Shikumi: System Based Lean Transformation 2

Systems thinking

Thinking about systems?

Every once in a while, I see lean ideas that seem to come at just the right time. I have been preaching about the importance of a systems approach to successful lean implementations for years and found an article that gives an interesting take on that vision.

From the article: ” Shikumi signifies a system; more specifically a holistic system, composed of elements and aspects. Shikumi materializes certain underlying principles through the system’s tangible and detailed policies, methods, rules and standards. According to Frederick Stimson Harriman on LinkedIn’s “TPS Principles and Practice” group, Shikumi means setting up things so that they will react in a desired way in certain circumstances. This also makes it into a more organic system; a nervous or self-regulating system, which Toyota’s famed kanban system is also sometimes referred to. Shikumi-zukuri refers the creation of such a system.”

Here is the link to the rest of the article:

For any of my fellow lean practitioners, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Mister Mac

May 31 2017 – Another Milestone 6


Another Milestone

May 31 2017 marks the end of my second career. When I retired from the US Navy in August of 1994, I foolishly assumed that the travel and adventure was all in the rear view mirror. We were headed to a little town in Kansas where I would be happy helping save an old Opera House from the wreckers and do a little community service in my spare time. I’m happy to report that 26 years later, the McPherson Opera House is doing well

but our stay in the town we came to serve only lasted for a short while. We found out about small town politics in a very large way and found ourselves on a new course that would prove to be a far better one.

A different approach

With a freshly minted degree from Southern Illinois University and my years in the Navy, I found a series of jobs that all allowed me to grow personally and professionally. It’s amazing when I look back over the years since we left McPherson to see all of the types of manufacturing I have been involved with. My first company was General Physics in Indianapolis, IN where I worked at steel plants, aluminum, power generating companies and got my first introduction to trucks at Ford Motor Company in Louisville KY. This was actually my first real break since I was introduced to something called Lean Manufacturing.


Lean manufacturing let me work in truck assembly plants, steering and pump manufacturing, transmission assembly, car assembly, and a corporate training center. Then a plastics manufacturer for Ford, a bumper and components manufacturer, an SUV manufacturer and another car plant.

I did another short stint with Aluminum and casting companies, trucks and remanufacturing and chemicals. The last stint has been pure joy in a manufacturing environment making gas pipe that are used in nearly every restaurant that you can think of. I have learned so many different ways to do Lean, that I can’t even remember them all.

And travel? Oh my goodness. I honestly think I may have logged as many miles in the air since the Navy than all of my travels before retiring. Not all of it was great and there were a few hairy times but truthfully, I had a great ride. I have so many pictures from all over the world that provide me with a lot of enjoyment. I never thought I would come to love France but I did.

Limoges and Paris 2010 077

So why retire now?

In some ways I am tired. A lot of health concerns have occurred in the last year and some are unresolved. Since I have turned 63, it was not a hard decision to take Social Security and combine it with my Navy pension and make it work. I am taking some time off to get healthier. But I will still seek some work from time to time. I still think I have a lot to offer as a teacher in technical schools. I want to write. And we want to travel and visit some of the amazing places and more amazing people we have met in our twenty moves. Plus, I want to write more stories for the blog.


I picked up a hobby along th eway. I love to speak. I love to tell stories. I love it when an audience responds to something I have shared with them. But the hobby is time consuming. I found that it kept interfering with my work time. So I will be reengaging in my love and try to continue to grow. There is one very large trophy still missing on my shelf. Maybe I will find it someday.

The leansubmariner Blog.

In May of 2014, theleansubmariner celebrated a milestone of reaching 150,000 views. Fast forward to May of 2017 and the number tops 330,000 views. There are currently 558 stories covering 83 categories and over a thousand tags. We are linked through Facebook shares, Twitter, LinkedIn and we are viewed in nearly every country on earth during the six years since we first published.


I would be remiss to mention the girl who has put up with me through all of these journeys. Did I mention she has moved with me twenty times? She has held my hand in the darkest of moments and propped me up when I felt like quitting. I am looking forward to many more fun adventures.

My hope for all of you is that you have as an exciting journey along the way as we have had so far. It is always humbling to see people on Facebook that we served with or worked with so many years ago and still share memories and thoughts with. I know the best is still yet to come but for now, I’m going to enjoy slowly strolling by this milestone.

Mister Mac


Continuous Learning – It’s a Navy Thing 1


When I am not writing about submarines, I am normally busy with my day job which is helping the companies I work with to better understand continuous improvement or “lean thinking”. While one is solely vocational in nature and the other is purely avocational both share the same basic roots: Continuous Learning.

