Celebration of Errors From Aerospace to Tech Companies: The Lean Journey of Ward Vuillemot


Scroll down for how to subscribe, transcript, and more

My guest for Episode #489 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Ward Vuillemot, a seasoned C-suite executive with over six years of leading fully remotely while building technology organizations from the ground up for companies 150 to 650 employees in size and $50M to $125M revenue across the Americas and Europe.

He is currently the Chief Product Officer and CTO at RealSelf and is a technical advisor with his own company, where he advises startup founders and CEOs on technical roadmaps and technology organization along with lean approaches…

He was previously a guest on the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast with me.

A fervent advocate for Lean methodologies in the tech industry. Ward shares about his unconventional journey into Lean; from an aerospace engineer at Boeing to an integral part of Amazon's early stages, his pathway illuminated his unique approach to Agile practices.

Dive into the discussion as Ward unravels the essence of Lean as a democratized philosophy for constant improvement and innovation rather than a mere tool. Discover the significance of psychological safety in adopting Lean and Agile practices and how the perception of errors and ‘defects' as learning opportunities rather than punitive measures can revolutionize the business approach.

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • How did you get exposed to Lean? What's your origin story?
  • Worst mispronunciation you hear of a Japanese lean word?
  • Shingijutsu experience for a year…
  • “But we don't build cars” — Boeing's version?
  • Into software –> agile as an offshoot of Lean?
  • Culture — Using mistakes as a vehicle for learning… 
  • Psychological safety – is fundamental to LEAN
  • Tell us about the Celebration of Error concept – and practice…
  • From Correction of Error (Amazon) to Celebration of Error?
  • Punishment leads to more errors — the alternative is more learning, more prevention

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

This podcast was also brought to you by Arena, a PTC Business. Arena is the proven market leader in Cloud Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) with over 1,400 customers worldwide. Visit the link arenasolutions.com/lean to learn more about how Arena can help speed product releases with one connected system.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network

Full Video of the Episode:

Thanks for listening or watching!

This podcast is part of the Lean Communicators network — check it out!

Episode Summary

Ward Vuillemot: A Lean Approach to Building Remote Tech Teams

Seasoned C-suite executive, Ward Vuillemot, has spent the better part of six years amassing extensive experience in building thriving technology organizations from scratch. His focus is on assembling fully remote teams in companies with anywhere between 150 to 650 employees, handling revenues that fluctuate from approximately $50 million to $125 million. His prowess knows no geographic bounds as Vuillemot has led these teams across the Americas and in Europe as well.

Presently, Vuillemot holds dual roles as both the Chief Product Officer and Chief Technology Officer at Real Self. This is in addition to his responsibilities as a technical advisor through his own company. His expertise lies in providing key advice to startup founders and CEOs on their technical roadmaps, technology organizations, and lean methodologies.

From Aerospace Engineer to Tech Leader

Vuillemot's path into the field of Lean was not straightforward. His journey began when he was still a young boy, learning about total quality management (TQM) from his father, who held a keen interest in Japanese approaches to business and management. This early exposure to TQM ideas laid the foundation for Vuillemot's lifelong interest in Lean.

His early career saw Vuillemot working as an aerospace engineer at Boeing. Later, he served as a technical Japanese interpreter for the company, working closely with Shingujutsu consultants who were teaching Lean principles. Vuillemot gained deep insights into the Japanese approach to Lean during this intense one-year immersion in kaizen workshops.

However, Vuillemot's interests extended beyond aerospace engineering. A proficient programmer since the age of five, he eventually transitioned back to software development, focusing on Agile practices–an offshoot of Lean–in the early 2000s. His introduction to Agile was timely as it coincided with the release of the Agile Manifesto, of which he was an early signer.

Bringing Agile Methodology to Boeing and Beyond

Despite being primarily a waterfall-oriented company at that time, Boeing saw the potential in Vuillemot's Agile philosophy. He helped Boeing Commercial Aviation Division shift towards Agile, bringing about significant changes in how the company approached software development. This experience soon paved the way for Vuillemot to join Amazon and contribute to the early stages of Amazon Fresh.

Now, with a career deeply immersed in both Lean and Agile practices, Vuillemot has found his niche in the startup and tech spaces. His primary area of action lies in the challenging domain of greenfield projects, where he helps both new and established companies to create new products and introduce revolutionary changes to their technology base.

Lean as a Cultural Shift and Tool for Improvement

For Vuillemot, Lean is more than a mere methodology; it is a deeply ingrained philosophy and culture. It hinges on the democratization of leadership, implicitly requiring the top to listen and learn from the bottom in pursuit of improvement and innovation.

The underlying significance of psychological safety in ensuring effective Lean and Agile implementation cannot be overstated. This active celebration of errors, instead of punitive actions, enables organizations to foster a culture that values learning from mistakes–an essential cornerstone of innovation and continuous improvement.

Overcoming the cultural barriers to Lean adoption necessitates understanding and promoting this paradigm shift, which values continuous reflection and growth instead of perfectionism. This human-centric philosophy underscores the essence of Lean, advocating a love for craft and respect for craftsmen that Vuillemot believes is often overshadowed in traditional western perspectives on manufacturing.

While commonly used terminologies such as “defect” or “incident report” may pose psychological barriers, what truly matters is fostering a company-wide understanding that Lean is not about penalizing people, but rather about learning from our collective mistakes to improve the existing processes. Modeling vulnerability by leadership, coupled with nurturing a psychologically safe space that equates mistakes with learning opportunities, lays a solid foundation for Lean's lasting implementation.

Embracing our idea of ignorance as the key to unearthing new opportunities is, according to Vuillemot, the essence of Lean and Agile culture. By seeing “defects” as the consequences of our decisions rather than personal inadequacies, we can pave the way for a healthier, holistic, and more productive approach to business and development.

Vuillemot's work is a testament to Lean's potential to revolutionize organizations, laying the groundwork for psychological safety, continuous learning and constant innovation. It's a journey of continuous growth, steered by our collective wisdom and fueled by our shared mistakes–a journey ingrained in the very fabric of Lean and Agile methodologies.

Embracing Authenticity and Vulnerability in Leadership

Encouraging psychological safety and fostering a culture of learning from mistakes requires more than just saying the words. It requires leaders to model the behavior they wish to see in their teams. Vuillemot frequently emphasizes the importance of authenticity and vulnerability in his work, encouraging leaders to openly admit their mistakes and to reward their teams for doing the same. This shift from a mindset of blame to a mindset of cooperative learning is a fundamental pillar of his leadership style.

Empathy and authenticity are vital to this process. As Vuillemot explains, “It's important to have grace. I try to teach all my leaders, like, be vulnerable, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to have a bad day.” By demonstrating these traits, leaders can create an environment where employees are comfortable admitting their mistakes without fear of retribution.

This approach emphasizes the importance of genuine interactions. Vuillemot, who identifies as autistic, notes that it's difficult for him to behave in a way that isn't consistent with his true self, magnifying the importance of authenticity in the workplace. He believes that separating their personal selves from their professional selves can lead workers to feel inauthentic and stressed, and argues that the expectation of faultlessness and invulnerable perfection is harmful and can create a toxic work environment.

