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
Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: To bring on board: go to the gemba to engage, frame and give the right incentives!

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015
In most organizations I know, executive leadership and middle-management have very different perspectives and mindsets: Executive leadership aims to change things in order to get better, mostly financial results – higher sales, better profit, etc. Middle-management is focused on maintaining the status quo in order to make things run on a daily basis Most work-level employees just hope to get through the day without being blamed, which is no easy challenge considering the number of things that can easily go wrong with any value-adding job.   Lean thinking impacts each level greatly, but not necessarily in the same way.   At executive level, the ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Go to the gemba to learn to learn

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, April 6, 2015
Can we talk about behavior without talking about intent first? Mainstream management theory was born out of applying bureaucratic behavior (in the noblest sense) to business. Bureaucracy was a XIXth century effort to balancer aristocratic behavior (my every whim has to be obeyed, or else...) with rational behavior: a hierarchy of goals pursued by a hierarchy of actions. A manager in the food chain gets instructions from higher up, figures out how to carry out these instructions in his or her local conditions, and issues instructions for his subordinates. Information makes its way back up to the top through reports ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Visual control as a technique and visual management as a system are essential to lean practice

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, November 8, 2014
Overall, I suspect we collectively underestimated the importance of visual control. Back in the day, many of the questions I remember from Toyota sensei where about: is this situation normal or abnormal? How can we tell? As a movement, I believe we have correctly spotted the emphasis on problem solving, but maybe not so much problem finding and problem facing – what Tracey told me Toyota calls problem awareness: how can we see we have a problem? Visual control should probably be called visual autocontrol – visual signs so that all team members can see at one glance whether they’re doing ok ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Talk to them until they change or leave

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, August 3, 2014
Difficult question, and I’m not sure I have answer. I guess the place to start is clarify what “competent” means. To my mind, a competent person: Agrees on basic job role and responsibilities: not always obvious, for instance, the salesperson in a company I know considers his role is to respond to request for quotations from customers, whereas his CEO would like to see him do some cold calling as well. The sales guy simply won’t hear about it? Does it make him incompetent even though he does fairly well at replying to customers when they contact the company? I think ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Every one loves innovation but hates innovators

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, August 1, 2014
Everyone loves innovation, but everyone hates innovators. What you describe, I fear, is a normal, same old, same old situation. Lean is mostly about technical improvements and self-reflexion but has little to say about the political aspects of change. Every change, any change is bound to challenge the status quo and people are ready to do so to varying degrees. The pace of change that accompanies any lean approach to management is clearly much faster than organizations are used to, and many, from shareholders to shop floor operators will feel overwhelmed by this, particularly at middle-management level. As in all ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: No real lean without a sensei

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, May 4, 2014
I believe the “sensei” idea was introduced in Lean Thinking for a reason: we seek new words when the current vocab doesn’t quite capture the specific thing we’re trying to describe. Sure, the word “sensei” originally means teacher in Japanese. Certainly, consultants will try to turn it into something they can put on their business card (regardless of whether they’re legitimate or not). Absolutely there’s an amount of unnecessary mystique around the word – but I feel this is because there is a specific “sensei” function in lean that is neither ex-Toyota nor teacher, coach, consultant, but unique to lean ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean is the strategy!

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The CEOs I know that have visible success with lean don’t see lean as something you do when you finally get around to it. They see lean as their strategy. There is an interesting Ohno comment about visiting the gemba doing more harm than good is work standards are not visible. Certainly, one of the main risks of managing by walking around is focusing on what people are doing right there and then and… doing their job for them. This is a crucial aspect of leadership every army knows about (and trains for): don’t manage down, don’t do the work of ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Start with the person and learn with them

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, March 16, 2014
Let’s look at this differently: let’s not start by wondering how to most efficiently organize temp labor, but let’s start from the fact that temporary workers are persons, just like any one else that works in the firm. Temporary workers are an essential part of the lean system because they help us be more flexible to volume variations no one knows how to handle internally. Temporary workers add value. Temporary workers are either forced by the circumstances of not having a full time job and then accepting a temporary position in the hope of getting that job, or, and I’ve ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Is it lean learning we’re talking about? Or lean squeezing?

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, February 8, 2014
It depends. What kind of lean are we talking about? First, there’s lean lite – you want to improve the operational performance of this or that process. In this case, find a consultant you can work with, do a model case, usually through mapping the existing process with a team and drawing out a future state process and then implementing it. Then, being convinced of the effectiveness of this approach (unless the consultant is completely useless, it always works), you can convince your management that if you replicate the savings you’ve had throughout the organizations, you’ll get real, visible, bottom-line improvements. ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: continuous flow is the key to improving quality

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014
I find that creating continuous flow cells is still 1) as powerful as ever and 2) as difficult as ever. Lean tools, in my experience, have been used to improve the productivity of existing lines or cells, but people balk at creating cells wherever it’s not obvious. Sadly, they miss the opportunity to radically diminish lead-time. In one high-tech company, after several years of doing lean, the CEO finally rolled-up his sleeves and tackled the issue of making parts in one continuous flow, from pressed parts to finished, polished products. This involves many technical challenges, such as precision machining (oil ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Think of outsourced value in terms of capability and capacity

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, November 29, 2013
One company I know manufactures high-tech equipment with fairly sophisticated human-machine interface screens. One day, we were with the CEO in the local Apple store wondering how come we used a piece of kit worth twenty times an iPad with less functionality. As the CEO followed that thought, he also discovered there existed an open-sourced interface software that served as a standard for human-machine interface in the industry. The company had been so wrapped up in building its own no one had ever noticed. So, definitely, yes, outsourcing makes a lot of sense for any module not part of your core ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: How can we enhance intense collaboration?

