The Power of Process: Interview With Matt Zayko and Eric Ethington


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My guests for Episode #430 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast are Eric Ethington and Matt Zayko, the authors of the new book The Power of Process: The Story of Innovative Lean Process Development. They are both faculty for the Lean Enterprise Institute, among other roles. Eric has a firm called Lean Shift Consulting and Matt has a new role as Lean Leader at GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

Eric Ethington, Matt Zayko, and Mark Graban

The book is available now through the publisher, or from Amazon in paperback, hardcover, and Kindle formats:

FREE WEBINAR: Check out a webinar that Eric is presenting on November 18th

Today, we discuss their book, with topics and questions including:

  • I like to ask guests about their “Lean origin stories” — When did you first learn about Lean and what was the context?
  • The way it's always been? – how to get past this?
  • LEAN PROCESS DESIGN –> There's a lot emphasis on “process improvement” in organizations, often in the context of Lean. How do you define “process development” and why is this so important?
  • How do we avoid disconnects between process design intent and those running the process?
  • GO SLOW TO GO FAST? Iterative design and being more ready to launch and go fast in ramp?
  • Doing something new — A new mass vaccination clinic?
  • How do you strike the balance between “we've got to design it well” vs. “it's never perfect, but we can improve it”?
    • If you have flexibility, you don't have to be as perfect
  • BACK TO SLOGANS — In your book, you talk about process design with “no slogans, no absolutes” — what do you mean by that? What are some slogans or absolutes that have gotten people in trouble?
  • “Small lot flow” vs. single piece flow (Yamada), as small as possible is what he taught
  • Who do you expect to be the typical readers of this book? What roles, levels, or industries?

The podcast is sponsored by Stiles Associates, now in their 30th year of business. They are the go-to Lean recruiting firm serving the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare industries. Learn more.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (2s):
Welcome to the lean blog podcast. Visit our website Now here's your host Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (13s):
Hi, it's Mark Graban. Welcome to episode four 30 of the podcast for November 3rd, 2021. Our guests today are Matt Zayko and Eric Ethington. You'll learn more about them in a minute. They are authors of the newly released book called The Power of Process. So to find a link to that book and all sorts of show notes and more go to As always, thanks for listening. Well, welcome to the podcast. We are joined today. We have two guests. They are co-authors of a new book called The Power of Process and they are Matt and Zayko and Eric Ethington.

Mark Graban (58s):
So first off, Eric, Matt, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Eric Ethington (1m 3s):
Very good. Thanks. Thanks for having us.

Mark Graban (1m 8s):
So let's just tell you a little bit more and you'll hear more from Eric and Matt in their own words. Eric is a consultant through his company, lean shift consulting. You'll notice I said that very, I tried to say that very carefully Lean Shift Consulting. He is also a senior lead and coach and program manager of lean product and process development with the Lean Enterprise Institute. And Matt is also Lei faculty. He has a relatively new role as lean leader at GE Hitachi nuclear energy, but the book and the things we'll be talking about today are based off of previous experiences, right? Matt? That's correct. Thanks Mark.

Mark Graban (1m 49s):
So I, all of us are industrial engineers, which, which is cool. We have, you know, different backgrounds and experiences here, but you know, first off as we often do, I like to hear the lean origin story, if you will, where, where, and when did you first learn about lean? What was the context, Eric, if, if you can go first on that.

Eric Ethington (2m 11s):
Okay. Probably my origins really. And again, it goes back to being an industrial engineer and it was before the term lean was really coined, but there was this new thing that we were starting to look at. I was at Delco electronics and we're starting to look at what was called throughput cycle time. And it really was really more of a customer demand driven lead time. And I happened to be the industrial engineer for an area and started just applying this tool. And we were using phrases like be the part, you know, if you're this little can and you fall out of a stamping press, how long till you get used at the next operation and going through all that. And it was just really eye-opening like how much stuff we had in baskets and bins and riding around on, you know, fork and things like that.

Eric Ethington (3m 0s):
And that, and that was probably my wake up that, wow, there was better to be done. It wasn't as holistic is what I'd say lean might be these days, but it was really kind of a wake up call for me.

Mark Graban (3m 15s):
I mean, it sounds like if you were going to focus on anything, focusing on flow, it's not a bad place to start focusing on flow just as a more general question. That's different than focusing on cost. It's better, right?

Eric Ethington (3m 27s):
Yeah. Yeah. And actually it was, it was just a, an interesting thing, cause it caused us to do a lot of, I'll say good stuff, you know, reducing inventories, getting scheduling systems linked and stuff like that. In fact, once in a while, when I'm, you know, talking to somebody who's struggling with lean, I'll actually pull out the old, old, old throughput cycle time chart, like, okay, if you're not getting some of these other things, see if you can do those first it's it's again, it's not a bad, a bad place to be.

Mark Graban (3m 58s):
And it's work that also sort of predates John Shook's book on Learning to See and value stream mapping. But even then, I mean, was there a similar tool that was being used or then focusing on that, that flow, at least through the factory value stream?

Eric Ethington (4m 15s):
It, it was similar, but it was really kind of the bottom half of the value stream map won a lot of attention on making the invisible information flow visible. And it was kind of like the aha moment when I was introduced to value stream mapping. It's like, wow, there's, there's the whole control aspect of this. I hadn't even really thought of.

Mark Graban (4m 37s):
Yeah. Cool. Well, Matt, how about you? What's your personal lean origin story?

Matt Zayko (4m 44s):
Yeah. So for me, I was, when I was a undergraduate students, I was actually a physics major to a small school. And I got introduced actually to Deming's Out of the Crisis book. Somehow one of my professors recommended it and I was very interested in, you know, just thought, Hey, this total quality management or th this type of work, it seems very straightforward and interesting. And then that led me to the applied to the industrial engineering program at the university of Michigan. And there, I met a, a person who changed my life going forward as a pers perf professor named Walton, ham Hancock. And, and then through him, I was introduced to John shook. John had just joined up. When I joined the university of Michigan as a student, he had just left Toyota and was working in the FA on the faculty there.

