Posts Tagged ‘lesa nichols’

091211_cellphoneI remember when I couldn’t see much either,
and sometimes it’s still hard for me.
I remember the first time we tried to see together.
Now that was really hard.

You, hiding behind your cell phone
to avoid interacting with me.
We can laugh about it now,
but I wasn’t smiling then.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again –
assumptions are seriously dangerous.
I assumed you thought you were too busy
to be wasting time looking around the shop floor.

I know better now.
You work hard at what you do and it’s not easy
once you have reached the top
to let people see what you don’t know.
So it was easier to hide – behind the phone, in your office…

But now you have a different view;
More open to explore the operations
with respectful questions and genuine interest.

We walk together now, stopping to see,
what’s needed for people to excel at what they do.
I see you are proud of the people here
making products that are filled with value.

And all the unseen improvements
that have made the customers happy and coming back for more.
No need to hide now, you can put your cell phone in your pocket
and lean in to get a better look at how the work is done.

Focused, intent, curious…
we almost bump heads.
We see a lot more – and better too
now that we are looking and listening, together
for the barriers in the way of adding value
so we can break through them, one by one.

Who knew “seeing” could be so much fun?


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Last time we looked at the trouble caused by one little circle to crush an organization’s culture to foster the Toyota Production System.  Even more, this circle is like quicksand to an organization.

It saps everyone’s energy.  When your feet are mired in quicksand, so are everyone else’s as they strain to pull their friends out.  Before you know it, nothing productive is getting done.  A lot of hard work, but nothing helpful for making the customer’s experience better.

With one small step, we can change this from a negative to a positive impact on the organization.

Now you have the time to contribute to improve your own productivity and the organizations’.  The quicksand is gone. You and your friends have time to build a solid foundation for the organization’s improvement system.  This is what we mean at GBMP when we talk about “everybody, everyday” to grow the Toyota Production System.  It is not enough to say it; we have to make time to do it.  Today we have made time, conceptually.  Now, see what you can do to make it happen practically.

I can’t wait to hear your success stories.

– Lesa


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Often unbenownst to a lot of employees and managers, sometimes a mist of trouble hangs over the office cubicles, twisting and twirling, spinning a web of destruction across an organization.  What is it? Where did it come from?  Well, that depends.

Let’s take a look at this innocent looking circle.

Maybe you don’t feel a connection to what I’m talking about, this circle.  But what if I told you that you could very well possibly be the one that started the day off by making the first bad move (without knowing it of course) – assuming something about a co-worker because, let’s say for an example, they came in 15 minutes after the standard office start time.  You did this without any other information than seeing “Sam” walk in the door.

As you turn back to your computer, a thought bubbles up: “He is always late, almost everyday” (misunderstanding).

Like a song that gets stuck in your head, you can’t let it go: “How come he gets away with this when my requests for a flexible schedule are always denied”  (confusion and anger).

Now you are on a roll (Thoughts Gone Wild):  “With all his lateness, he is making our team look like a bunch of slackers.  I don’t want him on our team if this is his way of working.  Let him go somewhere else to mess up their chance of success” (blame, alienation, hostility).

As you think about this scenario, it probably won’t take you long to recognize one of these circles happening somewhere around you right now.  How can you recognize it?  You are either in the middle of one yourself or you are listening to someone talk about one.  Pay attention for a day and listen to how much of this you may personally be involved in.  Try to quantify it.

Next week, I’ll talk about how this one little circle impacts an organization’s culture and what can be done to make the circle’s influence positive. I am looking forward to hearing your experiences.

– Lesa

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Tourists are fairly easy to pick out in a crowd: the clothes, cameras, goody bags from shopping excursions, heads swiveling like periscopes,  jaws agape.  While on vacation, it’s fun to be a tourist and mostly we aren’t embarrassed about it.

