Reflecting on Lean – Lean Confusion by Jill Jusko

Lean confusion is a 3-page article by Jill Jusko, posted on industryweek.com on Aug 13, 2010. Despite the time past, this article is still actual and may well continue to remain that way. This post is friendly recension of mine, having read it long after its publishing (2016 vs. 2010).

Jusko’s article starts on the love-hate debate about Lean, even if not expressed in those terms, between proponents crediting Lean (Manufacturing) for many measurable benefits while opponents deny them.

Why the diversity of opinions regarding lean? (…) answer is that people are confused.” both about what defines Lean as well as how to implement it.

In order to clarify what lean is, Jusko proposes Jim Womack’s definition “to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” before quoting more of Womack’s in-depth explanation about Lean Thinking.

That’s the problem with Lean definitions. Either you tell them in a concise way, which may not suffice for the listener to correctly understand the intent nor grasp the full extend of it, or you’ll have to deliver a mini conference on it. None of these two options being certain to avoid misunderstandings or negative shortcuts.

In reality, the definition of lean frequently varies depending upon whom you speak with — whether it should or not.“ the article goes on. Yes, still true. This is depending both on who explains and who listens.

For instance, talking to a senior executive who has only very few time to listen to the explanation, an “elevator pitch” is required, even so “doing more with less”,  while perfectly true may end up with undesirable, mostly social, effects. On the other hand, going for a more detailed explanation may leave the impression Lean is difficult to explain – and understand – or the proponent is not mastering enough his subject to keep it short.

Even so Lean is strategic and should be considered so, many organization want the quick wins and go for the “tactical” implementation, which is more about the Lean tools than Lean Thinking and developing a Lean culture. “execution — or lack thereof — is a significant contributor to a lean implementation’s success” Jusko reports.

On page 3 of Jusko’s article, the “discussion” goes on in the section “what’s missing?” with two experts quotes, one about the necessary focus on machinery, the other about the importance of the human side. Both are right, but their explanations put that way may just… keep readers confused?

If I can put my two cents in, I would advise to go for the human side first. Changing anything on machinery with a deep knowledge about it can be long and deceptive, while properly using the available means – train people, organize work and flow better, avoid stoppages and breakdowns, etc. – yields higher return on investment.

The article ends with a kind of warning about asking “What’s Next Too Soon”, still true today as so many managers are convinced to “be lean” despite the facts and figures about their organization’s performance. Read “We are all Lean now. What’s next?” on this subject.

Few articles may keep their freshness after such a relatively long time after being published. It’s worth reading the original here:

http://www.industryweek.com/companies-amp-executives/lean-confusion


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Critical Chain Project Management alone is not enough

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) alone is not enough to drastically reduce a project’s duration and improve the development process efficiency.

CCPM is a proven Project Management approach to ensure a project, any project, will meet its finishing date without compromising quality nor any of the requirements, and even though CCPM can lead to terminate projects earlier, CCPM alone will not squeeze out all improvement potential still hidden in the development process.

What CCPM does well is reconsider in a very smart way the project protection against delaying. Individual protective margins will be confiscated and mutualized in a project buffer, allowing everyone to benefit from this shared and common protection.

There is a bit more than this protective project buffer, but for the sake of simplicity let us just be that… simple.

The visual progress monitoring with a Fever Chart will provide early warning if the project completion date may be at risk and help spot where the trouble is.

Fever Chart

Fever Chart in a nutshell: x axis = project completion rate, y axis = protective buffer burn rate. Green zone = all ok, don’t worry, Amber zone = watch out, the project is drifting and finishing date may be jeopardized. Red zone = alert, project likely to be delayed if no action bring the plot into Amber and preferably Green zone.

After a while, with the proof that all projects can finish without burning up all the protective buffer, meaning ahead of estimated finish date, this arbitrary margin confiscation can be refined and some tasks durations trimmed down while fixing some of the common flaws in the process, like incomplete Work Breakdown Structures, poor linkage between tasks, ill-defined contents or missing requirements.

When done, the projects may be shorter because of lesser of the original protective margins and the other fixes, but the tasks themselves are seldom challenged about their value.

For instance, many of the project’s gate reviews have been set to monitor progress and give confidence to management. They were countermeasures to the drifts and tunnel effects, the period where management is blind about the progress, but with the early warning and easy visual monitoring through the Fever Chart, and more agility in the process, many of these reviews are now useless.