Matt Zayko (5m 31s):
So I was very fortunate to it tied right in with my interest in Deming's work. So from there, I was able to get a research assistant assistantship position and got, you know, work right with John and then got introduced to Mike Rother, Jeff LIker, there, know numerous faculty within the University of Michigan there that were in the space. And we were really starting to look into the product development area when I was in school. And then from there it just took off. So for me, I was just the right place at the right time, I guess. And yeah, I've been a fan and trying to learn ever since. And then Eric and I met a few years after that. And here we are today. Right.

Mark Graban (6m 10s):
So how did the two of you meet them?

Matt Zayko (6m 14s):
Well, I guess I'll, I'll pivot Eric. You can leave out any holes. I have. Eric had just, if my memory serves me correctly, he had just moved from Indiana, been relocated to Flint, Michigan, and we had one of our, we were creating a model plants concept there at one of our, one of our operations in Flint. I was under the, I managed an industrial engineering team and Eric was the manufacturing system manager at the site. One of our larger sites within the, within the company, former automotive supplier. And Eric was effectively the change agent there that was responsible for working with Yamada sawn, Mr. Yamada, who, who we, you know, thank for everything he taught us.

Matt Zayko (6m 54s):
And, and I was able to support Eric and his team there is with my team, my head of industrial engineering group that was divisional based. So we were covering many of the large sites and we were focusing in on the ones that for the model plant areas. So Eric and I met probably I think, late 1997 or so, and yeah, we've been collaborating ever since. So we worked together there for about five or six years, and then we rejoined up in the late two thousands to our work with baleen enterprise Institute. And then, yeah. And I've been noodling on this book idea for years and years and finally put pencil to paper and yeah. And brought us to the book we have now, what did I leave out here?

Eric Ethington (7m 37s):
I think, I think you hit all the high points pretty well. Yeah.

Mark Graban (7m 42s):
So your, your answers match you, you probably both remember the, the old game show, the newlywed game. It would be fun to take coauthors to be like the newly published game and see if you,

Eric Ethington (7m 53s):
Yeah. Yeah. I had an advantage because Matt mentioned he was a, in a divisional group and there were a lot of divisional resources. And so we very deliberate really would plan because of the division headquarters was in Flint. Also we would plan our fourth quarter of continuous improvement stuff, very heavy to draw on the divisional resources because we knew the travel budget would get cut every year and they had nowhere to go, but to our plant. And so, and so we got a lot of, a lot of FaceTime that way too. Yeah.

Mark Graban (8m 27s):
One follow-up question for you, Matt, because it's a similarity to my perspective, before I ever got an answer, a deep dive into TPS and then lean, I, I read Deming's book out of the crisis. Like my dad was an electrical engineer at General Motors, probably I've mentioned before. In other episodes, he had the, he went through one of the famous four day workshop experiences and had the book. And there's a curious engineering student. I read it. So my question for you though, I'll share a reflection when you hear your reactions. I, depending on the day, I'll say, you know, say, well, it's some, it's, it's both the best book I ever read. And sometimes the worst, because it sets up, I don't know, expectations, or it kind of shows what could be possible in a workplace.

Mark Graban (9m 15s):
And because a lot of organizations, most organizations are not managed through the Deming philosophy. Sometimes I'll say, oh, I almost wish I'd never been exposed to that similar thoughts or what, what's your recollection of the meaning of that book?

Matt Zayko (9m 31s):
No, I think it's true with Deming's book or many other great books out there is, you know, once you learn about what, what is possible, and it almost shows a bigger gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the organization you're at is not capable of reaching that higher potential. It's almost as a negative. It really does have a negative consequence, right? Where you, you, you really don't realize it's a, it's a moment of realization of how big the gap is where you need to be versus before maybe we were ignorant of, of you know, of the gap, or it didn't have a, really an appetite for reaching that higher level. So, no, I think you're exactly right. Reading those books can be very eye-opening and frustrating at times as well.

Matt Zayko (10m 13s):
But I always find those things are great. You know, they help reinforce where we want to go at the very least

Mark Graban (10m 19s):
A reminder of one form of true north. Anyway,

Matt Zayko (10m 25s):
That's a great way to put it. And

Mark Graban (10m 27s):
I've heard somebody from the auto industry say a similar thing like you did Matt, about a book, like the Toyota way where somebody had been dismissive of like, oh, you know, that Toyota stuff. And then once they dig into it and read, and not that Toyota is perfect, but there are, there's a good, true north there. And then you become aware of that gap and that tolerance for the current condition. If you can do anything about it, maybe it's good to have less of a tolerance for that gap. If you feel like it's out of your control, unfortunately I've heard someone say like you did it, it can be discouraging to learn of that gap.

Matt Zayko (11m 4s):
And I think to that point, Eric and I, I think we have a similar mindset when, whenever we work with people, we, you know, when we see people get down, for example, you know, it's part of our role in our, in our jobs to help motivate them that they, they are a leader in an area and they can make a difference and not to give up because when we look all around us, you know, you know, I remember a few years ago, Eric and I were meeting with someone who was complaining that their leader wasn't doing process with them. And this person we were talking to is actually a manager of a, of a team of people. And we said, well, your people say the same thing about you, right? So it was a good realization, good reminder that we are all leaders.

Matt Zayko (11m 46s):
And, you know, we, we have to drive this in like a wedge and try to spread it. It doesn't just, you know, you don't have the CEO magically, he or she is driving this cross large organizations. So yeah, on the same hand, you have to balance that out, right. With not being discouraged and also understanding that gap that is always put, trying to push you to, you know, try to make each day better than the prior one.

Mark Graban (12m 12s):
And I think one thing people get stuck in is the way it's always been. And so I want to bring it back to, to both of you, Matt and Eric, again, the book available now is called The Power of Process. I'm curious if either of you have a story to kind of elaborate on this idea of the way it's always been doesn't mean we can't change it. What are your thoughts on, on trying to help people break through to realize it is changeable let's let's get started?

