Lean and the digital factory: is the digital twin the new gemba?

The digital twin is the virtual and digital copy of a factory allowing monitoring, post-mortem analyses, simulations, stress tests, machine learning and much more.

As a Lean practitioner having started his Lean experience in the 1980s, I faced the difficulty to get engineers, techs and sometimes foremen to the shopfloor to assess and understand the situation, and support the operators.

The author (left) at Yamaha's headquarter in Hamamastu, Japan

The author (left) at Yamaha’s headquarter in Hamamastu, Japan

With the growing ability of the digital twin to get closer to the physical reality, my prospective question is: can the digital twin become the new gemba?

Not familiar with digital twin? Checkout: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_twin

Is the digital twin the new gemba?

My first answer would be no, for 2 reasons :

  1. The digital twin dies not correspond to the definition of gemba
  2. The digital twin is like Magritte’s pipe : a representation but not the real thing

Gemba?

“Gemba” (Japanese word) was long translated into the “real place” or “where it happens”, in Lean parlance where value is (supposed to be) created. This emphasis on the reality is a warning against the spreadsheet analyses or the tendency to trust blindly data.

Until recently, data taking was mostly manual and tedious, thus limited, and error prone. Trusting data meant taking chances by trusting a limited set of data to draw conclusions and/or being misled during analysis because of all the limitations and errors.

Compared to data analysis, going to the gemba and perceive the situation by oneself always gives a way better understanding and appreciation of what happened or is going on. The human body with its natural sensors can grasp more of the reality than the best and most accurate description.

Intuition can work better in this environment as more senses are stimulated. Links are established between distinct phenomenons or events, something that an analyst may not perceive when working only on a dataset.

This doesn’t mean that data are useless, simply they may not be used exclusively in order to widen the scope of the investigations and analyses.

The digital twin

Now what is a digital twin? A really big collection of data that allows to simulate the real-world twin,with growing fidelity and getting closer to reality. But it is still data however their amount, and not the real place.

On the one hand immersing oneself into the virtual reality may allow exploring it in ways that are impossible in real world. The digital simulation can take an analyst virtually into a working machine and show the dynamics of the various components. Digital monitoring can even capture what the human sensors are unable to, thus ”augmenting” humans.

But on the other hand the sensors collecting data, however performant, capture only a limited reality. For the time being and as far as I know there is no smell in the digital twin, no sound like the squeaking or screeching, and heat can be measured but is not “played back” as heat in simulation, or is it?

There is no life in the digital twin, no unexpected insects, birds or rodents causing unforeseen problems. Vibrations can be measured and simulated, but is it as subtle as real vibrations and trepidations? Air flow will only exist in the digital twin if sensors or the digital model was designed to measure or simulate it. And the leaking roof problem may not exist in the digital model. Such examples are still countless.

In short, virtual reality may be closer to reality now than ever before, but still isn’t reality. And if it is not reality, it is not gemba.

Magritte’s pipe

Magritte’s painting of a pipe is a pretty realistic picture of this smoking accessory, with the caption “this is not a pipe”. Many of those recognizing a pipe would think of course this is a pipe! but the painter wanted to remind viewers that the pipe is only the picture of a pipe, not a real pipe.  So is the digital twin. A pretty good representation of reality but not the reality.

The digital twin could become the gemba of the future

Now, in order for the digital twin to be considered the new gemba, it suffice to change the definition and get consensus about it in the (lean) community.

If a majority of people and lean practitioners consider the digital twin worth to be considered as gemba, or the actual definition of gemba being altered to encompass the digital twin, so be it.

I would not support this idea for the sake of clarity though. Think about the word “kanban” that for decades described a pull system in manufacturing and supply. Then the IT community adopted Lean principles and came up with its own version of kanban. It is built upon the same principles, describes a pull system, but is different enough to generate some misunderstandings.

Your thoughts?

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Advertisements

Holidays, flow and common sense

This article is an afterthought of what I have seen the previous week during a nice holiday abroad, an so many times before.

It is a rather common experience. We booked a one week vacation in a nice sunny place, with palm trees and a hotel that seems to match our requirements. We choose half board and to have our dinners in the hotel’s restaurant.