As a young boy, I was always curious about the world and spent many hours pouring through the Encyclopedias my parents had bought for the children. I especially found myself drawn to technology and had a great fascination with the technology of war. I can’t think of a single popular book about World War 2 that I didn’t check out from the school library and my personal favorites were written by Samuel Elliot Morrison. Samuel was a close friend of President Roosevelt and convinced him that he would be a great asset in recording the war by being a part of it. The resulting works even with their flaws still remain a rich picture of the many campaigns that the US Navy fought during the war.


Despite my love of reading however, I was not a very good student in High School. Somewhere around 14, I discovered that the opposite sex held certain attractions that became infinitely more interesting than spending time with algebra and social studies. This new found obsession replaced much of my previous attractions and unfortunately was also reflected in the grades I achieved. I believe that I was still using continuous learning of a sort but it was not of any use in gaining entry to a college.

In fact, I think I had  convinced myself that I was no longer able to spend time in school and decided that the quick solution to my concerns was to join the Navy. The Navy would provide this 17 year old boy with an income, a great adventure, and a way to marry the girl who occupied all of my day and night dreams.So I convinced Mom and Dad that it was the best path forward and in April 1972 they signed the permission slip for me to join the Navy in its delayed entry program. The immediate rewards are still somewhat personal but at the time, I was a very happy young man.

A few days after graduation, I began the next phase of my life which as it turns out was the foundation for the rest of my life in continuous learning. I entered Boot Camp and immediately discovered that not only had I not escaped the classroom, I had entered one which was 24/7. Every single part of that experience was about learning new things that would help me to become an American Bluejacket. From the importance of how you stow your gear to the criticality of understanding the regulations that governed us all, Boot Camp was an intense learning experience that was meant to prepare civilians for a new way of life.

I can still remember the lessons to this day nearly forty three years later. Navy traditions, leadership, teamwork, damage control, seamanship, physical conditioning, health care, first aid, a place for everything and everything in its place, and on and on. All of these are the roots of “lean” and continuous improvement since they demand the sailor be ready for his role in defending the nation and the sailors around him or her. By the end of Boot Camp,  we were ready to join our fellow “shipmates” in a number of areas including Vietnam, aircraft carriers, supply ships, even battleships. Except that a number of us were not quite ready yet. We would receive orders to Class “A” schools where our skills would be enhanced and new knowledge would be learned.

MM rate training manual

My designated school was Machinist Mate A school in Great Lakes Illinois. Right across the street from where I had just spent the last two months. Here we learned about steam and propulsion, valves and pumps, air conditioning basics and refrigeration. All of these skills were supposed to help us become more prepared for the technology that powered the ships that defend the country and its sea lanes. This school included both classroom and practical training including operating a landlocked steam plant. I was happy for the school to come to an end but my plans of becoming a nuclear trained petty officer were not to be met. About a third of us did not pass the final screening and were about to enter a completely different path.



I have a copy of the paperwork where I volunteered for submarines and it is my signature. I don’t remember signing it. But it was among a number of pieces of paper that the classifying Petty Officer put in front of me that cold day in December 1972 after we had been out shoveling snow. When I got the orders to submarine school a few weeks later, I was shown the copy that I had signed and was reminded that it was now my duty to follow orders. My first thought was “Great… more school.” I was a bit disappointed that my addition to the fleet was being delayed once more by schools but you do what you have to do.

Submarine school was awesome. For the first time since boot camp, I really felt like something great was happening. We did classroom stuff but also a lot of interesting things like the dive trainer ( a simulated  submarine dive and drive setup), the dive tower and pressure chamber testing. Now I was getting someplace. Four weeks later, I was ready to go to my first boat and the orders came in.

Sub School 1773

Dear MMFN MacPherson… on your way to the USS George Washington SSBN 598 Blue Crew, would you mind very much stopping off in Charleston SC and attend another three months worth of school at the Fleet Ballistic Training Center at our Auxiliary Package course for Auxiliary men? Thanks so much, NavPers. (or something like that, I can’t seem to find the letter they sent).

Off to school again. Consider the irony of all this education for a young man that was tired of school. I finally did get to the boat and found out that in between patrols, it was more school and more training. By the time I finished my career in 1994, I had been to over 62 Naval technical and leadership courses. Along the way, I also picked up enough classes which would lead to a Bachelor of Science Degree from Southern Illinois University (Magna Cum Laude) which probably shocked the heck out of some of my high school teachers.

The learning has never stopped. Since graduating from the Navy, I have been blessed to be able to attend dozens of courses in project management, six sigma, lean manufacturing with eight different companies (including Toyota as a supplier), communications, leadership and others.

