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

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

Searching for Superman – why CI/Lean initiatives often fail (Part 2) Reply

Failure is not an option… but most of the time it is assured

One common set of factors that can affect success or failure for a Continuous Improvement/Lean Initiative is the recruitment, selection process, and use of a CI/Lean leader. Leadership at all levels has an impact on every initiative but this becomes more critical during a cultural change initiative like CI/Lean. Selecting the wrong CI/Lean leader can set the organization up for failure. Worse yet, a poor start can actually make it harder for the next time when it is even more important for success.

From Part 1, its not hard to imagine the scene in HR when the company decides to move forward with its CI/Lean Program. This is how I imagine it looks like:

“Lois, get in here and bring your stenography pad”

“Yes Chief, what’s up?”

Chomping on his unlit cigar “Lois, the big office has ordered us to find a Lean Leader. Get on the internet and find out what that is. Get back to me before close of business. The BIG Kahuna himself is hot on this one so we have to execute quickly”

“Alright Chief, I’ll get on it right away”. She leaves his office and jumps on a search engine to find out what a Lean Leader is supposed to look like. The good news is that there are only 6,700,000 pages about lean leadership. The bad news is, there are none of them which really tell you what an individual company needs in the way of lean leader competencies.

Lois found out that there were CI Leaders, Lean Leaders, Lean Six Sigma Leaders, Black Belts, Green Belts, no belts, Mentors, Coaches, Master Black Belts, TPS Trained, Lean Change experts and on and on. There were more competencies listed than for any other position she had ever encountered.

In the end, she went back to the Chief and said “Chief, we need Superlean-man”.

“Great Lois, get him on the phone right away. What’s it gonna cost us?”

“Its not that bad Chief, 250 a year”

“Holy smokes Lois, we can’t afford that much. Hey listen, what about that kid in the mailroom, Jimmy something or other…”

“Jimmy Wholesome? Why Chief, he doesn’t have any of the super-competencies of Superlean- man.”

“No Lois, but he has been hanging out with him so he probably knows just as much. Plus, if he fails, we won’t take the blame… get him up here this afternoon.”


Based on the research I have been doing, the poor HR community has been using a number of cobbled together job descriptions. There are some that look like they may have had some input from an engineering manager or existing lean guy. But most are so broad and far reaching, it is no surprise that CI/Lean leaders are passed over in exchange for a candidate that looks better on paper. Here are some of the CI/Lean Leaders that actually show up.

Flat Leanly

Flat Leanly is normally a recent college graduate with an engineering or technical degree. (His cousin Stanley was the basis for a popular children’s story back in the sixties). Flat Leanly doesn’t have a great range of actual experience but he looks like everyone’s mental model of a bright young engineer.

His enthusiastic appearance hides his lack of any actual experience and he travels well. You can find Flat Leanly all over the factory or office. The workplaces are organized and clean and all of the bosses are initially pleased with Flat Leanly’s influence. As time progresses though, Flat Leanly starts to show the scars from being moved all over the shop. No longer fresh and vital, Flat Leanly ends up being shuffled off to more and more obscure locations and finally discarded all together.

Don’t cry for Flat Leanly. Every year, new ones are produced by the schools of the country. There are never any shortages of replacements for Flat Leanly. Doesn’t it seem funny though that almost every lean leader job description requires some kind of coaching and mentoring experience. Yet the required years experience in over 80 percent of the job advertisements I have read is 1-3 years. Really? 1-3 years???

Attila the Implementer

Attila the Implementer will leave a lasting effect on the business whether they are successful or not. Attila believes that culture change comes at the business end of an audit. Shove them through and they will change regardless of their personal needs or preferences. Mass training events that measure success by the number of butts in seats. Chart after Chart showing progress regardless if there is any linkage to the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).

Other leaders run from or stop taking meetings with Attila forcing him (or her) to start sending emails to their sponsors asking for help. Attila only lasts a few quarters. No one misses him/her when they are gone.

