Lean Frontiers: Are they differences in getting middle management on board from getting executive management support?
Are there differences in getting middle management from executive management on board for 1) developing the lean enterprise and 2) direct engagement on their part? What are the differences, if any?
Posted on May 9, 2015
Author Archive
Art Smalley

Art Smalley: This is honestly more about leadership than lean

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Be forewarned - this response may come off as a somewhat brutal but I was frankly appalled by parts of the above question. Maybe I am just getting old and cranky? If so you have my apologies in advance. In order to explain my extremely visceral reaction to the submitted question I will address the statements made one by one for clarity. For starters you state that “As CEO of my company I have a grasp of Lean and have experienced it in my career, but now that I am CEO, I find it hard to ask my people to make ...

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Art Smalley: Lean Conformance vs. TPS Performance

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, January 7, 2014
The main question asked here is "have workplaces moved to multi-purpose cells or do we still see isolated operators on the shop floor (現場 / Genba)"? The statement implies that was what “Toyota” was teaching us 20 years ago.  Well that last part I sort of doubt it. In reality that is partly what the observer was learning or partly what the instructor was relating at the time. Unfortunately that is not the right frame for implementing TPS with success. I will probably not answer the question in the way the person posing this might have expected so apologies up ...

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Art Smalley: Toyota Insourcing For Competitive Advantage

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Friday, December 6, 2013
I honestly don’t know if there is a specific “lean way” for organizing value through out the supply chain. Lean is a pretty subjective term these days and I find as much difference of opinion on the topic as I do agreement. I expect a lot of different responses on this topic depending upon differing backgrounds. Speed, quality, value, feel good, profits, etc. take your pick and state your beliefs and reasons why. On the flip side I do know some things about how specific Toyota is when it comes to making these types of decisions. Also there is history ...

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Art Smalley: Dynamics of Problem Solving

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
This particular questions asks why it is so hard to cooperate across functions to solve problems by using the scientific method. Not the exact wording but close enough for short discussion. Problem solving via any method (scientific method or otherwise) is not all that simple when you stop and problem solve the process of problem solving. At least I have never found that to be the case. Solving actual production or engineering problems is far simpler and more straightforward. An actual answer on this topic could take dozens of pages and examples but I will at least outline some short ...

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Art Smalley: Reflections on the Lean Startup

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, June 24, 2013
I think there is a lot to like about the book The Lean Start Up and certainly something to learn from it as well. The book has done extraordinarily well in terms of sales and recognition. There are some shortcomings of the book when it comes to actual Lean practices but I think it is more interesting to look at why the book is successful. For those not familiar the book is organized in the following manner: Part 1: Vision 1) Start 2) Define 3) Learn 4) Experiment Part 2: Steer 5) Leap 6) Test 7) Measure 8) Pivot Part 3: Accelerate 9) Batch 10) Grow 11) Adapt 12) Innovate 13) Epilogue: Waste Not There is a lot ...

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Art Smalley: Houshin Advice

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
For a company which is pulling in different directions I think that spending some time establishing and improving their Houshin process will yield significant benefits. The trick like in most things to make sure you get it right or the “tool” will not necessarily make you perform any better. It will require rigor and correct execution of the Plan Do Check Act cycle in order to function as desired. Since there are already some insightful responses posted on this topic I will merely stick to the advice and lessons learned part of the question posed this month by Joel Stanwood. One ...

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Art Smalley: Degrees of Pressure

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, April 8, 2013
I am not sure that this particular question is really about "Lean". I think this is mainly a question about performance in general and why certain groups excel in the long run while others slowly enter the gravitational field of decay. In the following paragraphs I’ll offer up some general perspective on what I consider the reality facing most organizations, describe various degrees of pressure, and highlight what successful organizations tend to do. For starters let’s reflect on various situations in life in general and step back from the whole “Lean” term. As I often jokingly point out “Lean” is a ...