The Navy taught me how to learn and the importance of continuing to improve. The best lesson of all was that while you may not be able to remember everything you have been taught, if you remember where to find the answers and how to use them that is the best learning of all.

Thanks for stopping by. Learn something new this week.

Mister Mac

Training 101 – What we can learn about training from the Little Rascals Reply

thZU0PW7HSA little lengthy but probably worth the read in the long run if you have been tasked with developing a “training event” by a well meaning person with absolutely no training development experience.

Just a primer for how to develop training (from an old training professional). Training can be deceptively simple. I am often reminded of an episode of the Little Rascals when I was a kid. They needed money and were sitting around scratching their heads for a solution. Suddenly Alfalfa stands up and says, “Hey, I have an idea… let’s put on a show” The show goes on in an amateurish kind of way with pieces of the set falling down around the hapless actors and the spotted dog running away with some of the props at a critical moment. Only the miracle of a generous movie director makes the thing work in the end.

The lesson from the Rascals is as old as time itself: if you fail to plan, you should plan to fail (unless you have a generous director)

My experience in industry is that we approach training much the same way as the Rascals approached putting on the show (again, without having a generous movie director to save us in the end).

Rule of thumb: Allow enough time for the training to be constructed. According to most industry professionals, new training can have a 32 – 1 development ratio (hours) and existing training modified for a new purpose typically requires a 16-1 ratio. That means for every hour of classroom time either 32 or 16 hours should be committed to having a successful outcome.

Even as lacking as some of the canned corporate training is, I would be willing to bet that training specialists spent an equivalent amount of time developing what they have in their library. As someone who developed training for a living, I can assure you of this.

Where does the time go?

Most training professionals use something similar to the ADDIE process which is a spiral of PDCA activities.

Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation are the five steps to excellent learning outcomes.

Analysis: Creating lists and analyzing the real needs.

  • You Plan by understanding the who, what , where, when , why and how (5W and H).
  • You Do by seeing a short list of potential solutions,
  • You Check by circling back to your target audience or their sponsors and validating your assumptions,
  • You Adjust by tailoring the training to the perceived needs. A good training specialist will have tools they use to accomplish all of these steps and then the final PDCA includes a quality gate signed off by a Master Trainer

Design: Design the best method for solving the problem or gap identified in the analysis. Using the information (needs) provided during the assessment,

  • The designer Plans the design of the course. This includes creating targeted learning objectives, learning material, supporting material, classroom needs, instructor qualifications, and measurements for success.
  • They DO by actually creating the materials and preparing all support structures.
  • They Check by having a beta trial to test for effectiveness. The design phase also include future assessment activities.
  • They Adjust as needed and prepare the package for the quality gate sign off by the Master Trainer.

Development: Once the design has been approved, the materials are then developed.

  • The developer Plans  the 5W and H for the actual material development .
  • Then the developer Does ensure that all of the materials are correctly prepared and standardized.
  • The Check in this case is with the Designer and end user to check for completeness.
  • The Adjust is to make any corrections before the initial roll out once agian via the Master Trainer.

Implementation: There must be a well thought out method for implementing and delivering the training
Plan that includes input from the analysis phase. again this would include an implementation 5W and H. In the analysis phase, generic potential participants and providers are identified. In this phase, actual participants and logistics to ensure their participation are mapped out. Instructional assignments are then made and support structures put in place. If anything is not ready for this phase, document why and keep moving (an A4 problem solving will be done in the Evaluation phase).

  • The Do is simple. Role out the training.
  • The Check by using immediate feedback tools (level one evaluations) and any other evaluations recommended in the design phase.
  • Implementers Adjust between ever delivery and be ready to pull the ANDON if you have a train wreck on your hands. Even the best designs fail from time to time for a number of reasons.


  • The Plan includes evaluation check points,
  • The Do includes execution of the evaluations.
  • Check means a predetermined measurements for success or need for Adjust.

Of course, the argument is that all of this looks great but you need resources. I couldn’t agree more. But in the meantime, its always good to know that there is an actual design of learning. Its also a great way to understand why so much of industry training that doesn’t use the model fails to meet the objectives.


Mister Mac

Surfacing Employee Engagement 1

Riding high

Years ago I belonged to a very bureaucratic organization that had multiple “business units” performing many of the same tasks on a global level. I was a member of five of these units and made some observations about how each performed. All had the exact same mission and vision statements. All had the exact same set of rules and guidelines. All were equally resourced. Yet, of the five, only one exceeded everyone’s expectation and had the highest level of engagement of any of them.