As so often, the courses are offered as buffets: starters, main course, dessert and cheese and fruits. I assume buffets are a convenient way for the staff to accommodate many customers showing up in unpredictable waves as well as giving them the feeling of unrestricted access to all food they like.

Now the various dishes on the buffets are arranged like so often machines in a factory: similar close to each others yet placed where some place is found. And most important, without much consideration for flow.

In our case, guests are visiting the buffets from any end, jamming and almost colliding in the narrow alleyway with their hauls, while hesitant people just stay pondering their next possible choice in the middle of it.

The hot dishes buffet is set behind a huge pillar, providing more opportunities for guests collisions, as those coming around one pillar’s corner can’t see the human traffic that will emerge in front of them, and conversely.

The dessert buffet was maybe the worst, because it was set in a one-way, dead-end kind of corridor.

Sounds stupid, not efficient? I do think so.

Now, did any of the numerous managers of this place think about efficient, seamless customers’ flow? Probably not much. Disappointing as so often, as I thought restaurant and hotel professionals should be experts on how to organize a buffet. And not only from the nice looking perspective. Over time I gave up with this assumption that showed false so often.

Who said common sense is common?

Now to be fair, if I conducted a survey with the customers in those restaurants, I would probably have very few analyzing the situation as I do. My guess is that most of the guests accommodate themselves to the traffic and layout and focus on the display of food instead. What would they answer as to their user experience? Food was great / good / plenty / fresh / refilled…

Well this is the trouble being a consultant making a living with operational excellence, you just can’t switch completely off during holidays.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

4 reasons to consider SMED

SMED is a structured approach to reducing changeover durations. Here are 4 good reasons to consider deploying SMED.

>Lisez-moi en français

1. More production capacity is required

A critical resource of the production process is not able to deliver the expected quantity, due to lack of capacity. Such a resource is usually called a bottleneck, and chances are that a quick analysis will show that changeover durations are one of the major factors of capacity wastage.

Rather than reducing the number of changes and extending the series, it’s better to work on reducing the duration of changeovers from one series to the next in order to recover wasted capacity.

In many cases the gains through the application of the SMED method are sufficient to recover the lacking capacity. If it’s not the case, it is then necessary to check the distribution of the causes of capacity wastage (via a Pareto diagram, for example). Machine downtime due to breakdowns or quality issues discarding a part of the production may be additional themes to deal with.

2. More flexibility is required

When production capacity is sufficient but there is a need to better stick to the demand, this can be achieved by changing the productions more frequently.

Indeed, for a customer waiting for a given product, the waiting time is function of the length of the queue of orders to process before launching the production of the expected product, the lead time of the production process itself, and finally the shipment process.

The reduction of the batch sizes and the multiplication of launches help reducing the global lead time. For this solution to be viable, however, it is necessary that the multiplication of changeovers does not cause the production capacity to fall below the required level, otherwise we find ourselves in the previous case.

To prevent this risk, the duration of the changes can be reduced by applying the SMED method and converting the time gained into additional changeovers.

3. More machine availability is required

In this third case there is no shortage of production capacity nor lack of flexibility but what is lacking is time during which a machine is available for periodic maintenance operations, or for processing exceptional additional orders.

In this case also the reduction of the duration of changeovers may be a solution to consider. The recovered machine availability may then be used as needed.

4. Freeing time of experts

This case is rare, but may arise, especially in environments that are strongly constrained by standards or regulations and in which changeovers require the assistance of personnel with special qualification and/or authorization. In these cases it is no longer the capacity or the availability of the production means which is limited but those of these “experts”.

They may be required simultaneously for different changeovers and their limited availability may adversely affect the overall performance of production, with some machines, equipment or lines waiting.

Take care of adjustments and tests too

The term “changeover” is sometimes interpreted as the change of dies, or the change of settings only. A changeover should include the clearance of everything related to the completed series and the resuming of production with the new series, new reference or new batch, at nominal speed. This means that all required adjustments and tests have been performed and their durations have been counted as part of the changeover.