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Art Smalley: Standard Lean Logic Flaw

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, March 18, 2013
This question unfortunately reminds me of the old adage in problem solving that vague fuzzy problem statements lead to poor causal analysis and then in turn poor countermeasure selection space. Any results will usually be limited in nature if they are evident at all. In this post I will point out some problems induced by the above definition of standards, the flaws in the logic at least with respect to actual TPS practices, and what I instead suggest. I will try and utilize some generic examples for contemplation and clarification. The question above in this month’s LE question implies that the ...

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Art Smalley: Define the driving need

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Toyota or Lean Product Development is a really large discussion topic. In all honesty I cannot begin to do justice to the entire content or even really suggest where to begin without greater knowledge of your situation. I’d want to assemble a better understanding of the situation before spouting off advice. For starters I will offer up some of my standard words of caution and then try to offer some historical perspective on the matter. Then I will offer up what I can in terms of limited practical advice. In general however attempting to apply basic lean tools off the shop ...

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Art Smalley: Productivity and Improvement

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
In theory this issue of measuring productivity is pretty simple but in reality it is usually complex for a variety of reasons…In general however I don’t like the question of “is there a specific lean way to measure productivity”.  I will elaborate on the topic with some background information and explain my concern and attempt to make some suggestions. First off here are a couple of quotes from the eminent British Nobel Prize winner (1906) J.J. Thompson regarding physics. The quotes also apply to lean as far as I am concerned. “To measure is to know. If you cannot measure it you ...

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Art Smalley: Line versus Staff Leadership

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013
The question of how to staff a KPO (Kaizen Promotion Office) and with what type of leader is an interesting one and it deserves some thought. I don’t think the question is a trivial one or a “one size fits all” answer. The response depends upon the nature of the company, the situation it faces, resource development priorities, and the overall leadership style of the executive leading the organization. For starters let’s question whether you even need a Kaizen Promotion Office to begin with.  That may sound like an odd question but keep in mind that Toyota did not have any ...

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Art Smalley: Toyota and the Ringi-sho Process

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2013
In all honestly I was not very excited to answer this question. I think a huge problem with the Lean movement in general is falling prey to Japanese buzzwords (Ringi, Nemawashi, Houshin Kanri, A3, Hansei, Yokoten, Yamazumi, Kamishiai, Muda, Kanban, Heijunka, etc.), and hyping a concept or practice. Buzzwords fail to create a practical improvement methodology in terms that all organizations can embrace. That shortcoming in my opinion turns off large segments of the population and ultimately fails to get down to first principles for improvement as I have stressed repeatedly in the past. So in that spirit I would ...

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Art Smalley: Lean is sometimes a bad name…

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012
I have a couple of different thoughts on the matter of this month's question and why lean fails to inspire so many people including sales teams. Some points are simple matters of history. Others pertain to how the Toyota Production System has been perceived and described in the United States and other countries around the world. I will elaborate on my thoughts below. For starters I agree with the assertion that “lean” has mostly failed to catch the imagination of sales teams and other parts of most companies. Sure exceptions exist but I am talking about the majority of cases. Normally ...

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Art Smalley: Lean Versus Historical TPS

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, September 24, 2012
I think this is a pretty interesting question and reflects the current status of Lean in many companies I visit. I often make the distinction that modern day Lean and the actual historical development of the Toyota Production System (TPS) are two pretty different animals. I will try and explain my opinion, provide some examples, and answer the question in the following paragraphs. For starters if you study most of the books, training, and examples about Lean you quickly see that it is mostly assembly type of examples. That is not surprising as the assembly part of a Toyota facility is ...

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Art Smalley: Nemawashi in Toyota

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Nemawashi (根回し) is one of those Japanese terms utilized in the Lean community that I am not very fond of to be honest. I run into far too many organizations throwing around this term or other Japanese words like "Hansei" or "Yokoten" or "Kamishibai" instead of using plain English (or whatever your native tongue happens to be) for communication. I realize there are times that a foreign word has no exact translation and is necessary for exact measures of communication. However equally often I run into instances where a cliquish type of language is used to create a sense of ...

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Art Smalley: Houshin Kanri & PDCA

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, July 30, 2012
This question centers upon how do you maintain focus and momentum on a Lean journey. In a nutshell that is why Toyota developed and utilized its form of Houshin Kanri and PDCA management. Toyota did not invent these tools but they apply them as well as any company that I have come across. Honestly it is easy for any company in the world including Toyota to get off track at times and falter. It takes strong leadership to stay on course or to intentionally deviate when necessary. The first part of the submitted question uses the word "focus". The term ...

