Tag Archives: Lean thinking

Problems with Management and Business Books

We really need to change how we improve the practice of management. Far too often management strategies are just the latest fad from some new book that successfully marketed an idea. The marketing effectiveness of a book, or consultant, has very limited correlation to their ability to improve management, in my experience. It is often true that they make very good keynote speakers, however. So if you want an entertaining keynote speaker looking at the authors of the best selling business books may make sense. But if you want to improve management, I don’t see much value in doing so.

Year after year we have the same basic business books repackaged and marketed. They present a magic bullet to solve all your problems. Except their bullet is far from magic. Usually it does more harm than good.

They amazingly oversimplify things to make their bullet seem magic. This also fails miserably in practice. There are usually not good management options that are simple and easy. Usually the answers for what should be done is a lot of “it depends,” which people don’t seem to like.

Authors fail to place their book (or their trademarked strategy they hope turns into a movement/fad) in the appropriate context. Most books just take a few good ideas from decades old practices add a new name and leave off all references to the deep meaning that originally was there. I guess quite often the authors don’t even know enough about management history to know this is the case; I guess they really think their minor tweak to a portion of business process re-engineering is actually new. This also would make it hard for them to place their ideas within a management philosophy.

On a related note, I find it interesting how different the lean manufacturing and six sigma communities are online (and this has been going on for more than a decade). One of the problems with six sigma is there is so little open, building on the practices of six sigma. Everyone is so concerned with their marketing gimmick for six sigma that that don’t move forward a common body of work. This is a serious problem for six sigma. Lean manufacturing benefits hugely from the huge community of those building openly on the body of knowledge and practice of lean. You can find 10 great lean manufacturing blogs without trouble. You will have difficulty finding 3 good six sigma blogs (and even those spend most of the time on other areas – often lean thinking).
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Why Lean is Different

[the broken link to the embedded video was removed]

Short webcast by Michael Ballé discusses what makes lean manufacturing different: going to where the work is done, standardize processes (from the gemba view), practice respect for people and continually improve. Lean thinking focuses on achieving better results and through that process improves trust and teamwork internally, as well as better supplier and customer relationships.

Related: Non-technical Control Chart WebcastMihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, Fulfillment and Flowlean management, books, articles…

Management Improvement Carnival #128

The management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with select recent management blog posts. I also collect management improvement articles through Curious Cat Management Articles, you can subscribe via RSS to new article additions.

  • Resist your machine thinking! [the broken link was removed] by Jeff Liker – “To maintain consistent output, one must continually adjust the system to changing environmental conditions. This is called dynamic homeostasis in systems thinking, or running to stay in place. … Maintenance comes from having clearly defined standards, observing carefully for deviations from those standards, and then developing and implementing countermeasures to eliminate the deviations.”
  • 5 lessons from an Information Architecture career by Martin Belam – “Over the years I’ve learned that pragmatic UX that gets software shipped is more valuable than perfecting your pre-build documentation.
    This lesson is very much tied up with the ideas of progressive iterations, and improving things from the base of a ‘minimum viable product’… There is nothing less compelling than shipping nothing at all.”
  • Pop quiz: Lean-ify this iPad case by Kathleen Fasanella – “Here is a summary of the specific items you mentioned: Having the work piece, waste can, tools and equipment arranged optimally. Component placement was (mostly) eyeballed, several suggested jigs or templates for layout. David suggested notching for more efficient placement. The fabric covers should have been cut with rounded covers to eliminate the messy and wasteful step of hand trimming.”
  • Demystifying the Product Owner by – the product owner leads product discovery: “to help identify and describe requirements, and to ensure that the product backlog is ready for the next sprint planning meeting. It also means that the product owner has to engage in product planning, visioning and product road mapping…”
  • [the broken link to the embedded video was removed] Gary Hamel at Dell: How can IT organizations adapt?
  • Working in the cracks in the system [the broken link was removed] by Wally Bock – “Use the situation as an opportunity for conversation. Talk to John in private. Tell him you’ve noticed that he’s been coming in late and tell him why that matters to you and to the team. After you say that, wait for John to speak next.”
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Toyota Kata Song – The Times They Are Changing

Very well done song, Toyota Kata – Managing by Means, by Doug Hendren – to the music of “The Times They are A-changing” by Bob Dylan. Doug sounds impressively similar to Dylan and the words are actually wonderful.

