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
Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Top leaders must go to the gemba to develop leadership in their middle-managers

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, May 9, 2015
The differences between top and middle management are not only in “developing a lean enterprise,” but they are in different positions in all regards. Let’s start with the assumption that a lean transformation is underway because the company is not already lean. In a traditional organization the top is responsible for results, usually to someone else like owners or a board of directors. They are looking at the enterprise level and trying to figure out the knobs and levers they can control to get the enterprise to deliver the results they are judged by. In reality they have only indirect ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The challenge is to change our thinking and we have learned that this is done by changing behavior

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, April 13, 2015
As Jim Huntzinger notes the question is really about behavior change, which is related to a change in our thinking. There was a reason Womack and Jones called their book Lean Thinking. Lean thinking is a broad concept. It starts with a long-term perspective. Lean leaders believe in their bones that the pathway to building an excellent organization is rooted in developing people. What people have the unique capacity to do is think creatively about how to change the organization to pursue a vision of excellent customer service. The elements of pursuing excellence include ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: How a Toyota leader defines Lean Leadership!

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, April 2, 2015
I heard one of the better definitions of a lean leader from one of the Presidents of the Toyota Technical Center, Mr. Yamashina, and I published it in The Toyota Way: Always keep the final target in mind Clearly assign tasks to yourself and others Think and speak based on verified, proven information and data Take full advantage of the wisdom and experience of others to send, gather or discuss information Always report, inform and consult in a timely manner Analyze and ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Strong coaches are there to develop internal leaders and coaches

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, November 9, 2014
Building on what Tracey said, think of the process of getting to be in a TPS promotion role at Toyota as a funnel with many people applying, a smaller number selected to join the company, and then a winnowing based on performance inside Toyota. People are coached and also watched carefully to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They are given opportunities to build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses and some do that better then others. Some people have the ability to do a technical job really well, but may lack leadership skills. Others can ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Visual control means displayed information is acted on

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, October 19, 2014
Often we talk about the difference between visual displays and visual control.  Visual displays mean information is shown, while visual control means information is acted on.   One type of visual is the metric board where we represent the actual versus target, another is the andon which physically warns us of an out of standard condition, while a third type is a physical indicator of the state of the operation versus standard such as a kanban square.  In all these cases we are seeing the actual versus the standard and as Jon says we need a system of response to contain the ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: What will happen to lean after you leave

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, August 1, 2014
The definitive test of lean is what you leave behind after you leave the team, department or organisation you are responsible for. Can they continue their problem solving and continuous improvement journeys or will they revert to past behaviours? Business results from lean here and now are great but sustained results on into the future depend on the capabilities you developed while you were in charge. You can tell very quickly as you talk to the team. Would they want to go back to the way things were before lean? Can they describe the “ah ha” moments when they really ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: A CEO might be a good at lean but poor at leading change

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, July 4, 2014
The reality is that if you are making a major change in an organization you are bound to create some enemies. You will be clashing with the interests of some people who either have an opposing viewpoint, or some personal issue with you succeeding, or perhaps fear you are going to make their lives more difficult. Lean has the potential to be very disruptive. Reducing inventory is designed to surface problems, but surfacing problems means that people may fear they will be blamed, or even if they are not, fear incompetence in addressing the problems. We are ...

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Jeff Liker

What about Kaizen events

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, June 11, 2014
As with all lean tools and techniques their effectiveness depends on how they are used. I helped to introduce Five-day Kaizen events into the UK and later to Europe and they proved to be very powerful in demonstrating the potential for improving work and eliminating waste. In particular they helped lean pioneers learn what really goes on at their front lines so they could become more effective lean leaders. I also remember falling asleep in a dreadful report-out from several Kaizen events in one hospital, the last of which was about the process for changing a lightbulb! I kid you not, ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Kaizen events are mainly a tool to open the minds of the leadership

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, June 2, 2014
I have personally been involved, along with my associates, in leading kaizen events for over 15 years. We never used a very rigid format. They could range from 2 days to 5 days. I had associates who were formally taught by shingijutsu and preferred 5-day events and were exceptional at leading them. They were quite exciting and were especially so in the early days. There was action. People were engaged. There were results. Management was excited. We still lead events and I never feel they are a bad thing. But I have ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: A sensei lights the fire of the kaizen spirit

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, May 1, 2014
A dictionary definition of a “sensei" is simply someone older then you as age is respected in Japan. It also is a formal title for a teacher of some sort. Most relevant it is a title to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill. This definition says it is earned, not granted by a job position like professor or consultant. And a sensei is dedicated to developing mastery in others. It is typical that lean consultants are expected to do some ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Finding Time For Improvements

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Making time for improvement is a choice. The single most important thing a CEO can do is set an example by making time in their diaries. The successful lean pioneers I have known all spend a day a week out in the organisation and talking to customers. This sounds hard to do but if you think about it the place where the most expensive discretionary time exists in any organisation is near the top. How the top behaves shapes the priorities for everyone else. Just ask yourself how many Executive level projects your organisation is pursuing, typically between 50 and ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The key is to learn to level the workload for improvement

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, March 30, 2014
The Lean Edge: How do you make time for improvements? As CEO of my company I have a grasp of lean and have experienced it in my career, but now that I'm CEO, I find it difficult to ask my people to make time for improvement work. They’re already completely busy doing their regular work. Moreover, this company is in the outdoor sports industry, and many people join these companies because they want time to climb, backpack, canoe, etc., and I'm reluctant to ask them to work more hours and sacrifice time for these activities. Any advice?" I believe the key to ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: A variable employee base (temps) is necessary to provide stable employment through the major ups and downs of the market

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
First off there is no real “lean stand” on this issue and perhaps no lean stand on much of anything as lean means so many different things to different people. Second, speaking strictly about The Toyota Way the two pillars are respect for people and continuous improvement. In order to accomplish respect for people as partners in the business, and invest the time it takes to develop their capabilities to do the job and improve how they do the job, Toyota depends on continuity of employment. It gives them a stable employee base to develop and gives the employee ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Starting The Leadership Journey

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, February 24, 2014
Let me add to all the excellent advice to start by building the problem solving capabilities to improve the processes or value streams that create value for customers. The one lesson I have learnt time and time again is that lean cannot be "done for you", you have to do it and lead it yourself. As the natural inclination of management is to reach for an expert to solve a problem this lesson is not easy to learn. So you will be well advised to think as much about the path to develop the capabilities of top management as you ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: One of the first aims should be to develop people to use a systematic process for improvement