Excluding these durations in order to pretend to change over quickly may leave them out of the scope of improvements, which is a loss of improvement opportunity and only a partial application of SMED.
View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

30 elements of value, entrepreneur’s food for thoughts

What is value? What is a customer willing to pay? Since Lean Thinking and Lean principles are around, many organizations strive to bring more value to the customer. But apart from reducing costs what levers do they have to bring more value to theirs customers?

The article titled “The Elements of Value” published in the HBR september 2016 issue by Eric Almquist, John Senior and Nicolas Bloch, brings no less than 30 answers to these questions.

I strongly recommend to read the article. The online issue can be read here: https://hbr.org/2016/09/the-elements-of-value

In this post I summarize the very minimum about the 30 elements of value and share some of my thoughts about them.

30 elements of value

The authors, all three working for Bain & Company’s, have identified 30 “elements of value”, which are “fundamental attributes in their most essential and discrete forms”, that meet fundamental human needs. They classified these 30 elements into 4 categories stacked on a Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” inspired pyramid to organize the elements of value according to their relative “power”:

  • functional,
  • emotional,
  • life changing,
  • social impact.

VALUEPYRAMID-1200x1651

Similarly to the popular assumption that (in Maslow’s model) people cannot attain the needs at the top until they have met the ones below, to be able to deliver on higher-order elements, a company must provide at least some of the functional elements required by a particular product category. But many combinations of elements exist in successful products and services today.

A comprehensive cheat sheet for entrepreneurs

I really liked the way the authors presented their findings and I thought this is a nice comprehensive cheat sheet for entrepreneurs, startupers, managers, and for everyone seeking to enrich their value proposition.

What can I do to relieve the pain of my customer? How to bring her some gain? How can I extend our offering? Have a look on the 30 elements and check if the answer to these questions isn’t among them.

The HBR article gives some examples among which Amazon prime. It describes how the service went from its initial shipping offering for $79 annual fee to an extended offer at $99 within 10 years, while conquering significant market share of the U.S. retail market.

I think the 30 elements may find their way into the graphic toolbox started by Strategizer with the Business Model Canvas and the Value Proposition Canvas, as a checklist, a cheat sheet, or seeds for creative brainstorming.

Entrepreneurship is not only for the startupers. Those wanting to reinvent or reinvigorate their business, those who want to keep competitors at a distance or those worrying about a possible business disruption may wisely invest some of their time reflecting on the 30 elements of value as well.


There is probably more value in the article than what I report here. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

If you liked this post, share it.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Management attention as a constraint – Part 1

A system’s constraint, the limiting factor that is an obstacle to getting more Goal units* from the system, can be pretty difficult to identify (hence the success of my post on the topic: How to identify a constraint?!).

*”Goal units” can be money, profit, services to citizens, number of patients treated, free meals served, or whatever the organization delivers to achieve its Goal.

The Theory of Constraints community discusses the management attention as a constraint for a long time now and Goldratt himself called management attention the ultimate constraint (the one remaining when all others have been elevated). My own experience convinced me that management attention can indeed be a constraint for the whole system, from the beginning.

Misaligned organization

Striving to achieve the organization’s Goal is management’s sacred mission and it is management’s duty to align the efforts of their subordinates to achieve that objective. Lean Management uses the “True North” metaphor and Hoshin Kanri or Policy Deployment to achieve it. The Logical Thinking Process calls it the Goal and have the Goal Tree as a roadmap and benchmark. Both approaches and their tool sets can be combined.

Now too often management does not clearly communicate about the Goal neither ensure their staff’s energy and initiatives are well oriented towards achieving the Goal.

Surprisingly, some senior managers are not clear among themselves what the organization’s Goal is. Bill Dettmer published a paper on such an experience with a crowd of executives and almost as many Goals as people! The paper is downloadable at http://www.goalsys.com/books/documents/WhatisOurGoal-v5_000.pdf

Management’s attention is on something else, but not on the main objective.

When this happens, scarce resources are often wasted for meaningless purposes, on the wrong things. The longer this goes on, the stronger the evidence that management attention isn’t focused, for whatever reasons, on what really matters.

Chances are that middle managers lacking a clear stated and often reminded Goal define their own objectives for the need of guidance.

