find problems: checking visual controls, finding gaps, holding people accountable to complete their improvement actions. They help create good habits and change behaviours that drive improvement. Audits will not work if they are used as punishment. They will fail if they are considered an end in itself. They are useless unless they are fair and encourage an appropiate behaviour that everybody understands and shares. This is very important and has to be done in this order: first agree how to do the work with those who really do it (the standard), then agree what is “wrong” and how to monitor it (the audit).

If they are used simply to catch and punish the offender, you will get the “radar on the highway” effect: everybody slows down to pass the checkpoint, but speeds up right after it. This is useless and will kill the motivation of those who really want to improve their work.

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Improvement Kata

Kata is a Japanese word that describes detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs (thanks, Wikipedia!). Its goal is to transmit proven techniques and make them so natural that they can be used and adapted to each situation quickly and without hesitation. The key concepts here are that katas “are practiced everyday” and “adapt to the circumstances”, they are not strict routines that fit everywhere without much thinking.

The concept of Kata fits well in Lean. Lean means everyday work. Lean means practicing everyday proven problem solving techniques. Lean means adapting to the circumstances. Lean is not a project.

Coaching plays a key role in developing Lean thinking. Asking questions that generate the right mental process and using PDCA cycles to practice and learn are 2 of the most important things to do. This is an example of how to do it, presented at a recent Lean conference by the Lean Management Instituut (Netherlands)


Remember: Small improvement steps (think what to do, do it, see if it works, consider what you have learned) beat big improvement projects.