Eric Ethington (12m 44s):
Yeah, I don't one place to actually even start is, you know, this was probably late nineties in the plant, Matt and I were talking about insolent a plant that at one point in time, Jim Womack visited and called it, the acid test of lean stood up in front of everybody and said, boy, if you can do lean here, you can do it anywhere. But it, it was a good example of, you know, a few years before that, that visit, there was a lot of, a lot of difficulty. And in fact, part of it was highlighted by, there was a major strike that shut down general motors around 1998.

Eric Ethington (13m 27s):
And that was the plant. That was the site. There was, it was a dispute that started across town, but our site made components for every vehicle. So if we went down, the company went down and then you fast forward, like a year or two later. And it was a financial turnaround. It was a workforce turnaround and so on. And where a lot of it started because there had been lots of very well-intended people on the management and in the workforce over the years, who've really legitimately tried to do things differently. And there've been lots of initiatives launched.

Eric Ethington (14m 8s):
None of them necessarily good or bad, but just attempted. But one of the things we really focused on there was instead of even, we didn't even call it lean what we were doing. We just really focused on how do we make the work better? How do we make your job better? And by better, it isn't, how do we make it easier? So you have more time to sit around. It's like, how do we make this a better thing and a, you know, better, more involved work, have you more involved in developing it, all, all the things that people tend to know about lean, but when you start doing that over and over again, and, and really, instead of it being a list of, you know, slogans that at the end of the day, it's like, my job's not better.

Eric Ethington (14m 54s):
It's like, no, my job is truly better. This, this is what lean is supposed to be about. You know, it wasn't until maybe a year or two into it that were like, oh, by the way, this is what lean is. This is what it truly is.

Mark Graban (15m 8s):
What are your thoughts on, you know, helping people break through the inertia of the way it's always been to creating something better.

Matt Zayko (15m 18s):
Yeah. I think to Eric's point, you know, you recognize there's lots of slogans and, you know, again, our career, we've seen many different fads and slogans and phases, and I think it gets down to, you have to get down to the individual level and how do you help reduce the struggles and frustrations at an individual level and without trying to force lean upon them, or, you know, the, the mindset or the thinking. And then once you've done that, then you can bring it back to, I think like Eric was saying and say, this is what it's supposed to be. This, you know, this history shows us what it, you know, what it was and what we did not want it to be, but when we can start engaging, you know, the people actually everywhere, not just operations or manufacturing, but engineering.

Matt Zayko (16m 3s):
So I think the challenge is, yeah, you need to, you know, we used to really be hammered in our head, go slow to go fast. And I think, I think that's the lesson that I even today, I have to remind myself as let's not, I'll run our learning capability, let's pick something and try to make a real change in until we can do that and prove it, then we shouldn't move, move past that. So I think if you can find a willing participant that wants to take that leap with you, then, I mean, that's the best place to start and then build from there. I mean, and then you can challenge them to do things differently without, you know, having to be too stressful or risk risky either. So,

Mark Graban (16m 42s):
So we talk about the way it's always been. I mean, there's the work, but then there's a layer of the way we've always designed the work or we'll, we'll come back and talk more about health care. Sometimes it's more a matter of the way the work just evolved as opposed to being designed. And so I think one thing is, you know, there's a lot of interesting things in your book and again, the title is The Power of Process and, and there's this focus on process design or what you call lean process design. You know, a lot of times when people, your process, the next word is process improvements in the context of lean, how do you define process development?

Mark Graban (17m 24s):
And, and why, why is that so important?

Eric Ethington (17m 28s):
I can go first on this one, Matt, just mix it up.

Matt Zayko (17m 32s):
That's right. Well, I'll tell you, you know, process can be defined many ways for one I'm in process development, obviously, but in this case, we're looking at creating new ways of working. So if you have a new product for a new service, you have to, you know, you actually have to create the process, the steps of work, the operations, right, right down to the, you know, kind of micro level where you're doing individual motions. So to do this properly, you need to do that upfront or what the risk is. It just evolves like, like you were mentioning mark. So yeah. For process development, in the context of the book it's looking at, if you have a new product or new service, or if you need to add new capacity, this is your chance to look at how the work should be done and, you know, infusing in lean principles, techniques, et cetera, because too often, right.

Matt Zayko (18m 23s):
It's, it's not thought of until it's too late and, you know, in the health care sense, right. There's workarounds and other, you know, practices that just evolve and create a mess or chaos. So,

Mark Graban (18m 39s):
I mean, Eric, Joseph, some thoughts to add either around a definition of process design process development, or maybe just to the point of the importance of this.

Eric Ethington (18m 49s):
Yeah. It's I like to sometimes think of it as essentially being, learning the right thing at the right time, and then also capturing that learning. And so, you know, we, we laid out in the book that you don't get into the detailed design until later that people like to jump in and let's start designing a real detailed level, but there's things you don't know yet. You shouldn't be at that level yet. And so there's certain things you need to learn before others, before others. And eventually you get to that detailed design. And so I sometimes I'll like to look at it and, you know, in that way that it's learning the right things at the right time.

Eric Ethington (19m 29s):
And, and, you know, in kind of a, I'll say a general sequence because you start getting that stuff out of phase or better yet. What I often see is we don't even really capture the learning at all. It, what we do is we take what we did before, but there's some new technology, whether it's a new process technology or a new product technology is being forced in. And we dropped that in the middle of what we did before. And then we, that's what gets launched. And we live with the consequences and then outcome the continuous improvement resources and not bashing them. They do all sorts of great work, Matt and I've built great careers off of that.

Eric Ethington (20m 11s):
Okay. But then they come and go, wow, this, you know, we we've seen it plenty of times where the new line is actually two years old in thinking the, the, a lot of the continuous improvement folks in the various facilities, we go into have taken the old process and made a better, but somehow that learning doesn't get back up front. And so we start two years behind and that happens on over again. So yeah, I, I sometimes think about it in just terms of learning, you're learning the right things at the right time.

Mark Graban (20m 47s):
So when you talk about, you know, technologies, or, you know, I think of like, you know, an operation versus how that fits into the flow of a process. I you're you're triggering memories. I can think of two examples. When I was at general motors doing engine block machining, there was technology that was put in place in the early nineties. It was supposed to be continuous flow transfer lines from machining station, the machining station. And I think the old setup was more, a very much a batch and queue. You would just run each machine in a decoupled way and you had piled up inventory. And if one machine went down, you'd pull from buffers and there were all kinds of dysfunctions from that. So you had equipment now that had like a built-in flow buffer of maybe five parts between machines.