Institutionalizing this type of vulnerability within a company's culture means ditching judgement and encouraging employees to embrace their mistakes as learning opportunities, rather than causes for chastisement. This human-centric philosophy aligns closely with the Lean methodology that Vuillemot champions, and it nurtures an environment that fosters personal and transformative growth within employees.

Psychological Safety and Continuous Improvement

The balancing act of encouraging authenticity while also ensuring that this authenticity doesn't create a harmful environment for others is subtle but significant. Leaders must make sure that their teams feel psychologically safe, and this means being able to voice their thoughts and concerns without fearing negative consequences.

However, that doesn't mean that leaders can behave destructively with the excuse that they are just being authentic. As Vuillemot points out, the notion of authenticity must be broad enough to allow everyone in a group to be their authentic selves. In fact, he insists that a leader's role is to ensure that their authenticity is not suppressing that of others. If it does, it is up to the leader to learn, grow, and adapt their behavior to facilitate an environment where everyone can be authentic and heard.

This bolstering of psychological safety and encouragement of constructive critique is interwoven into Vuillemot's philosophy on Lean and his leadership style. This framework, stemmed from learning, not from individual performances, cultivates a deeper understanding and implementation of Lean practices in organizations. It encourages employees to lean into uncertainty and errors, seeing them as gateways to learning and for broader growth.

Finally, Vuillemot highlights the importance of shifting one's mindset towards errors, heading away from the fear of condemnation and towards an eagerness to uncover new pathways for growth and improvement. With this approach, errors become the catalysts of innovation, not punitive measures used to chastise individuals.

Through his dedication to embedding psychological safety, continuous learning, and Lean practices into organizational culture, Vuillemot urges companies to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the collective unknown, thereby fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

Knowledge vs Assumption in Leadership

Riding on the themes of authenticity and psychological safety, another great point of emphasis in leadership growth is the distinction between knowledge and assumptions. Leaders must be aware and capable of distinguishing what they know versus what they merely assume–an aspect that's mostly overlooked but highly influential in decision-making processes.

According to Vuillemot, there lies a dangerous pitfall where some leaders fail to acknowledge the difference. Resultantly, they operate on those assumptions as if they were established facts or knowledge. He describes these as implicit assumptions, and in his words, are “the real grenades in the room,” posing substantial risks when they explode unanticipated.

Explicit Assumptions and Continuous Learning

While implicit assumptions are hazardous, Vuillemot highlights that assumptions aren't inherently negative. He argues that explicit assumptions, ones which a leader consciously recognizes and identifies, can be quite beneficial. By making these assumptions visible and laying them out in in organizational decision-making contexts, they can serve as powerful tools in risk management and strategic planning.

He likens this perspective to an engineer creating a system. The engineer makes certain assumptions and integrates them into the requirements documentation to guide the system's development. Tackling these assumptions head-on reduces the likelihood of unexpected problems cropping out during the project's implementation phase.

Every leader, he insists, must challenge their assumptions to evolve and make better-informed decisions. This advice resonates deeply with his previous emphasis on learning from mistakes and fostering a culture of curiosity and continuous improvement.

Running Experiments to Test Assumptions

In the spirit of Lean methodology, Vuillemot suggests adopting Rich Sheridian's mantra: “Run the experiment.” This means putting your assumptions to test, launching them from hypothetical constructs to practical realities. Running experiments allows leaders to test the validity of their assumptions and modify them based on the gathered data.

By doing so, the organization removes the “grenades” hidden in their assumptions, replacing fear with anticipation for what new knowledge these experiments will uncover.

The Role of Technology in Leadership

In a lighthearted close to their talk, Vuillemot and Mark graze on a couple of historical tech landscapes, from Betamax and VHS to HD DVDs and Blu-ray, hinting at how assumptions and realities played out even in technological evolution. These exchanges underscore the constant changes in our world and highlight the necessity for leaders to be adaptable and flexible–true to the Lean method's principles.

In a world where assumptions can be rapidly tested and knowledge is continually evolving, leaders need to remain open and ready to learn. This mindset fosters an exploratory culture within an organization, creating a dynamic environment that nurtures innovation and continuous improvement.

Ward Vuillemot welcomes dialog and interaction from anyone interested in these topics, offering his website as a portal for broader engagements. His approach is a testament to how leaders can embrace authenticity, emphasize psychological safety, challenge assumptions, and foster a culture of inquiry to harness the power of continuous learning and improvement.

Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Mark Graban: Welcome back to Lean blog interviews. I'm Mark Graban and our guest today is Ward Vuillemot. He is a seasoned C-suite executive. He has over six years of time leading fully remote teams while building technology organizations from the ground up. That's with companies ranging from 150 to 650 employees and revenues ranging from about 50 to 125,000,000.

Mark Graban: He's been doing that across the Americas and in Europe. He is currently the Chief Product Officer and Chief Technology Officer at Real Self and he is a technical advisor through his own company. His website, Ward Vuillemot.com, I'll put a link to that in the show notes so we don't have to take time spelling it. It's a long name but it's there in the show notes. Ward advises startup founders and CEOs on their technical roadmaps and their technology organizations along with Lean approaches.

Mark Graban: That's why he's here. Ward, welcome to the podcast, how are you?

Ward Vuillemot: Excellent. Thank you, Mark. It's great to be back.

Mark Graban: Yeah when Ward says be back, we recorded an episode of My Favorite Mistake back in November, episode 195. I'll put a link to that in the show notes and for those who are listening, this is the thing that Zoom does to you. When I made the comment about the spelling of his name, ward was smiling and chuckling but I don't think it came through in the audio so just so you know he wasn't shooting me a glare or anything.

Ward Vuillemot: My last name in particular trips up a lot of people and depending on the family member and where they are in the country, I think a lot of people think it's spelled differently so it's a tricky one.

Mark Graban: But I've got the pronunciation and I think the spelling down absolutely. We had a great conversation on My Favorite Mistake and I encourage people to go check out both stories. We got a bonus story from Ward about Favorite Mistake and there's going to be some overlap where know originally when Ward and I talked about doing a podcast together it turned out to be both but I think the overlapping topic is something Ward has developed and used and written about called Celebration of Errors. So we will get into that but normally we start off here on the Lean podcast with a bit of origin story time. So Ward, tell the audience here, tell us how you first got exposed to know what was some of the context, what's your.

Ward Vuillemot: Story is. It's an interesting sort of securitus route that actually starts on the proverbial knee of my father. My father spent time in Japan actually during the military between wars but he fell in love with Japan and as a consequence, as a professional at some point he was very much engrossed in total quality management TQM. So when I was very young, let's say preteens 8910, 1112, I was reading the books on TQM and that management style and those are the conversations that he and I had around the, again, quite literal dinner table. So I was very much engrossed in that thinking from a very early age.

Ward Vuillemot: Then spent time in Japan, worked, studied there, ended up being a technical Japanese interpreter for Boeing, where I originally had been employed as an aerospace engineer. But for a while, people might know Shingujutsu in the industry as Lean consultants. They worked and probably still are working with Boeing on the Boeing production system, similar analogous to the Toyota production system. So I was the first full time employee employed by Real Self as a Japanese interpreter. And because I am trained as a technical Japanese interpreter, I read, write and speak at a technical level, like at an engineering level.