Self defined objectives

When subordinates define their own objectives because they have no “True North” to align their own and/or their staff’s work, they may define these objectives to fit their own purpose, their own views or to optimize their department’s performance. Doing so, the probability is high that the self defined objectives will be in conflict with another department’s objectives and at the expenses of the overall organization performance.

Myths and false assumptions

Lack of clear communication about the Goal and lax management may let myths and false assumptions flourish. Most often, myths and false assumptions are the result of lack of clarity, misunderstanding or overinterpretation of some “strategic intent” or senior management statements.

Management attention must foremost be on clarity of purpose, second on the alignment of all actions towards achieving the Goal. With constant attention and frequent repetition about the Goal and checking the progress towards it, deviations as well as false assumptions and misunderstandings can be detected and corrected.

Lax management

Many people have been promoted to management positions even so they lacked the necessary soft skills. Some because it was a reward for past dedication and good job, others because they were technically good and the assumption was they would also be good at managing others. The latter often does not happen.

Unfit for their position, uneasy especially when taking command over former colleagues, lacking the charisma and know-how, many hide themselves behind computers screens or in meetings and shun contact with their subordinates. Management attention is purposely not on what matters because of a form of cowardice, or to put it softer, because of uneasiness.

In order to keep social peace, middle management (at least in France) often tries to avoid frontal assault against deviant behaviors, absenteeism, poor performance and sub-standard achievement.

The situation is often paradoxical between the pressure from above to achieve the objectives and at the same time the strong recommendation not to mess up with work force to avoid social unrest, that middle management is torn between conflicting objectives.

This probably led to management positions popularity to sink to an abyssal low. The younger generations don’t want management jobs anymore.

Additionally, the new generations and their ways of teaming up, networking and work around obstacles. They have no interest in traditional management. They don’t want that kind of job and do not pay the same respect to rank like previous generations did. For them and growing part of the workforce, leadership is more important than status.

All this lead many middle managers to compromise and get lax in their management or give it up for good. Management positions are now harder to man as this kind of job lost much consideration.

Therefore, even if those managers know well about the Goal they should work to achieve, their ability or personal lax attitude does not transmit the necessary energy or inputs to their teams.

Next: Management attention as a constraint – Part 2

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Katacon Europe 2018

Many months ago I was approached by the European Katacon organizers to help setting up the 2018 conference. Katacon is about kata, the Toyota Kata revealed to the mass by Mike Rother in the book… Toyota Kata. It’s about patterns of thinking and behaviour to improve and solve problems.

I modestly offered my website, blogs and networks as sounding boards to the event, not able to do much more. Now time has come to advertise the coming event!

Katacon Europe 2018, where and when?

Amsterdam will be the location, more specifically B. Amsterdam, a creative work space bridging startups, creatives, and corporates. (http://b-buildingbusiness.com/amsterdam/)  located Johan Huizingalaan 763a, 1066 VH Amsterdam.

The date is April 18 & 19, 2018 with a preconference afternoon and a Kata geek meeting for early comers to network.

The program is detailed here: http://www.katacon2018.eu/day1.php

What’s offered to participants?

If you go through the program, you’ll see that DAY ONE, besides welcoming and opening speech has 4 mini keynotes on Improvement Kata, before participants spread into study visits or workshops of their choice. Everybody meets again for the networking diner at 19:00 (7 pm).

DAY TWO starts with plenary sessions: reflection from day one, Finding new ways to learn and a testimony about Toyota senseis’ mentoring and comparing Kata with a professional sports coach. By 11:00 it will be time to breakout into various sessions to select (chose twice 1 in 5)  and plenary sessions will resume from 15:30-17:00.

Registration: http://www.katacon2018.eu/registration.php

I hope you’ll find a lot of value and have fun!

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Are the 5S the first steps to SMED?

This is a classical debate among Lean newbees and even among specialists: are the 5S the first steps to SMED or not? As so often there is more than just a binary choice.

Yes, 5S are the first steps to SMED

Let’s start with the pros. The 5S are a good way to restore basic conditions enabling efficient and safe work in a “legible” environment, where the clutter is taken away and everything is made simpler and visual.

5S do not only get rid of the clutter but require to fix broken equipment, replace worn out tools, overhaul machinery… 5S define rules for sharing common hand tools, locate items, make the current condition immediately visible and from far away.