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Many, many people have been in your situation. The top wants lean, which they have some understanding of from somewhere, and they want you to go get it. “Develop a plan. Find a consultant.” You are correct that there are almost as many flavors of lean as there are consultants. And who knows what flavor your management got exposed to from the conference they attended, or the board member, or the COO who had an experience in a previous firm. Who knows what they expect? Operational excellence? Quick wins in cost reduction to please the owners by the end of ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: TPS experts within Toyota will always want to drive in the direction of the ideal of one-piece flow

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, January 6, 2014
Experts within Toyota on TPS will always want to drive in the direction of the ideal of one-piece flow. They believe in this quite passionately. In a Toyota assembly plant this looks like a super long continuous flow line. The plastics plant look like a process island of molding machines though there is a clear flow of raw materials to finished bumpers that are built in sequence to the assembly line. The body shop is mostly flow lines as is paint. The stamping plant is another set of process lines to build up a major ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Outsiders can be insiders if they commit to intense learning partnerships

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, November 11, 2013
Automotive companies differ in how they define their core competencies, what they outsource, and their philosophy of how to deal with inhouse versus outsourced products and services. For example, Toyota makes their own plastic bumpers, makes a substantial number of their own seats, and makes some key components of hybrids such as batteries and switching circuits. As Steve Spear points out the structure of what you make in-house versus outside is less important then how you manage processes within specific units that do specialized work and across these specialty units. Many organizations have terrible trouble with cross-functional ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Basic skills of active listening, facilitating, modeling behavior, giving and receiving feedback and more are all necessary to lead any people for anything and are critical for leading teams to improve processes.

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
In The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership the first step of the model is self development. Even that one step involves more then learning the scientific method. Toyota Business Practices, their scientific method for problem solving, is intended to not only solve problems but develop people to learn to follow the foundation of the Toyota Way--Challenge, Go to gemba to see first hand, kaizen methods, teamwork, and respect. These each involve a set of skills. As the leader of an improvement process learns these skills are all essential to successfully leading a team of people toward ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: How can a CIO help a Lean Transformation?

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, September 6, 2013
It is difficult to give specific answers to this question without knowing more about the type of organisation we are talking about, without being able to directly observe how the value creating work is carried out today and how management resolves problems and makes major decisions. But then it is not in the spirit of lean to give answers, which might or might not be taken up by the recipient. Instead it is much more helpful to ask relevant questions that will hopefully prompt the right thinking that in turn leads to the right actions. The first question is what ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Start witht he IT implications of a model line, and get expert coaching

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, August 5, 2013
My first reaction is that if this is a new lean effort, e.g., less then 2 years into it, specific action by IT can easily do more harm then good. This happens when the core processes have not been well defined, and therefore their information needs are not well defined, and IT starts developing "lean software" that is a distraction and not what the value-added workers need. For example, IT jumps in to develop an electronic kanban system when the company does not have the discipline or understanding to run even a basic manual kanban system. This ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Lean across a decentralized network

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, July 4, 2013
Lean is not just about developing problem solving capabilities but about using them to improve the value creating processes that in turn deliver steadily improving results for the business. So as always the place to start is defining the exact nature of the business problems you are trying to solve. This will in turn show you where your processes are broken and where to focus your lean efforts to greatest effect. Doing lean without a clear purpose is unlikely to be sustained for long. There is no doubt that improving performance across a geographically disbursed network is difficult. Let me share ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The people in the organization must learn a new way of thinking and acting, what also means unlearning, which is more difficult then learning for the first time

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, July 1, 2013
There is a lot of good advice from my colleagues. I would like to be the voice of reason and suggest that you are correct that this is a big challenge. The way I learned to deal with a challenge is to break it down into pieces and deal with it piece by piece, the basis of Toyota Business Practices. The problem is as follows: You have many different organizations with their own functional leadership spread across America. We know that to significantly transform a single organization, like a plant or a software organization, takes dedicated senior leadership, ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: The Lean Startup

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
There is a lot we can learn from the Lean Startup movement. I am grateful that this question provoked me to read the book again more carefully, and I urge others to do so too. First it tells a good story well – better than most lean books. Second it is written by an entrepreneur and business person, rather than an expert or consultant, who has struggled to use lean ideas to solve a very different set of business problems in his own businesses before sharing his results and reflections with others. The book stretches our experience and should help ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The challenge for a startup is Sales

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
I am not sure there is a special category or set of circumstances that make a start-up a unique organizational form for lean. What does make it different? 1. The company is brand new so there is a chance to start to build a lean culture from scratch. 2. People can be hired who fit the culture and philosophy the company is striving for. 3. It is a time of unique challenges to make the business viable, and if successful a time of tremendous growth which has pluses and minuses for lean. I am on the board of directors for ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Hoshin and purpose

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013
It is good to see the growing interest in Hoshin planning. It reflects the struggles many organisations are having in turning lean improvements into business results. But it is a mistake to reach for a new tool without first being clear about the business problems you are trying to solve in doing so. I first learnt about Hoshin from the outstanding management team at the Nissan plant in Sunderland in the UK that opened in 1986. Over the next few years I watched them struggle to make Hoshin the core of the way they managed and then to teach Hoshin to ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: hoshin kanri links the kaizen activities of leaders and work groups at all levels so they are working toward common goals

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, April 27, 2013
In "The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership" we have a 4 step model of leadership development.   We place Hoshin Kanri fourth, after self development, developing others, supporting daily kaizen, and finally hoshin kanri.  What hoshin kanri can do is link together the kaizen activities of leaders and work groups at all levels so they are working toward common goals.   In a sport, for example, basketball, a game plan can do that.   But imagine the perfect game plan with a bunch of novice players going up against professionals.  It will be a blow out.  The novices do not have a chance ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: A problem can be a treasure if leaders make efforts to eliminate fear of failure

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, April 6, 2013
Certainly any tool or approach, technological or social, can be used for good or evil and people with power generally make the difference.   In a positive environment, that is fertile for lean, leaders makes a great effort to eliminate fear of failure.  It is often said that "a problem is a treasure."  This does not mean that you want to generate problems for the sake of creating treasures, but that finding one that is occurring and surfacing it is a treasure because now you can solve it. I was in an office ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Standardization and Lean