Ward Vuillemot: Not grammatically technical, though I guess maybe it is, but I'm conversant at that technical level, it was a good fit for me. And so I spent really the one full year on the proverbial knee of Shingujutsu consultants, going around all of Boeing's facilities in North America and Australia doing kaizen workshops. So pretty much being engrossed in it five days, six days a week for 10 hours a day for upwards of 52 weeks. And so that was really when I got dumped back into Lean. Again, in a lot of instances, I'd have entire days by myself with the consultants.

Ward Vuillemot: And when they realized, on top of being able to speak Japanese, I was also an aerospace engineer, I spent a lot of time just getting very one on one instruction from them. And I ended up leaving that and going back to now I said Aerospace engineering, but I've been programming since I'm five. I've been doing this for 45 years, so you can date myself. But I was really always doing computational engineering, even when I was at Boeing. So I moved back into software engineering.

Ward Vuillemot: I was really within the aerospace discipline. I was doing a lot of software development. And so I really got engrossed into Agile development, which I would argue is really just an offshoot of Lean. And I was getting into it in the early 2000s, right around the time Agile Manifesto came out, which wouldn't say I was one of the original signers, but I was one of the very early signers of that and ended up introducing Agile methodology to the Boeing Commercial Aviation or BCA division at the time. And at that time there was really no one doing anything Agile.

Ward Vuillemot: It was very waterfall, very well planned, and sort of taking a different approach to software development as an example. So I ended up, as a consequence, introducing those concepts to BCA, starting a team, building a product, and eventually realized I really wanted to go even further in it and be more with what I would argue is my tribe of folks which is much more of a much more incremental iterative approach and sort of learn as you go and embrace your ignorance and be open to making mistakes, using the mistakes as your vehicle for learning. And so I left Boeing and went to Amazon and helped the then startup that we know as Amazon Fresh. I think most people know of Amazon Fresh now nationally, but for a long time, we were just a small pilot program, about 40 of us who didn't know better. And so that's where I sort of continue to cut my teeth and continue to sort of advocate for Lean.

Ward Vuillemot: So that's sort of my origin story. And then since then, it's been a long sort of career of being very much in what we call zero to one space. So in Tech space, we talk about zero to one, which is starting from nothing to getting to an initial product. And so I've spent most of my career, whether it was at Amazon or even Xbox, you could argue Xbox One was a zero to one to working at Azure Incubation group with Techstars, which is an incubator group similar to Y Combinator. Some people are probably familiar with Y Combinator to creating greenfield products for big and small companies, including now at much smaller companies.

Mark Graban: Well, thank you for that. Maybe we go back a couple of follow up questions to the origin story. So there's similarities where I first got exposed to Deming and his books because of my dad, who was working at General Motors as an engineer and went to one of the famed four day Deming workshops. So I was going to ask you, was your dad also Boeing or aerospace?

Ward Vuillemot: No. Yeah, I'm familiar with Deming, too. That's amazing if you got to go to a workshop. No, my father was working for a small company at the time. Welt Ellen out of central New York.

Ward Vuillemot: They make medical equipment, boroscopes and endoscopes, fiber optics, the rest of that. And so he was an operations manager, and it was focused on the manufacturing and the repair of medical equipment.

Mark Graban: Yeah. And do you remember, did he also have a Deming book on his shelf, or did you.

Ward Vuillemot: No, Deming Deming. And all that entire history for me was sort of growing up. I think Deming being sort of inarguably, even in Japan, really the godfather of what we think of as lead.

Mark Graban: Even in recent years, still gives credit or pays homage, however you might say that, to how important Deming philosophy is to their management system. Boy, so you got all that time with Shingajitsu. I'm sure gosh, there's probably an hour's worth of stories from all of that. Well, here, let me ask you a question first, like being pedantic, maybe about pronunciation or language. I don't claim that.

Mark Graban: I'm sure there's some of these Japanese Lean words that I mispronounce. Is there one in particular that's like nails on the chalkboard to you? If you could give us friendly advice of stop mispronouncing, is there one that comes to mind?

Ward Vuillemot: No, I mean, it gets into the pedantic nicks of like andon versus andon that's probably the only one to me, it doesn't bother me because as an interpreter and just recognizing like, hey, there is dialect and that's how people pronounce it. And for people in the conversation, everyone gets it. That's the only one I can think of that sort of stands out as people. And then Kanban is one that sort of that's a little bit more because a lot of people say Kanban. For me it's Kanban and so Kanban to me it just sounds very different.

Ward Vuillemot: And that one is a little harder for me to make that intuitive leap. Oh, that's what they're talking about. It's not like fingers on the chalkboard, but I sometimes just have to slow down and go, oh, they mean in my head I'll sort of self correct and go, okay, that's what they're talking about. Because it doesn't immediately translate for me for whatever reason.

Mark Graban: I think that's sort of a Northeastern thing when I hear Kanban.

Ward Vuillemot: Yeah.

Mark Graban: So maybe back to more substantive issues. I mean, that time with the Shingajitsu sensei, is there anything that stands out to you, whether it was through the events or that one on one time, like something you remember that was really surprising or counterintuitive that they taught you?

Ward Vuillemot: I think it took me time and I think even years later, there's a level of human centric design to the Toyota production system that I think oftentimes goes underappreciated by even people who are devotees of Lean and Toyota in particular, and how much it's really centric on a very democratized form of leadership. And so to imbue your company with Lean, like everything else, isn't just a bunch of methodology and process. It's a culture shift that is, I think, really hard to articulate to folks that you can't just mimic these things and expect to get the same results unless you're also willing to adopt some really deep seated and deep held beliefs around how you operate, how you think about leadership and what your roles are within organizations. So much of Lean is sort of like managers manage abnormality, the employees processes manage normality. It speaks to a conviction around the roles and responsibilities of contributors in your organization up and down.

Ward Vuillemot: And how much of Lean is about the top listening down. Like your people on the closest to your customer actually know the ground truth better than you as an executive. So your job is to listen to them. And so the communications is always coming up from the bottom, which is a cultural conceit or a cultural norm. Know, in the west we have very much of that top down.

Ward Vuillemot: Our job is to yell at our employees at the theory, the theory x they're lazy. So you have to really appreciate that's. The piece I really try to harp on is it's all about culture. I was recently doing some consulting for someone in Switzerland and they're asking about sorry, I was going to use some acronyms that the audience might not know, but continuous integration, continuous deployment that we use in software as an example and how we do the software development cycle. And I kept on just coming back to like, well, it depends on these things.

Ward Vuillemot: And he basically said, these are all culture notes. Like, these are all cultural. Exactly. Every decision you make about your software development cycle, your continuous integration, your environments, your development environment, your tooling, everything, your hiring process, it's an expression of culture. So understand your culture and work back from there.

Ward Vuillemot: I can't tell you to adopt this process if you don't have this culture because I can tell you which processes don't align well with certain cultural norms. So that's the biggest piece, I think, around Lean. And it's very human centric. It's a very beautiful, very practical expression of a love for craft and a love for craft people that I think really goes underappreciated, particularly in the United States manufacturing that I have seen. I'm not saying everyone, but I think that's probably the majority, the general.