The Green Intern

The Green Intern was a High Potential internal engineering candidate and ended up being selected as a cost avoidance measure (not having to hire a new “Expert” not only gives the Chief Engineer resource he can trust, but allows him to hire a new engineer as a replacement). Traditionally trained in Frederick Taylor’s Scientific management theories, the Green Intern and his mentors agree to give this “Lean stuff” a try as long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.

The Green Intern is well managed by his mentors and while the plant does look a little sharper, no revolutions will occur on their watch. After punching their ticket, they plan on continuing their rise in the company so no real waves will be created.

Plant managers like the Green Intern. The really bad ones see an opportunity to deflect personal responsibility for the lean initiative since:

a. They supported lean by appointing this go getter. They can say their plan was to succeed by this person’s success.

b. They can set arbitrary KPIs and the CI/Lean leader has no choice but to try and meet them

c. Failure to meet the KPI’s allow the plant manager to remain free from blame since the CI/Leader works directly for HR, Engineering, Continuous Improvement sections. Their department heads need to fix “their” problems.


Superlean-man seems on the outside to be the perfect choice. This person has a mastery of every single tool and theory in the CI/Lean box. They are everywhere and create the best projects they are directly associated with. They speak with authority, influence with ease, impress the leadership and save everyone. The problem with this candidate is that they are so good on their own, they never feel the need to develop anyone else. Its easier to simply do everything by themselves. In time, everyone lets them.

Then one day, someone finds a box of kryptonite and Superlean-man fails. As he lays on the boardroom floor slowly wilting away, no one thinks seriously about closing the kryptonite box. Chances are, they never heard of kryptonite. He was so busy, he neglected to tell them about it.

Captain Ameri-lean

Probably the best choice for a chance at success. Brings a strong balance of knowledge, skills, and experience. Coaching and mentoring have been gained through many years of experience. Team builder and great team member. Training and facilitation skills. Cultural awareness is a high point but it has been bought and paid for with a lot of mixed experiences.

This person has a fair amount of failures in addition to a fair amount of successes. They may not have a traditional engineering degree but they have a broad range of experience with engineers. Leadership is a critical factor in everything they do.

I think the point is clear. Who you choose for your CI/Lean Leader is one of your most critical decisions as you decide to enter or continue on a CI/Lean Journey.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Get rid of any preconceived notions about what they should look like. Youth and unbounded energy may be great if you are putting together a touch football game. But there may be a better case for experience and developed skills if you want to successfully implement and influence change.

2. What are your real needs and motivations for implementing a CI/Lean initiative? Make sure there is a careful review of the current and anticipated competencies. Match those against the master plan and prioritize.

3. Considering the importance of the cultural change to success, make sure the CI/Lean leader is placed in the proper place within your organization. The members of the organization will treat the CI/Lean leader exactly the same as the leadership does: If they report to the assistant training manager attached to the HR department, everyone in the organization will measure their importance by that position. If they are speaking with the plant or business manager daily, that too sends a message.

I am continuing my work on competency mapping for an ideal CI/Lean leader. I would welcome comments on this article and your thoughts on what you have seen in this role.


Mister Mac (Lean)

Searching for Superman – why CI/Lean initiatives often fail (Part 1) 1

Starting a Continuous Improvement (CI)/Lean Journey

I have been working on a project for a few weeks that categorizes what companies are looking for when they seek a lean or continuous improvement leader candidate. While that sounds rather boring on the face of it, the project has actually been a very interesting look at why so many companies still don’t get it when it comes to continuous improvement (CI), lean and six sigma. For the purposes of this article, I am going to use CI/Lean as an all encompassing term. (Sigma is fast being absorbed into a quasi-lean mode anyway and that is a story for another day.)

Why does a company decide that it wants to enter into a CI/Lean journey in the first place?