Thus, the time to prepare the documents, KPIs, presentations and attend meetings can be saved for value-creating activities or simply eliminated.

Other tasks may clutter the project, like legacies of fixes of older issues, long obsolete but still kept as the project template still carry them over. Evolution in technologies, unnecessary or suppressed downstream process steps, never fed back may also let unnecessary tasks in the project.

This is where a Lean Thinking approach completes CCPM, challenging the Added-Value of each task, questioning the resources required (both in qualification or competencies and in quantity) and even the linkage to preceding and following tasks.

When considering a development process, embracing Lean Engineering can even go further. Lean Engineering fosters learning and reuse of proven solutions. Libraries of such solutions and ready-for-use modules can save significant time, which can be reinvested in experimenting for the sake of further learning or to shorten projects and engage more development cycles with same resources and within the same time span.


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Critical Chain and Lean Engineering, a promising pair

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) has proven its effectiveness to terminate projects on time and even quite often before estimated finish date.

In development, engineering or Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO), using CCPM can give a significant competitive advantage.

It can outperform slower competitors, earn premium for faster achievement and/or allow multiplying projects within similar timeframe and often with same resources.

CCPM is the perfect companion for Lean Engineering, giving the means to win the race-to-market and multiplying new product launches.

True Lean Engineering is something long to develop and “install”, it’s about learning and developing a reusable knowledge base as well as turning engineers into Lean thinkers.

Terminating projects earlier and multiplying them offers the learning opportunities to test and gather knowledge.

CCPM is therefore a good Lean Engineering “forerunner” giving a competitive advantage faster than the sole Lean Engineering initiative.

What CCPM per se does not is discriminate added-value tasks and non added value, the wasteful tasks listed in a project in a Lean thinking way.

Of course, when CCPM takes care about the capacity constrained resources, it invites to check the content of the tasks and scrutinize the proper use of those precious resources, thus calling for Lean-minded scrutiny.

CCPM acts then as a focusing tool for Lean-minded analysis and improvement.

These two, Critical Chain Project Management and Lean Engineering, seem to make a fine, promising pair.
Something to consider.


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Be prepared for success!

Some improvements in operations can be so effective that management should better be prepared for success, otherwise it can ultimately turn out as a splendid blunder.

This post is a kind of sequel of “Your next bottleneck is elsewhere (and in the future)” and based on a true experience in pharmaceutical industry.

The story takes place in a primary and secondary packaging workshop in an European (big) pharma plant. This workshop’s poor performance is allegedly the cause of stock outs and delays on the market. Given the increasing competition for this drug – now no more patent protected – it is mandatory to restore on-time deliveries to resist the generic makers’ aggressive attacks.

The packaging is the last step before shipping, and unblocking it suddenly means :

  • flushing a lot of goods that were waiting before the bottleneck, propagating a wave of workload downstreams,
  • draining the queueing material before packaging as its capacity is better utilized, and may be idle if the next supply does not follow the new pace.

Therefore the warnings to management as we begun our assignment: your next bottleneck is elsewhere and be prepared for success.

Management did not take it seriously. I assume first because in pharma nothing goes really fast, second because the silo mentality still prevails. The upstream process (called manufacturing) was another department with a different team struggling to solve their own problems. Off limits to us.

Our efforts on packaging paid off soon: +50% output within a few weeks, leading to restock the dispatch centers in various countries and… drain the huge internal buffer in front the packaging.

Now with the capacity recovered and high spirit of the team, we wanted more material to keep supplying the market and possibly regain lost market shares.

Alas, these results caught management totally unprepared for success and blind to the new bottleneck, which was not manufacturing as anyone would logically assume, but.. sales!

It turned out that manufacturing was not very good to supply packaging indeed, but could do. What was most shocking was that there were no more orders! Not only did the drastic packaging performance increase drain the buffer of raw material, but it drained the order book as well.

Being used to years-long delayed supplies, management (?) nor sales teams paid attention to the warning and did not anticipate the exploitation of the recovered capacity.

As a result, not only did the drastic performance increase in packaging remain only a sporadic and local success, it did not yield the huge revenues it could have and disappointed all highly energized packaging team members, now waiting idle for occupation.