The USS San Francisco SSN 711 was a 688 class nuclear submarine and I still model it today when I work with organizations. Leadership was a key to preparing the framework for engagement but only as something that allowed engagement to occur. This was not an easy life by any means and the technical bureaucracy could be maddening. Deployments were frequent and often arduous and the unexpected nature of the assignments added to the complexity. What made this boat different form the other four was the steady and consistent encouragement from leadership for all hands to be as engaged as they wanted to be. That engagement led to opportunities and rewards that were both real and meaningful.

For some, NAVY was an acronym for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself”. I felt that sharply on my first two submarines and it showed in the lackluster performance and achievements of the boats and their crews. Don’t get me wrong. Both boats had storied histories and had achieved many things in their earlier years. The thing that seemed to be lacking during my tours on them was the leadership and sense of ownership. I rarely felt inspired to do much more than the minimum in many cases and while there were isolated pockets of excellence, it was not the norm.

To be fair… even on the San Francisco there were some guys on board who only engaged as much as they were required. But a larger share of the crew did more and contributed more than what seemed to have been in place on other similar units. I have kept track of that particular crew for over thirty years and most went on to have amazing careers in both the Navy and the civilian world. We had a large group go on to become commissioned officers and a significant number of us enjoyed full careers. Leadership must lay the foundations for engagement, but it is the people who are in that system that have to find the inner drive and determination to succeed.  This symbiotic relationship was a key driver to our success on the 711 boat.

If organizations really want to capture the benefits of having an engaged workforce, the leaders must be passionate about creating a culture where engagement is valued and rewarded in a meaningful way. Without that passion, mandated engagement is nothing more than mandatory fun that was often the case on many Navy submarines. Mandatory fun was always short lived, mocked by the crew, and rarely ever gained any real results.

Mister Mac

Searching for the Holy Grail: LEASIGCICCISM 3




Spanning the Globe

For over seventeen years, I have been involved with lean initiatives that seem to cover the globe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a good ride. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing when I left the Navy but the roles I have played in helping the universal search for the Holy Grail have convinced me that too many people are engaged in this search without having a clue why they are doing it.

Many (if not all) of the top companies in the world have sought after ways to implement game changing ways to alter their corporate DNA. They all seem to be seeking a way that will catapult them beyond their competitors. Some will tell you they are doing it for “insert standard vision statement here that reflects corporate harmony with the universe”. I have seen some fairly lofty statements about being a good neighbor to the brotherhood of man (or fellowship of persons in this day and age of special interest groups). But in the end game, it’s the bottom line which ultimately must be enhanced if the truth were to be admitted.

The real victim of this movement has been the alphabet

That poor collection of letters has been beaten, sliced, shredded, pushed around and blended in ways Webster never even imagined. LEASIGCICCISM knows no bounds when it comes to hijacking letters in an endless array of “best practices” that show one system rocks more than the others. “My PDCA will beat your DMAIC every day of the week and 6 times on Sunday”. Sure, but a strong emphasis on FI coupled with AC and AM will drive your KPIs down to the Tier one level which ought to improve your roll up and PS process. Add a lot of VM (or is that VF) and your SMT will be hitting on all cylinders (right after their mandatory VSM meeting where the TL and GL will discuss OEE and FTT for the day).


You want structure? You need look no further than LEASIGCICCISM

Pillars upon foundations surrounded by columns and sturdy roofs provide a sanctuary where this religion can grow and prosper. Elements and principles abound in no particular order to fill the empty spaces. If you get bored with houses, you can entertain yourself with pyramids and circles. No shape has been left languishing when it comes to the implementation of LEASIGCICCISM. Even when you want to combine elements that seem to be at odds with each other, building the right structural representation helps you to defy logical assumptions. After all, they are all just rooms in a giant hotel of creationism.

The real question is, does it work?

There have been some seemingly cataclysmic failures in the past ten years of giants in the movement. Even the mighty Toyota that claims a degree of ownership to the modern version of lean has seen its share of trouble. Other companies have spent millions of dollars on programs (maybe even more) and have not seen the kind of sustained improvements that they sought. Some dip their toes in the magical waters of LEASIGCICCISM and only come away with wet feet. There is a common thread in each failure.


You can almost predict the sequence of events. Leadership is introduced in one way or another to the need for LEASIGCICCISM. It will be a game changer for their company. Others are doing it and seeing spectacular results (say the uninformed and undereducated people who see personal rewards in the journey ahead). With a giant splash and a hundred thousand bright posters, the ship is launched. The CEO is at the helm and everyone (even the radical skeptics) applauds the beginning of the brave new adventure.