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, April 4, 2013
Discussions about standards and standardisation should always include a discussion of the context. Establishing standards in a traditional “command-and-control” environment or even using Tayloristic “do-it-to-people” consultants is very different to the intent and experience in a lean environment. What is important is how standards are established and for what purpose. In a lean situation standards are a manifestation of the scientific thought process that underlies lean thinking. Deeply understanding your own work and how this creates value for customers and end users and how to improve it is the right place to start learning how to think using the scientific approach. ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: When standardized work is changed, every one who performs the job needs to be trained

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, March 17, 2013
By standards I am assuming you are referring to standardized work.  There are many kinds of standards,   When standardized work is change everyone who performs the job, or audits the job, needs to be trained to follow the new standards--no question.   Presumably the change is for a reason in which case you would not want to ration out the changes over time based on the capacity to teach.   You need to make the changes and do the teaching.   There are many ways standardized work can be changed. For example, ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Lean engineering tools can be lifeless or brought to life with exceptional leadership and teamwork

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, March 16, 2013
With my associates at Liker Lean Advisors we have been working with product development organizations for the last ten years ranging from $1 billion businesses to Fortune 50 businesses.   As in all of my published work we believe in an organic approach, rather then an mechanistic tool-based approach.   There are many tools that Jim Morgan and I talk about in The Toyota Product Development System, such as a chief engineer's concept paper, value stream mapping, know-how databases, the big room (obeya) for project meetings, and the use of A3 reports.   These are all tools which can be ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Lean in Product Development

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, March 11, 2013
There is more to more to this question than meets the eye. I remember mapping the product development process for ready meals at Tesco fifteen years ago. We uncovered an enormous variation in lead times from concept to launch and eventually tracked the source of this variation to a bottleneck in the legal department several floors above the action. Nothing could progress until legal approved the proposed text on the packaging of the product, and they did this at unpredictable intervals to fit in with their other work. Balancing the workload and creating a regular cadence allowed us to compress ...

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Jeff Liker

Daniel T Jones: Lean and Productivity

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Let me add another perspective to the excellent posts by my Lean Edge colleagues. For me the lean approach to productivity is distinguished by a wider as well as a deeper perspective, reaching beyond the shop or department to the whole value stream, ideally all the way from raw materials to the end consumer. This engages everyone in thinking about customer value and how their work contributes to delivering that. But we are missing a trick if we just look inwards as lean folk often do at the metrics and actions that improve the quality and physical productivity of internal processes. ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Metrics create a focus for the company so changes lead to meaningful business results

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, January 28, 2013
I agree for the most part with the observations of my colleagues.  Summary:  "You get what you measure" translates into "Let's measure what we think we want and we will get it."  There are two problems.    First, we often cannot measure what we want.  We want engagement, we want people to pay close attention to quality and safety, we want engagement, we want people to produce more in less time, we want people to product just what the customer wants, etc.  Each of the measures is a proxy for what we really want.  With many measures and pressure people work ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Lean Academies and KPOs

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Every organisation needs a home for developing its lean capabilities. They may differ depending on circumstances and will certainly change focus over time. The first and most ambitious exercise I was involved in from 1993 was to create the first corporate university in the UK to develop lean capabilities across the Unipart Group of Companies in auto parts manufacturing and after-market distribution. “Unipart U” as it became known was truly innovative and drew directly on the Operations Management Group at Toyota, who at that point was providing Unipart with technical help on lean. It remains one of the most successful ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Develop deep capability, don’t assign people to jobs in an office

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, January 4, 2013
It is always difficult to add value when I wait until someone else has answered on the lean edge, particularly someone with the thoughtfulness and eloquence of Steve Spear.  I could simply say:  "I agree," but I will add a few thoughts.  Steve talks about the two alternative purposes which I will summarize as quick and dirty one-off projects compared to creating a high performance learning organization.  Few executives are interested in spending lots of time and money to be mediocre, but in fact that is exactly what they end up doing.  So ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Ringi is a formal process of writing up a proposal and getting it approved

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, December 23, 2012
This question is a little different then some in that it asks about the connection between a group of Japanese words.  Not every organization is enthusiastic about learning new Japanese words as the lean lexicon is complex enough.  Actually these are really very old words, and both ringi-sho and nemawashi are not specific to Toyota, but to Japanese management more generally.  Anyone who was studying Japanese management back in the 1980s when the quality movement was in full gear learned these concepts--though in the abstract apart from a system. As you will see from the answers from some of my colleagues ...

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Jeff Liker

Daniel T Jones: Why is lean in sales so hard?

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, December 20, 2012
I have struggled with this question ever since we compared the striking differences between car distribution in Japan, Europe and North America in the “Dealing with Customers” chapter of The Machine that Changed the World. I spent the next decade researching every aspect of car distribution in the International Car Distribution Programme (www.icdp.net) and helping the grocery retailer Tesco to pioneer lean in grocery distribution and sales. My colleague Dave Brunt spent time as the lean champion at the Porsche sales company in the UK and has more recently had considerable success in coaching lean dealers across the world, based ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: We must think of the whole enterprise as a continually evolving system

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, November 26, 2012
If you look at the comments of several of my colleagues about bringing lean to sales they point out how important this is--to really connect the value streams of design-build-sell--and Wiremold was brought up as a company that in its heyday had made a lot of progress at the lean enterprise level.  Personally if companies have an immature lean system in manufacturing I suggest they start there.  It is visible, involves physical changes, and the typical tool set of lean applies in a clear way.  Wiremold started in manufacturing.  Companies that try to ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Don’t confuse JIT shipping with a JIT system

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, September 24, 2012
We did work for a JIT seat assembly plant that shipped in sequence to automotive.  They were proud of the plant for being "lean."  After all it shipped JIT.  Walking through the plant it was obvious it was far from lean.   Yes they had an assembly line for the seats and yes they shipped in the exact sequence of the auto assembly lines.  But in reality they were sequencing out of a large inventory in an automated storage and retrieval system, the standardized work and training on the assembly line were awful, the line was not well balanced, built-in quality ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Nemawashi is about genuinely being interested in the ideas of others

