Process Improvement Blog


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The Self-Serving DNA of a GE Executive

October 21, 2013

GE has been in the news quite a bit recently.

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Just Meet Customers Low Expectations

October 16, 2013

I arrived in Orlando for the 9th Lean Accounting Summit and it is impossible for a lean thinker to be in this town without being reminded by the folks at Disney World of the enormous power of Customer Experience Mapping. I contrast it with a company President who recently told me of the painful experience of calling his own company. Seems he forgot someone’s direct dial number so he called the...

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Picking the Right Neighbors

October 10, 2013

I’m normally not too big on the softer side of things – my old accounting and engineering side coming out, I suppose. So when a company is contemplating transitioning from functional silos to value streams, and they want to understand the benefits in terms of numbers – cycle time reduction, cost impact and so forth I’m usually pretty good with that. But the biggest benefits are the softer ones....

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Transitioning Into New And Growing Sectors

October 08, 2013

You’ll have to pardon me if I raise an eyebrow at the way the word ‘crisis’ is bandied about to describe the government shutdown that has been going on for the last week or so. As something on the order of 9 million manufacturing jobs were lost in large measure due to inane regulations and absurdly imbalanced trade deals over the last twenty years I don’t recall that being viewed as a ‘crisis’ in...

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Faith as Second Nature

October 04, 2013

Mike Rother wrote a book called Toyota Kata, and that book is near the top of the list of essential reading for anyone with aspirations of leading a truly lean enterprise. He describes ‘kata’ thus:

Kata are structured practice routines or protocols, and through physical practice the pattern of a kata becomes second nature, done with little conscious attention and readily available.

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"Thus Ended Efficiency Red Tape"

September 26, 2013

I am revisiting a great book – “My Forty Years With Ford” - written by Charles Sorensen. Sorensen was as close to being in charge of production at Ford during the Model T, genesis of the assembly line, $5 day era. The following is an excerpt from that book that might ring a bell in the days leading up to the Lean Accounting Summit

One of our first bouts with the experts came in the pre-Model T...

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Paving the Road

September 20, 2013

Actor Matt Damon and others are off to a promising start with a manufacturing venture in Haiti called Industrial Revolution II (IRII). “Social advancement for our workers, their families and our neighbors is equally as important to us as delivering our customers the highest quality products and services. Our ‘shared value’ business model embraces the idea that not all profit is created equal....

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School of Lean

September 15, 2013

First a disclaimer: I have absolutely no relationship with the Gemba Academy. I know most of the guys there and get along pretty well with most of them, but I do not, have never, nor to anticipate ever having any sort of business relationship with them. In fact, I am something of a competitor but in a pretty remote way. Further, they did not ask me to write this – in fact they will know I am...

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All Culture is Local

September 09, 2013

Perhaps the oddest path to lean I have observed is a company that needed to empower and involve its employees – not ‘wanted’ – ‘needed’. Their management knew enough about lean to know that it somehow included involving people in decision making and improvement; and they knew that the mid-sized manufacturer that had just opened a plant down the street from them was drawing all of their best...

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The Descent of Microsoft

September 04, 2013

Manaus Brazil is probably the least lean manufacturing location on the plant. It is virtually unreachable by land. Some 750 or so miles up the Amazon River it is a manufacturing hub that is heavily subsidized by the Brazilian government in an effort to create lots of low wage jobs for the native folks who call the Amazon rain forest home. The only road in – a wretched two lane affair, impassable...

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Data Versus Common Sense

September 02, 2013

In the comments to my recent post, The Naysayer Personified, Michael Baudin and I traded thoughts on the notion of common sense. I agree with his latest comments entirely. Common sense, I would suggest, is the most asset a business leader can have. It is the basis for decisions when the data needed to make a decision is lacking or of dubious accuracy – which tends to be the case in just about...

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Draw Your Own Conclusions

August 28, 2013

In order to write the blog I have a daily routine of checking out close to a hundred sources and gathering up everything that looks interesting. usually there is no immediate topic in mind - just articles and opinion pieces with some info that might fit into something sooner or later. Some times there is more good stuff than I have the time and space to write about.

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Piecework and Excellence Cannot Coexist

August 27, 2013

There are only a few absolutes when it comes to lean but one of them is that there has never been a company that achieved true manufacturing excellence that paid its folks on a piecework system. It can’t happen – ever – period. Either you want to make the right product at the right time … or you just want to make a whole lot of stuff. You can’t have it both ways.