The very example of this is the shadow board outlining the tool’s shapes. When a tool is missing or hung on the bad location, it can be spotted from a distance, saving the walking to the board to discover the needed tool is not available or out-of-order.

This works with document files, with the famous slant line across the file’s back. Any missing or ill-positioned file breaks the line.

5S will save a lot of time searching for tools, fixtures, documents and avoid mismatching the different versions. 5S rules are defined by the area workers themselves. They are regarded as Subject Matter Experts and the decision of how work environment should look like is delegated to them. With some limits though; 5S rules can never trump safety and health regulation rules, for example.

5S are especially recommended when trying to reduce the changeover duration with SMED.

When trying to reduce all wasted time when changing from one production batch to the next or from one production series to the next, searching for tools, jigs, fixtures, documents, parts, material, etc. is no option.

Prior good 5S help a lot smoothing the changeover operations and significantly reduce the waste of time.

5S are easy in appearance, but hard to sustain. Therefore I respectfully consider them as a school of rigor and discipline. If an organization is not capable to bring its operations and supporting departments to a high level of 5S maturity and sustain it, chances are that introducing more demanding and more complex tools and methods will fail.

That’s why I agree, 5S are the first steps to SMED.

No, 5S are NOT ALWAYS the first steps to SMED

When an organization is in the “burning platform” state, meaning quick action is required to fix a major problem, restore customer service, or bring back a decent performance level, starting with a 5S program deployment is probably not the best option. This would look like arranging the chairs on the sinking Titanic, or in plain language: diverting precious time and resources focusing on the wrong objectives.

It might surprise newcomers to SMED, but two specialists having opposite opinions about starting a SMED program with or without 5S might be both right. The good choice is simply condition-related.

If more productive capacity is direly and urgently needed, 5S is not the best option to start with. “You don’t ask people to tidy up their workspace!” as one once angrily argued. And he’s right, but he didn’t consider other conditions than the ones he was familiar to.

If the main objective is to let operators learn about the Lean basics and hone their waste-spotting capabilities, 5S would be a good pick for a starter. It brings people to gradually understand the importance of rigor and discipline as well as to continuously improve the work environment and work execution itself.


View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

What is autonomous maintenance (TPM)?

Autonomous maintenance is one of the 8 Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) pillars, it aims to give both competence and responsibility for routine maintenance, such as cleaning, lubricating, and inspection to operators.

The aims and targeted benefits of autonomous maintenance

The ultimate goal of Total Productive Maintenance is to enhance machines’ effectiveness. TPM is a participative approach, involving all stakeholders and taking into account all aspects of maintenance. In order to achieve this goal, TPM is split in 8 pillars or topics. Autonomous maintenance is one of the 8 and is about simple mundane tasks, but having their importance nevertheless. The expected outcomes are:

  • Operators’ greater “ownership” of their equipment
  • Increased operators’ knowledge of their equipment
  • Ensuring equipment is well-cleaned and lubricated
  • Identification of emergent issues before they become serious failures
  • Freeing maintenance personnel for higher-level tasks

Operators’ ownership

Operator’s ownership of their equipment is meant to close the divide between Production and Maintenance in cases where the first claim “my job is to produce” and the second “my job is to repair”. This is mainly the case when production staff is incentivized on production output and maintenance is jealous about keeping its technical skills and prerogatives.

What happens then is that production operators do not usually care much about the equipment and machines they use and are prone to trespass speed limits, for example.

As they are not supposed to do anything about the machine breaking down, they soon find out that breakdowns are opportunities for an extra break, hence an extra smoke, one more coffee and so on.

As a result, machines stops last longer as they should: waiting for maintenance staff to come, discover the cause of the trouble, fix it, waiting for the operators to come back and resume production.

It can go the other way when production is strongly incentivized on units produced: any stoppage or breakdown jeopardizes the bonus and is immediately resented when maintenance doesn’t fix the problem fast enough.

What TPM is trying to do: give operators a sense of ownership of their equipment in order for them to take care, use it well, help maintenance technicians to find the causes of breakdowns by summarizing what happened before, and so on.