Mark Graban: So if we go back to the word, I'm going to say it the habit of saying.

Ward Vuillemot: Andone, but, yeah, okay.

Mark Graban: And on.

Ward Vuillemot: It's okay, it's okay, don't worry. I don't like to correct people or tell because I don't want you to get self conscious about something.

Mark Graban: Okay. So I'll stop doing so. But if we think of and on as know and on cords or buttons and lights and chimes and boards and somebody could copy Toyota and install those things, but without a culture. I want to explore this more, whether it's around mistakes or errors, as you put so well, using mistakes as a vehicle for learning. If the culture is the yelling, blaming, punishment model, it's very predictable that people won't pull the end on cord right, absolutely.

Mark Graban: That seems like one of those really important cultural elements that you have to have.

Ward Vuillemot: Yeah. It's the same thing with you hear more often, you get what you measure. We've all heard that phrase and we know whether it's Lean or not, but Lean is very much like, appreciates this. It's the same thing as how you behave or how you react. You also get right.

Ward Vuillemot: That also informs the response. So what you measure, how you behave will inform how the people around you will interact with that. So that inciting incident right. That ondorin and how you behave to it will then follow through on subsequent interactions. And what you're trying to do to your point is to normalize the right behavior.

Ward Vuillemot: Right. We don't want people to hide it. That's the entire point of shining a light on it. That's what the undone is like that lantern, that beacon to say, here I am. You don't want people to I know people listening can't see I just put my hands in front of my eyes, but don't want to hide from it.

Ward Vuillemot: You want everyone to stop and look at it and go, oh, here I am, here you are. Let's go and race to that and figure that out. And so that's the behavior you want to encourage. So you got to really appreciate you got to make sure which gets deeper into something that we talked about in the previous podcast, but I think is actually, again, because everything you do is a note to the cultural norms you want. I talk a lot about, in my space, psychological safety.

Ward Vuillemot: And how do you get people to step into psychological safety, which is fundamental to, I would argue, any process, any framework, but specifically to Lean is fundamental. To Lean is psychological safety because you're trying to enculturate the norms around it's okay. To make a mistake, because the mistake is a doorway into learning. And learning is where innovation and improvements happen.

Mark Graban: Right.

Ward Vuillemot: And again, that's your ignorance. Right. That's why I always say I'm comfortable with my ignorance because I understand my ignorance is where opportunity exists, whether it's in a form of improvement or in form of innovation. So, yeah, I mean, Lean is all about that. It's all about heart.

Ward Vuillemot: That's what I love about Lean. I know I'll probably say something somewhat incendiary to some of the audience. It's why I'm not a huge fan of Six Sigma, or I see Six Sigma as a tool because I think Six Sigma to me, can sometimes be, and I'm ignorant. So from the outside, it's one of the reasons why I haven't pursued Six Sigma, because I do have this opinion, but it tends to cleave itself. It's seen as more of a quantitative analysis and reduces a very human element of any system production, manufacturing otherwise, into a bunch of numbers.

Ward Vuillemot: And I think it misses the deeper philosophical notes. And Lean, now, that's me, obviously. I tend to lean towards things that really resonate with me, and I'm a very quant person. I come from applied mathematics and computational fluid dynamics. So.

Ward Vuillemot: I love Quant. I just don't like to apply it the way I have seen Six Sigma applied. So, again, for people who are listening, if you want to talk about that offline, you know, how to reach Ward Vuillemot.com. I'd love to have that conversation, but again, not trying to throw the baby out the bathwater with Six Sigma, I think it's place, but I think I see that more as a tool, not a philosophy, whereas I think Lean is as much a philosophy, if not more so, than a tool set and a framework of thinking.

Mark Graban: Yeah, you're not going to get an argument from me on that. I agree. That's my experience when I was in manufacturing of seeing Lean and Six Sigma coexist you're right. Six Sigma, I would summarize yeah, quantitative focus, project oriented, a handful of experts being tasked with improvement as opposed to involving everybody in kaizen. Are there Six Sigma organizations that engage everybody in improvement?

Mark Graban: Probably, but I think it's easier to describe a quote unquote lean culture than it would be to describe a quote unquote Six Sigma culture. Are people describing GE of the Jack Welch days, which is a very different environment than the last four years under Larry Culp's leadership as CEO. They really are working on a lean culture. But like, you mean I wrote a book about statistical process control. There's nothing wrong with statistical methods, but I think exactly them in the context of I would prefer this lean culture that has psychological like, I think it's implicit toyota actually in the book, Toyota culture, it's kind of secondhand directly references psychological safety.

Mark Graban: But I think you can see it implicit even if it's not explicitly discussed the psychological safety. To pull the and on cord to address the real reality, to run an experiment that all does require a high level of safety, where, like you said, it's fundamentally lean. When companies try to copy lean methods without that foundation of psychological safety, I just wouldn't believe a hypothesis that said lean was going to be effective here.

Ward Vuillemot: I absolutely agree. And it's interesting, you make an interesting point too, around psychological safety for you and I and for the audience. Obviously we're going to use the psychological safety because that's important for us to have a conversation about. But it's really important as leaders to recognize psychological safety isn't two words. It's actually embodied through a bunch of behaviors.

Ward Vuillemot: And you don't have to use the word psychological safety anywhere in your company to have psychological safety. But you could talk about it and guaranteed not have it right. But not talking about it doesn't guarantee that you don't have it right. That makes sense. So when I joined, like, real Self, I introduced the Celebration of Errors, which actually I stole from at least Amazon.

Ward Vuillemot: Amazon might have stole it from somewhere else. There's nothing wrong with stealing, right? And it was known as a correction of errors. There's a lot that I liked about it. There's a lot that I didn't like about it, or at least I felt like Amazon had lost the way on the cultural, the subtle cultural pieces that a coe could create or not create if used correctly or incorrectly.

Ward Vuillemot: And so for the first thing I did actually, before I even know they had these incident reports, it's like, I'm done with incident reports. I don't want to see incident reports. I want to see a coe, here's a coe, here's how you do it. And they're like, well, it looks like an incident report. It's not really an incident report.

Ward Vuillemot: Yes, there's a part of the incident reports in it root cause and the rest of it, but it's different. I did that intentionally because I think a coe is one means to create behavioral or norms that, in hindsight, a lot of people would turn around and go, oh, I feel psychologically safe. Because the way we use a coe broadly throughout the company is to create an environment where people feel safe to fail, that it's okay to shine a light on their mistakes and bring it to the weekly business review or the monthly business review or whatever and sort of say, hey, something broke and I need everyone to know about it. And it had a pretty big impact, and it impacted a million users, and we lost $100,000 of potential revenue or direct revenue as a consequence of this, and no one is getting yelled for that, right? You don't talk about psychologically for the first year, but you turn around and people start talking about, we have a lot of psychological safety at this company.

Ward Vuillemot: Again, that's when you sort of know you at least have the seed of psychological safety planted and growing. But if I had just come into the company as an executive and say, we're going to do psychological safety, and you're going to feel psychologically safe, aren't you? Just nod their heads and say, sure, whatever. I need to make you shut up and go. So I think that's an important I.

