Lean rule of thirds

The rule of thirds here has nothing to do with framing picture in photography even if some metaphoric similarities can be discussed.

The rule of thirds I am thinking about is the potential improvement with Lean.

My own experience tells me that every time a process is analyzed in a lean way, at least 30% of either leadtime, inventory, WIP, or manpower can be saved (sometimes a combination of them).

The process owner or other stakeholders may not allow to cut all of these 30% yet this potential is at hand.

This “rule” seems to be scale independent: even after improving a process and having it operating with 30% less resources, after some time this same process can show again 30% improvement potential.

How can this be possible?

Well, consider a process with people unaware of lean thinking, tools and techniques. Reaping a gain of 30% in this case is generally piece of cake.

After a while, with lean awareness growing, the same people may undertake another critical assessment of the process and discover additional improvement potentials they were unable to see before.

This can go on several times before the process ends in a very lean state and of course, at each iteration, gaining 30% comes at a higher cost.

Another reason is that things change over time:

  • new problems arise requiring new solutions
  • discipline weakens,
  • habits slip back to old ones,
  • processes are modified,
  • new models are launched,
  • etc.

This rule of thirds may be like the Pareto law, something that happens often, often enough to be called law or rule, even there is no rationale demonstration for it.

Many Lean practitioners I talk with agree with this rule, and if you listen carefully to Dan Jones explanation about what is Lean, you’ll hear:

Very quickly it’s also freeing up the capacity to deliver a third or more value, from existing resources without additional costs.”


How lean are you? Part 5

The previous posts described approaches for Lean assessment and leanness measurement with their strengths and weaknesses. Yet for self-assessment or when trying to get a feeling about a supplier, such in-depth analyses are not necessary.

The next series of posts starting with this one deals with qualitative approaches of a Lean assessment.

Starting with top management

In his e-letter dating back to April 2004 and having this inspiring title: how lean are you? Dan Jones starts his answer like this: “not by looking over your shoulder at your competitors or by counting the number of Kaizen events you have run”.

That means, do not wait for benchmarking and don’t be fooled by misleading indicators.

Instead ask yourselves seven basic questions.” Those questions are about 7 topics:

  1. Customer satisfaction
  2. Throughput time and inventories
  3. Production and scheduling
  4. Office processes, overheads and direct costs
  5. Use of freed up time, equipment and space
  6. Management systems for a lean transformation
  7. Plans to deliver the next generation product with enhanced functionality at 30% lower costs than current product?

I strongly recommend to read this e-letter (and all others as well!)

These questions and topics are typically those a Lean-aware visitor or auditor may ask when visiting a supplier or a Lean consultant when first touring the gemba with top managers. These are also typical questions any top manager should ask himself when paying a visit to the shop floor.

Question #1 reminds that all should be about customer, questions #2 and #3 are about operations, questions #4 to 6 are about management and #7 is about the future.

These questions may not suffice for an assessment but give clues about Lean awareness and state of mind of the top management. They could be asked in form of why? what? and how?

Bottom-up lean initiatives are less likely to succeed than top-down, the latter having management’s full support and usually linked to strategic objectives. Therefore, starting an interview with the top most manager gives valuable information about maturity and readiness to support Lean transformation.

Failing to answer convincingly questions 1;4;5;6 and 7 is no good omen and in case of supplier qualification may end the process fast, with a nogo.

>Next post: How lean are you? Part 6

Difficult definition of Lean

Did you ever face the same difficulty explaining Lean to someone who knows nothing about it?

It’s a real dilemma between giving a short yet oversimplified definition or setting up a kind of improvised conference that may disconnect your audience before it got the minimum understanding about Lean, isn’t it?

Once familiar with Lean, the question sounds strange. When knowing the basics and the jargon, a very concise definition is enough to understand what is wrapped within.

When explaining to somebody new to Lean or ignorant about it, most choose an elevator pitch style definition in order to raise interest letting the details for a later opportunity.

There are also cases when people obviously misunderstood a definition of Lean, like these guys proud about “being Lean” because they initiated 5S, and stick to their belief, surprised that you come up with something different.

Elevator pitching

Short, concise and sharp definitions of Lean are favored first because when delivered in assertive tone, they give confidence to both the speaker and the listener. In most of the cases, these pitches are teasers, catch enough interest of the listener for him to offer a further opportunity to learn more.

Alas, these concise definitions are also very often oversimplifying and while being true may be misleading. One example is : “Lean is about eliminating waste”.

Of course Lean is fighting against waste, but not because it was its goal but because it was what the workers on shop floor could do by themselves in order to contribute providing more value to customers.

If the listener only understands Lean as fighting waste, he’ll may grow the ranks of those believing it being cost cutting or doing 5S and thus miss a lot of its other potentialities.

Another example of such kind of over simplified definitions is: “Lean is about speed (and Six Sigma is about quality)”. Again, yes it’s true, when a process is freed from its major wastes the speed of flow increases, but speeding up alone is not enough because you can speed up a totally needless process without any benefit for customers.

On the other hand, as soon as the definition turns into a long sentence or several sentences, there is a risk to confuse the listener with too much information and scare him about something that sounds complicated.

A delicate balance

In my post definition of Lean, Dan Jones and Jim Womack illustrate two different approaches while defining Lean: Dan Jones uses the professorial extensive definition, Jim Womack uses the elevator pitch style, but giving a bit more explanations right after pitching, as does Mike Rother in the >related post<.

Circumstances play a role when it comes to choose the definition. Dan Jones has the opportunity to explain extensively in a 6mn video obviously in his control, while Jim Womack and Mike Rother answer interviews where usually short and straight to the point answers are preferred.

Karen Martin, answering the question in Quality Progress February 2014 issue, goes for halfway: (Lean is) “a business management system consisting of principles, practices and tools and is primarily about developing people to achieve business results.” She adds “It is hard to summarize because of its multilayered effect and complexity without oversimplifying it.”

All of these definitions are correct and convergent for initiated yet different and maybe puzzling to newbies. I haven’t a unique definition of my own. As others, I tend to adapt to the audience and the time I feel reasonable under the circumstances. Nevertheless, I usually regret short definitions, feeling I owe more than this to Lean.

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Definition of Lean

Dan Jones, what is lean?

Lean is about a new business model that delivers far more superior performance for customers, employees, shareholders and society at large. Initially this superior performance delivers exactly what customer wants, without any problems, delays, hassles, errors and firefighting.
Very quickly it’s also freeing up the capacity to deliver a third or more value, from existing resources without additional costs.

Jim Womack about Lean Thinking

Creating more and more value with less and less. That means less time, less space, less effort, fewer errors. It’s pretty simple. It’s all Lean is. The question is how you do that?

Related: Mike Rother’s definition of Lean