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How Lean can help startups – Introduction

This post is an introduction to a series of articles dedicated to Lean and start-ups, more specifically: how Lean can help start-ups.

Lean was revealed as “Lean Manufacturing” before spreading to virtually all business sectors and evolve to Lean Management.

Lean has long been seen as an approach (approach or philosophy) specific to existing businesses seeking to transform and adapt themselves to their new competitive environment. Yet if Lean was indeed born in an already established business in bad shape (Toyota), its principles, methods and tools are not limited to these kind of cases.

It is therefore likely that, although not yet much reported in the literature, cases of Lean applications can be found in the early foundation stages of new companies or during the takeover of firms.

It would be very surprising, considering the fame of Lean, that entrepreneurs would not have heard of, or would refrain to inspire themselves from Lean.

How can Lean help startups?

Let’s remind the Lean principles in the context of a startup:

  1. Define value (created) from the perspective of the customers, users or beneficiaries
  2. Create corresponding value stream
  3. Ensure smooth and fast flow of value to the customer
  4. Meet the expectations and demands (pull flow from customer)
  5. Strive for perfection

For this to be possible and viable, an entrepreneur must allocate the proper resources and refrain from the temptation to develop or deliver unnecessary features. This would most likely lead to resource consumption without creating value in return, what is usually considered waste in Lean lingo.

A start-up may seem Lean by definition:

  • With limited resources available, entrepreneurs are assumed to be naturally inclined to be careful with resource management, reasonable and acquainted with the (Lean) concepts of waste
  • Time-to-market (i.e. speed) is obviously a critical success factor, just as is the speed at which the financial flow from sales is returning, hence an assumed entrepreneur’s obsession with flow and speed

But this is not certain. Common sense is less common than one might think.

Moreover, all entrepreneurs have not necessarily been exposed to the benefits of Lean. Finally, even familiar with Lean, entrepreneurs do not necessarily think about its application in the context of a starting business or the creating of a spin-off.

That’s the reason for this series of posts: How Lean can help startups


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5S in hospital

5S are as well an approach, philosophy and methodology to better workplace organization, foundations for efficient and safe work, as well as insuring quality and continuous improvement. They originated in their current form* in industrial workshops in Japan, leading many people to think “this is a production thing“.

The following video shows a good example of the application of the 5S principles in a Toronto hospital.


*I believe 5S preexisted in different forms, especially in the TWI cards during WWII.


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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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How corporate Lean programs spoil golden opportunities

This is the sad and true story of a manufacturing unit of a major manufacturer in his industry.

This company has a corporate program to roll out Lean, with permanently appointed staff to support it. The Lean organisation is structured from a corporate level to sites representatives and staff appointed to support departments within the plants (Lean Promotion Office).

The corporate program is consistent and fine, designed by subject matter experts and tailored to fit both the activity and corporate culture. Such an ambitious program has a phased agenda, milestones, audits, reviews and everything necessary.

The Lean Promotion Office supporting team is therefore very busy breaking down the corporate rollout plan and preparing training sessions, coaching sessions, reviews and everything necessary.

Everyone who has witnessed such organisation and corporate rollout knows that the supporting team tends to become a swelling bureaucracy of its own, with very busy people seldom seen on shopfloor.

Comes a day in a department when the production must be stopped for supply shortages and unfortunately the stoppage lasts several days.

Once the things jobless personnel could do were done, they were left unoccupied and all by themselves, in a kind of readiness, the production being assumed to resume anytime soon.

Which did not happen, and boredom became the daily normal.

This is when the consultant regularly visiting the department shows up, and a bit upset by the waste of human skills, proposes to organize a much needed initiation to 5S.

That can’t be done.
– Why?
– 5S is scheduled later in the year, according to the rollout plan.
– But people are available now and with the current department (messy, dirty) condition it is a golden opportunity to both train people and improve the condition!
– Nobody is available for the training.
– But I can do!
– This is not compliant to our rollout plan and procedures.

As incredible it sounds, there was no way to organize the initiation and no manager would back up the proposal nor agree to give it a go.

I assume the Lean Promotion Office members are measured according to their (planned) activity and weren’t eager to mess up the plan, take any chances to displease their managers.

Production managers were blind to the situation and not knowing much about 5S, could not see the opportunity to have meaningful occupation for their staff.