Consultants are hired, road maps are created based on the best practices stolen from others who appear to be successful, and people are trained on a massive scale. Meetings are held, every aspect is carefully regulated (even to the point where the stapler now rests in a “box” of lined yellow tape on the CEO’s desk). Nothing has been left to chance and everyone gets brought into the movement.

Then, about six months into the program/initiative/undertaking some young boy or girl in accounting notices that the expected inflow of dollars does not appear. In fact, with all the extra donuts and coffee for the increase in brainstorming meetings, the company seems to be losing money. Productivity is down because of all the line stoppages. Problems are surfaced that reveal we actually have been avoiding making capital investments for years and now the people are empowered to request that we fix them they discover that there is no money to do so. Over at the Board Meeting, investors are worried that all this change will affect their previously solid investments. You can only imagine the phone calls the CEO starts to receive.

Panic and retreat – the LEASIGICCISM Wheel

At first, the company tries its best to put a good face on everything. But soon, budgets are sliced, travel is restricted, donuts are banned and KPI becomes a deadly combination of letters for everyone. Gone is the silly talk about letting the change become anchored in the culture and in its place the specter of failure rises from the ashes of burning posters. Empty chairs appear in boardrooms and meeting rooms all across the company. The name of the program is added to the laundry list of previous programs that have become fodder for second shift supervisors who were gleefully waiting for this to fail too.

The wheel

Are we doomed forever?

Will we never find the grail?

I don’t think we are doomed and I do believe its possible to get closer to the grail. I think in some ways we will continue to fail if we continue to allow ourselves to see implementations as programs rather than actual commitments. A commitment is when you are fully engaged with an honest appraisal of what you are about to engage in. That commitment must be reaffirmed every single day in good times as well as bad. Everyone must be on the same page and aligned to the understanding of what we are doing and why.

Common knowledge seems to indicate that it takes many years for a change to anchor itself. The best I have ever seen is five to seven years. Maybe that’s too optimistic though. I have been married for thirty three years and I know we still have to put a lot into our relationship to keep it on solid ground. Frankly, it’s a lifelong commitment with no assurance of success. But we are aligned and we do have a better than average chance of making it. Our budget does get tested from time to time but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to work through the hard times.

I am glad we keep trying to improve

I hope that companies and organizations will always seek better ways to do what they do, Success means survival not only for the company but for the communities and families that rely on them. I just hope that those same companies can find that the only way to gain from LEASIGCICCISM is to get behind the letters and discover the heart of what they mean. Then, and only then, can real change begin.


Mister Mac

5S Boot Camp 1

In the many lean implementations I have been involved with, establishing a discipline of 5S has always been one of the foundations sought after.

The term “5S” of course comes from the Toyota system of lean but for anyone who ever went through boot camp or basic training, it has a number of other descriptions.


I think the polite term was having your “Stuff” together (substitute a four letter word starting with S that is often used to describe excrement).

One of the first lessons you learn after getting a sea bag full of gear is that it doesn’t stay in the sea bag during your stay in boot camp. You are given a small space that is similar to what you will get on board your first ship or submarine and everything you own must fit into that space.


Space on board any ship is incredibly limited since a large number of people are often assigned to an area that Superman would find hard to change out of his civilian clothes into his uniform. Gear adrift can actually kill if a man is trying to get out of a burning compartment or trips and falls down a ladder on his way to a lifeboat drill. So the minute you get your issued gear, the thought of it being in the wrong place is pounded right out of you.


Since you are going to be limited in space, you quickly learn that there is no place for unauthorized stuff. Possession of unauthorized stuff is not only discouraged, it can be a bit painful if the Chief finds it.


I am not a big fan of push ups and neither are the shipmates who have to do them because some knucklehead has decided to try and test the Chief on this principle.

Since you are only given the small amount of space you are, you quickly find out that if it is not folded in a certain way, it will not fit.

This lesson is reinforced time and time again so that all of the men in the company are completely squared away. Squared away is some oblique reference to every corner being “squared” I suppose. What I found out rather quickly was that those who failed to achieve the square found themselves in a world of stuff.


Knowing where everything belongs is critical on board a submarine. When the lights go out for one reason or another, having a clear knowledge of where the gear is that will sustain or save your butt suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. Everyone must have the same understanding and knowledge or things can go chaotic very quickly. In a casualty or combat, you want to know where every single piece of gear is stowed and you need to have the confidence that it is there. That also starts in boot camp.

Now that you have your “stuff” together, you need for it to be ready to use.