In order to achieve this, training must be delivered to both production and maintenance staff, focusing on the required cooperation for the sake of overall performance improvement. It will be a win-win cooperation: operators enriching their jobs with technical aspects and maintenance technicians being freed of low-qualification tasks for a better use of their real technical expertise. However, this must be done step by step.

Increasing operators’ knowledge of their equipment

Operator will use their equipment and machines correctly if they are trained not only for the use, but also a bit further into technical details. When operators have a basic understanding of how a machine works, they may be able to discover some causes of malfunction by themselves and give precious indication to maintenance team. With this focus, downtime can be reduced as maintenance does not have to go through a full investigation. If operators show interest and abilities, they may be trained further, to a point they can help maintenance with repairs, preventive maintenance tasks, adjustments, etc.

In my years as production manager with Yamaha, we brought teams of ladies to take care of the maintenance of automatic electronic components insertion machines. These ladies started as operators without any technical background, only feeding the machines. Step by step we trained them to take care of simple cleaning tasks, then adjustments, later exchanging more and more complicated mechanisms and finally be involved in major repairs.

Ensuring equipment is well-cleaned and lubricated

Before dreaming of repairing complex equipment, the journey starts with more mundane but important tasks: cleaning and lubrication.

But it’s more than that. Autonomous maintenance is about passing over  to operators the basic cleaning of the machines, lubricating and oiling, tightening of nuts and bolts, etc.

With these new tasks, operators will soon be able to take over daily inspection, diagnosis of potential problems and other actions that increase the productive life of machines or equipment. With appropriate prior training, of course.

Identification of emergent issues before they become serious failures

Cleaning and lubrication by operators is not a trick to reduce manpower costs by pushing tasks to lesser qualified people. On the contrary: TPM considers daily cleaning as an inspection and operators as subject matter experts. Indeed, operators using the machines and equipment daily are the best qualified detectors of early signs of problems. While cleaning they can detect: wear, unusual noises, vibrations, heat, smell, leakage, change of color, etc.

Using the machines frequently, they know best what is “as usual” and what is unusual. Someone hired only to clean and lubricate machines without using them would not be able to notice the forerunning signs of potential big trouble.

This daily inspection is key to reduce breakdowns by keeping the machine in good condition and by warning early – before breakdown – in order to remedy swiftly to unusual forerunning signs.

Freeing maintenance personnel for higher-level tasks

Putting skilled professionals in charge of challenges matching their expertise is certainly more attractive than asking them “to clean up other’s mess”, as maintenance staff frequently complain. Therefore the reluctance to train production operators for simple tasks and hand those over should not be a big deal for maintenance techs.

Production management should also see the opportunity to have better technical support for improvement and repairs, as skilled technicians are made more available. Of course, this comes at the expense of some daily minutes devoted to take care about machines instead of producing parts. In the long run, this should be a good deal, because less breakdowns, less scrap, fewer minor stops and faster changeovers thanks to technical improvements will pay back in productive capacity.

Finally, for production operators, the deal is to enrich their job with more technical content. For those immediately claiming acquisition of new skills deserve a pay raise, they should first consider that taking care of machines and equipment they are in charge is a basic expectation, not an extra requirement. Time will be given to do the daily maintenance routine. For operators it’s a shift of occupation content a few minutes a day.

Now this said, the question of a raise is to be considered in the context.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Jim Womack’s hansei on where lean has failed

Lean leading figure Jim Womack posted a sincere and critical reflection (hansei) on where Lean has failed and why not to give up. I was impressed when reading it and it reinforced my respect and admiration for the author.

You can read the August 29th, 2017 post on planet lean (http://planet-lean.com/jim-womack-on-where-lean-has-failed-and-why-not-to-give-up)

>Lisez-moi en français

Jim Womack is someone to take seriously when he expresses himself about Lean, so when he posts an article titled “where lean has failed” it is probably not just a clickbait nor a questionable joke. Indeed, the critical reflection Jim shares is truly about failure from his point of view. And his point of view with regards to Lean is one that really matters.