Mark Graban: Mean, a lot of this seems to come back to mindset and tone where the phrase incident report could be fairly neutral. I think the way Toyota people use the word problem, like, okay, there is a problem. That's a noun, it's a fact, it exists, let's deal with it. Where in some companies, my gosh, even in trying to get started with continuous improvement, some people really tense up and say, can we use any word other than problem defect?

Ward Vuillemot: Yeah, you get into this 1984 orwellian world of, like, let's just I remember at Boeing, I introduced a tool called Buckzilla, and I started talking about defects, and some of the terminology is like defect injection. And I remember one of my peer engineers got really upset with me and took me to task, and he's like, I don't make mistakes. There's not a defect. It was all around. It wasn't a rational conversation.

Ward Vuillemot: I'm autistic. So at that point in my life, I didn't know how to have the emotional conversation that I needed to have with the individual. I was coming from the sort of to your point, like, the word is defect. We can call it a bug, we can call it a lot of things, but it is. But it is.

Ward Vuillemot: I can't sugarcoat and sort of say, hey, I'm not saying you're a defect. I'm not saying your behavior is a defect, but as a consequence of decisions you made, it did create a defect. And we're just here to I didn't know how to have that in a way that would bring them along for the journey. But yeah, it's amazing. So that's another piece of it is like, learning how to help people through that.

Ward Vuillemot: And that's sort of the joke. Like, one of my titles is CTO Chief Technology Officer, but the joke is Chief Therapy Officer and I say that with all love because we all need some therapy. We all need some love. And so much of my job, especially as an executive at a company, is to go around and help people feel safe stepping into themselves. Right.

Ward Vuillemot: It's okay to be a work in progress and for your work to itself be a work in progress. But it's an interesting piece. You have to really, I think, address those kinds of cultural norms where it's, let's talk about the mistakes in a way that isn't about you. Right. Leans always like, it's not the process, it's not the people, but it's the process that made the mistake.

Ward Vuillemot: Focus on the process. Right. In some ways, it sort of always tell my folks, I know you didn't mean to make a mistake. Yes, I'm sure I can go out into the world and find employees who intentionally do things that's nefarious, that's malicious, that's fireable. Right.

Ward Vuillemot: That's a different conversation.

Mark Graban: That's sabotage.

Ward Vuillemot: That's sabotage? Yeah. I think you've used that word before. That's sabotage. We're not talking about sabotage.

Ward Vuillemot: If we were, I would have security and it would be a very quick conversation and I wouldn't talk to you again. We're not talking about sabotage here. I know you didn't mean to do that. But somehow our process, somehow our tooling, somehow our communications led to you being coincident with a defect. How do we improve the processes such that that doesn't happen again?

Ward Vuillemot: And so they sort of take the human out of the conversation and put it back on the process. I think it's, again, a really smart, very savvy way for people to sort of de weaponize what is oftentimes, especially in the beginning, where people we're in a world where we're supposed to be experts and always know the answers. And I think especially for highly educated folks, it can be really hard in the beginning to sort of say, hey, I made a mistake, because you're sort of like, I am paid not to make mistakes. Am I going to lose my job over this? Which I get.

Ward Vuillemot: I can get the mindset, but you have to teach people to think differently, feel differently.

Mark Graban: Yeah. Well, it's about that leader response, and I think you were spot on when you talk about actions that help build that feeling of psychological safety. Tim Clark, who I've learned a lot from and is really influential on me, describes the need for leaders to model vulnerable acts, like saying, I was wrong. I don't know, I made a mistake, or Leaders have to lead. And then when people try to follow, you have to reward.

Mark Graban: So you model and reward those acts. So if people have their scars and wounds of, like, I can't admit a mistake because, God, I'm going to get punished, you can't just snap your fingers and say, hey, it's safe now. Don't feel that way. You have to bring them through it. When leaders can be honest and admit mistakes.

Mark Graban: That's demonstrating what you're hoping others would do. And then when they try gosh, you better reward them for it, which is that word reward is similar to celebrate in its common.

Ward Vuillemot: It is, yeah. To celebrate, to reward, to acknowledge, even to honor, to have grace I didn't really appreciate until I think I was in these positions as sort of like senior executives at companies is how important culture and organizational behavior really is modeled from the top. It's important to have advocates throughout your organization, but if the top leadership is playing only lip service to it, it will never, ever get adopted. I've seen this over and over and over again. The best behaviors and the worst behaviors always get mimicked, and they get mimicked from the top.

Ward Vuillemot: Everyone takes their note from the top. So that is the most important change agent at a company, and it's the one that requires the most vulnerability, the most openness to win, make mistakes, to own them. And I completely agree that it's super important for all of us. And I try to teach all my leaders, like, be vulnerable, you're going to make state, you're going to have a bad day. Sometimes I go into a meeting.

Ward Vuillemot: I've gotten a lot better about it, but it's sort of like, hey, I'm a little tired today. I might be a little grumpy. If I snip at you, I apologize, or if in the middle I lose my proverbial stuff in a meeting, which doesn't happen a lot, but let's say once a year, I'm just having a really bad day. I'll just pause and go, wow, I really lost it there, didn't I? I'm really sorry.

Ward Vuillemot: And if I can, I'll sort of go back to what I'm really here's what I'm really trying to communicate. Yes, I'm upset. I need to think about this some more. Let's take 24 hours. I need an hour.

Ward Vuillemot: Sometimes I can, but it's recovery from that and really ask for grace from others and just say, it's okay to be human. I think that's the piece that I dislike. I was going to use the word hate. I'll probably say hate around a certain cultural norm or professional norm that we have is somehow this is me, this is my values. So not everyone will share this, but because I'm autistic, I find it very hard to ape mannerisms that aren't genuine to me or authentic to me.

Ward Vuillemot: So I cannot communicate in a way that isn't true to me. It literally just makes me physically, emotionally distraught, irritable, angry, enraged, just not able to do it in a healthy way. So it's hard for me to show up at work and behave in a way that isn't consistent with the way I would behave personally. The fact of the matter is I'm not the perfect human being outside of work, so I can't come to work and be something that I'm not, which is an imperfect human. Being.

Ward Vuillemot: And I think we have too much of an adherence to a professional self versus personal self. And that professional self is sort of this very trimmed up, always has everything buttoned up, has all the right answers, is never wrong, is very confident, and I think it's harmful, even toxic when taken to the extreme. And learning to be self aware, self actualized, be accountable, but also be transparent and be vulnerable. I think to me is a very important aspect of myself that I bring to work, and I ask my employees to, and that's me again. There might be other leaders with other companies, and people will be like, I don't want to be around ward but just from my view from the outside, when I see those kinds of folks behaving that way, there's a part of me that sort of breaks and wants to give them a hug and just say, you can be you.

Ward Vuillemot: You don't have to pretend to be something you're not. It's okay. I'm not judging you here. And that's the other piece, right? That's another key word we talked about celebrate, but non judgmental, right?

Ward Vuillemot: Psychological safety is about honoring the truth, not judging the truth, like just respecting it for what it is. And it always be, what can we do going forward? Perspective. It's very sort of practical, right? It's not like you don't get into the shoulds.

Ward Vuillemot: We should have done that. It's yes, we could have done something different. We will do something different based on that learning. But we don't use trigger words for me, like should, which is a judgment, right? That is passive aggressive.