Managing by results, it don’t work anymore. Don’t stand in your office, go to the shop floor

to really improve you must iterate, see our problems as treasures before its too late, and eliminate waste, whether little or great. Take baby steps up to your dreams. And gradually reach a more flexible state if we want to manage by means.

Via: Lean Blog

Related: Toyota Kata (book)Learn Lean by Doing LeanThey Will Know We are Christians By Our LoveIf Your Staff Doesn’t Bring You Problems That is a Bad Sign

Management Improvement Carnival #124

photo of Helitrope Ridge Trail

Helitrope Ridge Trail, North Cascades National Park

The management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with select recent management blog posts. Also try Curious Cat Management Articles for online management improvement articles.

  • Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret by Brad Isaac – “Think for a moment about what action would make the most profound impact on your life if you worked it every day. That is the action I recommend you put on your Seinfeld calendar.”
  • Employee Engagement by Krista Ogburn Francis – “Meaningful work. Most people want to know that their 8+/- hours of effort aren’t in vain, that their day results in a product or service they can believe in and feel proud of.”
  • Going to Gemba by Pascal Dennis – “The more time spent at Gemba, the more you know about what’s actually happening, so the less time you need to spend in meetings trying to figure out what’s going on, and the faster you’ll solve small problems before they become large business killers.”
  • The 0th Trap of Teams by Esther Derby – “The zeroeth trap of teams is calling any old group of people a team and then expecting teamwork and collaboration. “
  • More Problems is a Good Thing by Kevin Meyer – “To fix the process you must first understand the failures occurring in the process. If you focus on the person caught up in the failed process you won’t learn about many of the failures and therefore won’t have the ability to even start to fix and improve the process.”
  • Five Steps to Breaking the Multitasking Cycle by Holly Green – “research shows time and again that business leaders need long periods of uninterrupted time in order to perform at peak levels… Most important, it enables us to refocus on the high-level activities we should be doing that move us closer to our strategic goals.”
  • The Toyota Way has worked as it’s supposed to, helping the company to face its challenges by Michael Ballé – “The “problems first” spirit is still alive and well in Toyota, from the president’s comments to reactions on the floor, and as we all know, facing problems doesn’t make them disappear in the instant: it’s a long hard slog. But Toyota has expressed its challenges, and has been working at solving them.”
  • The Fine Line Between Micro-Management and Surfacing Problems by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “The problem is that you cannot manage work that you cannot see… The difference between engagement and micro-management is how management responds to this increased transparency.”
  • How to Balance Life and Work – “I want you to pause for a minute, you wretched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.” Nigel Marsh paraphrasing Saint Benedict.

Related: Blame the Road, Not the Personmanagement and leadership quotesphotos of North Cascades National Park

Management Improvement Carnival #121

This edition of the Management Improvement Carnival is #121 (editions 119 and 120 were the annual 2010 blog reviews part 1 and part 2). Also try Curious Cat Management Articles for online management improvement articles: you can subscribe to an RSS feed for management articles now.