We don’t however wear the same gear to work and we know to manage our facial expressions.  But what if we could see what’s going on in our brains as we walk through various departments in our own organizations:

Have you had questions like these when you walk by an apparently idle group?  Do you ever reach out to get your  questions  answered?  If you don’t, you are a tourist in your own organization.  I think this is a pretty dangerous  situation.  Next week I will share my opinions about why but in the meantime, I would like to hear yours.

– Lesa

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Over the years that I have been practicing TPS, it seems to me that many people are eager to say that it is top management’s responsibility to make lean work.  But who exactly are they talking about?  And what behaviors are to be changed for top management to make lean work?

Let’s take a look at top management.  Which group needs to change what behavior? What exactly do we expect from each of these roles?

  1. The Board of Directors?
  2. The Owner?
  3. The Chief Executive Officer?
  4. The  President?
  5. The Chief Operations Officer?
  6. The Vice Presidents (if the organization is large enough to have them)?
  7. The Plant Manager?

I am always curious about what the Board is supposed to do to make lean happen.  I also struggle along, company by company, with “the line in the sand” between the CEO/Owner vs. the President/COO.  Depending on the company’s structure, the roles are different but regardless – what advice should we (people in the collective bucket of consultants, senseis, advisors, coaches, etc.) be giving the people at the top?  Some common advice that I have seen for lean management include:

  • Make a value stream map
  • Whip the suppliers into shape to maximize the value stream
  • Make your own best practice visual factory
  • Go to the worksite to see what is being done
  • Buy into lean and show it
  • Only work on the big stuff
  • Watch the profit and other key performance indicators
  • Communicate with the organization
  • Hold everyone accountable
  • Set performance objectives
  • Understand what motivates people
  • Align company goals with individual’s goals
  • Focus on the popular tools of the day

But to me, this list doesn’t seem expressly different than the list of “general” management skills needed. I think the “Lean Advice World” has a responsibility to get specific, company by company, individual by individual.  That is the only way to help top management make the changes “we” are calling them out on.  If “we” don’t know what they should do, admit it and find them some help OR propose that you learn together by trying some new things out side-by-side.

The point I’m hoping to get across in this post is that top management has taken it on the chin for too many years. Blaming top management for the failure or slowness of lean is a cop out.  An “us versus them” mentality is destructive and distracting. Rather than any one person or group of people being lumped together (ie top management), organizations need to separate the various roles comprised by top management – and then determine the various roles each should play in the lean transformation.

Here’s a couple of examples of what I mean: What does the Board of Directors have to do with the lean implementation at a manufacturing company? Should they be trained on lean? Who should train them? Should the Chief Financial Officer investigate different financial systems compatible with lean?  How would the CFO know that he or she should do this?

The way I see it there are “blamers” at every company – they say it’s top management’s fault that things aren’t moving faster or are moving off shore. And yes, there are also “blamers” in the ranks of top management (ie., a COO says “I would do it if the CEO would let me” or the plant manager who says “I’m all over lean but the owner is in my way so I give up”).

So how can we (the collective bucket I mentioned earlier) help you, passionate lean implementers, move beyond this distracting cycle to a collaborative cycle, improving the speed and quality of lean in each of your companies? I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me.

– Lesa

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“He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.” Dr. Seuss, author of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

“CHI-E is an innovating idea coming out through deep thinking or racking your brain.”

Mr. Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System (TPS).

When I was a child, my favorite stories were about creatures or kids getting into some sort of mischief by being curious enough to investigate things.  They were my heroes by night and role models by day.  The red clay hills across from my house became all kinds of mysterious structures for hidden treasure, monsters and small castles. My brothers and I were pirates, dragons and armies.  When I made it to my bed at night, I read stories of adventure and voyages that fueled my endless imagination.  Many thanks to Curious George, Nancy Drew, the Cat in the Hat, Huck Finn and many more.

I couldn’t know that I would still get to imagine, experiment, role model and build things out of cardboard, tape and string as an adult but that is an expression of how we show our CHI-E spirit.  Most of you have heard of kaizen spirit but what is CHI-E spirit?  I will leave the definition to the creator of it, Mr. Ohno:

“CHI-E is an innovating idea coming our through deep thinking or racking your brain.  Talent to create CHI-E is given to everyone in the universe.

