Lean Challenge Response: Bill Hanover


Here is a response to the Lean Challenge contest entry (click here to read the situation submitted by Rich, a blog reader). Click on the “Contest” link at the bottom of this post to see more responses. If you have advice, please leave a comment on the main page here.

This response is from Lean Blog contributor and lean consultant


This note sparks many many thoughts, some of which I think the author would find “off the mark.”

First off, is he operating under the assumption that he has “full support” from the CEO/Pres. etc. but just has an “urgency problem?” If so, he is mistaken. He lacks genuine and complete buy-in from the chiefs and others “on-high” for sure. This is really the bigger issue in my way of thinking.

Secondly, I am an advocate of throwing systems and structures out the window in the event of a “real” customer emergency as long as people are committed to learning the lessons available to be more proactive and responsive next time. I say go ahead and violate kanbans, inventory levels, processes, and anything else you need to do to take care of your customers. Again, that must be followed by a good post-mortem and a plan for the future. Prevention is obviously a better alternative.

I'm also a believer that “some” “excess inventory” in the forms of finished goods and flexible stock is actually a good thing. I part company with Toyota on this point as I have seen too many variables hurt companies and their customers from trucks that broke down to sudden and unexpected sales gluts that caused ripples in great production systems. Protect thy customer first is my thinking, even if you need to carry some reasonable amount additional inventory at all times. I still think that is a cheaper alternative to hurting and losing customers. I know…this is heresy! ; – )

I like his idea of “standardized work,” but sort of get the impression that they keep hitting “unique” situations. There are, after all, an infinite variety of problem variations that can occur. That said, standardizing (as typically applied,) is almost always a reactive cure. He and his team need to spend some real time on proactive standardization and problem solving.

As for “heroics” I say let your Lean program “EMBRACE” them and use that enthusiasm and “reverence” to your advantage. Again, just make sure the heroes are an integral part of the planning/standardization process (post-mortem) should that problem ever occur again. He seems to be wanting to go against the culture and human nature a bit, without taking advantage of it. He should be the first guy saying “Good for You!” Then he should be the guy helping create the culture that says…”so, now how do we prevent this in the future?” I'm probably belaboring this point a bit, but you get my drift I'm sure.

Now this is real craziness, but if people don't see the “value” in huddles, meetings, and activities that are designed to support the Lean system, then maybe it isn't really there. Or maybe there's “not enough there, there.” I'll agree that quality checks need to happen (if they are not automatically integrated into the system,) but with some notable exceptions, too much paperwork is “too much paperwork.” People ultimately regulate the systems, processes, and the bosses…not the other way around. And I know engineers and others love to measure every little thing, but when has a 5S audit ever added any value? Sure, I have a nice little audit form myself, and I advocate using it to a degree, BUT, I try to get my clients to is a point of automatic self-auditing (paperless and report less.)

Area Supervisor Says: “Look around guys, how are we doing with our 5S program in the area?

“Steve” Says: “I think we've kind of slipped on putting the air tools where they belong but overall I think the place looks great.”

Others Comment: Yada, yada, yada…

Not everything has to be a filled out form or scored on a database. “Natural” and self-auditing is far superior in my opinion. Yes, you must first teach and institutionalize these practices to some degree, but then it should be natural and autonomous as I see it.

“Rich” seems like a good guy working hard to do what is needed for his company. My advice to him would be to further secure support from the chiefs, find the value vs. NVA in his Lean activities (embrace the VA and get rid of the NVA,) and work with the culture he has to become the culture he wants. Donald Rumsfeld said something to the affect of “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” I think “Rich” should use the current skills/culture of his “troops” and raise their game as he goes. I also suspect the chiefs are short-circuiting his efforts to a large degree. That's another issue altogether.


Thanks again to Bill Hanover for his thoughts.

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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.


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