  • Managing Nerds – “Until you’ve experienced the solving of a seemingly impossible problem, it’s hard to understand how far a nerd will go to protect his problem solving focus and you can help. The road to either High is a mental state traditionally called the Zone. There are three things to know about the Zone: 1. The almost-constant quest of the nerd is managing all the crap that is preventing us from entering the Zone as we search for the Highs. Meetings, casual useless fly-bys…”
  • Jeffrey Liker on Toyota’s Challenges and His New Books by Mark Graban – “Toyota didn’t react very quickly because the engineers in Japan didn’t see these problems as defects with the car. Engineers in Japan are pretty isolated from the gemba and they don’t understand how Americans would use the car… ‘The ultimate root cause was not listening to customers well enough and they took too a long time to investigate and respond.’ That was the problem they needed to solve.”
  • What being in a band taught me about management by Neil Johnson – “Limit work in progress – Getting a song to a performable state is massive step. It brings the group together and feels like progress. It’s better to have three presentable songs than nine nearly finished ‘things’, not least because it then provides a means for feedback from outside of the group.”
  • We Need Less FAKE Lean, More FAIL Lean by Jon Miller – “What we need is less FAKE lean and more FAIL lean: the type of lean that stretches, bends and turns things inside out to the point where were are forced to look at the mental, business and organizational models and challenge our dogma that what worked in the past is still valid today.”
  • Experience agile in an accelerated form and focus on innovation at the same time by Yuval Yeret – ” During the sprints we worked on elaborating our ideas, using Agile User Stories and techniques such as story mapping, as well as started implementation and delivery of “Working Software”. It proved a real challenge to deliver on such short sprints, especially for those of us who didn’t have a somewhat formed idea at the starting point.”
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Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

As I said in a post a few years ago on respect for people and Taiichi Ohno‘s sometimes very aggressive style:

The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticism. In fact often if you respect someone you can be much more direct and critical than you can with someone you treat as though they don’t have the ability to listen to hard truths and improve. I think we often have so little respect for people we just avoid dealing with anything touchy because we don’t want to risk they won’t be able to react to the issues raised and will instead just react as if they have been personally attacked.

Masaaki Imai described Taiichi Ohno’s style this way

he had such a high expectation of the staff and managers under him. If they were not doing something the right way, he would explode. And when he exploded, he really would explode.

But for those who came to him and really asked for help, he was very patient. He wouldn’t give them the answer, but preferred to provide them with enough of an understanding of the situation, as well as help on how they could deal with the problem. So he was very much a teacher and a leader.

I would say that while Taiichi Ohno was truly remarkable that doesn’t mean he did everything right. And he might well have failed to communicate in a way that conveyed respect for people fully, when he exploded. He was great, but his methods could also be improved. At the same time some extent showing some fire may be helpful at times to get people to take things seriously (avoiding the need for this is even better, but not everything will be done as well as it possible can be).
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Annual Management Blog Review: Software, Manufacturing and Leadership

In my contribution to the 3rd annual management blog roundup I will take a look at 3 blogs: Dennis Stevens, How to implement “Lean Thinking” in a Business and the Three Star Leadership Blog. This year 14 management bloggers contributed to highlight over 40 blogs, be sure to check out all the posts.

photo of Dennis Stevens

Dennis Stevens


Dennis Stevens writes a blog of the same name focused on agile software development principles with a strong focus on Dr. Deming’s ideas and lean thinking.

  • What’s Deming got to do with Agile – “Deming is not about manufacturing. He is about showing management how to create an environment for success. Deming is about culture – and his System of Profound Knowledge creates an environment that is especially effective for knowledge work… In knowledge work, where products are invisible, impact can be difficult to demonstrate. Kanban clearly shows progress and demonstrates the contribution of each person to the delivery of value. Additionally, PDSA provides opportunities for everyone to contribute to improving the quality of the organization’s capabilities.”
  • Kanban Mental Models and Double Loop Learning – “the Kanban cycle supports continuous learning that the team internalizes. Argyris’s model gives us some insight into why Kanban teams are consistently achieving double-loop learning and rapid maturity.”
  • We are Doing QQ All Wrong– “Developers should be using tools that support automated unit testing and only checking in code that passes all their unit tests… Test driven development or test just after development should be ubiquitous – but it is not. Continuous Integration environments that ensure that each check-in results in a valid and testable platform help teams perform integration and build validation.”
  • Shorten and Reduce Variability in Lead Times Using Kanban – ” identify and leverage strategies like reducing waiting, reducing rework, making work ready, defining small size work, and swarming, to improve lead time. Tracking causes of defects and blockages can help make decisions to focus these strategies appropriately. Reducing lead time duration and variability will result in increased predictability, faster feedback, improved flexibility and responsiveness.”
photo of Tracey Richardson

Tracey Richardson

Tracey Richardson writes the How to implement “Lean Thinking” in a Business blog focused on the lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System.