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Nemawashi was one of the distinguishing characteristics of Japanese management written about a great deal in the early 1980s when the Japanese seemed like an unstoppable business force that could do no wrong.  Over time as the "Japanese miracle" led to the lost decade, and it was no longer fashionable to imitate Japanese management fads it seemed to have become lost from discussions about business best practices.  At Toyota it has remained very important. For example, in the 1990s at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan they became aware that the American managers did not have a deep understanding ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Five years into lean

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Five years of lean progress should be rewarded with a vision of how the organisation is going to use the new capabilities of their staff and their value streams to exploit new opportunities that competitors will struggle to follow. By then I would expect top management to be setting the direction for lean, middle management to be focused on streamlining their value streams and the front line to be deeply engaged in problem solving. At this point it should be possible to rebuild the IT architecture of the organisation to mirror and support their lean processes. Then it is time ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Self development leads to developing others

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, July 15, 2012
Based on your description I cannot tell what you have done in the 5 years, and know nothing about your processes.  As a general rule focusing on training people in visualizing, analyzing and solving problems is a great thing, particularly training managers.  In our new book on Developing Lean Leadership the Toyota Way we describe how to develop leaders and we are arguing that they need to be trained in just what you describe.  The model begins with "self development of managers."  They must want to become leaders of change toward concrete goals and to learn the problem solving approach.  ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Managing Horizontally as well as Vertically

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Silos are a symptom of a deeper problem in organisations. Getting rid of silos is not the answer to this problem. Traditional management systems organise expert knowledge into vertical functions and departments and use these to allocate resources across the organisation. So does Toyota. However following Toyota’s example, lean organisations also manage the flows of the work (or value streams) that create the value customers are paying for. This is in fact the primary purpose of any organisation, and profits are the result of doing so efficiently and effectively. These value streams usually flow horizontally across many departments and even across ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Changing the structure doesn’t change the work – don’t reorganize, teach teamwork

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, June 23, 2012
I often think that questions like this suggest a misunderstanding of the problem.  Simply stating the problem is we have silos and we want to turn the organization sideways to focus on business processes is not a  good problem statement.   Presumably there is a process that cuts across silos and the silos need to work together to solve specific problems to achieve specific objectives. The reason they currently do not work together to solve those problems is because of the history of the company, what they were taught, how they are evaluated, and how they have been led.  Organizations often ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Standards might stem from an individual’s suggestion or it could be the result of a group discussion

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
In the Toyota Way the purpose of standardized work, or any standards for that matter, is to provide a baseline for kaizen.  If 5 people do the job differently than any individual with an idea will only apply the idea to her own work.  The individual will learn something, but the group will not.  In order for a group to learn they have to agree on a standard and then when a new idea is tried and confirmed it becomes the new standard.  If only one individual was doing the job they might be able to learn in their head ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: We look at single variable explanations in isolation to get us the quick fix

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, April 9, 2012
The best way I can explain this is with an analogy to physical health.  We know what it takes to be healthy--exercise and eating right.  Yet America, as the wealthiest in the world, is one of the unhealthiest.  Obesity runs rampant and the large majority of Americans are overweight and out of shape.  We could ask the same question.  Why are we letting our future deteriorate without doing anything about it?  But we are doing a lot.  The wellness industry and diet industry and diet drug industry are investing  tens of billions of dollars if not trillions.  But we cannot ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: A Lean Leader strengthens the business by developing people through coaching process improvement at the gemba

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, March 3, 2012
A Lean Leader strengthens the business by developing people through coaching process improvement at the gemba. When we think of a traditional leader with adjectives like charismatic, decisive, visionary, inspiring, tough, bold, and transformational.  This is a western interpretation of the leader as the individual who changes the game, turns the company around, makes the tough decisions, and gets results, results, results.  When we see results, and especially when we see a turnaround in the performance of a company, it is the CEO who gets interviewed and talked about.  It is understandable that Western leaders have big egos since they are ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Never Waste a Good Crisis

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, February 24, 2012
Falling sales always provokes deeper thinking about what it talks to survive. The starting point is to define the business problem behind these falling sales. Structural shifts often coincide with cyclical downturns of the economy. For instance in the USA health insurance companies are now switching their patients to local district hospitals charging much lower rates. Big expensive teaching hospitals are struggling to adjust to this structural change, which is happening much faster than expected and is unlikely to be reversed. In the UK big cuts in public sector budgets are having a dramatic and lasting effect on public procurement ...

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Jeff Liker: You must balance the principle of “build to takt” with the principle of “heijunka,” and the principle of “respect for people.”

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012
I appreciate this question from Jean-Baptiste Bouthillon who himself has become a serious student of lean and had to make decisions like this for his construction company.  I will start with his assumption that "production must follow the takt of customer demand."  It is always dangerous to take an ideal principle and turn it into a prescriptive statement.  "The ideal is working to achieve production to takt" is different then "thou shall always build to takt."  The ideal is a True North direction that you are working toward and you want it engrained into your DNA as it is a ...

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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Assess along purpose (results), process (means), people (learning) framework of a lean management system

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, January 22, 2012
Lean adds new perspectives to the traditional ways of assessing executive performance, namely Results and People skills, and adds a third process or value stream dimension. These mirror the purpose (results), process (means), people (learning) framework of a lean management system. The lean logic behind this is that you need knowledgeable people running tightly integrated end-to-end value streams and projects to deliver results that will be sustained. In other words, good people running a good process generate good results. This also provides the right basis for redesigning these products, value streams and business models as circumstances change. A lean assessment starts ...

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Jeff Liker: What are they trying to achieve, what is the process to get there, what concrete actions are they taking

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, December 17, 2011
The obvious answer is that it depends.  Any of us who have had Japanese sensei had heard that a lot.  So what does it depend on.  First, it depends one the strategic business purpose of the organization--external.  Second, it depends on the organization's goals for people and culture development-internal.  Third, it depends on the current maturity of the organization to meet the business objectives.  In other words I would want to know what the executive is trying to achieve, how they are thinking about the process of getting there, and what concrete actions they are taking--the hows.   It is critical ...

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Dan Jones: How can lean survive

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The best chance for lean to survive a change in top management is if it is seen to be delivering significant results, not just point improvements in key processes but bottom-line results for the organisation as a whole, which would be reversed if support for lean disappeared. Top management may be instrumental in leading the lean actions that deliver these results, but they are often led by managers lower down the organisation fed up trying to manage broken processes. In this case support from top management is essential to use the freed up capacity or cash to reduce costs and grow ...

