Jargon doesn’t make an expert

In a blog post I read the warning about candidates exaggerating their insight by using lot of jargon. It was about Lean Management. The author stated that when recruiting, mastering enough Lean vocabulary is important in order to catch candidates exaggerating their insight by using jargon. Any talented Lean manager can explain the same concepts without Lean management specific language, the author wrote, but inexperienced or unskillful interviewees may lean (pun intended?) on “concept-dropping.

Even so I agree with everything above, the heavy use of peculiar lingo is not specific to Lean and Lean “experts” are not even the worst.

>Lisez-moi en français

I remember a recent (July 2017) conference in which a speaker delivered a pretty convincing presentation about a somewhat uncommon approach we are familiar of. One of my colleagues, intrigued, went to see the speaker and asked him a question on a specific aspect only a true experienced expert could answer. This very question reminded the speaker of an important call he had to make and he vanished. He was indeed only “concept-dropping”.

Nothing really new. Molière, our most famous (French) playwright and actor (1622 – 1673) used to ridicule the physicians of his time in several of his works. Those experts were depicted as pompous and disputing in fantasy latin about this or that just to impress their audience or others fellow “experts” with fake erudition, while their patients usually were bleeding away.

In French slang, a “faisan” (pheasant) is a crook, a good-looking but stupid pretender. I used to hear fake experts being called “faisans”. Nice feathers, but that’s barely all.

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When facing a choice, get clarity with the change matrix

The change matrix is primarily a tool to explain why people seem to resist change, but it can be used to make a decision when the appeal of the proposed change is facing some doubts about losing more than gaining.

Doing the exercise of filling the matrix should help getting clarity about the plusses and minuses of the change, and base the decision on some rational weighing.

In order to understand the matrix and the associated metaphors, I recommend watching the video.


When facing a choice with significant impact on current and future situation

An envisioned or proposed major change in life can be scary. Who never faced the dilemma of daring a change and face the uncertainty or keep everything as is for the sake of some “safety”?

The safety here can be nothing more than an illusion, but the familiarity of the current situation gives some impression to remain in control. In the current situation, everything seems predictable and known while a change will modify many things, adding a lot of unknown and uncertainty.

Furthermore the popular saying states that every improvement is a change but every change isn’t an improvement, adding to the fear of giving up something good for worse.

Relying only on gut feeling may not be the best way to make the decision unless one trusts his or her intuitions. The change matrix can bring some clarity when the exercise is done honestly.

Pot of gold and mermaid

Write down all promoted benefits as well as those the intuition suggests. What makes the change desirable and that CANNOT be gotten or achieved in current situation?

Switch to the mermaid and ask yourself what would make you ignore the pot of gold, something of great value ONLY provided in current situation.

The capital letters stand for extreme wording, a technique useful for identifying false assumptions. If it sounds weird or not true, the assumption is probably false or overstated.

Crutches and alligators

Assess the risks of change figured by the crutches. What can possibly go wrong with the change that WILL end up with SIGNIFICANT damage?

On the other hand what CATASTROPHE WILL happen by keeping the status quo?

Looking at the matrix

It is time to look at all quadrants and check in which direction the matrix points. Hopefully a clear indication is shown, either favoring change or recommending to stay put.

The last time I applied the matrix to a personal important choice I was surprised how clear the best choice appeared.

It was consistent with my intuition but was more elaborate, thus added much clarity to the best choice. The result could have been opposite and could have put a rationalized end to a fantasy. The clarity and the list of pro and cons gives great confidence about the decision to make. I really recommend to give it a try.

Possible biases

When facing a desirable change, one may overestimate the size of the pot of gold as well as the threat of alligators while underestimating the risks (the crutches) and the sex-appeal of the mermaid.

In plain English this means overestimate the gain or benefits of the change as well as the potential danger of not changing, thus making the change desirable. This looks much like fulfilling a self prophecy.

In order to complete the demonstration or reinforce the desirability of the change, the risks associated with the change are minimized or ignored and the advantages of the status quo downplayed.

Conversely, when facing a less desirable change and even more in case of an undesirable change, the person may evaluate the quadrants in an opposite manner: overestimating the number of crutches and the sex-appeal of the mermaid while underestimating the value in the pot of gold as well as playing down the threat of alligators.