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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Houshin Kanri & PDCA

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, July 30, 2012
This question centers upon how do you maintain focus and momentum on a Lean journey. In a nutshell that is why Toyota developed and utilized its form of Houshin Kanri and PDCA management. Toyota did not invent these tools but they apply them as well as any company that I have come across. Honestly it is easy for any company in the world including Toyota to get off track at times and falter. It takes strong leadership to stay on course or to intentionally deviate when necessary. The first part of the submitted question uses the word "focus". The term ...

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Art Smalley: Toyota’s Functional Organization

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I don’t have a very snappy answer with five insightful key points for the question posited this month. The question posed is a fairly common one and yet I fear that is potentially problematic in one regard. The question of “how do I…” (fill in the blank with most any topic) is actually referring to an action item that has been decided upon as a solution to a problem. For individuals with extensive background inside of Toyota we have a hard time engaging in this manner. Up front we like to know more about the background and current situation and ...

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Art Smalley: Standardized Confusion

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, June 10, 2012
If I had five dollars for every question I ever had to answer about Standardized Work or Standards inside of Toyota I’d be a very wealthy and retired individual! Seemingly this topic and associated themes pertaining to standards should be easy but that is not the case in reality. There is more than meets the eye with this topic and that is what I suspect is lurking behind the scenes with this question. I will explain some of the types and forms of standards inside of manufacturing at Toyota involving how they work and how they are changed. As is normally ...

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Art Smalley: Performance Organizations

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
This month's questions asks why is there such a resistance to creating learning organizations and why are leaders letting the future deteriorate without doing anything about it. I am not sure that I can answer the question with any relevant facts to be honest. In order to answer this question properly I think the proper thing to do in TPS spirit is to "get the facts" and proceed from that basis. In this case for example we'd have to survey an adequate number of executives and measure their responses. Some might have no resistance to creating a "learning organization" while ...

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Art Smalley: Sorry, no buzz word

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Sorry but in all honesty I am not a fan of providing “sound bite” sized answers to complex questions. I fear these short so-called answers or buzz words often do far more harm than good and don’t advance the state of lean thinking very much. I believe that hard questions deserve some hard thinking and reflection. If Lean Leadership could be reduced to a catchy phrase or a basic formula (e=mc²) it would have been done long ago…In order to play along with the game however I will draft an attempt at a shorter response and then a longer one ...

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Art Smalley: Satisfy the Customer in the Long Run for Sales and Profits

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, February 26, 2012
I think we are falling into the trap of discussing “production tactics” as a root cause solution without really understanding the problem. Apologies in advance but I would have to back track first and clarify the situation in greater detail before I could answer the question. I will provide some context for what I mean and some thoughts on the short term and long term in terms of actions required. For starters I’d like to point out the Toyota Production System aka “Lean” sets out to satisfy the customer and provide maximum profits for the company in the long run. ...

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Art Smalley: Evaluating Executive Performance

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2012
 Let’s consider answering this question in reverse for some contrast in terms of discussion. In other words what is the wrong way to evaluate executive performance? For starters as has been mentioned I don’t think you can just focus on results especially financial ones although of course they are very important. Many factors outside of direct executive control affect financial performance. Often a rising tide lifts all boats and simply being in the right place at the right time can make a company successful for a few years. Decisions made years ago by predecessors or colleagues in other departments might ...

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Art Smalley: Toyota’s True North Concept

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, November 1, 2011
There are several points raised in this month's question about the concept of True North in Lean Thinking. First what is its role, second how can we define the concept, third in what way does it contribute to lean results, and fourth can lean be done without True North? I'll give my perspective on these topics one by one in the paragraphs below. True North is one of the common buzzwords of the past decade used to help explain parts of the Toyota Production System or Toyota Way. For starters I am not a big fan of buzz words like True ...