Based on fifteen years of experience with a large number of companies, the answers are pretty straightforward

  1. It seems to be the right thing to do

  2. Everyone else is doing it

  3. The CEO/CFO/Board/Guiding Coalition said so

  4. We have no other choice

Besides the last one, the list isn’t exactly a compelling case for a successful cultural change initiative. The unfortunate thing is that once a company does reach the point where there is no other choice, they will probably fall into the traps that help to ensure their failure. While reaching for the bottom, they will actually accelerate their progress.

Looking at why: The Root Cause

In CI/Lean, we spend a lot of time on root cause analysis. The goal is to make sure we understand why something really happened and hopefully build up a defense for it not to do so again. The first real problem I have seen is that the very people who are supposed to initiate the initiative have no experience actually using the very tools that could keep them from making mistakes.

1. “It seems to be the right thing to do”

In most cases, companies who use this approach are moderately successful and have fairly good cash flow. Besides some minor structural issues they are cruising along and have their share of the market. CI/Lean is something they have heard about but since it was an important part of their DNA, selecting candidates prior to this has not included seeking out specific competencies related to it.

The finance folks are traditional financial people with detailed knowledge of traditional financial metrics. Even the engineering folks have been selected because they came from the “right” schools with the training and discipline that matches the existing engineers. All of the management folks are used to traditional methods of measurement and definitions of what success looks like. Their pay and bonuses are built around a certain model and that is just fine with most of them. Even the workforce understands that as long as they do their tasks in the appropriate manor, they get to go home at a certain hour and watch their favorite sports team win (or lose). Life is very pleasant.

2. “Everyone else is doing it”

These companies often look like the first set of companies but they have one difference. They are feeling a bit more pressure from the market place (including their customers and suppliers). The supply chain often provides a stimulus since they are trying to improve in order to compete better. It is literally a chain reaction that impacts even the unsuspecting.

For instance: a customer has implemented a just in time approach based on an a need to improve their product flow reliability to their customer. Once that kicks in, you may start feeling pressure to change the timing, quantity, packaging, unit of issue and so on. That change will also include a request for some pricing differential too.

A company that gets caught in this loop is often forced to change at least part of its process. When Toyota tells you to dance, you dance or else you face the loss of some pretty important business.

3. “The CEO/CFO/Board/Guiding Coalition said so”

This is actually one of the most dangerous reasons to undertake a lean journey. The people in the internal chain of command in most cases do not know the root cause for this “request”. In a traditional company, there will be layers and layers of people who will deflect the answer to the “why” question with many clever corporate responses. That is assuming the corporate culture even allows them to ask the question in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. There are probably some companies that have visionary CEO’s who honestly see the need to move towards a system that perpetually improves itself. But remember that these are the same people who have had their own mental models of success ingrained into their life’s experiences. My favorite saying about change applies directly to them: Everyone wants change but nobody wants to change. The higher up in the company a person is, the more resolute they are about this maxim. Good luck with changing that culture.

4. “We have no other choice”

Market conditions have finally caught up with the stagnant company. Material prices, labor costs, energy, infrastructure, insurance and so on are all rising with no relief in sight. Business regulations from government are also growing choking off innovation and growth. The only way this company can survive the endless recession is to find ways to drive waste out and develop a culture of continuous improvement.

The main problem these companies will find is that there are three cultural influences at odds.

The first cultural influence is the culture of grief for the way things were.

  • “We used to be so good. What happened to us?
  • “If only we could go back to the way things were.”
  • “Its not fair. Management should have seen this coming and done something sooner.”

The second cultural influence is the culture of survival in the current state.

  • “I only have three more years until retirement… if we can just last that long.”
  • “What we have is working, why mess with this and risk screwing it up.”
  • “Corporate is just looking for another reason to shut us down.”

The third influence will come from trying to implement a culture where change is not only needed, it is required to survive.

  • “We’ve always done it that way… not anymore.”
  • “I am the subject matter expert. Improvement is not possible.”
  • “We innovated this process. No one does it better than us.”

We need to fix this and fix it quick.

Quick, somebody call HR and find us a CI/Lean leader!


See Searching for Superman – why CI/lean initiatives often fail (Part 2)