It is disappointing to see how...

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The Naysayer Personified

August 26, 2013

In the HBR Blog a fellow by the curious name of Freek Vermeulen bashes what he calls “management pseudo-science”, which runs from Lean and Six Sigma to books such as In Search of Excellence, urging the reader to beware of the “Sirens” of such ideas – “to do what Odysseus instructed his men to do, when the Sirens were in sight: plug your ears with beeswax and just sail past.

As I read the piece I...

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Speed is Free

August 20, 2013

A BusinessWeek article suggests that FedEx and UPS have a dilemma – sometimes the box doesn’t have to be there overnight. I think they have a bigger problem – the box should never take a week.

I really have no major criticism of either FedEx or UPS. FedEx revolutionized the small package delivery business, and UPS has pushed them hard. Between them they are a critical link in the inevitable,...

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Aiding and Abetting Absurd Management

August 19, 2013

Aiding and abetting someone in the commission of a crime makes the person doing the aiding and abetting just as guilty as the person actually pulling of the evil deed. Put another way, the guy driving the getaway car is just as guilty as the guy who puts on a mask and goes into the liquor store with a gun.

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Use 'em or lose 'em

August 16, 2013

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, “There's heavy demand in all sectors for ‘lean’ specialists.” That’s quite an understatement, and hardly limited to Canada (although our neighbors to the north are starting to figure out lean at an amazing pace). The quickest way for senior leaders to drive their best and brightest people into the pool of candidates for those jobs is to provide lip service...

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Pick the Bone Dry Before Reaching for Another

August 15, 2013

A woman I know can get more meat from a chicken bone than anyone else I have ever seen. While most people eat the parts easy to get to she is a master of getting every little bit from every nook and cranny. She goes at it slowly but very thoroughly. It truly is an amazing thing to see, but when she is finished that chicken bone looks like it has been lying in the desert for a few years. Most...

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Middle Managers Between Rocks and Hard Places

August 09, 2013

The Wall Street Journal writes about training efforts for middle management – “part leadership lesson, part pep rally, and part strategy session” at one company. Nothing wrong with leadership training, pep rallies or strategy sessions, I suppose, but those are hardly the gaps middle management needs to have filled. Delegating the impossible to middle management, then blaming them for not...

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Mechanism of Production Function

August 08, 2013

This is more a testament to my advanced age than anything else, but long ago, before John Shook’s excellent book on Value Stream Mapping was written; in fact well before Jim Womack et al coined the term “lean manufacturing” I was fortunate enough to come across a copy of Shingo’s original ‘Green Book’ – the one written in wretched Jangalese. From it I first learned the fundamentals of process...

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Customers Are Not Geese

August 07, 2013

It is amazing that a fairly extensive article on pricing can appear in a publication like The Economist and not once refer to either value or capacity. It is not so amazing, however, that the entire article revolves around how to increase prices- “putting prices up” and viewing the whole exercise as doing “better at plucking the goose to obtain the most feathers with the least hissing”. It...

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Top Down or Bottom Up?

August 06, 2013

The liberal mindset is that, left to his or her own devices, the average person will live a miserable life. In some cases because that average person is a victim of evil rich folks, in some cases because he or she is inherently evil himself and needs government restricting him, and in most cases because the typical folk just aren’t smart enough to figure things out. In any case, the liberal...

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Innovating Processes Instead of Products

August 01, 2013

Interesting article in BusinessWeek on the success of SodaStream. They miss the most fundamental reason for SodaStream’s success, however, and that is the basic improvement in the value proposition it offers. For those unfamiliar with SodaStream, they sell a product that lets you make your own soda at home, rather than purchasing premade soda from the likes of Coke and Pepsi.

The problem with...

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The Mother of Invention

July 30, 2013

I had a chance to stop and visit an old client the other day – an specialized injection molder of consumer products - and was pleased to learn that their manufacturing cycle was 63% better than it had been when I first met them. By manufacturing cycle I mean the normal cycle it takes for them to mold some of everything …. Make product A – change the machine over and make product B – change over...

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Lincoln on True North

July 24, 2013

I don’t know if Abraham Lincoln actually said this, or if it is the figment of Steven Spielberg and some Hollywood screen writer. Regardless, there is considerable wisdom in one of Lincoln’s lines from the movie, “Lincoln

“The compass I learned when I was surveying – It’ll tell you true north from where you are standing; but it’s got no advice about the swamps, deserts and chasms that you’ll...

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