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Jeff Liker: Developing the next generation of leaders

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2011
As Steve pointed out succession planning is the key, except that succession planning means different things in different organizational contexts.  Many large companies pride themselves on succession planning and have elaborate IT systems and human resources has developed formal career paths.  In a lean organization, if Toyota is any guide, these types of systems are only superficial for screening.  One of the problems with trying to transform a traditional organization to lean is in fact the way the senior management was developed.  They are often focused only on results and pay lip service to developing leaders who can follow a ...

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True North: Find the gap to the ideal state to stretch yourself

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, October 9, 2011
"True North" is used quite a bit around Toyota, though the hard-core TPS folks do not like it preferring "ideal state."  Either concept has a similar meaning which is that you should understand the gap between the ideal and the actual so you can see how far you need to go.  Toyota Business Practices, which replaced practical problem solving, has an explicit step to define the ideal state.  Then the gap between the ideal and the actual is broken down to manageable steps and an explicit target for the kaizen activity.  Then root cause analysis proceeds for the gap relative ...

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Dan Jones: Lean and Operational Excellence

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
It is a mistake to think of lean as just one of the many tools in the Operational Excellence portfolio. Operational Excellence is really a catch all label for many different "best practices". Lean on the other hand is a very specific set of interlocking practices, tools and behaviours derived from a very clear reference model. Lean grew out of years of practice and experimentation at Toyota and at companies in other sectors that have followed their example. It did not come from applying theoretical insights to business practice. Correctly understood, lean is a much more fundamental and comprehensive approach to ...

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Jeff Liker: Lean provides the “hows” to the pursuit of perfection

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, September 11, 2011
In our recent book, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, we start the book by talking about the pursuit of excellence.  We came to the realization that talking about "leaning out processes" gives a mistaken image.  It is a mechanistic view of the world that gives the impression that lean is like going through a field with a weed whacker and cutting down the weeds.  Actually that is a good analogy because if you do this to your weeds they will simply grow back, and if you go around with tools and "lean out processes" entropy will set in and ...

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Jeff Liker: Dispel the myth of “lean will not work here”

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, July 8, 2011
In our newest book,  The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, the bulk are seven case studies of organizations very different from auto--health care, iron ore mining, heavy machinery, nuclear submarine overhaul and repair,  product development, nuclear fuel, and more.  Each tells the story from the sensei perspective of the process they went through to help the organization understand lean and develop the skills to make significant improvement.  Success ranged from a model line to a model mine to a model department.  These were all large organizations and none so far led to a transformed total organization on the way toward ...

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Dan Jones: Who struggles more with lean

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, June 25, 2011
I remember two distinguished CEOs from the auto industry telling me that it was impossible to get their sales and marketing people to go lean. Although my colleague Dave Brunt and I have never given up this quest they have a point. In our experience the hardest people to convince are those whose natural temperament is doing deals, the traders and negotiators who are always looking forward to the next deal and have no patience for the discipline involved in improving processes. Although Dave has had some extraordinary success with what are now some of the best Toyota dealers, it ...

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Dan Jones: How to Judge the Success of Lean?

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, June 17, 2011
Lean is a journey and to my mind the best way of judging success is by how much people have learnt so far and how ready they are to take the next leg of the journey. I often meet people who tell me that “Lean has changed their lives”. While this certainly makes writing books worthwhile it also presents an opportunity to ask some probing questions. Can they show me how lean has changed the way they work with their colleagues and the things they are working on? Are they for instance really working together in teams, defining their own standard ...

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Jeff Liker: there is no end point to lean success, only transformation leading to increased performance

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, May 27, 2011
Great question!  We thought we might sneak in over the fence unnoticed with that one.  The reality is an Industry Week survey like that one, that purportedly measures achievement of results, is purely subjective and depends highly on what the "anticipated results" are as the question suggests.  It tells us little about the actual success of the lean programs.  We were using it as it was one easy to understand factoid that shows companies are struggling with their lean programs because of the way they view them and approach them so it was convenient.  Let us assume that they are ...

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Dan Jones: Lean problem solving and teamwork

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, May 27, 2011
There is more to problem solving and teamwork in a lean organisation. This was brought home last week during another Gemba walk through a plant making fast moving consumer goods. As we snaked our way past a maze of hoppers, ovens, pipes and packaging lines it became clear than nothing was visible at all, to me or to the managers accompanying me. I kept asking what was today's plan, were they behind or ahead, what were the biggest problems and what actions were they taking to address them. The managers I was with could only answer these questions by going ...

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Jeff Liker: Teamwork is not “work teams”

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I had in interesting experience about fifteen years ago when we were doing research for a book about Japanese manufacturing in the U.S. (called Remade in America).  We were studying a Japanese auto supplier with overseas plants in the U.S.   One question we had was how the Japanese would bring teamwork to the American culture.  At the time there was a lot of discussion about the use of work groups in Japan--work groups that were part of quality circle programs, natural work groups on the shop floor with team leaders, collocated cross-functional teams in product development and so on.  In ...

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Jeff Liker: Resist your machine thinking!

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, April 2, 2011
One of the most common questions we are asked is how to sustain the gains once we have improved the process. A lot of work went into getting the process right in that carefully planned kaizen workshop, and it is certainly wasteful to see it slip back to where it was before the change. Unfortunately, the most common outcome of process improvements is slipping backward. Why does this occur? The problem is actually a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to sustain the gains. It goes back to our old friend machine thinking. When you make an improvement to a machine, you expect it to operate in the new ...

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Dan Jones: Lean Saves Capital

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, April 2, 2011
Lean is undoubtedly about doing more with less, including less capital. Saving capital may be one of the early consequences of lean but a full realisation of the potential for designing capital saving equipment and systems only comes much later along the lean journey. Quite rightly early lean efforts are initially focused on improving customer satisfaction by performing every action right first time on time. This in turn allows many activities to be eliminated and the remaining steps to be linked together, saving cash tied up in unnecessary inventories and reducing costs by using less people. Very often this also ...