Again the translation in plain English: to justify the rejection of a proposed change the risks of the change are magnified and the advantages of the status quo highlighted while the benefits of the change are questioned and the threat of not changing minimized or even denied.

I  order to avoid this pitfall, it is meaningful to share all (emphasize “all”) the elements of the choice in the most neutral manner to a person of confidence or (someone selected as) a coach. A new external point of view may question the rationale and propose a new perspective.


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The man-machine system performance

When looking for performance improvement of a man-machine system, too often management puts emphasis onto machine or technology at large, ignoring the fact that humans associated with equipment, machines or technology form an interrelated system and consequently humans are the discriminating factor.

The fallacy of trusting the latest technology

There is a strong belief, backed up by vendor’s marketing, that the latest state-of-the-art high-tech equipment will bring a breakthrough in performance. This is welcome news for executives struggling to keep their organization up with competition and seeking a significant performance uplift.

Production managers, industrial engineers or system designers are big kids loving high-tech expensive toys, geeks of their own kind and dreaming to get the latest, biggest, fastest piece of equipment.

Once investment made, performance does not skyrocket though.

What happened?

Management blindness

Management ignored the human factor, i.e. people put in front or in charge of the new machine, the latest technology. An operator and his machine for instance are a system.

The overall performance of this system is determined by the human-machine pair, and guess what, the most variable and hardest to control is the human factor.

Unlike machines, humans have their moods, their worries, variable health and morale, private concerns and motivation issues. One day fine, the other day down.

Humans are not equal in competencies and skills. Some learn fast, some learn slow and some never really get it.

So what’s the point giving the latest top-notch technology to someone not competent or not motivated?

Yet this is most often what happens. Management assumes that the best of machines will make the difference, totally ignoring the influence of the people in charge.

The irresistible appeal of technology

Most decision makers and managers have some kind of hard-science background, got their degrees in engineering or business management. They were taught the robustness of math, the beauty of straightforward logic and to trust only facts and data.

When puzzled facing in real-life the highly variable and elusive nature of humans, they have a natural tendency to prefer hardware. This is something that can be put into equations and eventually controlled. This is what they are most familiar with or at least the most at ease with.

Humans are only trouble. No equation helps to understand their intrinsic drivers nor to reduce their variabilities. This is all about soft skills and psychological factors. Nothing for engineers and hard science-minded people.

Instead, they put a strong hope that the best and latest technology will trump the human factor, reduce it to a neglectable pain. But this never happens.

So again: what’s the point giving the latest top-notch technology to someone not competent or not motivated?

Leveraging performance

In order to improve a man-machine system, it is key to first have a look on the human factor, the most important one. Make sure competency is granted. If someone lacks the necessary competencies, performance is nothing than a matter of luck.

Beware of incompetent but highly motivated people though. In their desire to do well, they may have unknowingly potentially dangerous behaviours and/or take bad decisions. These motivated ones are likely to learn, do thing right but need training and guidance.

Not motivated incompetents are not likely to take any initiatives. They are the manager’s pain and burden and giving them better, faster machines won’t help. What’s worse with not motivated incompetents is passive aggressive behaviors that can lead to potentially dangerous situations as well.

Competent but not motivated people need and probably deserve management’s attention in order to get them into the winning quadrant of the competency-motivation matrix, aka skill-will matrix (top right).

There are the competent and motivated people who do their job effectively, often efficiently and without bothering anybody.

Competent Find a driver or a whip No worries
Incompetent Long way to go… Potentially dangerous good will
Not motivated Motivated

Competency-motivation matrix from a supervisor perspective

It is with these competent and motivated people that the limits of machines or technology can be found, as they will use them properly and purposely. Even when these performance limits are reached, it’s not certain that better planning and/or better organization cannot get more performance out of the system.

Think about quick changeovers and all capacity that can be regained applying SMED methodology, or rethinking maintenance in Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) style.

Wrapping up

When facing the challenge for improving performance, considering the way operations are done should be the first step. The second is to remember than investing in people is usually cheaper and more effective than investing in technology in first place, because a well utilized outdated machine will have better yield and be way cheaper than a poorly utilized state-of-the-art new one.