Mark Graban (21m 32s):
The old habit of when operation 30 is down, keep 10 and 20 running and pull parts off and pile them up. And like the space wasn't designed to allow that to happen. There were instances where it was arguably not safe for people to be doing it because that was not the design intent, but there, there was this interesting disconnect between the design intent and the reality of then running the operation. So maybe, let me, let me just turn my old dusty twenty-five year memory into a question, like, what can we do to help prevent disconnects from the people who are designing the process and then those who are going to then run certain process.

Matt Zayko (22m 14s):
Yeah. I'll take a crack. And yeah. So I think w w the first thing is to recognize, right, it's, there's a social and a technical system to process design. And in the book we actually touch on this quite a bit. It's an important piece that I think early in my career, I didn't understand enough. And until later on that social aspects, but definitely, I mean, an easy answer is, you know, involve people further upstream in the development. Obviously the people that run today's operations, because they know it better than anybody. And, but yeah, definitely there needs to be a cross-functional nature to teams. And you want to have people that understand the reality of, of what's going on today, but also the root cause of why some things are in place today that could be removed or avoided in the first place.

Matt Zayko (23m 3s):
So, and that that's, you know, having a capable, capable people to give you that feedback, because one thing Eric and I have seen many, many times in our career, you know, there's an example of the book tours where, you know, an organization will invite someone from operations, right. To be part of a development team. Then you know what Eric and I see is typically that phases, they really don't want you to be part of the team. They want you to just rubber stamp, whatever they say is, is the design. And they want you to there just to be a check in the box. So yeah,

Mark Graban (23m 35s):
Not good. I mean, I, I hear people say things, I always try to call time out and say, wait a minute, when, when someone will say it could apply here, we want them to feel like they had input. Like, no, come on. Like there it's either you had input or you didn't right. I mean, what can, what else can we do to help break down those silos and make sure that there's real input.

Eric Ethington (23m 55s):
I also think that having some, at least a plan to plan to compare to you might not hit the plan, but a plan to compare to timing wise, and then really raising the flag when the timing starts to slip, having been one of those folks, I remember a very specific project and I was, it was really early in the development phase. And again, I was being asked to, to go be that operations person to, to provide that input. And it was kind of like, great. We just want to be able to say, there is an operations person here. And I started questioning because there they were doing tests and some things weren't happening the way they should have in the tests.

Eric Ethington (24m 41s):
And so you're going to have to do them again. And it was okay. And then I go back, you know, two weeks later we're going to have another meeting and those tests didn't go quite right. And it slipped again. And that was okay. And I'm thinking the start a production date has not changed though. And so this is all gonna come out of manufacturing eventually. And so there needs to be some sort of mechanism that when those, those column milestones or whatever are hit and not met, that there's some sort of escalation so that we get the thing back on track. Otherwise it does just become, yeah, we've had more people involved up front, but at the end of the day, it's still going to be a rush at the very end to get it.

Eric Ethington (25m 24s):
And I say manufacturing, but that could also be the opening of the clinic too. Right. It's still, still applies the, the doors open, the patients come in and it's not the way you really wanted them to experience it. Yeah.

Mark Graban (25m 40s):
Can, can one or both of you would be good if you could elaborate a little bit more on this phrase, go slow to go fast because I've heard it used in the context of getting a new factory up and running of going through these cycles of expecting cycles of iteration. But then once that's figured out, then accelerate as opposed to maybe an old mindset of we're going to design the perfect process and then expect to launch. And inevitably there are the problems that prevent the go fast. How does it go slow to go fast, get incorporated into the approaches you recommend?

Eric Ethington (26m 18s):
Yeah. I kind of wished there was like a, you know, some absolute limits to share with people. And th there, there might not necessarily be, but it, you know, some of it does come down to doing your due diligence on learning, learning enough to be, you know, be at a reasonable enough state that, okay, now that we know enough, we've done enough experimentation. We can, we can move on and start, you know, we've gone deep enough. Now we can start going in breadth, go wider. I think of this is when Matt and I first started working together. We spent, I'm not exaggerating from, it was March of 98 through September working on one cell.

Eric Ethington (27m 7s):
And I remember a manager came up to me during kind of a project review saying, you guys have been messing around with the cell for months when he got 10 others, whenever we going to get to one of them. But then what we were able to do is we got it. And it wasn't perfect. We came back and had to redo all the cells at some point in time, but we got enough of an image that had enough of also a real impact. You know, I mean, it was real savings. It wasn't a, these cost avoidance savings or anything like that, but real impacts, you know, better or ergonomics, more productive, better quality, shorter lead times, all those things.

Eric Ethington (27m 47s):
But we got a strong enough image that after that we were actually doing a new cell every every week. We would change one in week a and also on week eight. We'd be also doing kind of the social stop. Matt mentioned with the next cell to talk to them about, here are the changes coming in, come over to the previous cell. You can see what's going on. And then we were hopscotching and getting people's ideas as we did that. But it started with, you know, taking time to make sure we really understood the process and had a, had a good image that we could then spread.

Matt Zayko (28m 25s):
And I think just building off that, I think in the past, we may have done something. So I met with those cells. One of the great advantages was doing quick changeover, and we were doing material delivery routes, things like that. In a prior instance, we, we may have just gone across the board and done quick change over on all the lines and then material routes everywhere without knowing how they connected. And so that would have been a failure because we wouldn't have been able to sustain right. All those improvements and changes. So fortunately we had a great mentor in Madison who made us go slow to really understand it from an end-to-end system perspective. And we were able to get it at the end, we were able to get a sustainable crop production system with the social and technical aspects.