Where lean has failed

The failure is, in Mr Womack’s opinion, manyfold:

  • It is the failure to get big organizations to transform themselves in a Lean way and have, at least, “another Toyota” emerging.
  • It is the failure to reverse offshoring, despite the rational proof that companies would be better off keeping operations close instead of trading labor costs for logistics and quality costs.
  • It is the failure to see disaffection among the workers and the growing acceptance of things as they are, without attempt to resist or change them in the Lean Community itself.

This hurts.

I am impressed by the courage to analyze and acknowledge that situation of someone who dedicated his life to promote Lean and share the knowledge. After all the enthusiasm, hype, hope and successes, this must be bitter.

Many people in Mr Womack’s position would deny the situation and keep going on, their ego not allowing them to acknowledge failure. Jim Womack not only has the courage to do it, but refuses to give up and want to avoid the “muda of denial about the situation”.

What I see from my narrower and European (mainly in France) perspective is consistent with Mr Womack’s analysis: the number of lean managers and continuous improvement champions soared in the last years but no company advertises or gets attention because of drastic improvement of its performances.

Furthermore, when called for assistance in companies, I am most of the time appalled by the (very) limited competences of the people in charge of Lean or operational excellence, a fact also reported by Karen Martin in a post on the Lean Edge https://www.theleanedge.org/256088-karen-martin-technical-proficiency-and-leadership-acumen-can-you-nail-the-problem-statement-first-time-right/

So yes, “doing Lean” is reduced to running small kaizen workshops here and there without consistency nor link to a strategic intent. It is merely about patching broken processes,solving local problems at best, or opportunistic muda hunting.

This keeps the additional layer of “Lean” bureaucracy busy and living easy with a lot of complacency about local qualitative results. Once a 5S workshop went through the first 3Ss, they’re done and feel “Lean” now. This is how Lean looks like too often.

No wonder the questions about “what’s next” or “is lean dead?” arise.

Considering Lean transformations, like many armchair generals giving strategic advice in hindsight, I would say that Jim Womack and people around him did well  addressing the diagonal of the 2×2 change matrix: promoting the “pot of gold”, metaphor for reward and benefits of the change, as well as warning about the “alligator”, symbol of the danger of the status quo. I remember well Jim recommending to have a burning platform or even create a crisis to get the change done.

This was the rationale promoting the change, the Lean transformation.

What could have been underestimated was the other, emotional diagonal of the matrix. Many of the decision makers are in love with their “mermaid”. By definition, a mermaid cannot leave the sea and therefore the decision makers stay put, close to the object of love and happy with the current situation. A happiness, they believe, they can enjoy ONLY in their current situation.

Maybe the decision makers are risk averse and see nothing else than the frightening perspective of the “crutches”, the metaphor for risks and big efforts. Indeed, many decision makers may jeopardize their actual position if they dare going for a disruptive transformation with unforeseeable results. Leading a Lean transformation requires leadership, courage, confidence and the necessary freedom to act.

Why not to give up

Despite this bleak picture, Jim Womack is not ready to give up nor let “the muda of defeatism” get in his way. If no other Toyota is likely to emerge, other success stories can be reported. Successes may be experienced in and with start-ups for example.

Acknowledging the limits of the actual Lean promotion and Lean methods training ways, mainly through workshops and workbooks, Jim calls for “thinking hard about more effective ways to pass lean knowledge along to the next generation”.

The last paragraph of Jim Womack’s post sounds like a firm resolution “to rethink the (Lean community) tactics, stick to its purpose, and better understand the challenges preventing it from staying on course”.

I encourage everyone to read the original post as well as to have a look on the comments.

Personal conclusion

It is a sad read, but I can only agree. I empathize with Jim Womack and again, I am impressed by his courage and humility.

Even if Lean loses its shine, I still measure what it brought – and still brings – to me. I think that true Lean-understanding people, once “infected”, will not get away from Lean Thinking. I will continue to promote and use everything Lean at personal and professional level, wherever and whenever it’s meaningful, which should be pretty often. Fashionable or not.

My personal belief is that Lean (Thinking) will keep lingering in operations, but the emphasis will probably shift upstreams to Product and Process Development. I also think that the irresistible wave of digitalization and all the news techs around smart factories will reshuffle the cards on how to plan, organize, drive and strive. All new opportunities to reinvent business and the philosophy, methods and tools that must come with.