Ward Vuillemot: It's toxic, it's not useful, it's not constructive. It's counter to asking the person the next time to come to you with a problem, like, yeah, you should have done that. Okay. The person's sort of going, okay, you're judging me, and next time, I'll maybe hide this from you. Yeah, that's what you've taught them in that moment.

Ward Vuillemot: You haven't scared them into doing things right. You've just sort of taught them to hide from you just by using the word shit. That's how powerful the word should is.

Mark Graban: What kind of stress or anxiety or other ill effects does that lead to? You'd say that being really harmful. You talk about being your authentic self. I'll go back to Tim Clark again in his four stages of psychological safety framework. Stage one is really all around inclusion.

Mark Graban: Do you feel accepted? Do you feel respected? I love he uses this phrase, is it inexpensive to be yourself? Just this kind of comfort level of do people accept you? Now, on the other hand and this is not being critical of you, but being your authentic self, if you were losing your stuff every single day and you would say, but that's me.

Mark Graban: That's my authentic self, that might be a leader. Again, I'm not pointing this at you, but a leader who is doing that and saying, well, I'm being authentically me, that's good for psychological safety. Well, that might be true for that leader, but not for everybody else.

Ward Vuillemot: No, I agree with you, and I think this is a really important point. It almost goes back to you get what you measure, right? Like almost every metric that you have, you always have to have two metrics minimally to counterpose each other. So in the definition of being authentic, it needs to optimize for everyone being authentic, not just one individual. It's a bit like nonviolent communications talks about the interesting thing we took aside on nonviolent communications, one misnomer.

Ward Vuillemot: It doesn't mean that you don't get to yell. So me having a bad day and raising my voice isn't necessarily violent communications. If the person on the other side is heart centered and still feels like they can be their authentic self, we still haven't violated the nonviolent communications creed. We haven't actually created a toxic environment. Now if I do anything that makes you Mark, step away from your authentic self, then I have intentionally unintentionally created an opportunity, created a toxic situation.

Ward Vuillemot: Right. So there's a lot of things that we can be doing and so it's always a negotiation of how we interact with people. There's the obvious notes. Raising voice is probably going to be a trigger for some people, especially if they're not your peers in the organization. Right.

Ward Vuillemot: I can probably raise my voice and be a little bit more closer to the emotions know Jeff my CEO, but if I went to a person who reports to me, I'm punching, right? I shouldn't do like that's definitely not acceptable to behavior. So it's situational, it's depending on all parties. But your point being, and what I loved was that being your authentic self is low cost or ideally free, right. As long as everyone feels like, hey, I can still be in this meeting and it's pretty free for me just to be me.

Ward Vuillemot: If you need to yell, that's fine. But if a person feels like they have to close up, then whatever my behavior was, violates that sort of implicit agreement that we're all trying to be all of ourselves, be authentic. So that's the piece. And that's the piece where you can still say, hey, I was being authentic, but that's where I maybe need to learn how to grow to allow more people around me to also be simultaneously authentic. And as a leader, it's entirely on you to go figure that out.

Ward Vuillemot: And that's hard work, right? Like we're all works in progress, right?

Mark Graban: That's true. Myself included especially. But one thing I'll celebrate though, with your story Ward, of occasionally getting upset and you have the awareness to call it out, to apologize. And it sounds implicit, but giving permission seems like it would be helpful to give others permission to call you out on it.

Ward Vuillemot: Absolutely.

Mark Graban: If I'm getting upset and like, hey, it's safe to say, hey, calm down or telling someone to not be upset sometimes only makes them more upset. But to call out to a leader in a lot of organizations, that would be an extremely unsafe thing to do.

Ward Vuillemot: Yeah, I think that's important. I think you and I talked about the framework around psychological safety and the stages of psychological safety, which I think you're sort of alluding to and I completely agree with, and I really like that framework. Unfortunately, I can't call it out direct. I know you could. Maybe we could explore that.

Ward Vuillemot: But again, there's a maturity model you can apply to psychological safety. And I think leaders need to recognize, hey, everyone needs to feel psychological safety. And that includes being able to give critique like I need to be to give critique or insight or observation to my folks, but they conversely need to be able to feel equally free to come to me and hold me accountable and say, hey, you missed the mark here and there. It could be behavioral, it could be decision making, because we're trying to optimize for learning here. We're not trying to optimize necessarily for the leaders to feel good about themselves.

Ward Vuillemot: Right. And that's, I think, the piece about it's deep work. This is hard work, and I think that's why a lot of people don't do it, because it really requires a degree of self awareness and a self actualization at every level in every employee, and it takes a lot, a lot of work. And I understand why people resort to shortcuts and get a very sort of annuity. What I would say annuity based, very short term, I'm going to squeeze value out of Mark.

Ward Vuillemot: You're probably going to leave me in two years, but I don't care because you're going to leave or I'm going to fire you and I'm going to just replace you. And honestly, that was the considered approach and opinion of Amazon when I was there. It was squeeze, get the juice. If you could continue to give juice after two or three years, great. If not, there's more oranges and fruits.

Ward Vuillemot: That was a philosophical decision. Whether I agree with or disagree with it, it was very advantageous to them for a while, right. Because they were very much sort of cost, and they're trying to get the most value now. If you take a different of you, which I do, which is the annuity base, I'm going to be with you, Mark, for the rest of our lives, right? As long as you want to be with me.

Ward Vuillemot: I always tell my folks, even if you're leaving the company, you're still with me. If you ever need me anytime in the future, come to me. I will open doors for you. I will make references for you. I will sit and talk to you about anything.

Ward Vuillemot: Like you and I, I'm taking a lifelong commitment the moment you and I work with each other. So I take the very lifelong view with every person I have an interaction with. I think that's the right view. But again, it takes more energy from me. It'd probably be easier for me to just walk into rooms and pound a table and say, gosh darn it, why isn't it?

Ward Vuillemot: Probably wouldn't use those words if I was slamming the table, you know what I mean? But we'll try to keep it PG here. It would be easier in some ways, I could be selfish and just say to say, I'm going to maximize the cost to me, or I'm going to minimize the cost to me and maximize the outputs for me, and I'm just going to squeeze everyone around me. I get why people do it. I don't agree with it, but it is a considered opinion, and it isn't from weak people sometimes.

Ward Vuillemot: It's from very strong people who are just very practical and sort of feel like they don't want to own that portion of the relationship with you, and they're just not going to operate that way. I always tell people is you can self select in just as easily. You can self select out. Find your people. And that's the last piece around culture.

Ward Vuillemot: I always say, tell you how I operate. I guarantee there's probably people listening to this, maybe not this group, but I'm there's people out in the world. If they heard me, they'd be like, I would not want to work for Ward. I just want to come to work, do my job. If you got to yell at me, that's cool.

Ward Vuillemot: I don't care about any of this other stuff. I don't need you to be vulnerable with me. I don't need to be talking about love and accountability. That's not what I'm here for. Just give me a paycheck.

Ward Vuillemot: I'll do my job, and I'd be like, that's great. I don't want you here. But not because you're not an amazing human being, but you wouldn't be an amazing fit for what we're trying to achieve here. And I think that's lean. To me, what we embody at real self is fundamentally a lean concept at least has the foundations of lean in that sense, from a cultural perspective.