  • Common Mistakes when we are Problem Solving – “Not utilizing the ‘Power of the gemba’,–or often referred to as “Go see the work/process“.!! I often see teams working together in a room trying to solve the problem by using their experiences, hypothetical guesses, and what their opinion is. I quickly disperse the huddle to “go-see” with their own eyes the current situation.”
  • How many different types of A3’s are there? – “I will briefly describe the 4 different types of A3’s and when to use them based on my experience: Problem Solving A3, Proposal A3, Status Report A3, Strategic Planning A3. All A3’s should follow the PDCA thinking regardless of which type you are working on.”
  • Why is asking “Why” so important? – “It is important to ask why repeatedly when visiting the gemba to determine what is current happening versus what should be happening. In many cases we stop at a symptom to the problem because we are often pressured for results and quickly solving the problem without going past the symptom seems to be the best answer.” [this one is actually from 2009 but I included it anyway – John]

Deming Seminar in Singapore: New Philosophy of Management

image of the Deming medal

The W. Edwards Deming Institute is working with the NTUC LearningHub to offer management seminars in Singapore. I will be co-facilitating at several seminars in Singapore with Kelly Allan and Kevin Cahill next month.

The 2 1/2 day Seminar, Deming’s New Philosophy of Management, is open for registration to the public so if you want to join us, sign up (link removed) for the seminar which will be held January 18 to 20, 2011 in Singapore.

In the seminar you will learn the way of thinking taught by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Those ideas have been used by leading companies around the world and the value of these management ideas is as high today as it has ever been. Applying these ideas will allow your organization to achieve higher quality, lower costs and increased productivity. As regular readers of this blog know I often write about these ideas here.

Seminar Overview
Application of Dr. Deming’s “New Philosophy of Management” gives you the insight to remove barriers to success, increase efficiencies, reduce waste, boost motivation, stimulate innovation and understand your organization and its real capabilities. Some improvements are as simple as stopping current practices and enjoying productivity increases. Others require learning and understanding the four key components of the “New Philosophy of Management:”

The seminar is conducted with facilitators. It is not lecture style and is interactive and significant time is spent in exercises or discussions and their application. The seminar is based on Dr. Deming’s two books on management – Out of the Crisis and The New Economics. It focuses on a philosophy of four components that lead to understanding of how the organization can work as a system, how an organization can learn as it develops, how to get the best out of people, and interpret data.

After the seminar you will have an understanding of the four critical elements of Deming’s “New Philosophy of Management” and how to apply it within your organization. They are:

Who Should Attend
The seminar material is applicable to senior executives and management in every size of business and service organization, education, retail, health care, government and manufacturing. It will benefit those being introduced to Deming’s thinking for the first time as well as those familiar with his philosophy.

Management Improvement Carnival #118

Mike Wroblewski is hosting the Management Improvement Carnival #118 on the Got Boondoggle? blog, highlights include:

  • Voice of Customer (VOC): What does it mean? By Mark Wheeler – “Most companies have some type of VOC program in place. Many programs fall short of delivering measurable value. This failure often lies at the definition level of VOC. But how do you actually define it?”
  • He Should Have Seen It by Mark Rosenthal – “We talk about 5S, separating the necessary from the unnecessary, a lot, but usually apply it to things. What about information?” (Also read the link in this post!)
  • Going to Gemba with Grandma by John Wetzel- “I saw something that I would never have discovered if I hadn’t gone to the gemba.”

Related: Management Improvement Carnival #97Management Improvement Carnival #82Management and Leadership Quotes