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

Is Lean dead?

Is Lean dead? is the provocative title of a podcast hosted by Mark Graban with guest Karen Martin. The question, the podcast description says, is “easy to discuss, but hard to answer”.

The reason Karen proposed to discuss this question is because of hearing and reading about “what’s next”, “is it time for something new?” and what seems to be a waiting for a “post-Lean” world.

There is an invitation to share thoughts about this, but instead of leaving a comment on Mark’s podcast-related post, I add my two cents here. I hope Mark and Karen won’t mind this piggybacking.

Some takeaways from the podcast

From 4:35 Karen frames the topic and from 6:05 she shares her thoughts, especially two reasons for the “what’s next?” question (rephrased by me):

  1. people don’t get great results from Lean and quit too early with the conclusion Lean doesn’t work
  2. the attention span, especially in business, is (very) short

By 19:45, Karen reminds the listeners that Lean is made of layers of quite “meaty” subjects and is made for constant learners. Yet Lean teaching programs cannot (?) do not go very deep into Lean beyond chosen tools. So it’s up to everyone to go for a never-ending learning journey. At 43:00 listeners get the wrap-up.

My thoughts on this

Ironically, the introduction of new methods and tools was once mocked as “the flavor of the month” with the preconceived belief that it won’t last. Now that Lean has demonstrated a longer lifespan than other management ways, it seems to be precisely too lasting in a time where  fashions come and go very quickly.

The methodologies life cycle

However long Lean is around now, it follows the same life cycle curve than others, made of a slow takeoff as long as long as no organization publicized extraordinary achievements with this approach or no book draw wider attention to it. Once the word spread, the methodology gets hype and many organizations and consultants go for it. After the hype spike, there is a loss of interest and a final plateau. In this later stage the methodology does not totally disappear but does not get the attention it once had.

In that regard, the methodologies life cycles look very much like Gartner’s hype cycle for technologies.

I started my career in the midst of Total Quality Management (TQM) hype, in the mid-1980s. Who aged less than 40 knows about TQM? It is still around in some form, like in the various ISO standards, but it does not get the excitement of the all the problem solving tools deployment TQM once had.

Similarly what happened to Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)? Parts of it is embedded in Lean and some companies keep TPM alive, but I barely hear anything about it anymore.

My friend and mentor Bill Dettmer witnessed the same phenomenon with Theory of Constraints. Not totally gone now, but barely known and not likely to get its fame back again. Six Sigma is said to be dead or is reduced to SIPOCs and DMAIC.

So maybe time has come for Lean to lose attention of the mass and remain a thing for true believers?

Quick wins and newcomers

The impatience about the post-Lean next thing can also come from the younger staff that did not experience the first attempts with Lean, when the organization was so inefficient that almost any structured tool deployment and kaizen events demonstrated significant quick wins. After a while and continuous sustained efforts, the remaining pockets of gains are few and hard/long to address. Newcomers experience Lean from hearsay or don’t notice anything about Lean because they are amidst of a more or less Lean environment. It’s just part of the scenery and nothing to get excited about.

Furthermore, many people have been repeatedly exposed to Lean methods and tools, have been involved in Lean workshops, kaizen events, sketched Value Stream Maps and identified wastes, sorted out, cleaned up and rearranged stuff 5S style. They share the feeling of being Lean, of being done with Lean.

The startup praise of failing fast and pivoting

My last thought about the possible fading of Lean is the growing influence of the startup movement and the praise of failing fast and pivoting. It keeps surprising me that failure can be praised, even so I understand the value of learning from failures. One Undesirable side Effect though may be the spreading of the belief that anything that does not work quickly is a failure – ok, we learned something – and it’s time to move on with something else.

Pivoting is getting away from an original idea that does not prove good fast enough and go for something else that can be 90 or 180 degrees from the original intent. What can make sense in a startup venture, stopping the experiment before the scarce resources are burnt up, may not be the suitable option where long commitment to cultural change and constant learning is required.

With allusion to Kahneman’s work, I think that for business there is a fast way and a slow one, and Lean is definitely a slow one.

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn