Lean, Philosophy

Leaning out the Culture

Why is lean such a difficult concept to accept in America?  Every deployment I’ve ever been a part of has had at least a few individuals that would just try and spoil the soup and to what end?  I have sat down with a number of Lean Practitioners in many different industries within the US to get their thoughts on this matter and the following is a summation of those conversations.  It’s a shame that the US has such a hang up with the philosophical principles driving Lean.  Unless one enters a company with a strong cultural affinity towards Lean the transition can be a painful experience.  This is unfortunate because the benefits of Lean are immeasurable.

America just needs to let go.

Whenever the term Lean is introduced the initial thought immediately goes to the phrase, “flavor of the week(month).”  This term was popularized by the band American Hi-Fi but, more so coined by ice cream shops as their premier or special flavor and has been synonymous with new and exciting “programs” companies put out to improve the business.  Many times falling by the wayside after a few months or so until a new “program” is brought to the forefront.  I relate this to the “Peter Crying Wolf” syndrome and soon the latest “program” is understood to be a fad and not to become too engaged.  When this behavior is taken with Lean it creates a great distance between the Practitioners and the masses.

The philosophical principles that drive the tools of Lean are unable to gain any traction because the people never allow Lean to move.  They remain disengaged expecting Lean to be another fad or “flavor of the month”.  But, what happens when a company “pushes” Lean and enables Practitioners to really drive Lean into the organization?

Why does it remain a difficult endeavor even years into the deployment?

Even when Lean is adopted by some areas or groups of an organization because of the silo effect of many corporations, the benefits of Lean are not seen.  When asked of those groups to speak on their journey, much of the time all that is heard is “hard work”, “trial and error” and great deal of commitment required to get the “ball rolling.”  I will admit anything put into an existing system that disrupts the “flow” of that system creates a need for attention which could be interpreted as more work however, the hour you take today will save you the day you spend tomorrow.

Lean can be implemented in a manner that is less disruptive than many have experienced.  Often I hear that when a company begins a Lean implementation, the company either hires a consulting firm to train a few individuals to act as Practitioners in addition to their “day job” or they send a number of individuals to be trained in Lean Principles but, ultimately have the same expectations.  Either way the company is expecting these individuals to add on to an already full day and typically results in a poor attitude towards Lean.

Rarely does a company enable or hire someone(s) who will focus their entire being into a Lean deployment.  When this does happen though the second part must be full support and adoption by the top leadership team.  It must be driven down through the organization allowing Lean to become the way they manage the business.

Going further into a Lean initiative I have only seen one instance of a company starting at the top and truly driving Lean down from the top but, even then was met with quite a bit of resistance.  Finally after talking with many different owners and practitioners I feel it boils down to culture.  That big nasty word we’ve even created curriculum around to train people to deal with, CULTURE.

 Is culture really a deal breaker in any deployment? 

Many times there is nothing in place that “forces” a team, group or department to embrace the Lean philosophy and use the tools in the toolbox.  Some of the more successful Lean deployments have gone so far as to change personnel in areas to those who would promote and were in line with Lean philosophies.  I am not suggesting firing the department and starting fresh but, there are times when people are so toxic that purging the system of that toxicity is necessary to move forward. 

Removing “effective” from an organization and taking that step back is daunting however, there are times when taking that step back is required to enable the organization to move forward.  Toxins spread quickly and often result in killing any ground gained initially, taking the deployment back past the initial stages because there is animosity and unacceptance looming in the air.  Any attempt at re-deploying is met with greater resistance.

If those at the top are not embodying Lean what is the motivation to follow?
One must remember that the US is only less than 240 years old whereas, many other countries Japan specifically are far older and more importantly have had far less influence over their base culture.  Japan, which is where Lean was conceived and born, has a much different mindset and culture than that of the US.  These cultural differences enable the acceptance of Lean.  Culturally speaking Lean is Japanese.  Just as the philosophical principles of Buddhism, martial arts such as aikido or judo, and even manga are looked at quizzically by many citizens of the US, Lean is looked at with much the same reservation. 

I think going forward with a Lean deployment is tricky in any environment but, within the US where being an individual is preferred over being a part of the whole adds an element of disruption.  The consensus remains that a dedicated group of Practitioners educating and deploying with full support of the top leadership pushing Lean down through the organization is the best option to create a Lean culture within an organization otherwise, you’re just pushing a rope up a steep hill.  



Spring Happiness

This is the reason I love the spring.  I love that April showers clean away the harsh winter we’ve endured and allow nature to begin anew.  A fresh start to a new season.  I enjoy watching life spring forth from everything around me from the trees to the flowers to the animals that are coming forth from their winter lairs.


My wife has a small garden that we have very little planted, unfortunately.  Strawberries are one of the fruits we all enjoy eating and this little one is the first strawberry of the year.  We will see about a bushel of strawberries before the season ends but, this is the first and most important one…in my opinion.  It represents the beginning of harvest and the beginning of life. There is something about eating fresh off the vine that causes it to taste better.