“Unfortunately” for tech-lovers who would prefer new “toys”, this investment in humans has to be a substantial part of their manager’s daily routine.


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What you may have missed this summer

About the AuthorIf the summer holidays did not allow you to check my posts, you may have a look on the July 2016 list of 8 posts and the August list which made it only up to 6.

You may wonder Why No One Talks About TPM Anymore? Discover that Value Stream Mapping applies to Product Development as well, how and why color a Goal Tree and What data for changeover monitoring and improvement.

We are all Lean now. So you may want to know what’s next?

Before buying “throughput accounting”, the book, you may want to read what I found worth reading it.

Check out. Give a thumb if you like and share it on your favorite social media.

Give me the fish, don’t teach me fishing!

In our fast moving, fast changing world, ancient wisdom may no longer apply. And chances are it is true.

There is this proverb with unclear origins yet sounding ancient and wise:

“give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

I can imagine the old bearded man in white robe sitting under a very old tree on some mountain top, the wise hermit you come see after a long, difficult and dangerous climbing. You seek guidance and this is the kind of advice he gives you.

These were times when time was slow and a man had to take care himself about many aspects of his daily life.

Nowadays when someone asks for a fish, they want the fish. And they want it now. They don’t care about the details how to catch the fish, it is just about immediate satisfaction of the need of fish.

Why care about the fishing technique? In a world of interconnected networks it is enough to know someone who masters the fishing technique.

Nobody cares climbing the mountain for advice either, the wise old man is a digital native of less than 18 years and his cave is named Facebook, twitter, snapchat… you name it.

Why investing time to learn fishing? Maybe next month it will all be about deer, beef or strawberries, apple pie or orange juice. We can’t learn all the related hunting, farming and cooking techniques according to the need or big thing of the moment. We simply have to turn it to specialists.

Furthermore, when asked for a fish and teaching fishing instead, chances are that the mentor and mentee go into the technical details of fishing or the pro and cons of this and that gear, to a point they’re likely to forget about the initial problem to solve: getting fed with fish.

The final irony is to die starving savvy about fishing.

Where is all this getting us to?

Just as when a customer is looking to satisfy his/her need, he/she is probably not interested in the details, specifications and technical aspects of the solution, he/she is awaiting results. The same applies when a CEO or senior manager has a problem to solve, he/she calls in a specialist and ask him/her for a quick fix. The methodology used is of almost no interest, it’s about the fish (the need) not fishing (the means).

Therefore putting Lean, Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints to the forefront only pleases the promoter, not the customer. The later is asking for a quick fix, not a catalog of nice tools and techniques that might eventually solve his/her problem.

Looking for internal people to take over (learning how to fish), sustain and hopefully continuously improve tends to get out of fashion. With more and more disruptions in any technologies or businesses and the acceleration of all cycles, planning for long term is happy guess at best and long term a very relative concept.

A business owner, CEO or senior executive may not stay in position long enough to see the outcome of the teach-don’t-do approach. Even the long established organization may not exist long enough to think about sustainability of this or that methodology.

As a result, business consultants or special interest groups should advertise more about their results and achievements than their favorite toolbox to attract decision-makers’ attention as these are looking for the fish, not the fishing.

My hermitage is my blog, you can join the meditation here.


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Respect for people starts with saying hello

Lean respect for people principle is somewhat difficult to grasp in first place. While some gurus say it is not (only) about saying hello, I do think respect for people definitely starts with the basics of politeness, especially saying hello.

Respect or signs of reverence have long been unidirectional, from the lower ranking to the higher ranking, from subordinates to higher authority.

The mighty demanded respect to show how mighty they were and the lower ranking paid respect to the unquestioned power, especially when they were on the pointy side of the sword.

Everyone having been on the modern form of the pointy side of the sword (whatever it now is) understands that not been greeted or not been returned a hello is a deliberate sign showing some (real or pretended) distance.

Still in our days many higher ranking believe it is not necessary to say hello, return a greeting or simply be polite with “lower rankings”.

Respect for people is therefore, at least for me, recognizing the other as a peer, regardless of conventional or social ranking. Being polite is recognizing the other as a peer and showing him or her respect and saying hello is the very first polite sign to give.