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Jeff Liker: The lean philosophy for new technologies is simple, thin and flexible

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Toyota thinks long-term about capital expenditures.  Not every expenditure has to have a specific payback and some may be pilots that are expected to have a long-term payoff.  For example, there were a lot of expenditures in the case of the first Prius for battery technology in a joint venture and for integrated circuits that did not have an immediate payback, but were investments in a core competence for the future.  Building a new plant, like the plant in Mississippi in the U.S. is also a long-term investment.  A new plant is considered a "child" and only has one simple ...

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Dan Jones: Toyota’s Challenge for the Lean Movement

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, March 7, 2011
The main lesson from the Toyota affair is that the lean movement will now have to live on it's wits and not on the coat tails of Toyota. It will grow and prosper if it deconstructs the many lessons learnt from Toyota and turns them into actionable practices, frames of reference, learning pathways etc to enable other organisations to build their own functional equivalents and achieve demonstrably superior performance. Simply copying Toyota's practices misses the point and does not work without understanding and internalising the thinking behind them and adapting them to the circumstances facing organisations in different industries and ...

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Jeff Liker: Toyota’s response demonstrated the Toyota Way at its best

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, February 13, 2011
The events that led up to the Toyota recall crisis and all the false accusations about Toyota's ethics, concern for safety, and specific defects that cause sudden unintended acceleration were nothing short of bizarre.  As we look back at this ten years from now it will be interpreted as an Audi-like witch hunt that seems to happen mostly in the United States.  It had many of the same elements:  no underlying defect causing runaway cars, news investigations that stage sensational-looking acceleration events, ambulance-chasing attorneys licking their chops, and a foreign auto maker that was free game for the government and ...

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Dan Jones: The Financial Consequences of Lean

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, February 3, 2011
Why is it so hard to see the financial consequences of lean? Failure to answer this dilemma has derailed many lean initiatives. This is not such a problem if top management really understands the significance of focusing on getting everything to flow right-first-time-on-time to customers. Like top management at Toyota and Tesco, they know that good processes lead to good results. Alternatively if you have an experienced Sensei who knows where the gold lies buried and who has worked on similar situations before, there is a good chance that they can help you to deliver the kind of results you ...

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Jeff Liker: Lean opens new avenues for business results, but it sometimes hard to know in advance what those benefits will be

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
First, I want to reinforce Orry's points that there are short-term gains and long-term gains.  The most obvious short-term gains that many companies will accept are labor reductions and then only if you send these people out the door on layoff.  That is self defeating and will kill the incredible potential for operational excellence to change the business strategy.  In reality, even in companies that reduce labor significantly in percent terms it usually happens in scattered areas of the company so for the bottom line it does not have a big impact on total cost of the company.  Unless you ...

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Jeff Liker: The essence of the Toyota Way is respect for people and continuous improvement

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I read Mike Rother's response and he gives an excellent  detailed explanation beyond which I will undertake.  I think there are two problems suggested by the question  First, the definition of lean as "eliminating waste" is inherently limiting.  Second, there is an implicit assumption that everything one should do should eliminate waste, and no activities should be undertaken that actually are not considered "value-added activities." These are both limiting assumptions.  Here are some examples of wasteful activities one would eliminate if we make these two assumptions: --all maintenance, especially preventative maintenance -- any inspection --any material handling --any accounting I could go on but you get ...

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Dan Jones: Lean Training and Waste

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, January 10, 2011
The power of the very tight lean definition of waste as only those actions that directly create value for customers is to throw a spotlight on all those actions that clearly do not create any value at all and should be stopped, and to raise questions about those actions that might be necessary to enable the value creating work to be done, such as planning and procurement. This is also true over time looking into the future. We can also distinguish between work that creates value today and work that will create value in the future, in for instance designing future ...

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Dan Jones: Lean Beyond Waste

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, December 9, 2010
The premise behind this question and the Wikipedia definition reveals three common misconceptions about lean. First lean is not limited to production activities. Although the original insight to streamline the flow of work as well as improve the way each step is performed was developed on the shop floor, it has long since been shown to have widespread application to other processes. Indeed over time the principles of lean process design we articulated in Lean Thinking have transformed all kinds of activities from supply chains to service delivery and administration to flows of patients through hospitals. They are even helping ...

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Jeff Liker:continually assessing what customers want, striving for perfection in satisfying customers and in every aspect of our production and service process, developing in people the ability and motivation to detect and solve deviations from perfect one-piece flow, leaders who are developing in people the ability to continuous improve, and a long-term value of the enterprise on satisfying customers and contributing to society.

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, November 22, 2010
As you know Wikipedia is a kind of public free-for-all in how different topics get defined and analyzed and this person got there and took the time to write something so I give them credit. In a book I and coauthors just completed that will be out in the winter, entitled:  The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, we argue that we may have misled the public through definitions of lean that focus on waste reduction.  If I may use a quote from that book: "At the risk of sounding disrespectful, what do all these people think they are doing by leaning ...

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Jeff Liker: You set your objectives on what you are trying to accomplish

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The simple answer is based on the business needs.  A more complex answer is it depends.  Depends on what you ask?  What you are trying to accomplish.  That may sound tautological--you set your objectives based on your objectives.  Let me give an example.  When we started working with one furniture retailer it soon became clear that the CEO would judge lean based on ROI pure and simple.  Show him the money and we continue... or else game over.  In this case we worked on an operation that repaired damaged furniture and by doubling productivity saved the equivalent of $300,000 per ...

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Jeff Liker: Communicate clearly improvement expectations, with specific objectives and work with each manager to develop a plan

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, October 11, 2010
You said four very positive things in this question.  1)  You are the manager of the pilot site and you are taking responsibility for lean, 2) you are using a pilot site to gain experience and deep learning, 3) you have a lean sensei to teach you, and 4) the lean sensei is pushing you to delegate downward to get better sustainment.  Just by virtue of those four key points you are ahead of many companies that assign lean to a lean six sigma department to deploy broadly across the company with minimal ownership by management.  A good sensei will ...

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Dan Jones: Optimising end-to-end flows rather than keeping separately managed assets busy means overturning many of the assumptions on which today’s MRP and ERP systems are built

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, September 23, 2010
There are many ways to answer this question. IT systems reflect three things. First the way management thinks about setting priorities, controlling operations, problem solving etc. Second the way at least the bigger systems are sold – like construction, you bid low and promise novel features to get the contract and then make money on the changes, so they are over budget and late. Third, the belief that the only way to control complex systems is to model and simulate them in order to control every action and make sure every asset is fully utilized from the centre. Lean thinkers approach ...