Matt Zayko (29m 11s):
But the other thing was we had to have a leader that was patient and understood that as well, because I think that's one of the failure modes is, is a leader saying, you know, we don't have six wants to perfect this. We, you know, we need to have the whole plants in, in nine months. And you know, what we did was we did get the whole plant done at nine months, but we, you know, it wasn't, you know, it was exponential actually what we, the curve, it's not a straight line. Right? Yeah. And there's, there's planned pressure, you know, a business

Mark Graban (29m 42s):
To do something, a new product, a product that involves a new factory or a new process. And this is planned out what happened in healthcare a lot in let's say the, the late 2020 timeframe was you got two weeks to get the mass vaccination clinic clinic up and running go. And part of me thinks, well, like we knew vaccination was going to be coming. It was a fire drill at a lot of organizations, which is more just, you know, an observation. And maybe it didn't have to be that way, but identified the chance to visit a number of mass vaccination sites. And, you know, we talk about, you know, doing something new. I mean, they had done flu vaccination clinics.

Mark Graban (30m 24s):
A lot of places had done drive-through vaccination, but I think we were seeing more of this in a greater scale. And, and, and the other observation, you know, earlier you were talking about the detail versus the overall flow, like, you know, the, the, the vaccine makers and the CDC had this incredibly too detailed, I would call it a two-page work instruction for here's how you prep the vaccine from the vials. Here's how you prep the patient. Here's how the needle goes into the arm. It seems like nobody designed a high level process of here's what a door to door experience at a mass vaccination clinic should look like. So, so Eric, I have the benefit of seeing you nodding your head.

Mark Graban (31m 7s):
I mean, did you have some experiences in this area that, that you can share?

Eric Ethington (31m 13s):
Well, you know, one of the things that's, I'll say it, and you can probably absolutely relate to this as can probably a lot of, a lot of your audiences, when you start to understand these, these approaches, you, you just can't go out in public without seeing stuff. I mean, it's just, you get into this analysis mode all the time, and yeah. And, and so I I'm, you know, as you're talking, I'm thinking about my, my experience of, you know, getting my, my vaccine, it was a drive-through clinic. And what was interesting is from the time you drove into the parking lot to when you left, it was actually very well orchestrated.

Eric Ethington (31m 53s):
There was, there is almost a triage approach where there were six car lanes. One lane was reserved for people who had gone online and got their paperwork and filled it out ahead of time. And so they went right in the other five, were people filling out paperwork and, and, and so anyway, it was all, it all moved very, very well. So that was kind of like the, yeah, that that's done really well. The, what wasn't involved was the website where you could get your paperwork to fill it out ahead of time. And so there, there was one of those where when you think about, again, you talked about the CDC and they went out one thing larger, but they didn't maybe involve the health department.

Eric Ethington (32m 35s):
It people, I was actually joking with my wife that the fact that we found those documents on their website, we should have gotten a job offer of some reason Southern kind. And it was like, this must be a test it's so difficult. They couldn't have done this on purpose, you know, but, but you know, you bring up the also just the having, you know, having some sort of, you hear this a lot in lean having some sort of crisis, right? And so obviously COVID, or crisis, when we were in Flint, we were in a financial crisis. I've also, you know, this is probably about eight years ago. I had LASIK done and kind of the burning platform or crisis, there is the piece of equipment, the laser and what it costs.

Eric Ethington (33m 23s):
And they have to have a full time almost engineer that maintains that thing. And so that piece of equipment needs to be cycling all the time. And, but I'll tell you that was like one of my first exposures to a well orchestrated health care type situation, where as soon as you walked in the door, you were constantly flowing from room to room to this, to that, and done it. That was a pretty impressive.

Mark Graban (33m 51s):
Yeah. I mean, when you see that it is impressive know, sometimes it's a matter of incentives. I have the chance to visit a cosmetic surgeon in Dallas. Who's actually published journal articles about applications of the Toyota production system to the cosmetic surgery he did. And he was so focused on flow and reducing wasted motion. There were huge benefits to the patient, less time under anesthesia, easier, faster, less painful recovery. And his flow rate was so good. He was basically working less and making more money than, than other surgeons. And he would sandbag his numbers. He said, if I told other surgeons how quickly I can do a case, they either wouldn't believe me or they think I was terrible, but there was no, it went together.

Mark Graban (34m 41s):
Good flow, good quality. He said, you had to see it to really believe and understand it, to see what's possible because it really was step function improvement over his peers. But Matt, did you have an opportunity? Like I was only an invited guests to a few clinics to see, I went once to get my J and J shot at a drive-through clinic. Did you, what, what exposure did you get to either observing or getting to participate in that?

Matt Zayko (35m 11s):
Yeah, so, I mean, I was able to experience the drive-thru model and yeah, it was a bit, a little, not as great of an experience maybe that Eric had, but it's not bad, but I definitely think, yeah, there's opportunity to, you know, you would think that healthcare organizations and some did, I know they did mock ups and they did plan these things out ahead of time, especially if it's going to be such a high volume. I think a challenge in any process that Eric and I have the benefit probably for gosh, 13, 14 years working with different health systems through our work with the lean enterprises stew in, you know, able to see surgery flow clinic flow.

Matt Zayko (35m 53s):
You know, for me personally, I I've seen brain surgeries, transplants, you know, just normal routine, robotic surgeries through all the firsthand as a, as an observer and in a variability management is, is a, is a key, I think, within healthcare or any process because things will go wrong. And that's where the social system and the kind of the health chain or, and on system is there to help because things will not go to plan and you want to have a process that's flexible to handle that. So I think, you know, as a patient, we see a lot of these outliers or abnormal situations and, you know, it gets amplified throughout the day.

Matt Zayko (36m 33s):
And, you know, that's why by the end of the day, right, you're two or three, two hours behind on your appointment or an hour behind. So I think that that's something that can definitely be improved in, in any process, but definitely in healthcare, because you feel it firsthand through waiting and, and, and care, you know, it could affect your care quality as well. So, yeah,

Mark Graban (36m 53s):
I mean, the, the thing I, I saw I observed the drive-through site and then there was the one where I got vaccinated and I mean, I wouldn't expect that they would have, they would tell everybody, put your car, you know, you can't set your cruise control at two miles an hour. Like you probably wouldn't want to do that. That's not safe. I don't want to be a moving target for somebody needle as good as these nurses are giving injections. But I did see, I think batching, batching, cue thinking, coming to play at least a couple of different sites of you have a lane of 10 or 12 or 15 cars depending on the place. And you fill up the lane. And there are reasons to keep the car stationary and to think about moving cars with people.