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Art Smalley: Lean Government

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Friday, June 17, 2011
In response to this month's question the phrase “Lean Government” is something I think we will start to hear more of over the next few years and many no doubt will chuckle at the term as oxymoronic in nature. With deficits are large as they are in the United States and other countries budgetary cutbacks are inevitable. When forced into doing the same amount of work (or more) with fewer resources then systematic improvement becomes paramount in terms of importance. Otherwise quality, delivery, and other dimensions tend to suffer. In other words cost cutting is accomplished but not cost reduction ...

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Art Smalley: Lean Success

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011
We have discussed the topic of why so few companies really show substantial progress when it comes to lean implementation quite a few times on this web site. I won't rehash all those topics in detail since they are available for those interested in a variety of different posts by different authors. For the last decade or more I have been lamenting about this topic in speeches, articles, interviews, and client discussions, etc. At least I am not the only one unhappy with the state of lean these days. One of the best ways to improve is to study failures ...

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Art Smalley: Tools, Rules, Principles, and Lean Wallpaper

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
I have had a long and somewhat tortured fascination with regards to this topic and other similar questions. In terms of background when I returned to the United States from Japan in the mid 1990's after working for Toyota Motor Corporation it was difficult for me at least to recognize many of the efforts that were supposedly modeled after the Toyota Production System (TPS).  Some of it was frankly bewildering. The Lean movement has gone through many phases and efforts and I am certain that this will continue. I have commented in speeches, articles, and other areas over the past ...

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Art Smalley: Toyota and Capital Investment

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011
In the previous post I responded to a question about capital investment and the Ohira plant of Central Motors (a Toyota affiliated company producing the Yaris) that is gaining some attention in the press. There are few specifics known about the facility.  Only snippets of news are leaking out in the press or from site visits. I made a few observations about the reports on the facility but instead of pontificating about a facility I have never even seen in person I will opt to speak more in general terms about Toyota and its capital investment decisions. The following is ...

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Art Smalley: Ohira Plant and Investment

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Saturday, March 19, 2011
There are several parts to this question and I will probably break up my thoughts into two different posts on the topic of capital investment. The question asked pertains to a new plant in Ohira Japan located north of Sendai that is associated with Toyota Motor Corporation. This plant in actuality is owned by a Toyota affiliated company known as Central Jidosha in Japanese or Central Motors in English. Toyota has a financial interest in the company but technically it is not owned or operated by Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC). Still as the opening ceremony for the plant was attended ...

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Art Smalley: Always Room for Improvement

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, February 21, 2011
The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued their release of the study performed in conjunction with NASA engineers with regards to the safety of Toyota vehicles with regards to the potential causes of sudden unintended acceleration. The finding was a positive one for Toyota. The results of a ten-month study by 30 NASA engineers of possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles was released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). "NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations," said Michael Kirsch, principal engineer and team ...

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Art Smalley: Financial Benefits

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Historically Toyota Motor Corporation has been a very profitable company over the past 60 years in what is generally a very cyclical business. Before its recent problems Toyota was racking up annual profits for several years in the $15 Billion + range and had not reported an annual loss since the early 1950's. Various problems and the global economic slowdown brought those numbers to a grinding halt in 2010 but the figures appear to be picking up again it seems. Regardless the question remains why does (or did) Toyota produce such great financial results and in contrast why do other companies ...

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Art Smalley: A Continuing Definition Problem

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, January 3, 2011
This somewhat loaded question follows the previous one involving a commonly used but narrow and inaccurate depiction of lean manufacturing as simply “waste reduction”.  A similar problem occurs if you simply claim that Lean considers expenditure of resources other than for creation of value to be wasteful. As I attempted to explain previously somewhat tongue in cheek most depictions fall short of describing the Toyota Production System due to the broad area that the system covers. I'll answer the question in two parts articulating why I think there is an embedded misconception in the question and then reflect upon what ...

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Art Smalley: The Lean Elephant

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, November 29, 2010
I think it is best to be honest and admit that most characterizations of lean (or the Toyota Production System) are all lacking in general. In one sense the question posed is simple enough but the answer is not really all that easy. Depending upon what angle or approach you take you can come up with some different points of view on the topic. I'll summarize a couple and then close with some advice. If you read any of the old Toyota Production System (TPS) handbooks or books and speeches by Taichi Ohno you'll quickly find that there historically is no ...