When it comes to Lean Thinking and working to improve a process, the gathered talents can come in many forms and are all welcome. Original Lean did not come with grades and belts to show some kinds of ranks but put very different talents together to solve problems. And it usually works fine, especially when participants don’t have to care about (artificial) ranks or social differences.


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Why secret weapons can’t remain secret 

A secret weapon, in its metaphorical or literal meaning, is a means that trumps the actual known ones. It brings a decisive advantage to its user/owner, is more effective and… unknown.

A secret weapon will create a surprise and grant its user a favorable opportunity to exploit,  and if exploited properly can lead to victory.

Once the competition – in warfare or business – aware of the existence of a secret weapon, it will relentlessly try to gather information about it, destroy it or get one too in order to restore balance.

A good reason for the owner to keep on trying keeping it secret and competition to catch up. What eventually will happen.

On the other hand, at some moment it will be politically, strategically or “marketingly” smart to advertise on the competitive advantage and reveal the secret.

For those reasons a secret weapon can’t remain secret.

This is the case with Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), a “new” approach still somewhat “confidential”.

When we applied it to aircraft MRO and helped our client to halve the aircraft turnaround time, we helped our client to forge a competitive advantage. And when we wanted to advertise about the achievement, the client was reluctant to “give away his secret weapon”.

Well, I thought, how long do you think it will take for word of mouth to spread? How long before your sales team will boast about shorter aircraft grounding? How long before the information will leak via informal channels?

In business it is useless to waste energy trying to keep the secret weapon secret.

On the contrary, focus should be on exploiting the competitive advantage, advertising heavily on it and quickly reap as much profit as possible before competition closes the gap.


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Learning Faster

In this video, Clarke Ching explains Philip Marris how to speed up learning by speeding up the audio book playback. While Philip has reservations about this technique, I do use it with several medias:

  • Podcast playback on iPhone x1.5 (x2 is usually too fast for me)
  • Youtube conferences clips, Youtube allows x1.25; x1.5 or x2
  • Pocket, (getpocket.com) the app that stores web pages of files for later reading embeds a vocal synthesizer (at least on iPhone) with variable speed. This app reads in several languages and gives indications about text formatting.
  • Adobe Reader proposes Read Out Loud Text-to-Speech Tool (https://www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/reader6/sec2.html)

I agree with Clarke: the speeding up of the reading saves time while remaining understandable.

If you’d like to share your tricks, post a comment!


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Going the extra mile

Going the extra mile is an idiomatic metaphor for describing an extra effort to please a customer. It may sound like a management legend until experiencing it.

My little story could have been a scenario base for a Hollywood Christmas movie, but it was only my experience as a stranded Frenchman in Great Britain. With a happy ending, nevertheless.

It started with a traffic jam on one of the infamous British motorways, a late December afternoon, leading to miss my Eurostar train to get back home in Paris.

The taxi driver did his best to catch up, jeopardizing his driver’s licence and potentially our lives dashing on the heavy-traffic motorway and later in the narrower roads to the station. Despite all his efforts, he dropped me too late and… on the wrong side of the station.

When I managed to get out of the taxi at Ashford International station, my train had left very few minutes before. The last train stopping there that day.

In the hall, the Eurostar counter was closed and nobody in sight. While mentally searching for a solution a door opened and a lady in Eurostar uniform appeared. I briefly explained her my situation and the lady kindly accepted to help me, opening the closed counter and restarting a computer.

I immediately felt treated like a customer expects to be, but seldom is, more accustomed to see service providers, vendors and suppliers try to escape the chores, especially if they are not really supposed to do what you’re asking for.

My helping lady went through a seemingly painful IT process to exchange my ticket, which was a bit special, keeping her temper, positive mind and friendliness.

After getting my ticket for the next train the next morning, I asked if there was a hotel nearby. I prepared myself to ask the very same question one of the waiting taxi drivers, not really expecting this information from my helping lady.

To my surprise, not only did she recommend a nearby Bed & Breakfast, but offered to call them and check for vacancy and after this was done, took time and great care to explain me how to get there on foot, dragging my luggage. She even suggested me places to have a dinner!

That was customer care!