Mark Graban (37m 37s):
But the design was basically like, well, we're going to vaccinate everybody as a batch. And when everybody in that batch is done, you can all leave as opposed to one site where they had actually figured out a way to do one card at a time and keep the car stationary and take safety into account. So it's interesting. Again, you bring up this point of, you know, this notion of the opportunity to design a new process instead of just falling into habit. But anyway, shifts into shifting back to a question, you know, I think, you know, first off the observation, the clinics that I saw were designed well, you know, you could say there was probably this end-to-end lean process design as much as they could control former Numi person at a site, part of the team in San Diego Toyota, working with the city of Frisco in Dallas.

Mark Graban (38m 29s):
Like it's, it's a joy to see a well designed process, but even at the Toyota site, they admitted no shame in this to doing some Kaizen of realizing that they would send patients to walk to the next table and that next table, depending on how fast the patient moves, it was a long distance. So the vaccinator is sitting there totally idle in between patients. They were spending as much time waiting for the next patient as they were vaccinating. So their countermeasure was to set up what they called on deck chairs of basically stage a single patient queue right next to the table, six feet away to minimize that distance.

Mark Graban (39m 12s):
So I, it, I thought it was fascinating to see this combination of like, they designed a really good process, but yet they Kaizen it. So the question is, how do you strike the balance between we want to be diligent. We want to design a good process while also recognizing it's never going to be perfect. What we'll we'll improve it. Do, do you try to have a process that's 90% good. Maybe we can't quantify that, but what, what are your thoughts?

Eric Ethington (39m 40s):
Yeah. You know, I think some of it is rooted in just I'll say some risk management. Like, do you use the phrase creativity before capital? And, and so when I say risk management, I'm more comfortable going forward with a process that might even be less, less refined if there's a lot of flexibility. And because we, it's not like we've gone and hard tooled or spend all this money and latest software system or spent it because as soon as you've done that, then you better be 99%.

Eric Ethington (40m 20s):
Correct. But if you've done some creative things first, like you said, on deck chairs. Okay. Because there is probably somebody that could sell some software to help manage the flow of people through there too. Right. And I'm not going to say good or bad. It just, there could be something out there, some queue management software, but you know what, let's try these on deck chairs because we're in an audit, you know, we're in a, you know, a civic center or something, there's a bunch of chairs over against the wall. Let's put them here, you know, you know, and so that's, that's kind of, it's not a real solid answer, but it's kind of like the, you can be a lot more relaxed about something that has flexibility because you've managed the risks of the capital investment.

Eric Ethington (41m 5s):
And so on, we mentioned a, Matt's mentioned a Yamada sound before he used to criticize us like, oh, you must be a rich company because we would always jump to the new machine or the new system or the new software. And he was wasn't anti-technology, but he was like technology with a purpose. And, and if you really look at the basic work that can help to inform what equipment you should buy, and then that can help to inform what configuration it all should be in relative to each other. But we often like to just jump to the end and it's like, oh, we'll buy this new thing.

Eric Ethington (41m 46s):
We'll do this. And then, then you probably need to be 99%. Correct. Yeah.

Mark Graban (41m 51s):
That, that was a great answer, Eric. And that's brilliant when I hear you saying is the more flexibility you have the less perfect you need to be. So thinking of, you're talking about messing around with that cell, if everything is on wheels and it's moveable, you can experiment if you're digging out concrete and putting machines deep into the floor, that you better have it. Perfect. Yeah. Matt, what did you have thoughts to add on that?

Matt Zayko (42m 17s):
Yeah. And I just think another one is just, w w w we talk about fidelity as well. What's the proper level of fidelity to, to mock something up, you know, D do you need to test it out? So, you know, cardboard is a great tool, right. For mocking up a process. So, so for example, in the vaccine clinic, you know, hopefully they had a chance all of these clinics, I'm sure the ones that were well set up physically represented it with mock-up or other cheap materials, and in simulated the flow with real patients and cycle time of, of the walking and things like that. So then you can try things real quickly on the fly before the launch. So that that's, that's another key piece of it is, is learning ups, upstream learning before launch versus right.

Matt Zayko (43m 1s):
At launch, because that's where the whole, you know, the word that Eric touched on earlier, you know, w our hypothesis is that most of what really is being done that we're calling Kaizen right. Is really just rework or the Japanese were toes on. So, and, and it's never, you're never going to have a hundred percent debugged, but it'd be better to have it 90 or 95% versus the opposite. So, yeah.

Mark Graban (43m 27s):
Yeah. I think the way I articulated that once in a blog post was your ability to continuously improve. Shouldn't be an excuse to just kind of throw a bad process out. Like let's not invest in process design because that's what we have continuous improvement for. You would say, no, no, no, no bad idea. You can have bugs. Right. Good process design and good process improvement.

Eric Ethington (43m 50s):
Yeah. Yeah. In fact that, you know, if, if you don't do that, you may say all our company's been practicing lean things, or our organizations been practicing lean for, you know, decades and the people who are living in those processes day to day go, this is what lean is. And so now when you go out there with continuous improvement folks to try and make it better, you're you already have a, you know, like a hill to climb to, to convince them that you're really gonna, you're really there to help. You know,

Mark Graban (44m 21s):
So one thing I think I hear you saying, and I saw in the book preview was make sure you learn from one cycle to the next of new process. So like the, this, the sites, like the Toyota Frisco's site, not capital intensive, they had open space, bankrupts, Sears store, the city, and the mall said, here use this space tables, chairs, like very easy to be flexible. And then they learned what the on-deck chairs. And then a couple of months later, poof, that process has gone because vaccination was happening in different ways, in different places. I would imagine if let's say for booster shots, they said, do you know what we're going to, we're going to stand this back up again for a month and get through 7,000 people a day for booster shots.