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Jeff Liker: the right IT system will bring us closer to one piece flow and support kaizen

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, September 3, 2010
If we think of the material and information flow diagram then IT is dealing with the information flow.  When we physically transform a process by moving things around we are acting on the material flow. When we transform the information presented to help make decisions we are dealing with IT whether it is in the form of an empty space on the floor, a card, or something from a computer. The concept of value stream mapping is to design the material and information flow intentionally based on defined principles to achieve a clear business purpose.  One principle isthat one piece flow is the ideal.  Another is ...

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Jeff Liker: The key to Jidoka: small span of control and a disciplined method of problem solving

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, August 21, 2010
"Jidoka" is not a single thing you implement.  It is one of the two main pillars of TPS.  Just-in-time is a complex set of tools, principles, and disciplines and Jidoka is certainly nothing less.  The original concept came from Sakichi Toyoda's loom that stopped itself when there was a quality problem, which also separated the operator from the machine, allowing operators to run multiple machines and do more value added work.  In modern Toyota plants it is often translated into the andon system of line stopping and quick response to problems one by one.  I think of it is building ...

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Dan Jones: Creating a Kaizen Culture

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, July 26, 2010
In my experience a Kaizen culture is set by example, is enabled using a common method and language and is nurtured by recognising achievements, telling stories and building upon the resulting learning. In 1993 I was fortunate to be involved in creating what is still one of the best examples of a Kaizen culture at the Unipart Group of companies in the UK, who make and distribute automotive components. From the beginning the initiative has been led by the Chief Executive, who teaches regularly in the company university, reviews progress on the shop floor of their many operations and attends ...

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Jeff Liker: There are no particular tools that are better than others to get to continuous improvement.

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, July 18, 2010
In my new book in progress we talk of three levels of lean (inspired by David Meier).  The outer level of the sphere is proliferation of tools by the experts which by itself is a "lean facade."  This level is not sustainable.  If the experts teach managers the tools and they embrace and apply them they can get to the next level of "management as lean implementers."    This level is sustainable, but typically managers tend to be sporadic in making improvements "when they have time."  The best companies then advance to "continuous improvement by the work group."  The final step ...

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Jeff Liker: Can we positively influence Short-term transactional thinking?

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, July 11, 2010
Let's consider a company that we are working with that has already decided it needs lean to improve quality, productivity, and timeliness of delivery to the customer.  It happens to be a major retailer and they brought in an outside CEO to “professionalize” the business. The outside CEO is a financial guy who grew another similar business by several times.  He claimed to use lean, but it quickly became apparent that it was what we might call "fake lean" focused only on the tools.  What we mean by that is that he had a bunch of black belts certified ...

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Jeff Liker: Act Your Way To A New Culture

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, June 19, 2010
I always feel a little uncomfortable when a question begins with:  "How do you build a culture that does ____?"  As far as I know there is no lego set for building culture.  In the last chapter of our book Toyota Culture we quote Edgar Schein as saying: "Never start with the idea of changing your culture.  Always start with the issue the organization faces." Why would a leading cultural guru suggest we avoid changing culture?  I do not think he is saying culture does not matter or even that culture cannot change.  He is saying that culture is extremely difficult ...

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Dan Jones: Convincing Executives to go Lean

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, June 11, 2010
The best way to answer this question is to summarise two contrasting real stories – one that got it and one that still does not – at different ends of the same sector. The successful case began with a question from a senior Director – “How could these lean Toyota ideas help my business?”  “Let’s take a walk and see” was my answer. As we walked it because clear there was waste everywhere. This very quickly led to a meeting with the CEO who was intrigued and gave us the go ahead to begin some experiments to demonstrate the potential scale ...

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Jeff Liker: Lean Has a Short Half-Life Without Intense Involvement Of The CEO

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, June 10, 2010
One thing we know about lean is that you learn it by doing it, not by sitting in the office.   With all of the different types of organizations I have worked with I must admit that it has been rare to go with the CEO to the gemba.   They have not participated in kaizen activities, our meetings are in offices and board rooms, and in other cases I personally never met the CEO.  For the most part our contacts have only gone as high as the vice president level (engineering, continuous improvement, quality, operations).   That is a problem.  We have ...

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Jeff Liker: Lean is an Innovation in Thinking Which Will Foster Many Other Innovations

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I agree that many people get confused on the relationship between lean and innovation.  Steve Spear explained very well that underlying this is a confusion about what innovation is.  In reality the greatest innovators are disciplined thinkers who try incremental experiments one by one learning from each.  Thomas Edison was famous for his discipline and for learning from all his failed light bulbs before finally finding something that worked.  The something that worked represented accumulated learning from years of smaller experiments that proved incremental principles and that showed what does not work.  Unfortunately when we see the results of a ...

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Dan Jones: Lean Insights before Lean Innovation

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 25, 2010
I have always thought that innovation rather than simply quality, delivery and cost was the real purpose and ultimate result of lean thinking; innovation in terms of the products and services we design, in how we relate to customers and in how we find new ways of working together to create value. The experience with lean is that it leads to new capabilities which in turn open up new business models that turn the tables on the competition and reshape whole industries. In other words lean insights can lead to lean innovations. There is no short cut. Think of it this ...

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Jeff Liker: Inventory Reflects Variation In the Process

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010
One way to think about it is like a tight rope walker.  You would not want an amateur trying it without a net.  It takes a great deal of talent to earn you way to increasing the height and eventually eliminating the net.  The equation for calculating inventory in lean is pretty conventional--enough inventory to handle the replenishment time plus safety stock.  The amount of safety stock needed depends on how stable the consuming operation is and how stable the supplying operation is.  In other words, more variability means more need for inventory.  The goal of TPS is not zero ...

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Dan Jones: Lean, Quality and Cost Cutting

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010
I have met many of these folks too who talk about lean but whose heads are stuck in the old cost cutting mind set. Organisations that employ them, whether as internal or external consultants, deserve what they get – traditional cost cutting! A great shame and a missed opportunity. On the other hand I have also met good lean folk who know all the tools but who do not have an A3 plan to guide their actions. And I often encounter quality folks who imply that improving quality is somehow more virtuous than the grubby task of eliminating waste, which ...

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Jeff Liker: Is Quality Central or Peripheral to Lean?