Spring not only brings the wildlife out into the sun but, my family and I as well.  Though we do plenty outside all year long during the fall and winter we are covered in layers of clothing protecting ourselves from the cold.  Spring brings with it warmth and sunshine and feeling the sun warm the skin is a pleasure I like to take the time to enjoy.  I will even go so far as to set up a make-shift office out on the porch to work instead of being cooped up in my home office.  The sounds of nature and the fresh air make me feel better and thus affects my productivity.  It has also been shown that sunlight helps in your overall sleeping at night. (Sleep Study)

I honestly haven’t seen any change to my sleeping since setting up outside compared to working in my cubicle in the office but, I do know when I was trapped in a cubicle within the belly of an office I had a foreboding feeling of depression and anxiety.  I can’t speak to there being a correlation, just to my feelings at the time.  I dreaded walking into the office knowing that all I’d see all day long was a puke colored fabric wall, listening to the buzz of fluorescent lighting that just killed my eyes.  You can read a good article on fluorescent lighting here at Fast Company.

Overall I just enjoy the spring.  I am an early riser, typically pre-5 a.m., and enjoy sittiFlowerng on the porch with a cup of coffee and watching the sun rise.  The birds singing in the background and the rooster (we have a dozen or so chickens for the eggs) welcome the morning.  There have been several mornings where I’ve been able to catch a deer or two grazing in the pasture beside the house.  The serenity of the experience is a great way to begin my day.



Lean: A Philosophy

A good friend of mine asked me what it was I did for a living.  He knew I took calls at all hours from all over the globe but, had no clue what it was I actually did.  So, I told him, matter of fact, that I was a continuous improvement analyst.  He returned a blank stare.  There was a long awkward pause and I added that I was trained in a philosophical business practice termed Lean.  This didn’t improve the situation and it was then that I realized most people, outside specific industries, don’t have a clue what Lean is.

I poured us both a drink, offered him a chair and began a twenty minute dissertation on Lean.  I went through the concepts and “tools”, briefly reviewed how to begin a Lean deployment and that because it is a philosophy, can be tailored to any industry.  He finished his drink as I ended my speech, looked at me and said, “Sounds like you just add fancy terms to common sense actions and principles.”

I didn’t know how to respond to this at first because, though it was not the first time I had heard Lean equated to “common sense” it was the first time I actually gave it deep thought.  Had I been fooling myself into believing Lean was more?  Is Lean just a “common sense” approach to business wrapped in a fancy expensive suit?

No.  There is nothing common about Lean.

Common sense infers there is a mass consensus of understanding regarding some, thing.  It supposes the majority of the population would agree to a common practice, thought, conclusion, etc.  Wikipedia defines common sense this way:

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.1 The everyday understanding of what common sense is derives from philosophical discussion, involving several European languages. Related terms in other languages include Latin sensus communis, Greek κοινὴ αἲσθησις (koinē aísthēsis), and French bon sens, but these are not straightforward translations in all contexts. Similarly in English, there are different shades of meaning, implying more or less education and wisdom: “good sense” is sometimes seen as equivalent to “common sense”, and sometimes not.2

Neither Lean, nor the foundational principles are, in my experience, truly understood by many or common to all people.  Experience has shown a wide gap between those who “get it” and those who don’t.  Many of those who don’t, sadly, show great resistance to the “philosophy” of Lean.  The feeling that Lean is just an “add-on” to their already full day creates animosity towards Lean and the practitioners.  The lack of understanding is a roadblock to true innovation.

Lean gets back to basics.  Lean, when implemented with 100% commitment, allows a person to do their job proactively instead of reactively.  Too often when sitting down with a manager I’ll ask, “How is your day going,” I’ll hear the same story.  They spend so much time putting out fires they have little time for much else.  Before we get to deep into the weeds I will be blunt and honest, Lean will not prevent fires from occurring.  Lean is not magical, however, it will allow you to see the fire before it grows and also get back on the road if a fire arises.

Lean encompasses so much that over the course of the next few months I will be writing posts describing the elements, principles and practices of Lean.  I won’t be focusing in any one industry.  Lean is typically related to manufacturing, which is where it was born.  I will keep these general on how Lean is deployed.  We have already begun the Lean journey here, as I would in a deployment.  My goal is that you have a deep understanding of Lean and hopefully become as passionate as I am.

Lean initially seems ridiculous at first because it starts well, at the beginning of what we do.  Too often we spend too much of our time “putting out fires,” or dealing with co-workers or office politics.  Our focus is not on our job.

Lean starts with getting back to basics and focuses attention away from everything except, what we are paid to do, our core job function.  It forces us to take a real deep dive into job specific elements and how they impact to the overall business.  It allows us to find the waste in the system and enables us to “stream-line” our operation.  Lean is our heads-up-display to guide us and continuously show us our status enabling us to make changes before we realize that the ship is off course, and that is just a high level look at Lean.