The starting place is to know that it is clean and ready to use. I happened to be in boot camp in the dark ages where washing machines apparently had not been invented yet. We would spend hours with buckets, brushes and boxes of Tide soap making sure our whites were white and our blues were nice and clean. Then we would tie the clothes to outdoor hanging lines with little pieces of white line and wait for the weather to do its thing. The final step was that this required someone to stand guard over the whole lot.


The Chief was the “helper” to make sure you mastered this “clean” phase. He handed out gentle reminders to those who were not proficient enough to follow his careful instructions. Did you know that a 1903 A3 Springfield rifle carried over your head while running around the grinder actually has the capability of increasing in weight from about 9.5 pounds to about a hundred? Magic!


Orderliness and cleanliness are nothing if you don’t have some standardization? Yes, everyone doing things the same way every time and making sure their tools are ready for the next time is an important step as well. The Japanese call this one:


Finally, the order of the day is maintaining what you have done.

Shining up an area once and then moving on is actually counterproductive. The lesson is that if we just clean it good enough for today we will be left alone. The hardest lesson for most people is to remember that tomorrow is a new day and dirt loves new days. It used to amaze me that we would work for hours and hours cleaning the submarine and within a few days the dirt had returned. Holy crap!?!  How did the dirt find us if the Russians couldn’t?


As I sit here typing this blog, I can still imagine myself learning these lessons in a long, shiny compartment in Great Lakes Illinois.

Camp Barry Boot Camp

Even after more than forty years, the smell of freshly lain wax and sun baked white cotton fills my memory.

What would the world be like if we could make everybody go through their own 5S boot camp? I know for a fact it would make my job as a lean facilitator a lot easier.

Mister Mac

The Lean Facilitator Reply

The practice of lean involves eliminating waste wherever it is found and solving problems (which typically leads to waste elimination). In all things, we are trying to remove the barriers that keep our teams from being successful. But team building can be a tricky thing in any culture.

Most western cultures are deeply rooted in the need to recognize individual performance and achievement. Our rewards systems are often set up to encourage individualism. Many people strive for the number one position, the pole position in racing, the gold star award, the penthouse suite and the corner office. While all of these are important, they do little to encourage the type of team collaboration needed in a lean environment.

goal alignment

One key part of a lean effort is the lean facilitator. This person is important at the start of the journey and plays a balancing role throughout the implementation and life of the effort. What key roles and characteristics make up a good facilitator?

Primarily, the knowledge, skills, and abilities you would expect in any facilitator. For example, a lean facilitator:

  • is capable of maintaining objectivity
  • is skilled in reading the underlying dynamics of the group and using that understanding to keep the process on track
  • is skilled in adapting to the changing situation
  • demonstrates professionalism, self-confidence, and authenticity
  • maintains personal integrity
  • remains neutral on issues
  • practices active listening
  • knows how to ask questions
  • encourages open communication
  • maintains focus on the issues


All teams go through a development process. The development process has at least four distinct phases (Form, Storm, Norm, Perform) which can be repeatable based on a number of different factors. AN important point to remember also is that each time there are changes to the team, there will be potential impacts on where the team is in the cycle. New members always add an amount of “change” to the mix and that should be a key indicator for the need for a reassessment.

Understanding where the team is in the cycle can help the facilitator to become more effective in guiding the teams through a lean journey. This places a burden on the facilitator to not make assumptions but taking the time to make well measured assessments at varying points along the way. The key thing is to continue to re-evaluate with enough frequency based on the key indicators (conflict, chaos, productivity gains and losses and so on).

Finally, the ability for a facilitator to balance inquiry and advocacy is critical to their success. Inquiry means that the facilitator is allowing the natural flow of ideas to come from the group being facilitated. That does not mean that the facilitator cannot advocate for an idea or a direction. If the group is failing to come to the place where lean thinking is the key factor, it is acceptable for the facilitator to take a more proactive approach to get the team back on track.

A great lean facilitator can make all the difference in a lean journey.

True North

True north is a place that can be reached if only the right amount of direction can be applied. Being prepared to provide that general direction while allowing the group to discover it “on their own” is a true challenge and a true opportunity.

Mister Mac

Diving into Lean 1

What a great week!

I spent most of it in Orlando Florida at the Peabody Hotel participating in meetings and discussions around “lean culture” with members of the Lean Enterprise Institute’s Lean Transformation Summit 2013.


The Institute is a non-profit organization made up of people like John Shook and Jim Womack who are certainly no strangers to the people who have decided to try and aspire to lean thinking.


The first day was spent in a workshop focused on Management Standard work.