Mark Graban: That sounds familiar. Like, for whatever position I'm in, I'm not trying to judge, but it sounds familiar. We've had this conversation here that's really about mindsets and behaviors and cultures. People can go online and read about the coe template, right? That part people can just go read.

Mark Graban: But I appreciate how you're filling in details here around intent. Back when people were calling it correction of error, the emphasis is on error the way we would emphasize problem defect process. It's not correction of the individual of figuratively holding your dog's nose in it when they've not gone outside before. That behavior of rubbing people's faces in the problem, that's not what correction of error. Yeah, and that's definitely not what celebration of error would be.

Mark Graban: But I can see where that word? It's more positive.

Ward Vuillemot: It's more positive. I mean, I'm trying to set a note of like hey, I want people to celebrate our errors. I'm really trying to be on the nose with it, right? I'm not trying to be subtle with it. But in Lean we talk about value add and non value add and that's another one that curls people's toes when they first get introduced to the value of added because I always say 100% of my job.

Ward Vuillemot: Guess what folks, is non value add. There is no customer that pays to have me here. Breaks my heart too. This meeting that I'm telling you about, that I'm telling you about value add, non value. Guess what?

Ward Vuillemot: It's non value add. But in the same way that we have this nomenclature to help us. I love the value add versus non value add nomenclature and the necessary versus unnecessary. It is such a powerful framework, it's the fundamental framework for understanding the world of how you operate. But from the way you lead you can similarly have a value add and non value add.

Ward Vuillemot: Everything that changes fit, form of function, that changes your employee, the Lean into learning is value add. Everything else is non value add. And then it just gets into whether it's necessary or not. And so, so much of process training, education templates, they are non value add and ideally they're necessary though. But they're really non value add.

Ward Vuillemot: They're an artifact. They're a means towards the thing that you really care about, which is a value add, which is moving your employee towards an innovative learning mindset. And so that's I think really important to recognize these are just tools, they themselves aren't magical and that's why the adoption of the tools rarely begets the outcomes that you see. Because it's not just what you use but how you use it that matters. It's so important in that.

Ward Vuillemot: And you can see examples of this, you can think of the recent example of full housing between is it I want to say Switzerland and now it's being readopted into California. I might get the country in Europe wrong, but they're readopting similar processes in California to help with the housing crisis, in particular with homelessness. And the reality is it's not going so well in California and there's a lot of reasons, but a lot of it is because you can't just take these things out of cultural context and just mimic the policies and procedures and expect to get the same results. It's no different, it's exactly the same problem just at a different scale.

Mark Graban: Maybe one last thing we can explore here. I think earlier you mentioned theory X versus theory Y. I'm guessing most anybody listening to this podcast in general or anyone who's made it this far into our episode is not a Theory X thinker who's been turned off?

Ward Vuillemot: I would hope not.

Mark Graban: We may have people in the audience who work for somebody who still kind of claims to the Theory X mindset. Or I could think, Ward, you would not want to go take a job working for a Theory X leader. You would want to figure that out.

Ward Vuillemot: During I've done that in the were I didn't think they were a Theory X, but I mean, Amazon very Theory X manufacturing is sort of classic because I think that comes from that reminds me very much of that military, the enlisted versus the officers mindset, right. The whole thing of I would say the military is actually far more enlightened nowadays than they were 40, 50 years ago. But they used to sort of hold to that of only the officers, which is an analog to only the managers know what to do. And all the folks on the floor, all the people in the trenches just are lazy and don't want to do the work.

Mark Graban: When I was at GM in the was Theory X environment and then some, and then seeing I've talked about in some episodes here the new Me trained GM plant manager who came in World of Difference with his mindsets and he wasn't born that way. He had his eyes opened from that experience at Newme. But allow me to just role play for a second kind of Theory X manager.

Ward Vuillemot: Absolutely.

Mark Graban: This is not me saying that, but okay, talking about celebration of error. Okay. Ward if I celebrate errors, I mean, that's just going to encourage more people are going to be sloppy. We need to hold people accountable for errors and their bad performance. Right.

Ward Vuillemot: Hold them accountable. I think is success is truly not at the individual level, but at a group level. And we all have pride of work. I don't think anyone you have to believe, and I do believe people really do want to do their best work. No one is going out of their way.

Ward Vuillemot: So by celebrating the error, we're celebrating the fact that we had an error. And you got to understand, error is an entryway into the one thing that is the most precious commodity at any company is learning. Because the learning is our future and the future is our opportunity. So, yes, we want to celebrate those errors. Now, if a person again, I'll use with my good friend Mark, if the person is doing a sabotage, they're doing it intentionally.

Ward Vuillemot: We'll have that conversation about them. Sabotaging but errors in themselves 99.9% of the time is not a sabotage. It is an error. And it's an opportunity to learn.

Mark Graban: Yeah, and as you said so well earlier, punishing errors or mistakes, whatever we're going to use, people will learn to get better at hiding them. Gosh if people think punishing mistakes or the threat or fear of punishment actually reduces mistakes, I don't think they've been anywhere in the real world. If they really still hold to that belief, if they've been shielded from the impact of their punishment because like you said, we're in agreement here. When we have learning, when we celebrate the mistake, we can have learning process improvement, mistake proofing. It's the non punitive path that actually if you were really, actually trying to reduce errors, the non punitive path, I think logically is superior.

Mark Graban: But again, we're complicated people, humanity. The logical thing doesn't.

Ward Vuillemot: I think we've talked about this before, but I think about the matrix of I know versus I don't know, I call it the fate or destiny. Right? So quick definition for the audience, my definition. So the way I use these words. So fate is not saying these things really exist, but let's just assume you had a fate versus a destiny.

Ward Vuillemot: A fate is someone other than yourself. Three sisters sitting on spindles have decreed what your life is going to be. That's your fate, right? You're sort of a passive participant in this vehicle called life, and it's just going to be what it's be. It doesn't really matter.

Ward Vuillemot: Free will, throw it out the window, right? That's fate. Destiny is the opposite. It's you stepping in and sort of saying, taking control of that same vehicle and say, I am going to go here or I'm going to go there, and knowing you have all free will. Right, so fate and destiny and then what decides between those two things?

Ward Vuillemot: In my world, I sort of think about what do I know and what do I don't know? And you can break that into a little matrix. You can sort of say, I know what I know, which is things that we're talking about right now, right? We've gone and picked up books or talked to other engaging folks. I know what I don't know.

Ward Vuillemot: That's the stuff I didn't have that conversation with so and so. So I don't know about macroeconomics or what have you and I don't know. I know that's normally the stuff that as you and I, Mark, I know we're a little older with stuff we've forgotten, right? Like we've learned, but we've forgotten. It's been 20 years, but oh, my gosh, yeah, it's in there, it's built in, it's like prego, it's in there and then I don't know what I don't know.

Ward Vuillemot: And that's where fate and destiny come from. That's the decision. And the declination between whether it's going to be fate or destiny is the decision of whether you want to step into your ignorance, which is, I don't know, I don't know, or just let it come to you. And if you just let it come to you, then you're sort of saying, errors will be what they'll be. I'm not interested in learning from them, I'm looking to be punitive.

