Doing wrong things much better

I sincerely believe that experimenting with Lean tools was key to spread Lean awareness, ease the principles and tools acceptance and contribute to the Lean popularity.

This was particularly okay in the “tools age”, when Lean was understood as a nice and handy toolbox.

Yet limited and non sustainable successes were hints that Lean could not be “just a toolbox”. Jim Womack, Dan Jones, John Shook and others decoded and explained Lean’s underlying philosophy, the craftsmanship making tools even more powerful, able to transform organizations, save companies and yield significant and sustainable results. So much more than tools.

Unfortunately very few people and organizations understood and embraced Lean Management. This leaves most of Lean tool users stick to their favorite tools, and like kids fascinated by the hammer still run around looking for nails to hit. Any nails.

Ironically the most “successful” organizations with Lean succeed to do wrong things much better.

“successful” here means seemingly good with implementing Lean tools, most probably scoring good on maturity or awareness checks, yet not getting full benefits of Lean in terms of true performance.

What do I mean with “doing wrong things much better”?

Take 5S. The workplaces are neat, clean, free from clutter and with lots of visual indications about where to put things, how to behave and so on. The janitor kit is top notch and the daily a day weekly cleaning schedule is displayed. This good condition is maintained for years now.
That’s all good, but 5S is not about cleaning.

What would be expected after achieving to maintain a clean and neat environment is to eliminate the need for cleaning. Reinforcing cleaning discipline and improving cleaning tools is just doing the wrong thing (keeping on cleaning) much better.

Example number two: rolling out SMED for quick changeovers on all machines seems to be a good practice as the changeovers are necessary evils, do not add value and drain some productive capacity.

Eliminating all the wastes during changeovers is therefore a Lean driven organization’s objective, right?

No it’s not.

Machines with excess capacity vs. customer demand are no good candidates for SMED. The excess capacity should be used to change over more frequently, allowing batch size and Lead Time reduction (this is Little’s law) as well as enhancing flexibility.

Further reducing the changeover duration on machines with excess capacity for the sake of rolling out SMED and “be Lean” will burn up limited resources without benefits for the system as a whole.

  • How many additional widgets can be sold thanks to a global SMED rollout?
  • How much Operating Expenses can be reduced?
  • How much inventories can be reduced?

If these questions are left without convincing answers, the system will not have any benefits but will incur the costs associated with the global SMED rollout.

Applying SMED on a machine with excess capacity is doing the wrong thing (changing over faster a machine that does not require it) much better (it is faster indeed, probably to let the machine idle a longer time).

Example number three: Value Stream Mapping

Its ability to reveal the wastes and obstacles to smooth and quick flow made Value Stream Mapping (VSM) a highly praised and favorite Lean tool. It is used by waste hunters to surface the hidden wastes and improvement points in any process. This is typically a beautiful and strong hammer looking for nails to hit.

Not so seldom do the Value Stream Mappers map a process in search for improvements without consideration of the process’ usefulness. Spending time and using up resources to analyse and improve a useless or very secondary process is nothing more than doing the wrong things much better.

So, what’s missing?

Two things are usually missing in Lean-tools savvy organizations that would bring them to a next level of performance: a system-wide understanding of causes-and-effects and focus.

A system-wide understanding of causes-and-effects means stopping to believe that the system-wide optimum is the sum of all local optima. in other words, getting rid of wastes everywhere will end up with a waste-free system.

Systems are complex, with many subsystems interacting dynamically. Local improvements will not automatically improve the system as a whole because many local optima will compete against each others. An improvement here can severe performance there.

Without understanding the system’s physics and how the subsystems operate, the local improvement initiatives are very likely to end up unnoticed, or worse counterproductive from a broader perspective.

Once the system’s physics are understood, it is key to identify the few leverage points where an action will have significant effect on the system as a whole. Once these leverage points identified, the limited resources must focus on them and not be wasted anywhere else.

How can it be done?

The answer is simple: Theory of Constraints.

Theory of Constraints (ToC) is a body of knowledge that is all about finding and leveraging the limiting factor within a system: the constraint.

Once the constraint identified, the Lean toolbox as well as Lean Management principles and even Six Sigma come in handy to leverage it and get more out of the system.

Used in a synergy cocktail ToC puts Lean on steroids and yields incredible results.

As a focusing “tool” ToC avoids burning up precious and limited resources on the wrong subjects and wrong spots, avoids “doing wrong thing much better!”.

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Why is the Logical Thinking Process so hard to sell?

This is probably the greatest frustration for Logical Thinking Process (LTP) fans: why don’t more people get interested in? Why is the Logical Thinking Process so hard to sell?

Please understand “sell” with the quotation marks, I mean promote, advertise, grow the community, attract participants to seminars and courses altogether.

This post is a reflection of mine and an invitation to other LTP savvy and practitioners to share (please use comments) their analysis and thoughts.

The first reason is the weird sounding proposal to learn how to think. I got this reply of course.

Most people are convinced they are able to thinking in a logical way and don’t see the point learning anything about it. Those knowledgeable about the Logical Thinking Process changed their minds acknowledging they believed they were thinking logically until they went through the humbling experience of the LTP.

Make a clear statement that is both rationally sound and without any ambiguity is one example of the “thinking qualities” so many believe to master naturally but don’t.

Guiding an audience through a chain of causes-and-effects with rock-solid logic and in a crystal clear way is another “gift” commonly thought innate.

From what I’ve seen, everybody going through a Logical Thinking Process training course gets a lesson, regardless of how brilliant a speaker the person already was.

The second reason is maybe the jargon. Theory of Constraints (ToC) is full of jargon, metaphors and poetic names that do not help getting into it without a true motivation.

Other business philosophies and methodologies have their own lingo. Lean for instance “requires” to accept Japanese words without being a serious obstacle for its spreading.

The difference I see between Lean’s Japanese words and ToC jargon is that Japanese words are accepted because most people understand them through their translation / transliteration only. To them, those words have no other meanings that can be misleading.

In the Logical Thinking Process, “Evaporating Cloud” most people (with sufficient command in English of course) try to understand the literal sense in the context but can’t.

The Evaporating Cloud makes sense once the metaphor is decoded. It would have been so much easier to call it a Conflict Resolution Diagram (a proposed and sometimes used alternate name), which it really is, first hand.

Explanation about the sticking to the Evaporating Cloud can be read in Lisa Scheinkopf’s book “Thinking for a Change: Putting the TOC Thinking Processes to Use

Besides poetry and metaphors, acronyms are just as numerous. Take “POOGI” that stands for Process Of OnGoing Improvement in ToC’s lingo. The already popular “Continuous Improvement” was obviously not good enough and led to craft a weird-sounding new acronym, requiring more explanations and learning.

Even some ToC and/or Logical Thinking Process aficionados don’t like all the jargon, it is now the language of the ToC community and its mastery the price to pay for any new comer.

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