We just finished teaching a graduate level systems engineering class at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. âOU ISE 581 Lean Principles and Applicationâ was an evening class with adult students. We prefer to deal with students who can bring real-world life experiences into the class-room as we desire to make âleanâ simple, fun and applicable at work and home.
We had a great time, and based upon our review of the anonymous evaluations, so did the students. Weâre pleased that we got high marks and particularly that so many ranked us in the top 25% or best of all instructors that students have had in all of their classes.
Some of the comments we received include:
âGreat course, even with my experience level. I had a lot of âtake-awaysâ and gained better understanding of the tools and their applicationâ
âLots of classroom discussion. Cool hearing two instructors mix it upâ
âGave students real-life experience related to the class â helpful and easy to understandâ
âVery enjoyable, personable and interactiveâ
âStories from experience made it more realâ
âEasy going, compatibility of professors with students… I enjoyed the mix of PPT presentations, handouts and chalk board diagrams.â
âFun and interactive â liked the jokes. Leveled with students and did not stand up and just lectureâ
âLike the repetition of information (beating the basics into our heads)â
âLean concepts enable critical thinking â not weaponsâŚ Friendly class room environmentâ
âLight-hearted; appropriate homework quantityâ
Larry and I sometimes get asked about how lean thinking links to system engineering and the critical thinking necessary for any engineering discipline. A worthy task to condense into a few hundred words â one area where lean thinking helps. Weâll start with two analogies.
If systems engineering is a vehicle, think of lean as the engine that powers it. Lean thinking helps make things faster, better, cheaper â and safer. Without critical thinking you may have a great vehicle and a wonderful engine but headed in the wrong direction.
Another analogy is for a project of building a home or major addition. A lean practitioner is someone familiar with the tools and the thinking behind each tool, just like any good carpenter has a complete tool set and knowledge of how to use each tool. However, the old âmeasure twice and cut onceâ can be thought of as the critical thinking that eliminates waste. The overall plan for the home is akin to the overall system. You might have fantastic workmanship and come in under budget but if the design is flawed, the end product is flawed.
For our clients and our students, we take every lean tool back to the basics. Plan-Do-Check-Act takes on real meaning when people experience, first hand, how this simple but powerful model of continuous improvement can improve any system whether manufacturing, service industry or design. As the old guy (an ME with 43 years in GM and IE experience), Mike is the guy who handles the âtoolâ skill set. Larry, the EE with experience as a successful entrepreneur and business owner, uses lean and systems thinking to develop and drive business opportunity. Both use PDCA and critical thinking as the cornerstones of all activity.
In ISE 581, students will learn the foundations of the primary lean tools â and the thinking that enables continuous improvement. Respect for people, teamwork and a passion to make things run more efficiently are the bedrock of the learning â that and having fun along with real world experiences thrown in to make concepts come to life. The really great news is that âlean thinking,â properly applied, works in any kind of business or organization. Large, small, manufacturing, healthcare or service industry â it makes no difference.
Learn how lean thinking enables systems engineering. If you have any questions, feel free to contact either of our instructors.
Mike Taubitz 810-542-0885
Larry Osentoski 248-613-6738
Many problems in business today are a result of failure to understand basic system variation within a product or process. Business failures today are a result of short sighted or mis-directed goals more than that of poor product or service. Poor product or service are the symptoms of our instant gratification culture which registers any variation in performance as instant failure or success. A culture that demands non-linear growth instead of understanding variation is whimsical and cannot establish a base of sustainable growth. That is where we find ourselves in America in 2013. How do we fix it? First we must understand the main forms of business. Businesses fall into one of three categories in the United States today. Federally funded (earmarked), Publically traded firms (Wall St) or the ever diminished organic Small Business. Letâs look at each of these types one by one.
Federally funded businesses produce a culture that plans only one year at a time because they depend solely on government funding and annual budgets. These budgets are created arbitrarily based on government lobbyists getting the most funding they can for their clients instead of funding real needs. These earmark firms can only growth through federal stimulus and consequently variation in the system is not a consideration. Lean concepts serve no value to these businesses on a macro level because waste is rewarded. Lean is about identifying and removing waste. In an organization that is rooted annually in deliberate waste there is no incentive to âget leanâ or use any tools that do not simply increase federal funding. Lean can only provide value if organically grown in this form of organization without direct involvement of senior leadership. Once successful, senior leadership can be engaged and the success can be modeled throughout other areas of the organization as the results are difficult to argue with at the human and productivity level.