Ward Vuillemot: I'm guaranteeing you will have your fate given to you if you're willing to accept your errors as an entryway into that vast world of universe of ignorance, which is a huge black box, and shine a light into it, that is your destiny. And that is where, again, innovation comes from and where improvements come from, that's where our future comes from. So you can decide to be passive and be punitive and sit there and have your fate given to you. Or you can be active and open, engaged and step into and make it your destiny. But that is psychological safety.

Ward Vuillemot: That's what you're trying to get your employees to, is to say, I don't know most of the time, especially if you're in the innovative, I don't know the answers, it's okay. But I'll figure it out, right? There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, if I can go just a little further on this.

Mark Graban: Sure.

Ward Vuillemot: Because we all like books. You've just written a book, it's getting published. That's amazing. That's declarative knowledge, right? You've turned procedural knowledge all that hard earned years, decades out there in the trenches to figure this out, and you've written it down in a form that another person can come behind you and read it, right?

Ward Vuillemot: You've taken your procedural knowledge, turned it into declarative knowledge. That's an amazing asset for everyone. You and I both have books all around us. I love declarative knowledge. However, we have an over fascination.

Ward Vuillemot: Not saying don't go buy Mark's book, please go buy Mark's book. But what I'm saying is that we over rely on in this country in particular, the way our education system is set up to idolize the printed book as the only true source of knowledge. But what we forget or what we know implicitly, and I want to make it explicit, especially within the Lean community, is that true knowledge is procedural. It is learned hands on. And if you're going to go down the path, if you hear the hammering, sorry, I'm just getting really excited and hammering on my desk.

Ward Vuillemot: But if you really want to be innovative, then you're going to do something no one else has done. You're going to be a trailblazer. It means it's going to be procedural knowledge and you're going to make mistakes because that's how you learn. And so if you're not open to that, you're not open to being innovative, you're not open to making improvements. You are just fated to read from someone else's book and fall behind them.

Ward Vuillemot: You are not a leader in any definition. That's how strongly I feel about this stuff. Sorry. Because I completely took over the conversation. But this is my passion.

Ward Vuillemot: These are the things I want everyone to understand. And to me, this is the heart of Lean. All the rest of the stuff is amazing. We can talk about andor we can talk about Kanban, we can talk about muda, we can talk about value add and non value add. All those things are amazing.

Ward Vuillemot: But those are tools, those are vehicles to help get to this promised land, which is this huge universe of ignorance that we're going to go explore together and find our futures and make our destinies to me, that is what I love about Lean.

Mark Graban: Yeah, I'm with you. Please don't apologize for the passion and the enthusiasm. I share that with you. That's why I wanted you here on the podcast. There's the frontiers of innovation, but even process improvement, like in an existing process in a factory or a hospital.

Mark Graban: I think back to the Toyota people I've been fortunate to learn from, of constantly asking, basically sussing out the difference between knowledge and an assumption. And people kind of get tripped up. Or if I hear I try to pass along this coaching, if I hear people say, oh, we know the root cause of that problem. Okay, how do you know that? Oh, we talked about it in a conference room when we decided that's the root cause.

Mark Graban: I'm like, I think what you have there is a hypothesis. Hypothesis or an assumption? How do we go test?

Ward Vuillemot: Well, you have an assumption. If you were to go run an experiment on that assumption, you could then say you have a hypothesis. Right. But I agree with you. I agree with you so much.

Mark Graban: I tried to share some thoughts about this in the book since you brought it up. The difference between knowledge and assumption. And more often than not, it's really, it's a matter of know. As Rich Sheridan from Menlo innovation says run the experiment.

Ward Vuillemot: Yep, run the experiment. I would submit to you, assumptions aren't bad. No, what is bad is implicit assumptions. Explicit assumptions are very valid and very as an engineer creating system, I'm going to assume I'm going to put it in my requirements, Doc. I'm going to make this assumption that this is true for now.

Ward Vuillemot: Making it explicit, I think, is very important. All my biggest mistakes in my career come from implicit assumptions where I forgot the challenge and I took something that was an assumption and thought it was knowledge.

Mark Graban: Right.

Ward Vuillemot: And that is ultimately always and that's why I just want to make that distinction, is the implicit assumptions are actually the real grenades in the room. And it's always humbling when one of them blows up with you because you're like, I remember thinking about that and going, I thought that was true. You're like, Nope, that was an assumption, and you thought it was safe not to challenge it. And so, yeah, go run the experiment. Challenge your assumptions.

Ward Vuillemot: Remove the grenades from the room.

Mark Graban: That's well said. So I think we'll leave it at that. Our guest today has been Ward Vuillemot. It's always fun talking with you, Ward. I'm going to call out one thing here at the end.

Mark Graban: A couple of minutes ago, when you talk about us being about the same age, you made reference to a prego spaghetti sauce commercial, I believe.

Ward Vuillemot: Yes, sir.

Mark Graban: For the younger listeners who don't know that.

Ward Vuillemot: Oh, that's right, yeah, that's probably an 80s.

Mark Graban: It's in there. I'm sure it's on YouTube. Like Oregano. It's in there.

Ward Vuillemot: Go look at YouTube. It's probably from someone's VHS tape. You might have remembered those. Before there was streaming, there was VHS tape. Before that, there was Betamax.

Ward Vuillemot: And we all know Betamax is better than VHS. Can we agree to that, Mark?

Mark Graban: Logically, technically, that seemed to be that's the right answer. Wasn't HD DVD considered better than Blu Ray?

Ward Vuillemot: Yeah, that's a good one. I think yes, because I think there's some compression that was put on Blu ray. I think it's a question of the encoding. Now, we're geeking out a little bit, but I think it gets down to whether it was encoded or unencoded. And I think a lot of times they would encode on Blu ray.

Ward Vuillemot: So I think you're right. I think. The HD DVDs.

Mark Graban: That's what I remember.

Ward Vuillemot: Don't quote me on that.

Mark Graban: I could be wrong.

Ward Vuillemot: Someone in the comments will correct us, I'm sure.

Mark Graban: But like we were saying, I don't know that HD DVD was better. That's my assumption based on a memory.

Ward Vuillemot: Exactly. Yeah.

Mark Graban: All right. So, again, you can learn more about Ward Vuillemot.com. We'll put links in the show notes, different articles. There was a great piece in Forbes about psychological safety and celebrating errors not written by Ward, but quoting him and talking about this approach. I'll share all of that.

Mark Graban: So this has been great fun. Let's find a topic we can dig into again sometime, Ward.

Ward Vuillemot: Absolutely. And put in the comments in the podcast. If there's something you want Mark and I to dig into, I'd love to hear from folks. And do not hesitate to reach out to me. You have the website wardvillemont.

Ward Vuillemot: It's in the show notes. You can reach out to me at any time at ward. Ward Vuillemot.com. Happy to talk to anyone.

Mark Graban: That's kinder than making your email Villamot at. You might get less spam if you did it that way. I don't know. That's an assumption. All right, well, thanks again, Ward.

Ward Vuillemot: Thank you, Mark. Appreciate it.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleToward a Lean Hospital: A Cultural Transformation [Video]
Next articleRyan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: November 3rd, 2023
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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.