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Art Smalley: Respect for People

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Friday, November 12, 2010
About a decade ago Toyota simplified its philosophy down to the two pillars mentioned - continuous improvement and respect for people. It is true that you won't find much written about "respect for people" but that is not to say that Toyota does not emphasize the concept in some obvious ways. The roots for the concept inside Toyota at least date back to Sakichi Toyoda's founding precepts in the 1930's or earlier depending upon the version. I think it is worth pointing out that the TWI training that Toyota implemented in the early 1950's from the United States after World War ...

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Art Smalley: Improvement and Objectives

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I think several of the posts already address the first part of the question regarding how objectives are set but not as much has been said about how it is different from traditional management by objective. I'll try to focus more on the latter part of the question from a Toyota perspective and then end with some words of caution and play somewhat of a devil's advocate role regarding the use of ideal states as objectives for the sake of lively discussion. In Toyota of course a big emphasis is placed upon the topic of Kaizen or continuous improvement. The kanji ...

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Art Smalley: Clarify goals, mentor people one-on-one, and then move people around if you have to

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, October 11, 2010
In the beginning it is quite normal for a person in a managerial position to be the main driver of Lean or any improvement program for that matter. In Toyota’s case Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno played large roles in building up the Toyota System. As time moves on however it is generally not possible for a single manager to continue to drive improvement. In a crisis or for a period of time top down change is feasible but in the long run it is often self defeating. In Toyota’s case there was a lot of frustration in the 1950’s over ...

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Art Smalley: Sample Toyota Kanban Flow to Supplier

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Thursday, September 23, 2010
It is indeed a shame that there is such a gulf between the Lean world and information technology (IT) systems. On one side (the lean group) a vocal segment has implied that the only answer is to unplug computers and do things entirely manually. Manual kanban cards, manual movement of material and information, and other extreme measures. On the other side (big ERP) the players have often shot themselves in the foot by viewing IT departments as the end customer and delivering "solutions" that did not solve fundamental problems and cost a fortune and were often inflexible to boot. (Yes I ...

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Art Smalley: Jidoka – Part 2

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, August 9, 2010
As I mentioned I'll share a recent story about Jidoka from a client visit and discuss what we learned in the process of implementation.  Usually when people talk about Jidoka the first examples that are discussed involve an operator on an assembly line pulling a chord which stops the line. Then a supervisor comes running and fixes whatever problem just occurred. I don't really consider this full blown 100% true Jidoka however by my standards... Jidoka is when a machine (not just a human pulling a chord) is enabled with some type of device which senses an abnormality which in turn ...

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Art Smalley: Jidoka – Part 1

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Saturday, August 7, 2010
I think there are some real interesting components to this topic to discuss so I will probably break my response up into several parts for simplicity. For some personal perspective on this topic after returning back to the United States from Japan in the mid 1990's I was somewhat surprised to learn of all the emerging interest in the Toyota Production System. Books were being published on the topic and Harvard Business Review articles followed as well. Even perhaps more strange to me personally however was the fixation I noticed that the western world had on the Just-in-Time pillar of ...

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Art Smalley: What type of Kaizen?

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, July 25, 2010
Kevin Meyer and his organization were kind enough to invite me to his company a couple of years ago to introduce the basic concepts of the TWI Job Methods (JM) program. JM is a very easy way to introduce some of the fundamental concepts of improvement to most any organization. JM falls short of capturing the entirety of Kaizen or the Toyota Production System (TPS) and that was never its intent. However as I like to tell people it is an easy first step for a lot of places looking to improve and develop internal resources. The exact date of the ...

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Art Smalley: Lean Success Stories – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, July 12, 2010
I appreciate the reality that people need to see success stories about Lean or any topic for that matter in order to further their interest with the topic and move onto action. We are all somewhat risk averse by nature I suspect due to the way we evolved. For example you go over there and eat the purple berry on the bush and if you survive then perhaps I'll give it a try! Implementing Lean or any improvement methodology has a bit of that conservative bias to overcome. If you are interested in some Lean success stores then I recommend reading ...

