Lean Blog Challenge Contest Winner


    Here's the winner of the Lean Blog Challenge Contest. Congratulations to Rich, the winner of an MP3 player pre-loaded with the first 13 episodes of the Podcast.

    Have advice for Rich? Feel free to post your comments here. Check back for responses from some leading lean thinkers, including Jamie Flinchbaugh, David Meier, and Bill Hanover.


    Mark and Lean Blog Readers,

    I am currently a lean leader for a 4 Billion dollar corporation. My background is as an operations and plant manager, and I am currently working with a division that manufactures sealing products for various motion control industries and markets. We are a growing business that is doing well financially. The corporation credits our lean efforts for driving growth and margin, and has a somewhat comprehensive lean system based on TPS. The greatest lean challenge I am coming up against in this business is common but very difficult to break through: A culture of urgency, or what Stephen Covey calls “urgency addiction.” This urgency addiction often results in a breakdown of lean tools and systems, cultural barriers to leader standard work, and a failure to fully complete lean transformations.

    A culture of urgency (and the resulting reverence for heroics non-conventional solutions) makes the sustainment of lean tools nearly impossible. For example, we have worked hard to implement finished goods stores and kanban in many of our facilities. Unfortunately, these systems are often ignored or pillaged when urgent demands interfere. What better way to overdrive monthly results than open up our shipping window and empty the finished goods stores? I'm driven to reduce inventory for that end of month snapshot anyway! And why would I build products to “go on the shelf” when I have urgent customer expedites?

    Urgency addiction is also a major barrier to the implementation of standard work, especially for our leaders. The implementation of standard work for operations leaders has been met with disinterest at best and outright hostility at worst. Who has time to work through a checklist of items that have me auditing and checking areas that are running well? Why would a 5S audit or quality check take precedence over a customer quality crisis? Who has time for these daily accountability huddles?

    Finally, the culture of urgency stands in the way of fully completing lean transformations. I am currently involved in a project to reduce raw material inventory, and we are approaching the problem through the use of kanban and the reduction of supplier minimum lot sizes. Yet it is a battle not to have this project seen as an “inventory exercise” that could also involve calling off receipts until next month and manipulation of the data. Why do we need kanban when I can just use MRP? Who has time to review demand and kan ban levels anyway? Suppliers will make me pay more for smaller, more frequent shipments anyway. As soon as the process is brought back into control through focused, heroic efforts the team will likely move on to the next crisis without establishing a system to prevent future recurrences.

    I am currently attempting to battle this culture of urgency through leader standard work, visual factory tools, regular accountability reviews and audits (a factory “cadence”), and training on effective problem solving techniques. Yet last week I had a senior member of the staff come and ask me why his team had to waste time on these things when they were “hitting all their numbers.” So I continue to conduct training, coach our supervisors, and lead lean events knowing that many of our employees will nod their heads and think “that's a nice concept…” and then return to their work seeking pats on the back for their heroic efforts and process workarounds.

    In appreciation for any wisdom and advice,

    Please check out my main blog page at www.leanblog.org

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Moving the culture from the current state to the desired state is the biggest task in our implementation process and we never plan enough time to get that done. We need to take the “C” level and their direct reports and tranform them from the people who “make things happen” to “get the results” into people who will teach, train, and motivate their team to work as a part of a greater whole. Yikes!

      After a presentation in San Antonio in February, a consultant asked me how he could get consistent results from a Lean Cell he had implemented for a client. He reported that while he was on site the cell performed to expectations with very low inventory and outputs that matched the takt requirement, but when he left, the cell went to pieces. He had to go back every few weeks and re-establish the discipline. (His view that he implemented it rather than he lead the team that implemented it explained much of the malaise he described.)

      The simple, but difficult, answer is there needs to be more education, training, and development to make the change self sufficient. Starting with the “C” group and working down the Org chart, ALL of the employees need to understand “why” and they need to understand the mission for change or urgency for change. It is very difficult for an internal manager to carry that load.

      Check with some of the Colleges or Universities in your area to see if they have simulation workshops that can be used repetitively to educate groups of people about why Lean works better than what you currently have. In Texas we have TMAC (Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center), that can come in and put on the Bee Electronics workshop where people go from a poorly organized work flow with a lot of non-value added operations to a very Lean operation in about eight hours with classroom and hands on work to educate the group. Cultural Transition consultants can help by working with management to break through barriers to better communication and alignment.

      Top management needs to lead, but they have to understand where they are going, and they may not know or they may have significant doubts. They got promotoed because they were heroes many times in the past. They may believe that their value to the company will be diminished if they give up the firefighting role. In the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and it are us!”

      Don’t give up. You are going in the right direction and doing the right things. Don’t be afraid to look for help. There are other resources available to do some of the heavy lifting in changing managements’ mindset.

    2. Creating the kind of urgency you want is almost never created through training or even goals. Most urgency is created by some kind of crisis, but not the kind of false urgency that many people like to try to create. Do not create a false crisis.

      There are two things that are important for building urgency during the “good times.” The first is the pursuit of the ideal state. Toyota doesn’t pursue financial goals, in part because financial goals at this point would seem meaningless. How much more of a drumming do you want us to give Ford and GM? you could hear people thinking. No, their motivation is the pursuit of the ideal. All the best individual athletes work this way as well. Tiger doesn’t compete against Vijay, he competes against his ideal of the ideal round, and even more importantly, the ideal swing. Ricky Carmichael, motocross extradinaire, competes against the ideal lap, regardless of whether the competition is 3 bike lengths behind him or 3 laps. The pursuit of the ideal must be a driving force beyond any goal.

      The second element is what this work means for the individual person and even lifestyle. You can reach your goals, but can you reach them and have the life you want. I used to tell my managers that our ideal state was instead of leaving at 7 and feeling like nothing was accomplished, to leave at 5 and feel like we made a difference. The way of life can be more compelling reason to change that the crisis. Some research shows that after facing life-threatening heart conditions with the message of literally “change or die”, only 1 in 10 people actually achieve true lifestyle changes. But when pursuing more energy, better lifestyle, happiness – the change rate is up to 6 times larger. That’s a compelling difference to thinking about getting people to change not because the bad stuff is coming, but to change in pursuit of the good stuff.

    3. I would like to thank David,Chet, Jamie, and Bill for their outstanding responses to my “lean challenge!” All were very insightful and very much appreciated. Also a big thanks to Mark for providing this opportunity and for all he does in keeping this on-line community going!

    4. […] One thing you that you might notice that I have an direct advertiser (The 5S Store) and might take on a few others. One thing that I will continue to value is the editorial integrity of the blog. In our 5S feature last week, there were many negative mentions of 5S (the lean practice, not the store). My goal was to not just say “5S is good” in an effort to help someone sell more 5S tape. If we take on software advertisers, the “Siren Song” series will continue, for example. If it comes down to it, I’d rather risk angering an advertiser than risk losing my readers or my credibility. The blog survived without advertising and it would survive without. I will make sure that ads are relevant to the lean community. I will use proceeds from the blog to help grow the site and will give back through additional contests. […]


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