IMG_1446     IMG_1453

In lean manufacturing initiatives, we often focus on the Gemba where the work actually takes place. The lesson for the day was a renewed emphasis on the management/leader Gemba where other kinds of work need more focus on standardization. The problem with many groups is that the leadership does not completely align itself with a lean culture and the conflicts that arise are hindrances to advancing the progress of the whole unit.

The core part of lean is linked to an old retail saying:

“Location, location, location”

Proximity to the work and ultimately to the problems is linked with an iron band to the solutions that can be found. The more distance between the Gemba and the leadership, the harder it is to see problems and be a part of the solution. The mantra about problem solving is for the people involved to be where the problems occur. How can you achieve that if the managers are separated by space and time for most of the working day? Not only that, but meetings are very counterproductive if they are not linked to helping the people in the Gemba solve the things that keep them from being successful?

Can I get a witness?

The summit’s power is in bringing together thousands of lean practitioners from all around the world. Every major continent was represented in one way or another and the understanding of common struggles was obvious in the workshops and plenary sessions. As speaker after speaker identified common problems, you could see people shaking their heads up and down and smiling as if to say, “Yes, that is happening in my shop”.

The exciting thing is to see the principals of lean spreading to many industries. From the humble beginnings at Toyota, lean has spread like oil on water from manufacturing to healthcare, financial to insurance, services to education. The ideas of waste identification and elimination are useful in any industry with the vision to see what the possibility’s are. Mergers and acquisitions of companies have created untold opportunities for waste creation so finding ways to adapt this process is critical for all of us.

The common ground for all of us attending is the seeking of better ways to practice the beliefs and understand the way to apply the tools.

I learned some new facets of A3 thinking (both strategic and problem solving) from Tracey Richardson (Teaching Lean, Inc.). Tracey was a production worker at Toyota’s Georgetown plant in Kentucky and later became one of their trainers. She now teaches lean across all industries in her own business and is a dynamic speaker and presenter. Her tools for A3 problem solving will be shared with my team at my current location.

Laura Murray from IBM spent 90 minutes with us in a workshop that talked about TWI (Training within Industry). While much of the information was review for me, it was interesting to see the application in a process related industry and how it affected their lean journey.

Overall, the time was well spent for me. There were no moments of light bulbs popping over my head. But there was a great opportunity for me to sharpen my sword, learn a few new ideas of merit and meet with some fellow members of what some call a quasi-religious order.


The single best Plenary experience was hearing the success story of a young woman named Stacy Skinner who works for Herman Miller in western Michigan.

Herman Miller is one of the great lean success stories and you owe it to yourself to do a little research on the company and the way they do their business.

Stacy was a floor associate who was selected for one of Herman Miller’s leadership programs. HM identified that there was a gap in the middle and in order to expedite their lean journey they needed leaders at all levels. Tracy was selected for the program and currently serves as an Operations Facilitator. Her story about going form a floor worker and adopting the lessons learned in the classes was motivational and inspirational. There were some seasoned speakers before and after her, but none of them left the same impression with the crowd at large. Her ovation was the loudest and longest. Thank you Tracy and I hope you continue to grow and teach all of us.

Lean is about continuous learning.

I can honestly say that I spent the week in a way where some learning occurred. I wonder if there is a way we can spread waste elimination in a meaningful way to our government?

At the Peabody, that is like getting your Ducks in a Row…



Mister Mac

Conflict? My Team?… oh yeah, it’s Monday… 1

Sunday afternoons are a great time around our house. We read the paper, settle the schedule for the week, walk the dogs, and sometimes take a nap.


Dinner will be grilled “something” in every season but deep winter, and the TV gets a break until later in the evening. The routine has developed over the years as an antidote to the day which soon follows: Mondays.

I have been a part of teams and a leader of teams for most of my adult life. From the early days in the Navy to my later days as a civilian, the combinations of teams and Monday mornings have come to represent an endless opportunity for learning how to manage conflict. I have participated in and watched many others deal with this source of negative energy for as long as I can remember. Sadly my observation in most cases has been that the people leading those teams are not very skilled at it.

Leadership is a mix of theory and practice. There are probably as many books on leadership as there are on any subject you can imagine. Why so many books? Why have so many people made so much money on something that continues to struggle no matter how many books like “Seven Secrets to Successful Stupendousness” get published?


I was noticing the other day in a few of my professional journals how many formulas there are for success and they all have numbered steps. Because I have not yet published my book on “Seven Steps for Superior Speaking using the Submarine Service Style” I will refrain from criticizing the need for numbers. Perhaps that will be my next book: “Seven reasons why highly successful writers don’t need seven reasons”.