Publically traded Wall Street firms are the parallel path of federally funded firms. As the US government prints more money you see droves of investors piling into bonds with rates of return that do not even match inflation. This builds up and appetite for risk which leads to more investment in risky businesses. These businesses usually cannot look good on paper unless they show exponential growth plans and performance. The growth and funding for these firms is related to accounting games more than actual productivity or product in many cases. Unrealistic and unsustainable goals are set to predict and model future growth within the investment community. Any variance in performance good or bad is rewarded or punished accordingly in an exponential manner. This is a difficult environment not dissimilar to the federal business model in terms of how variation is completely ignored. If you donât believe me go tell your boss you just figured out a way to cut their budget 40% next year enabling your division to give back funding to the greater corporation. As you sign your dismissal papers youâll realize that budgets are designed in corporations to be spent, not saved. Ever heard of spend your budget or lose it? Conversely when budgets must be cut to appease Wall Street these corporations are now being punished for the earlier extreme of spending every penny of their budget. This pendulum of budgeting swings only at the extremes due to the fact these businesses donât understand variation as it relates to system performance. This leads to sub optimization of a division or department instead of a greater good for the organization as a whole. So how do we apply lean in this environment? This is tricky. This form of business usually wants to slash personnel or product build time. They often miss low hanging fruit because it interferes with some departmental empire politics. Most are not willing to challenge corporate politics because they are deadly to your career in many cases. This is an area of opportunity in our country because we need to get more efficient given the ever closing gap of world capability. Lean needs to start organically within this form of business and be championed by those doing the work. These employees need to show some success and then gain support of leadership in the light of day in front of the greater organization.
Finally we take a look at lean application within a small business. This is a vast category where I believe lean is most widely practiced. Some used to call many of the lean tools common sense. I still do. Unlike the other two business models, the barrier to lean entry into this form of business starts with the leadership. Lean must start at the head of a small business as they control the scope and growth of their operation more than any other form of business. They have more knowledge and God forbid they have probably even done many (if not all) of the tasks that the organization performs daily. Experience and talent count for something in a small business more so than any other form of business. This insight makes the application of lean easiest at this level if the leader can engage people through trust and respect and is open to real change by empowering employees. Without trust and respect for employees lean goes nowhere fast in any organization, but the smaller the group the more trust is required. Most small business leaders are open to change as they often have change thrust upon them daily, however the key is to embrace the change and find opportunity in the chaos. Chaos is a part of life. If you can find the opportunities that are present within chaos you can take hold and shape your personal goals and that of any organization. The key to finding opportunity in the chaos is to understand and embrace variation and plan for it.
Standardization is the foundation of all continuous improvement. If you have an organization where work is performed with variation, the work output will typically be fraught with errors, occasional (or frequent) poor quality and high cost. Whether you are a fan of McDonaldsâs or not, pay attention to how similar the food and coffee is when you visit different franchises. I like my coffee hot, fresh and served promptly. MickeyDâs wins on all counts â and I like the seniorâ pricing. (there are some blessings to getting older). Think about your own organization a moment. Are products and/or services performed in a standard way? Most manufacturing companies have a high degree of standardization on their factory or assembly floor but often completely miss the opportunity in office and business systems.
The cornerstone principle of this blog is that standardization is a good thing. Improve the standard and you are engaging in continuous improvement. But, the point of this blog is that standardization presents an opportunity for making significant errors. This situation occurs when managers do not truly understand their current state and the variation that may exist between workers doing seemingly similar tasks.
A typical approach is:
â˘ Assess best practice within industry / own organization
â˘ Develop standard work
â˘ Continue to battle with why workers are not following the standard
If you find yourself feeling like you are constantly pounding a round peg in a square hole and donât know why, perhaps the words of Dr. W. Edwards Deming can shed some light. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Demingâs The New Economics, second edition:
âThe prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside. The aim of this chapter is to provide an outside view-a lens-that I call a system of profound knowledge. It provides a map of theory by which to understand the organizations that we work in.
The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people.
Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to. The individual, once transformed, will:
â˘ Set an example
â˘ Be a good listener, but will not compromise
â˘ Continually teach other people
â˘ Help people to pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past
The layout of profound knowledge appears here in four parts, all related to each other:
â˘ Appreciation for a system
â˘ Knowledge about variation
â˘ Theory of knowledge
Our experience suggests that Deming was right on all points. If you do not gain the trust of workers and listen to what is really happening in the current state, any attempt at standardization and continuous improvement will typically ignore existing variation and issues in the political and social system. Remember that workers did not create the existing system â they merely try to do work within the system.
Leaders must respect their workers, gain input while teaching them how to think differently â and have appreciation for systems and variation. With these foundation skills, senior management can begin leading the never-ending journey of real continuous improvement.