Mark Graban (45m 8s):
I I'd wager a large amount that Toyota in the city of Frisco would remember the on-deck chair approach. And that would be set up now as the baseline, as opposed to starting from scratch, throwing it out there the way we've always done it, quote unquote, and then having to relearn, oh, right. This doesn't work as well without non-tech circle. That would be maybe just one example or even just a simple example. Do you have better examples of like this need to have organizational learning and not just repeat the same Kaizen improvements over and over?

Matt Zayko (45m 44s):
Yeah. I just to kind of build off what you were talking about mark, as you know, the challenge is if, if those same people are not involved in setting up their process, the question is, would they set it up the same or not? You know, they probably did. Yeah. They may regret progress back. And a fundamental in all of this is, you know, we challenge organizations to create what we call a bill of process, and that becomes kind of the standard. So for example, that, you know, that that health clinic, hopefully they would, they create a document that is their bill of process and not just be a couple of pages of paper, but actually say, this is what, this is how we do it. Here's the cycle times. And then you can, you know, the booster may be a bit different cycle time, different work.

Matt Zayko (46m 25s):
So you know, that, that may change it. But, but no, I mean, definitely there's, I mean, I mean, there's so many examples out there, right? We're, you know, we're doing a late interventional event or process design review on something. And we quite, we always question, why do we put so much automation in here or why, you know, why, why aren't the cycle times of the batching work? And yeah, just, I mean, the example of the book that we, that we have is based on a real situation, and it's where you take out, you know, three fourths of the capital that's planned just by doing, rolling up your sleeves and doing this work. Fortunately, in the case, that was a real case. We were able to intervene and take out that capital.

Matt Zayko (47m 7s):
But too often, there are other situations where Eric and I experienced where we, you know, we're stuck with capital that, you know, millions of dollars that was overspent big factory spaces that, you know, went on on utilize because it was too late. The money had already been spent by the time that the process designers got involved. So, yeah. Eric, what, what examples you have of top of your head?

Eric Ethington (47m 34s):
Well, I actually, I was thinking about just, you know, one thing we do in the book is there's almost two interwoven stories. There's the work of process development. And then there's the process of process development, kind of like the, how do you take the work that may be an individual teams going through capture some of these lessons and feed it up into, okay, how are you going to do this stuff going forward? And one thing we often recommend organizations do upfront is identify somebody to be the system architect because early on someone needs to really be looking out for all of this stuff. You would like it to live in all that knowledge Deliv, you know, in systems and processes, but they don't exist yet.

Eric Ethington (48m 23s):
And so someone maybe needs to be, you know, kind of that embedded knowledge of the organization to be able to, to carry some of that stuff. I remember when Matt and I were working together and that was part of my role, our lines, Matt mentioned bill a process I'm like, yep. Final assembly lines, 15 seconds. Okay. That's the answer. Okay. And there were a lot of, but there was a lot of thinking that went into, we, it started in the mid to high twenties. It was different for every cell, but as we really start understanding the work and we understood the absolute importance of balance between process steps of getting it as balanced as possible and the gone through the real good work of truly getting there 15 seconds was the answer.

Eric Ethington (49m 16s):
And so when a new customer requirement came out, that needed to be tested, we were absolutely. Yep. That sounds great. It's 15 seconds. In other words, don't go and put some test machine and then test machine that goes to 25 seconds. That is not an acceptable answer. And the reality is the engineers can make it 15 seconds, but they'd never really been given a target before. Right. And so, and so there is that need for that I think system architect to in the early stages and maybe even ongoing someone that at least owns the process and keeps checking it, like, is it doing what it's supposed to? Are we capturing our learnings and so on?

Mark Graban (49m 57s):
Is that the equivalent that is that the process design equivalent to a value stream manager sounds similar.

Matt Zayko (50m 6s):
Yeah, probably. Yeah. What we call chief engineer doesn't have to be an engineer. Doesn't have to be a chief engineer. It doesn't have to be an engineer. Right. But it could be a, I think when the book we call the chief chief process designer, chief process engineer Toyota has chief production system engineers. You know, there's chief engineer as well. But I think the point is, yeah, right there. Cause Eric mentioned someone has to take responsibility for this. That's not just for developing a great process, but for bedding it into the, into the way work should be designed going forward. And then I think a second piece of this that we touched on briefly earlier is just, you've got to control the money.

Matt Zayko (50m 47s):
You know, that's spent on capital or facilities and, and all you need is a leader that refuses to sign off on a lot of, you know, a key capital approval stage. You know, that's, that's another, I'm not saying it's easy way to start, but it's a one way to start is you have a leader that just demands that things be done differently. And then, you know, you identify some, a team of people that want to do this differently. And then you, you can just block some time to start doing that. So, but if it keeps spending, you know, again, root cause we keep spending money earlier and doing these things, it's, it's hard to break that cycle.

Mark Graban (51m 24s):
So one other question, and this touches into the book and in the last couple of minutes here, we'll, we'll give people a little bit of an overview of how the book is structured. And again, that book is The Power of Process. You, you talk about, you know, this idea, you, you one or both of you used the word slogans earlier in the book, you say, no slogans, no absolutes. Can you share a little more about that? What is a slogan or an absolute that has gotten people in trouble before?

Eric Ethington (51m 52s):
Yeah. W w we'll probably get in trouble for using these cause there's going to be people out there who live by these, but like, but a U shaped cell, no, let the work define the shape of the flow. Don't, don't go in and force stuff into U shapes because we saw plenty of U shaped cells that actually all the process steps in there shouldn't have been in the same cell to begin with. It should have been to different cells and they each should have been different shapes, but we just shoved it all together because it's U shaped. So it would have really comes down to is just not understanding the purpose of some of these tools. Mr. Yamada really taught us the phrase, not single piece flow, small app flow as small as possible.