To add to the sadness of the situation, when 5S training time will come, the situation may not offer the same opportunity: machines may be running, everybody may be busy and the mess and dirt may not be that visible as it was during the stoppage.

5S training will then probably be done with case studies and simulation, on restricted area at best, in order not to disturb production. This is where the golden opportunity is really lost: using a real case to act on, learn and improve.

Postponing the training and improvements to later scheduled time slot will make the actual 5S related problems last longer, cost more and waste the opportunity.


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VSM start on (false) assumption

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Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a great tool, that got really popular and stands as a one of the icons of Lean.

In a nutshell, Value Stream Mapping is the schematic description of physical and information flow of a process or a value chain. It helps understanding the current situation and analyzing the causes of issues and limitations. VSM is followed by a design of the desired future state, called Value Stream Design (VSD). The third implicit part of a VSM-VSD is the action plan, made of the necessary actions for changing from current situation to the desired future state.

VSM is therefore an excellent trigger for continuous improvement and used as such in Lean initiatives.

What lean enthusiasts using VSM look for is a smooth, fast and direct flow from customers’ needs or desires to customers satisfaction, using only the very necessary resources. This requires the process supporting the flow to be as free of wastes as possible.

Wastes mean Muri, Muda and Mura, more about this >here<

It seems reasonable then to (re)visit the process and hunt down any waste in order to improve the flow.

Doing so is making an assumption, mostly unspoken and even unconscious, that the actual process is really useful and needs/deserves improvement.

Yet most of the lean enthusiast take a shortcut on the scientific thinking promoted by Lean, jumping too fast on Doing (read Mapping in this case) without giving enough time, if any, on Planning.

The Plan phase of the PDCA is meant to pose a hypothesis and to design an experiment carried out during the Do phase and assessed for validation or invalidation in the Check phase.

It therefore happens, more often than believed, that an unnecessary process gets attention, time and resources allocated for improvement when what was is really needed is simply to get rid of the whole process!

How can a process be useless?

It is common to setup a process in order to overcome a problem and literally forget to remove it once the problem is solved. Many processes are cluttered with sub-processes and procedures once created to bypass or overcome a problem that remain in place, consuming resources for absolutely no value creation.

In order to avoid such kind of embarrassing creation of muda (Value Stream Mapping an unnecessary process), each process candidate for a VSM should first be analysed for its purpose: what is the goal of this process? what problem this process is supposed to solve?

If there is no good reason for the process to exist, no need to map it, go for discarding it. (Note: good reasons may include “mandatory by regulation”)

For another variation on this subject, you may like to read VSM Pitfall: unnecessary process


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Why 5S’s Scrub & Shine is not (only) about cleaning

This post refers to the third S of the series of 5 from the 5S methodology and which stands for Seiso, which can be translated as ‘cleaning’ or for the sake of verbs starting with an S: Shine, Scrub, Sweep, Sanitize and the like.

Once a certain state of cleanliness has been reached, any abnormality should be visible and trigger a corrective action.

A nut or a bolt found on the floor should immediately call for an investigation: is it fallen off the product which is manufactured or from the machine near by? Is it fallen off the tightenings box delivered to the assembly line?

In each of these three cases a missing nut or bolt can lead to a serious problem:

  • the product may not be assembled correctly
  • the machine may be affected in some way
  • the assembly line may be stopped because one part is missing in the precisely counted supplies

Therefore, picking up the nut or bolt and throw it into a trash bin is no good practice. Worse would be simply putting it back to a box holding similar parts on the line.

  • Simply disposing parts is not grasping the opportunity to solve potential problems and to improve the situation by solving it
  • Putting it back into a box may end up putting it into the wrong box, potentially leading to a later problem

Many people convinced to be knowledgeable about 5S would pick up the stray nut or bolt and get rid of it in any way they consider best and think they did the right thing about 5S.

In fact they help housekeeping, not 5S.

They may pick up stray parts over and over again if nothing is done to understand the origin, cause and designing a robust solution for it not to happen again.

The true 5S spirit would grasp the opportunity to understand where the part came from, why, and how to prevent other parts to fall onto the floor or how to prevent potential later problems.

A seemingly unimportant part as a nut or bolt may be critically important and if missing can lead to a catastrophe.

Until being absolutely certain this is not the case, any discovery of stray material (or document) should be suspected as source of potential major problem and trigger an investigation.


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