Larry and I ran a fun session for a client last week. Each participant was provided a list of more than 50 tips before the class. During the session, each person spent one minute describing why they selected a particular tip for continuing their personal lean journey. (i.e. you get what you accept, not what you expect). After each person spoke, we broke the group into small teams and had each team reach consensus regarding the most important or relevant thoughts as agreed by their team. We thought our readers might be interested in the outcome.
The collection of selected tips includes:
â˘ Becoming lean requires leadership and teamwork
â˘ Fairness and respect for all are cornerstones of any journey
â˘ Group brainstorming can produce powerful results; in a lean culture it will never stifle individual thought
â˘ Do your best â no one can ask for more
â˘ The greatest risk is not taking one
â˘ Continuous improvement is continuous â you are never done
â˘ Team members will become âlean thinkersâ at different times; keep moving forward, sharing successes and lessons until you hit the tipping point for true culture change
â˘ Do no attempt changes / improvements without the input of affected stakeholders
The best part of the exercise was hearing how much the participants enjoyed listening to âwhyâ their colleagues thought something was important.
Respect for all at its bestâŚ..
I just read another survey showing that many employees do not trust their bosses. Numerous studies show that trust in their immediate supervisor is one of the mostimportant elements of job satisfaction for employees. However, this remains an elusive goal for many organizations.
Trust is the foundation for teamwork, and the challenge for many companies is creating an organizational culture of teamwork. If you are working on teamwork without addressing the trust issue, you are missing the boat.
If you are a boss ask yourself a few questions:
â˘ Do your direct reports trust you?
â˘ Do their direct reports trust them?
â˘ How do you know?
â˘ Do you cross your fingers hoping that organizational members trust each other?
Letâs see if a â5 Whyâ problem analysis can be of value:
1. Why isnât our organizational performance where we want it to be?
Answer: We suffer from a lack of teamwork
2. Why donât we have better teamwork?
Answer: Though not spoken, we believe there is a lack of trust
3. Why is there a lack of trust?
Answer: One reason is that employees donât feel like we care about their personal well-being
4. Why donât employees feel like management cares about their well-being?
Answer: Trust and empowerment are not viewed as organizational values
5. Why arenât trust and empowerment viewed as values?
Answer: Because management confuses the organization with statements and actions like:
- Our people are our most valuable resource but do nothing to demonstrate their commitment
- Lean tools are used as a weapon
- Lean is only for workers and staff â not management
- You cannot have a high-performing organization without teamwork and trust
- Lean thinking and tools are a great enabler – - if implemented properly
- Itâs more about how and why than what you do
- Itâs all about keeping things simple and treating adult learners with respect
If you want an organizational culture of teamwork and continuous improvement, you need to have respect for people as a foundation.Â When that value is driven by senior leaders as part of their daily business, you are taking the first steps in a very long journey to building trust â and a sustainable organization.
Sustainable Lean can helpâŚ.
There is a growing number of corporate leaders who recognize the importance of sustainability as a long-term business imperative, yet major challenges persist in mergingÂ strategy and actual performance. Closing this gap will require leaders to focus on embedding sustainability both broadly and deeply into the DNA of their business. This is where lean thinking and tools can help.
The teachings of W. Edwards Deming (often regarded as one of the fathers of the modern quality movement) are helpful as a philosophical foundation.Â However, Demingâs 14 Points do little to help someone implement his philosophy which could be summarized as âmanagement leadership to create a system where all workers can contribute to continuous improvement in an environment of trust and respect.âÂ Demingâs cornerstone was using the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) as cornerstone for improvement.Â Toyotaand other Japanese companies who studied Deming created tools and systems that came to be known as âlean.â
Lean can either be an enabler or a weapon.Â If you use 5S (five repeatable steps to make the workplace neat, clean and organized) as a weapon to maintain a âclean deskâ under threat of management reprisal, you have missed the entire point of lean.Â When 5S is used to help people learn how to identify and eliminate the seven forms of operational waste, teamwork, consensus and how to standardize non-standard work, you are beginning a sustainable lean journey on the right path.
Lean tools and thinking is the âengineâ that can power your organization on a journey of sustainable growth.Â As with any journey, itâs important to know the destination.Â In this case, it is always about providing increased value to the customer.Â You must the know business you are in, who your customers are and where you want to be in ten and twenty years.Â In and of itself, that is a challengeâŚ.Â However, the bigger challenge is figuring out how you can engage the hearts and minds of workers to daily engage in work thatÂ contributes to the urgent and immediate as well as the long-term.
Sustainable Lean offers no â cost thinking that does not rely on technology or capital expenditure to improve operational performance.Â Teams learn to âact their way to a new way of thinking.â
Itâs simpleâŚ. But itâs not easy.Â Let the co-founders of Sustainable Lean guide you on your journeyâŚ.