However, it does not come out when you try to stick to your knowledge, common sense or when you are comfortable in your current environment.

As long as people strive to create his/her own CHI-E with challenge, he/she will be developed and become stronger.  Finally, a strong organization will be established.”

You’ve probably experienced or heard that one joy of having children and grandkids, is that you get to be a kid again yourself.  If you are playing with the little ones, it is okay to pretend, imagine and try new things that might fail.  If they fail, you get to have a belly laugh.

You can do this at work too if we practice CHI-E, imagining a new way to make a process or tool, conducting trials that may not work but will lead you to a better discovery, pretending you are a flowrack or conveyor to see if that would work better than what you have now.  It is all about imagining a better way without giving up.  The bonus is that many of our organizations want us to do this work.  I hope yours is one of them.

I believe in this 100% because I have experienced the rewards and seen it happen for others.  Each day as I struggle to figure out how to apply, explain or share some aspect of the Toyota Production System, I practice CHI-E.  The people who work around me can tell how strong my CHI-E level is by the brightness of my red, Irish face.

One of Mr. Ohno’s points about CHI-E that connects most strongly with me is that everyone has this capability.  It is just a matter of how much we believe in and encourage the behavior.  As you think about the CHI-E concept, challenge yourself with these questions:

  • Do you believe that EVERYONE has the capability to practice CHI-E or is it a certain percentage in the organization?  This is a hard one—you know what should be said but what do you really believe, deep in your heart?
  • How does CHI-E demonstrate trust of an employee, in your opinion and experience?
  • Have you given someone a chance to practice CHI-E and protected their time to let them see it through?

I am convinced that people find me a little eccentric for how hard I practice CHI-E and expect the same of others.  However, I am happy to follow Mr. Ohno’s CHI-E concept, racking my brain and developing new things to make the workplace better.  If you are tempted to dismiss this behavior as that of a total convert to TPS, I can tell you that some of the most hard-nosed, no nonsense managers that resist many aspects of TPS, have found this to be a practical way to unite their operations toward daily improvement.

How about giving it a try?

– Lesa

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If I respect you, how do you know?

Over the years I have been fortunate to visit hundreds of organizations as a passionate coach of the Toyota Production System (yes, it is completely connected to the Thinking People System).  I have this honor because people within Toyota have respected me enough to invest time, skill and their very last nerve to help me grasp how to make a worksite better for all the people-the customers, employees, suppliers and distributors.

Every time I visit an organization I hear some version of how much they respect the people.  I am sure that you have heard this as well through tours, advertisements, slogans, rankings of the best places to work, etc.  The list goes on.

I always ask what this means to them and I repeatedly hear a list of THINGS and PROGRAMS:

  • Great pay and  benefits
  • Training
  • Flexible work hours
  • Daycare
  • Fitness Facilities
  • A nice cafeteria

Sometimes the list of how to show respect includes empowerment.   This involves a mix of suggestion boxes, open door management, visual systems in the workplace that show the condition of the day, week, month, quarter or year.  There is nothing wrong with these THINGS and PROGRAMS.

And yet, something IS terribly wrong.  What about the actual work we are asking people to perform?

Here I have some serious questions running through my head and out my eyes.

Does it:

  • foster a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day?
  • demonstrate that the organization could not meet customer needs without them?
  • encourage them to raise problems and solutions without a sense of fear?
  • arrange their worksite so that it is comfortable and logical to them?
  • show them how their work is connected to the rest of the work being done?
  • require that they think about the work and how it could be improved?

As you walk through the worksites within your area of responsibility, ask yourself these questions while keenly observing the work.  If you can answer yes to all of the above, congratulations!  You have some form of a Thinking People System.  If you can’t answer yes, it is okay as long as you know you have some important work to do.

Next time, I will introduce a concept called chi-e which will help you look at the work from a scientific yet heartfelt view of how to genuinely respect people.

– Lesa

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