December 2014

From our MLC Chair... "The 3 Rules of Lean":
You may remember this snippet of dialogue from “The Pirates of the Caribbean”, one of my all-time favorite movies:
Elizabeth: Wait! You have to take me to shore. According to the Code of the Order of the Brethren...
Barbossa: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and you're not. And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner

Many lean practioners profess lean rules.  Some rules they learned from their teachers and mentors as they read books, attended training classes, and participated in seminars or kaizen events.  Some of us developed new lean rules as we practiced our craft.  In my case, I furiously scribed everything I heard and saw at NUMMI and other Toyota production system organizations.  Quickly I turned those into PowerPoint decks that I shared with every hungry student, manager, or client.
I wish I could take much of it back.

There’s an old joke that goes “the first rule is there ain’t no rules”.  Once again, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” does a much better job than me in describing improvisation over rules:
Butch Cassidy: No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.
Harvey Logan: Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!
[Butch immediately kicks Harvey in the groin]
Butch Cassidy: Well, if there aint' going to be any rules, let's get the fight started. Someone count. 1,2,3 go.
Sundance Kid: [quickly] 1,2,3, go!
[Butch knocks Harvey out]
What is the goal?  To win the fight against a much (much) larger opponent.  It works.  Not only is Butch leader again, he survives a life-threatening event.

Now, what is the point of this trip down the Oscar lane?  I propose there are only a few rules of lean that must be followed.  I am going to share three that I share and teach wherever and whenever I have the opportunity.  Empirically, they have never failed me.

Rule 1:  Be on time and ready to work.
This rule goes beyond lean thinking.  No matter what you are trying to accomplish, you normally Plan-Do-Study-Act in the context of a team.  For common courtesy, respect, and productivity Rule 1 is crucial.  We could spend some time applying the Taguchi function to a target start time.  How many times have you played the game of telling someone the start time is earlier than the target hoping it will cause them to arrive at the necessary time?  Or the reverse effect where everyone starts estimating when the meeting will really start and the vicious downward spiral of getting everyone together in one spot begins to destroy productivity and morale.  We all have experienced the negative effect on team relationships when someone is always late, cancelling, or never ready with their contribution to the overall effort.  We all hate the meetings (aka: management production lines) when someone wastes the team’s time to bring a critical team member up to speed with everyone else.   

Rule 2:  The order of lean thinking is Safety and Respect, Quality, Delivery, and Cost.
Empirically, I have never seen this rule fail is followed with common sense.  Many times organizations are pursuing lean implementation because their ultimate goal is cost reduction.  The temptation to jump to cost reduction is even stronger once a value stream map is completed, the pressure to increase efficiency is tremendous, or some waste seems obvious after a gemba walk or conversation.  My ultimate example of violating Rule 2 was the Purchased Input Concept Optimization for Supply (PICOS) teams of the 90’s at General Motors purchasing.  J. Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua was brought in as the global purchasing vice president.  Mr. Lopez will go down in history as the textbook poster child of sing lean as a stalking horse for radical cost reduction.  Why can I say this?  I was a member of a PICOS team and saw the action on the front lines.  It’s too much information to share in a column, but google this and you will see the wreckage of focusing on radical cost reduction without and respect for the order of lean thinking.

Rule 3:  Don’t copy and paste
This is another column for another day, but I will leave you with an image.  Like every good American my wife and I went to Las Vegas on vacation.  What would Vegas be without Elvis impersonators?  No good “Elvis” gives a performance without “Suspicious Minds”.  Some of these guys (and gals) do a remarkable imitation of The King.  Some are terrible.  But none of the entertainers or hobbyists are Elvis Presley.  No matter how hard they practice or how many sequins on their cape, they will never be Elvis Presley.  Some lean practioners and organizations want to be Toyota.  They experience a Toyota Production System, take pictures, hire consultants, and paint the whole shop red, yellow and green.  The green isn’t such a bad idea, but the point is the same as Vegas.  They will never be Toyota.

Here is the right approach.  iTunes tells me there are over 400 artists with recordings of “Suspicious Minds” for download.  Some are awful and some are major billboard hits, like Dwight Yoakum and Fine Young Cannibals.  But Dwight and the young cannibals don’t attempt to copy and paste Elvis.  They learn the song and perform it with their own twist.  It becomes their song, their performance and their hit. 

Do the same in your organization.
Be well, do good work, have fun, and stay in touch.  

Lean in Action/Volunteer Spotlight 

MLC Members,

Many of you know me as one of the duo in uniform. I have left the fire service after almost twelve years to grow in this field and learn more about lean methodology. To do this I transition to Hillshire Brands, now Tyson Foods Inc., and it has been a blessing. I now have a sensei and am able to utilize the myriad of lean tools which many of you have taught me over the past several years. I truly found my career calling – to be a change agent within an organization and a champion of lean thinking.

When I first entered the organization I was ready to “get my lean on”! I, however, was faced with many immediate obstacles. You see, my assumption was that within a mature lean culture I could enter the picture, jump in, and immediately drive continuous improvement. What I learned from this transition was that I had to slow down, learn the history to understand why the current state exists, and that I had to earn my “stripes” among the team. I’m realizing that the team dynamic is the most important aspect as I aim to balance the implementation of our tools with maintaining a high level of relational capacity. I feel this method has allowed me to form allies and gain buy in; we are now able to focus on going from good to great! People truly are the critical piece when creating your personal brand.

So, yes my fellow members, I went from being a Strategic Planning Officer guiding Michigan’s 2nd largest fire department to sustainability and success, to that of making sausage, hot dogs, and other protein products. I have not regretted my choice because I’m now doing even more of what I love and learning at a faster pace due, in part, to highly qualified, and experienced peer models. Thank you to all my acquaintances, colleagues, peers, mentors, coaches, and friends in the MLC – being part of this great network has been nothing less than enabling.  

Rob Pease
Continuous Improvement Manager
Tyson Food Inc.  

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