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Art Smalley: Lean Success Stories – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, July 12, 2010
I appreciate the reality that people need to see success stories about Lean or any topic for that matter in order to further their interest with the topic and move onto action. We are all somewhat risk averse by nature I suspect due to the way we evolved. For example you go over there and eat the purple berry on the bush and if you survive then perhaps I'll give it a try! Implementing Lean or any improvement methodology has a bit of that conservative bias to overcome. If you are interested in some Lean success stores then I recommend reading ...

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Art Smalley: It starts with leadership

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, June 27, 2010
How do you build a culture such that problems are seen as opportunities for improvement? It all starts at the top and cascades down from there in my opinion. Employees are somewhat like young children in a family. They tend to model and reinforce behavioral norms that they see around them especially traits from senior leaders. In Toyota's case there are lots of roots to examine that influenced the company's culture and development with respect to this dimension. For starters there are the five Toyoda Precepts attributed to founder Sakichi Toyoda and codified by his sons Kiichiro and Risaburo in 1935. ...

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Art Smalley: Focus On Delivering Results

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Saturday, June 5, 2010
I think Tom Ehrenfeld asks an interesting question for us to consider. In its shorter form "How do you convince others to be lean?" I'll go out on a limb and say that you don't. Or more specifically at least that I don't bother trying to. Leaders have to decide for themselves what to do and how to go about doing it to a large extent. Otherwise they are not real leaders in my opinion. Sure they might need some assistance but I have never seen a very successful company of any type that did not have excellent leadership. So ...

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Art Smalley: People, Product, & Process Improvement

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Thursday, May 13, 2010
The difference between innovation and lean will depend a lot upon semantics and whose definition of "innovation" and "lean" we are using. For whatever reason the innovation tag seems to be applied a lot in situations where people are looking to improve products. The lean tag seems to get applied to factories trying to improve production processes. Successful companies though will need to work upon improving products, processes, and their people as well. In Toyota the concepts of respect for people and continuous improvement (Kaizen) are the pillars of the system. Kaizen has a strange connotation to me at least here ...

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Art Smalley: People, Product, & Process Improvement

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Thursday, May 13, 2010
The difference between innovation and lean will depend a lot upon semantics and whose definition of "innovation" and "lean" we are using. For whatever reason the innovation tag seems to be applied a lot in situations where people are looking to improve products. The lean tag seems to get applied to factories trying to improve production processes. Successful companies though will need to work upon improving products, processes, and their people as well. In Toyota the concepts of respect for people and continuous improvement (Kaizen) are the pillars of the system. Kaizen has a strange connotation to me at least here ...

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Art Smalley: Just in Time 101

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, April 26, 2010
Robert's question reminds me of the caption to an article in Business Week that I read on an airplane a few days ago. The article refers to the "perils of running too lean" and highlights how John Deere is losing sales due to a longer lead-time than the competition. The article implies that more inventory would automatically result in more sales and higher profits. I have no specific knowledge on the John Deere case and can't comment on that with any factual insight. I can highlight several common mistakes that are made regarding Toyota's Just-in-Time concept. For starters the Toyota Production ...

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Art Smalley: Does Lean Forget Quality at Times?

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Tuesday, April 13, 2010
This topic strikes a chord with comments I have made in the past regarding the state of Lean at least in the United States. Unfortunately I do feel that the Lean movement is often guilty of under emphasizing quality at times. Of course this is just a broad characterization and I am not speaking about my colleagues here on this site or directly about any company in particular. Let me try and explain my viewpoint. The Toyota Production System for many years was depicted as having two pillars. One was the famous Just-in-Time Pillar and the other was the less well ...

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Art Smalley: The Lean and Six Sigma Marriage

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, April 5, 2010
I have witnessed plenty of Lean versus Six Sigma zealot arguments over the years at various client sites and at different conference settings. I think Tom is trying to stir the pot with this question :-) Somehow I seem to manage to find a way to offend both camps with my standard responses which I will outline below. I'll start my answer however with an interesting side story. Back around the year 2000 I was part of an effort in McKinsey & Company to look at what Fortune 100 companies were using for improvement methodologies. At that time we estimated that ...