Eric Ethington (52m 35s):
Okay. But there we had, I remember one example where we were showing them a single piece flow is a new line, new technology and everything. He showed us that go into six piece flow. We could cut the labor by a third. That was just like, you know, but we were so excited. It's single piece flow. And he's like, oh, the six piece flow is probably better. And he took us through it. We simulate it right then and there again through this low fidelity simulation. And it's like, wow. Yeah. And so it, it, it's just, it's stitching together all of these slogans that all might individually be great. And well-intended, but what you end up with is a stitched together, like a, you know, in the spirit of Halloween right now, stitched together, Frankenstein, you know, you got all the best pieces together, but it doesn't add up to you

Mark Graban (53m 25s):
Really want. Yeah. I mean, I think that's the difference between learning and adopting principles as opposed to copying tools like the principles, if you're at that level may lead you to, like you said, not always a U shaped cell, not always single piece flow, like if baking cookies for a family or for a bake sale, or as at a store, you're not going to put one dough ball on the tray at a time. If your sales were a hundred cookies a day, why, why would you do one peaceful through the oven? If you know, you can do a reasonable batch, a small lot without over-producing right.

Matt Zayko (54m 5s):
I think I was going to say on that note, I think another kind of myth out there is the automation and how people view it. And again, we, we were taught, you know, you start manual first and build your way up to higher levels of automation. Because if you start at a high level, you never can get back to the proper, the right mix that you need to be at. But that's definitely one where I think a lot of people see, you know, labor people working as is evil and automation is the saving grace and it's far from it. So, you know, the book is the P The Power of Process, but it's really, it's all about people, not just people designing the process, but you know, people doing the work and it comes down to, you know, how do we, you know, again, reduce those struggles and the frustrations that are in people's jobs by making more meaningful work.

Matt Zayko (54m 57s):
And, and again, you have to start at the fundamental manual level and then work out from there because I think the myth is, you know, automation solves a lot of problems, but it actually, I think creates more in some cases than, than it helps so

Mark Graban (55m 12s):
Well. So I may have two final questions, you know, first off for you, Eric, and feel free to trade off if you'd rather answer or the other. But, you know, first off, who is the target audience, like who do you expect to be the readers of the book? And then secondly, talk a little bit about how the book is structured, because it's not a dry textbook, there's a good design to it. Who wants to take the question on like, who is a typical reader?

Matt Zayko (55m 36s):
And then I'll just structure. Okay. Yeah. I feel, I, I, I, I'm hoping that anybody that is struggling with, you know, designing any new process or service will see these in, in the book, you know, Eric will go through the, the structure of it, but that we introduce a structure through the storytelling process that should help in any situation of thinking about process and how to flow your product or service.

Mark Graban (56m 4s):
And there's a lot of new process happening in all industries, right? I mean, it could be somebody setting up a restaurant, a clinic, a factory, pretty much anything where there's would you say, is it focused on things where you have a physical process flow or are there applications to something that might be more electronic?

Matt Zayko (56m 24s):
It can work. You know, the example in the book is for a tangible, real example, but if you think of the work of design, it actually is usually in the form of information, data packages. So it definitely applies to, you know, software, any, any type of process development. And again, it's, it's through the lens or a framework that is very structured that helps get to where you need to be. And in the framework, which, you know, Eric can go through in more detail, it really forces you to not get ahead of yourself. And because again, again, we talked about, go slow to go fast. This, this lens or framework helps support what you need to do for, for process development.

Mark Graban (57m 10s):
We can improve the process for designing the process. That's what the book helps achieve. Right?

Matt Zayko (57m 16s):
Yeah. And as Eric mentioned, yeah, it's easy. There's been many skunkworks or, you know, one-off teams, you know, in any organization that have stood up a great new process with a, you know, a new product, but to your point, like with the clinic, okay. If things, if we have to do that again in four or five years, do we have the knowledge or wisdom from that prior experience to build upon? Probably not. So in this case, you know, companies on average spend anywhere from 3% to 15% a year on R and D you know, in the R pharmaceutical space medical device space, it's on the higher end, right? So, you know, if you're in a billion dollar company, that's, you know, 30, 40, or higher million dollars a year, you're spending on this, you know, if you're a $10 billion company, it's, you know, 10 times that, so there's a significant sums of money spent.

Matt Zayko (58m 3s):
And so the, you know, if you can just get any, you know, 10% of that back, it, it pays for itself. And, you know, in the book, again, this is a real story where we typically see six X, eight X, 10 X payback for the upfront investment on this, over the, over the long run.

Mark Graban (58m 23s):
That's great. And Eric, you know, the, the, the structure of the book, you know, kind of the style of how it's written.

Eric Ethington (58m 30s):
Yeah. It's, it's written as a story. There's not too much story, but there is there's dialogue. And to be honest, we, when we first started writing it, it was not that way, but because of how cross-functional, this is done well, it was really getting confusing of hearing about this team and that team and so on and so forth. But plus what we also wanted to do is demonstrate the logic by which you arrive at some of these tools or some of these techniques and conclusions. Cause we, this is more about the thinking than putting out a book with a bunch of dogma in it.

Eric Ethington (59m 11s):
And so we also wanted to kind of have some of those aha moments of the team where they build on top of each other's ideas. And we just felt like that flowed better. Then again, maybe a checklist. Cause if this was as simple as an Excel checklist, we would've written a long time ago and packaged it and shipped it, right. It isn't, it isn't that simple. And, and as I mentioned a lot earlier, there were, there's kind of two flows in it. There's the, the work of process development, which is the working team. And then there's the process of process development, which is a leadership steering team, trying to figure out their role in the whole thing to how to be helpful when, or, you know, when to intervene and when not when to spread and when not those kinds of things.

Eric Ethington (1h 0m 2s):
And so all of that's kind of woven in there. And then we've got our six con model that takes folks through the different lenses to look at and learn as they evolve from trying to grasp what's going on in their current situation all the way through we've launched it. We've confirmed it's okay. And now we got to continue to improve it.

Mark Graban (1h 0m 24s):
Hmm. Well, I'm excited to see the full book and I hope listeners will go and check it out. It's available now it's published by Taylor and Francis productivity press. That's a name, you know, they've published a couple of my books and started back by Norman Bodek way in the day. So Productivity Press along lineage of publishing books like this, this book is called The Power of Process. The authors, again, our guest today, Matt Zayko, Eric Ethington congratulations on the release of the book. It's a it's much needed. I know it's going to be really helpful. And thank you both for being here today.

Eric Ethington (1h 1m 4s):
Thanks for having us.

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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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