Key Takeaways from the 2013 Northeast Shingo Prize Conference


Mark's Note: Today's post is by a regular guest contributor, Christina Kach. I was disappointed that I couldn't attend this year's event in Massachusetts, but I was happy that Christina put together this summary.  


Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Northeast Shingo Prize Conference in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Over the course of two days, I was able to meet some exceptional individuals working in the world of Continuous Improvement. I experienced thoughtful, passionate speeches from a talented group of presenters. In this article, I wanted to share some of the resounding themes and personal highlights from the conference.

Importance of Strong Lean Training

Multiple lectures were focused on creating strong Lean training programs across our organizations. The point being – are we effective in educating our teams on Lean principles and applying it to their work?

Steven Spear highlighted the importance of education by saying that closing the gap between how a business is currently performing and where they want to be, depends on the rate at which the staff are building their useful knowledge.

Todd Hudson described the typical training “current state” as such: bring them to a classroom, fire hose them with information, then send them off to “do.” If our true learning goals are teams who understand and use this new knowledge, shouldn't we change our training curriculum and delivery to support this endeavor?

Discussion on this topic continued with Doug Thomson speaking on our tendency to skip the first two phases of learning, cognitive (learning) and association (tying it together), instead forcing people into the autonomous (applying) stage.

John Toussaint commented that the best place for impactful coaching is where the work is performed (Gemba) and through simulations, if available. To illustrate the need for hands-on training, Charlie Hackett used the following metaphor: you wouldn't show a teenager a PowerPoint on how to drive a car, then hand him the keys.

Takeaway: We need to switch our training programs to coaching opportunities.

The Critical Role of Leadership

Steven Spear started his presentation by asking the audience if we are thinking about what we can do today to provide a better service to our customers tomorrow. Are we seeing the issues, working to solve them, then spreading that new knowledge?   Many presentations repeated the importance of leading by example, treating your employees with respect, and creating a positive environment.

John Toussaint made a potent statement by declaring that the single critical factor missing for Lean transformation is leadership who supports improvement. We need to provide our employees the skills to find problems and lead in a style creates the freedom to make improvements on the front line. Further, he encouraged leadership to reflect on some challenging questions, including “How do we stop this [defect] from happening again?” and “Does my staff have the training, tools, and encouraged they need to do their work and feel valued?”

Thomas Hartman, from Autoliv, in the final keynote address, spoke about linking people at all levels and their work to business goals.

Takeaway: management has to do more than just meet numbers; they need to develop the skills and abilities of our people, as well as lead the change.

Lean as a Journey…with a Destination (True North)

Gary Peterson kicked off the conference with “Set the Course: Move Forward with Purpose,” discussing the criticality of having a clear vision and direction for our teams, combined with a strategy map on how to get there, and developing our people in such a way that they can positively contribute to the company goals.

Charlie Hackett used his personal experiences to confirm Gary's message on establishing a vision with a road map by applying Lean Principles and projects   – customer focus, respect for people, continuous improvement mindset – as part of a business plan.

The following presentation by Kevin Duggan pulled on this topic again, lamenting company decision making by way of a “whack-a-mole” style of selection rather than along our predetermined road map and goals.

Speakers from Alpha Analytical  took the Lean journey one step further by saying it can't just be a “program” or “tools”, but a culture within the company.

Art Byrne had also commented on this by noting that the focus on Lean “tools” diminished the focus on Lean THINKING, which is really where the benefits and competitive advantage reside.

Takeaway: Lean is a journey. But we will wander aimlessly as an organization unless we are guided to common goals and a destination, or True North.

Interesting points, thoughts, and quotes:

  • Are meetings set to fix problems or to discuss new ways to grow the business?
  • Lean is a competitive advance and strategic enabler by supporting growth in value added activities (the activities the customer really wants).
  • The word “because” makes a difference (Doug Thomson). When people have a reason, the desire and a compelling purpose to do something, they are more likely to be actively involved.
  • We get caught up in the “Lean stuff” but, really, Continuous Improvement is “Business Stuff” (Duggan).   We need to see our businesses as solution providers to our costumer; more than just a product or service provider.
  • “If you don't try something, no knowledge will visit you” (Chihiro Nakao via Art Byrne)
  • “You gotta be humble and you gotta hang in there” (John Toussaint)

The education, networking, and team building fostered by conferences make them worth the investment for companies to send employees. Yet, above all else, what a conference gives to the audience is a renewed motivation and vigor for their personal interests in all things Lean and a desire to continue growing our programs and drive business success.

Christina invites you to connect with her via Twitter (@ChristinaKach) or at her blog for young professionals


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Christina Kach is a Senior Business Analyst on the Continuous Improvement team for a financial services company in Boston, Ma. Christina held her first Lean position as in intern in 2006. Since then she has continued to seek out varied roles of increasing responsibility and actively pursues further Lean education. She recently held the role of Continuous Improvement Lead for a Government Defense Company based in Massachusetts, focusing on Lean implementation and process improvement in a manufacturing environment.



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