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Art Smalley: Laws versus Thinking

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, March 15, 2010
I think the analogy between thermodynamics and organizational dynamics is an interesting one to consider. It certainly made me stop and think for a couple of days. After mulling on the topic I have personal doubts regarding whether we can come up with laws for organizations as neatly as physicists did for the body of work known as thermodynamics. Even if we do the laws certainly won’t be as quantitative or specific. I'd like to point out that on a personal level laws in science carry a very positive connotation for me when I think about them. However the notion carries ...

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Art Smalley: Breaking the Dysfunctional Cycle

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010
There are multiple parts to Professor Rob Austin's latest question so I am going to break it up and attempt to deal with the parts that struck me as most interesting in the paragraphs below. For starters Professor Austin would like to generally know what can Lean do about this type of situation which unfortunately  is typical whether it be in manufacturing or service type of operations. I hate to sound like a broken record but I always remind companies that we have to learn to first specify either what are the exact problems or ...

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Art Smalley: My Lesson from Director Nakamura

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
I think the long term maintenance of any system is fairly difficult. In Toyota's case we are seeing that even very good companies can stumble and struggle to maintain their previous levels of performance. I don't know if the right analogy here is a fad diet as Jeff Liker alluded to or perhaps the 12 steps of AA? In either case as Michael points out the first step is establishing that there is a problem and being willing to talk about it. For all my time in Toyota I never really thought that Toyota's problem ...

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Art Smalley – Still Lots to Learn from Toyota

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Friday, February 5, 2010
Tom Ehrenfeld asks that I not reflect on where Toyota went wrong. However it is difficult to answer his series of five questions without at least touching upon this topic at least tangentially. I will rephrase and order Tom's questions down below so that I can respond to them one by one from my point of view. Q1. What remains to be learned from this situation? I'd say a lot still remains to be learned. With respect to Toyota's quality problems the seeds in my opinion were planted in the mid 1990's when the company at least behind closed doors started talking ...

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Art Smalley: 5 Levels of Mastery

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Peter Senge asks a tough but fair question regarding discovery of the depth of the personal commitment it takes to lead successful change and how do you teach that reality. In all honesty I don't think any person or organization has discovered a bullet proof answer to this question. I know for a fact that Toyota struggles with this problem especially recently in their organization. Even back in the 1980's and 1990's internally many in Toyota were fretting about the fact it was growing too rapidly and that it was increasingly difficult to teach the next generation. Today the ...

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Art Smalley: Toyota’s Cost Reduction Focus

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Prof. Austin's most recent question strikes a chord with me as I think it unfortunately highlights an important aspect of lean or TPS that is not accurately depicted in the world today. Like most people when I started working for Toyota in Japan I sat through the standard half day introduction to TPS put on at that time by the education department. The second or third overhead transparency shown to us was the following simple equation for discussion purposes: Profits = (Sales Price - Cost) x Volume There are three ways to manipulate profit in this equation. 1) Increase prices, 2) Sell ...

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Art Smalley: Improvement is usually not simple or easy

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Friday, January 1, 2010
Tom Ehrenfeld asks an interesting question (link). I like to tell people that there is both an "art" and a "science" to doing lean in a healthy meaningful way that will deliver sustained results. The science part for example is the ability to analyze an operation in detail in terms of time, motion, the work elements, the types of waste involved, and the basic physics of the process (cutting forces for metal removal, welding, etc.) understand root causes and make improvements. The Toyota Production System has lots of simple tools to help people analyze their jobs, spot waste, and then ...

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Art Smalley: a methodical approach to change management

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Sunday, December 6, 2009
I can empathize with the fears and connotations associated with the term “Lean” in the question posed by Prof. Austin. The term Lean was coined in the United States by a team associated with MIT researching the Toyota Production System. Internally at Toyota we never used the term “Lean” and I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with it for several of the reasons stated above. In order to address some of the fears and items mentioned by Prof. Austin. I think there are several actions that need to take place when getting started ...

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