This lady indeed walked the extra mile and as we were not in a Hollywood Christmas movie, I assume she was truly engaged in her job.

I did get home eventually (that’s my happy end of the story) and hope the company recognizes the value of such engaged employees.

To this lady, again: my deepest gratitude.


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5 ways Lean guys trigger rejection on shopfloor

Lean guys are not always aware they triggered rejection of their ideas or suggestions themselves, only because of their behavior or their disregarding of some elementary rules.
Here is a short list of 5 ways to trigger rejection on shopfloor.

1. Play the sensei

A sensei, in lean lingo, is a recognized expert, which in japanese style would visit a facility, appraise and give advice in a master’s mysterious way, so that the followers must deeply reflect about its meaning and the hidden but valuable lesson.

Probably every Lean guy’s dream is to be called sensei some day, meaning someone recognizes his/her expertise and asks for guidance and mentoring.

Yet playing sensei without being asked for nor called that way will pretty surely upset people.

To-be senseis I’ve seen like to look down on people with contempt and call everything rubbish.

A sensei being a sensei, he/she is not supposed to explain why something is rubbish, it’s up to the shopfloor people to discover it. A practical way to appear, appraise and disappear without being bothered with details nor explanations…

About such a “sensei”, some upset people said to me: “he just dropped the grenade and left”. On another occasion, the “victim” of such a sensei told me: “he just goes around, says it’s rubbish, but gives no example of what is good or what he wants!”.

While true senseis deliver valuable lessons, even in a strange fashion, self-promoted senseis just flatter their own ego while parading on shopfloor.

2. Lecturing people

Newcomers from a kaizen or Lean promotion office, often young people that graduated recently, tend to go to shopfloor and evangelize everyone with “You should” or “Why don’t you”.

These talented young people have gotten a lot of theory and probably know a lot, at least through reading, but “You should” is difficult to take from someone having barely the same number of life years than others have years of (hard) work experience.

“Why don’t you” is an awkward attempt to apply asking the five whys or to camouflage the lecture with a kind of smart-sounding suggestion. The way the full sentence is spoken out is received just as insulting as the blunt “you should”.

The lecturers too often know little if anything about the shopfloor condition and their questions and suggestions reveal their lack of awareness of the local conditions.

That’s how a new engineer from another company, allegedly far more advanced regarding Lean maturity and appalled by what he saw, got everyone hating him at once for lecturing aggressively the old breed on shopfloor.

3. Assuming everybody know the basics

This is a kind of variant of the previous, savvy Lean guys coming to shopfloor and without trying to understand the local current level of understanding, keep jargoning.

Lot of people do not like to admit they don’t understand, leading at best to a dialogue of the deaf between confident jargonists and proud ignorants.

Worse, when the jargonists notice the ignorance, they likely go for “What? You don’t know…!?”

It is easy to fall into the trap when nice boards and posters suggest the area has had some training and has some Lean tools in use. Which leads us to the next rejection-triggering behavior:

4. Hang up posters and vanish

Hanging up poster, display new or modified procedures and vanish without a word of explanation, preferably doing it when nobody is on shopfloor and letting everybody clueless about what has to be done is another fine way to show disrespect and trigger rejection.

It could be nothing more than the assumption from the Lean guys that first line of management will take over the explanation to their staff, while shopfloor management assumes Lean guys will instruct operators.

After a while, when searching the cause of boards not used or procedures ignored, one will discover that there was no instruction, not even information about the change.

After a while and some of these experiences, operators will come to the conclusion it is all optional or for window dressing only. Shopfloor management itself will sabotage passively by refraining to give explanations and instruction in place of the Lean team.

5. Changing things without people

The last fine way to fuel rejection is to make changes without people from shopfloor; after work or on weekends.

Nobody likes to have his/her workpost changed without notice, information and asking anything. More often than not, the change prove inapplicable because some important fact was ignored.

Would the initiators have asked beforehand, the operators or shopfloor people would have explained. But, the arguments of shopfloor people are often interpreted as a mere resistance to change, therefore it was thought better to do without them.

I remember factory workers mocking the executives who came a saturday for a 5S action with the CEO and having the factory paralyzed on Monday morning. Jigs and fixtures had been thrown away as rubbish pieces of metal by the ignorant executives.


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