Lean is something I have a great deal of passion for.  Lean is something that works and keeps the job simple.  In today’s world of mass chaos Lean allows us to maintain the farm and catch the chickens when they get out of the coop without having to increase our efforts.


OneNote Transition

The company I work for’s CEO made the statement a month ago regarding the company transition to a paperless environment. I took the statement to heart and have since began to transition my workflow away from my favored analog tools. There hasn’t been much of a change but, the changes that have taken place are huge for me personally.

 I prefer the simplicity of analog tools, a good pen, quality paper and a well written book are my choice, however, I am a geek at heart which causes a bit of conflict at times. Lately I have been interweaving these two worlds and blending them to create a productive workflow at home & at work. Evernote is a my go to app and I’ve been using Evernote for a couple of years, unfortunately the company I work for does not condone,nor support the use of Evernote. Being a mainly Windows-based company we have Office 365 and therefore have been given the opportunity to use/try Microsoft OneNote. I had given the app a once over months ago and turned it away like a stale potato chip, now I have the perfect opportunity and no excuse not to fully experience of it.

FullSizeRenderOneNote, like Evernote is a digital filing system where the user may add typed or even hand written notes to the app along with many other file types. I have saved everything from PDF’s to MP4’s in Evernote. I haven’t tried saving mp4’s to OneNote but, it accepts everything else I’ve thrown at it.One of the first things I like about OneNote are the pages within a folder.  I have created a folder hierarchy that correlates to my job and then created pages within each folder based on different subjects. So being a continuous improvement analyst, I have a folder dedicated to Lean literature and within that folder are a separate pages for various Lean topics. I have also begun to add work literature from training sessions I attend to this folder as it’s own page. I am really enjoying the structure of OneNote with its pages and folders with in folders…something Evernote does not have.

I’m also beginning to use OneNote as a “To Do” list and have incorporated it with my standard work which sits in its own folder. I won’t get into what standard work is for those unfamiliar with Lean but, simply said it’s a guide to how I do my job, day-to-day, week-to-week, quarter-to-quarter…you get the picture. Doing so has enabled me to eliminate printing blank paper copies of my standard work every week and hand writhing everything onto them.

Now, I simply copy a new page within the folder from my template page, label it with the week ending date and proceed to update it throughout the week. When I have a meeting that I take notes, which I can do in OneNote, I can simply add a link to them in my standard work document.

A great thing about OneNote is that like Evernote it is always with me. Even though I’m not as quick at thumb typing as I am on a standard keyboard, I don’t have to be sitting at my desk to type a note into OneNote. The mobile app is great, though I am in the process of purchasing a stylus so I don’t give the appearance of texting or tweeting while sitting in a meeting. I am also anxious to see if this may become my new journal.

For years I have kept a paper journal and have tried going digital but have never enjoyed the feel of typing a journal…it just didn’t seem natural. I am hoping that with a good stylus I can replicate the feel of a paper journal.

The mobility of OneNote has allowed me the opportunity to follow the lead of a very interesting concept…using the iPad as my main device for work and home.  I want to give thanks to Federico Viticci of MacStories for inspiring me to go iPad. You can read his fantastic article here about why he went to the iPad as his main computer. Though I cannot give up my laptop at work and solely use my iPad, I have begun using it for about 80% of my daily work…with great success.

I was able to register my iPad with my company and so I get work email and can use our standard IMing platform, Microsoft Lync. I particularly enjoy the fact that I am not shown as available the entire time I am not scheduled in a meeting or such in Lync. I had a bit of anxiety when I would see my status change to Inactive, I felt as if anyone who saw me would think I wasn’t working. The iPad prevents me from seeing my status unless I am in the app and because of this , I don’t worry about it.

That said, I still prefer Evernote to OneNote, however, in the corporate, Microsoft saturated environment in which I work, OneNote is a great tool. Not only does it allow me to work digitally nearly 100% of the time, collaborate with co-workers seamlessly but, also allows me to carry it all in my pocket.

My soon to receive purchase of a stylus, I feel will have a huge impact on my journaling and note taking in general and completely overhaul my workflow altogether. I am thus far satisfied with OneNote but, will continue to dual-wield it and Evernote. Personally I just prefer the look and feel of Evernote and integration to many of the apps that I use daily.

 One last thing, I wanted to take the opportunity to, at the very least, thank Myke Hurley, the smooth sounding podcaster of Relay FM, who in living his dream had introduced me to Federico through their podcast Connected. Myke is not just a wonderful host who produces some of my favorite podcasts but, is someone I hold in the highest regards for his courage to venture away from the corporate world and live his dream. Thank you Myke for being a wonderful person, role model and giving the world some of the best content on the net.

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