Conflict often begins on a Monday for a number of reasons.

Conflicting goals within teams, conflicting goals within the same team, interpersonal communication conflicts, too many beers on Sunday afternoon and evening, boredom, lost tools, and… wait, conflict just kind of happens in and of itself sometimes. In a perfect world, you would just let the warring parties go off into a large room someplace and knock each other silly until they came to their senses. But that wouldn’t actually be a perfect world since they would somehow find a way to sue the company for not providing the loser with a safe and comforting workplace.

In the real world, schedules need to be met, production needs to run in harmony. Your customers really don’t care how you do it as long as the quality is high, the costs are reasonable, and the product or service gets there just in time. Unresolved conflict will stop all of these from happening.


If your team members are focused on the C.O.O.D. (conflict of the day) instead of their regularly assigned work flow, your product quality will be reduced. I have seen this effect many times as we did root cause analysis on spikes in deficiencies. Operator inattentiveness more often than not can be traced as the real root cause (except in very hard core union shops where evil management and lack of care for the worker by that evil management is always the root cause.)

In the world of Lean/Continuous Improvement, we look for eight types of waste that do not add value to the product or service.

(I know, more numbers, but its acceptable across the whole Lean/CI world so who am I to fight it?)

Waiting, Unneeded Motion, Defects, Transport, Overproduction, Inventory, Over-processing, and unused Employee Input. If you think about an unresolved conflict in the workplace you can probably see where all eight of these can be impacted by unhappy or angry workers/leaders.


The first part of the solution is to accept the fact that its going on. The saddest and most ignorant comment I have ever heard a leader say is: “They are being paid to work and I expect them to do just that. We are not running a babysitting service here.” No you’re not but if you don’t find a way to manage conflict better, you might not have a business either. Constantly threatening your workforce adds no value and actually encourages a culture where the lack of trust and respect will eventually create a toxic work environment.

Here are some facts: You paid money to hire and maintain those employees at some point in their career or service. Whether the training was in a classroom or in the Gemba, their knowledge represents the corporate knowledge and skills that ultimately generate the income and bring your customers back for more of what you do. Firing the whole lot just means you will have to retrain a new group and you may lose your customer base in the meantime as you retool. Customers often have their own customers so there is no luxury of waiting for you to retrain your workforce.

Unresolved conflict adds to stress in the leadership team as well. The conflict will pop up in the worst possible places at the worst possible times. Instead of solving real problems, your leaders will have their attention focused on almost everything but the real issues of the day. Demoralized leaders leave. Sooner or later even the most loyal of your leadership will see an end game with no good outcome. Why would they continue to come into a pressure cooker every day when they can find another place that values their technical and leadership skills enough to create a great place to work?

The answer is simple. Using my five step model  you can magically transform conflict into productivity!

(You see, not a seven step model, a simple five step model which not only saves two whole steps – LEAN – but it’s magic!)

Actually, no it won’t. Nothing short of a transformation in your workplace will do that long term but you can start that transformation by not ignoring the fact that there is conflict. There are a number of processes out there that can help you on your journey to managing conflict but the real first step is the same as that required by every Alcoholic since AA was born: admit you have a problem.


Here are my life observations about conflict management:

  • Conflict doesn’t exist because you have dysfunctional people, it begins because you have a culture that allows them to act in dysfunctional ways
  • If people trusted each other and their leadership, they would communicate with more effectiveness
  • If people communicate with more effectiveness, they will react to and solve problems more quickly
  • If people had a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in your culture, they could navigate more safely between the little daily “conflicts” that are going to occur in the best run organization
  • If people understand that conflict isn’t always negative and learn how to engage each other, your creativity and innovation will grow exponentially

There is no five step, six step or seven step process to managing conflict over the long term but you must work on building trust, communication, and clearly defined shared goals to make conflict work in your favor.

How do you know if there is conflict in your workplace? I always use the Monday morning test. Sit someplace quietly and observe your workforce (and their leadership) as they come in on Monday morning. Are they tired already? Do they interact with each other in a way that doesn’t include who won the game yesterday? Do they look like they want to be here at all no less than on a Monday morning?

For the people leading other people, here is another step:

Over the next few weeks pull out your Monday measurements including quality (rework) and overall results. Schedule a time with your leadership and have an honest talk about what you have observed. If you have been running the organization in a trust vacuum, this make take some time. But at some point, you have to figure out a way to manage the unproductive culture of unresolved conflict. Either that or plan on doing something completely different on Monday mornings in the future.


Mister Mac