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, April 11, 2010
The most stunning accomplishment of Toyota over the last fifty years is their turnaround from making “junk” to virtually redefining quality in the auto industry.  They were influenced to the core by W. Edwards Deming and quality is evident everywhere in the company.  The objective of the Toyota Production System is presented as Quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale and any metric board in Toyota will include quality indicators. Every “lean consultant” or lean training course I know emphasizes quality.  In this sense I disagree with the questioner who claims lean focuses only on cost and efficiency.  On the other hand ...

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Dan Jones: Essential Lean and Six Sigma

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, April 10, 2010
The fundamental power of the ideas behind Lean and Six Sigma are too important to be lost sight of as the improvement movements that champion them compete for attention. These ideas came together in a unique synthesis at Toyota in the 1960s as it was developing its business system. In my view they need to come together again as the rest of the world strives to realize their potential. What the Quality movement, of which Six Sigma is the latest incarnation, brought us is the idea that this is how we can use the scientific method to solve social as well ...

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Jeff Liker: All Companies Need Problem Solving Tools Based On Deming’s PDCA

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, April 4, 2010
The relationship between lean and six sigma  is one of my favorite topics....Not!  It is fitting that this question came at Easter time which is famous for the Easter egg hunt.  Let's assume that lean eggs are red ones and  six sigma eggs are blue ones.  If you gather only the red eggs you will have an imbalance.  It will allow you to gather the eggs very quickly and efficiently but the red eggs are all different sizes and therefore there is a lot of variation.  On the other hand the blue eggs are very uniform so gathering some of ...

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Jeff Liker: The value of Trust – without safety in Toyota, nothing else matters

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, March 15, 2010
It is interesting to get a question as direct as this, especially coming from a management icon like Edgar Schein.  Notice that the question implies Toyota is not concerned about safety regardless of how one answers. In the current recall crisis certainly the stories formulated by the press paint a picture of an arrogant company that is secretive about safety test results and has put profits before safety.  That message has been reinforced by many outside observers citing secret memos and mountains of data about sudden acceleration incidents over a decade that were ignored until the U.S. Department of Transportation had ...

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Dan Jones: The Laws of Lean Organisations

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, March 15, 2010
It is not too far-fetched to think of lean as the science of getting useful work out of an organisation. But in this case the organisation does not exist in isolation – it has to serve its customers, work with its partners (employees, suppliers, distributors, shareholders etc) and find its place in the physical, economic and social environment in which it operates. This changes over time and so the laws of lean organisations will also change as societies face new challenges in the future. This is how I would summarise the “laws of lean”. The first lean law states that the ...

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Jeff Liker: Managers Should Be Teachers, Not Simply Controllers

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, March 12, 2010
1.  Clearly define the work as much as possible In the Toyota Way I discuss the concept of standardization to enhance innovation.  A core idea in kaizen is that you cannot improve a process that is not stable.  If an individual makes changes on their own nobody else benefits and if that individual moves on the improvement is lost.  Group learning (as opposed to individual learning) depends on standardization.  I also refer to Paul Adler's distinction between enabling bureaucracy (assists those doing the work and engages them) versus coercive bureaucracy (like Taylorism poses outside constraints to control the person).  In Toyota ...

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Jeff Liker: Five “Why?” Not Five “Who?” – start pointing fingers and engagement is over

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Interestingly I just spoke to a Canadian manufacturing company today that supplies Toyota and has several years of experience implementing TPS. He said his biggest disappointment was the the culture still does not support surfacing problems.  People are afraid they will be blamed and they hide problems.  So this seems to be a generic problem across manufacturing and service.  When I interviewed the first head of human resources for the Georgetown, Kentucky plant (Japanese) he said what was most startling to him when he first came to America was that Americans did not like to say they had a problem.  ...

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Dan Jones: Lean Service Delivery

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, February 27, 2010
Taiichi Ohno is reported to have said that the shop floor is a reflection of management. In my experience this is so true. Unless management can articulate a convincing case to change it is easy to get stuck in fire-fighting mode. Good people trapped in a broken process without a clear purpose will never improve. Well intentioned efforts to change the culture or even to redesign processes will run into the sand if the purpose or the performance gaps that need to be closed and the financial consequences of doing so are not clear. This means management seeing lean not just ...

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Jeff liker: Can the Toyota Way become Self Sustaining?

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
You have some overweight friends and even children who eat junk food and do not exercise.  You discover a new fitness program that is the perfect blend of exercise and diet.  You enjoy what you are eating and you feel better than ever in your life.  You wish to share the wealth and convince your children and friends to follow that fitness program.  You manage to convince them to come to a “blitz” event at the fitness center where they introduce the training regime and you have a healthy meal.  They will then prescribe a diet and schedule biweekly exercise.  ...

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Dan Jones: Learning beyond Toyota

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, February 8, 2010
Toyota’s impressive growth to become the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world undoubtedly gave the lean movement its unique strength. Organisations who try to follow Toyota’s example only have themselves to blame if they cannot make similar progress. They cannot claim that lean does not work, only that they have not yet fully understood what it entails. But Toyota’s example also means that the lean movement, unlike almost every other movement, was driven by practice and not theory. Indeed it was well over twenty years after the Toyota Production System was codified that Jim Womack and I described the theory and ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Toyota Recall and the Lean Movement

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, January 30, 2010
According to some reports there have been issues of unintended acceleration over a decade and Toyota should have responded much earlier.  According to my Toyota sources they have reports of unintended acceleration all the time and need to focus on systematic causes that they can actually verify and fix.  When customers complain about unintended acceleration the dealers check a code on what they work on (e.g., fixed pedal) and then if there is some pattern (e.g., a larger than expected number) Toyota will investigate. When they investigated earlier incidents they were not finding specific engineering design problems but complex interactions ...

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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The Struggle to Inject Passion for Learning into Senior Executives

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, January 17, 2010
As one might expect from one of our most admired intellectual leaders of the learning organization movement, Peter Senge asks a penetrating, and in some ways painful question.  All of us who are writing for this lean blog are also lean advisors to organizations in some capacity.  We huff and we puff and we try to reorient the behavior and thinking of the organization to what we think of as the lean ideal.  In fact the one core principle that has brought us all together is that lean is about leadership and daily behavior, not a set of tools and ...

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