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, October 21, 2013
I’ve been puzzled for years by how the Toyota Way 2001 document organizes topics around Respect and Teamwork. Respect is about 1) Respect for stakeholders, 2) Mutual trust and mutual responsibility and 3) Sincere communication. Teamwork, on the other hand is about human resources development 1) commitment to education and development and 2) respect for the individual and realizing consolidated power as a team. Hmmm – thoroughly confusing. How come individual development and respect for the individual are teamwork? And how come respect for stakeholders and mutual trust are parts of respect? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I’ll eat ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: IT needs to turn its purpose on its head first

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, September 6, 2013
True, I can’t think of any lean transformation I’ve witnessed firsthand where IT is part of the solution, not part of the problem – apart from a few specific examples I’ll address further on. I’ve been wondering about that, and if we take a careful step back, there is a possible structural reason for this. To my mind, the deep value change that lean thinking involves is the following. Senior managers believe their job is to 1) set strategy or dictate policy, 2) organize the business to realize this strategy and 3) implement the necessary systems to support this organization. Typically, ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean thinking spreads only as fast as each individual manager learns to think lean

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, July 14, 2013
This is a difficult question to answer because it begs, in the way that it is formulated, an answer that doesn’t exist (to my knowledge) in lean. Let’s face it: lean is not scalable. Or put it in another way, if any one knows how to scale lean, let’s patent it and sell it and make a quick buck. The key to spreading lean thinking (and obtaining the associated performance improvement) is to develop the kaizen spirit in every person. The only known way any specific person can learn the kaizen spirit is to be coached on the gemba by a ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Learning from The Lean Startup movement

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, June 24, 2013
I can see at least three divergent ways of answering this question – which makes it an interesting one to mull over! First, the Lean Startup clearly hit a good topic (and a nerve) by focusing on the numero uno principle of lean “understand value from the customer’s point of view.” Jim and Dan have been very clear on this point from the outset, but the lean movement has hitherto not come up with a methodology (tool?) to address the how? As a result, most lean programs out there are focused on cost improvement, cash improvement rather than customer value improvement. ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Strategy starts by grasping the situation on the the shop floor

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, May 14, 2013
To be honest, I don’t believe I’ve ever gone into a company saying: OK guys, let’s do your Hoshin Kanri. Most companies have a management-by-objectives system in place, most companies do try hard to define overall goals and break them down into local objectives – and they certainly check performance against targets in order to pay out bonuses (or not). The question, to my mind, would be: what is specific about Hoshin Kanri that does better than ol’ fashioned management-by-objectives? Leadership is by and large about dictating what needs to be changed and carrying the changes through –hopefully for improved performance. ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Managers must be teachers: training is a key responsibility of a lean manager, and operators standards and standardized work training tools

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, March 25, 2013
As you mention job instructions, I’m assuming that you’re referring to Operations Standards Sheets. This lists de specific standards that must be met in order to achieve standardized work – safety standards, training standards, equipment operations and maintenance work standards, quality of materials, components and operations standards. I’m not sure how often these would change. Sure, kaizen might lead to modify these standards, but this would involve other departments in many cases, and certainly engineering – and isn’t likely to happen that frequently. On-the-job training is a fundamental part of the supervisor’s responsibilities. The objectives of such training are, firstly, to ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Learn to solve your engineering problems of today to design better products tomorrow

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013
First, beware:  there be dragons. My advice would be to take out “rapid” and “deploy” out of the vocabulary concerning new product development work. Any mistake made on the production shop floor can be fixed by putting the process back the way it was and catching up the missed production over the night shift or a week end shift. Mistakes in new product development won’t appear for a couple of years, and can cost the company its life – so slow and careful is the order of the day. The one catastrophic mistake to be wary of is to hire consultants ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Who needs to use the metric and to what purpose?

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
There are two ways to read metrics:  one, to drive behavior, the other to better understand a problem – or both. Taylorist thinking is deeply ingrained in all our mindsets, and the usual fallback for any desired outcome is to slap an indicator-and-incentive on it. This usually works, but at the price of unexpected side-effects, which can often negate the very impact one sought. Metric improvement behavior is well studied, and if the reward is relevant enough, we now know humans will 1) do whatever they can to get the prize, 2) at the expense of all other variables, and ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Pick you sensei with care, the sensei manages the learning curve

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013
If you want live music for a party – do you decide how large the orchestra should be, or do you worry about picking the right conductor? There are two ways to look at this question: the taylorist-lean way and the Toyota-lean way. In the taylorist-lean way, the problem is quite mechanical. You’ve got a number of sites and processes, you want to apply the “waste-reduction” machine to each of these processes, and you need kaizen officers to do so. The question is then a matter of size and payback – how many kaizen officers do you need to hit every ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Ringi is a tool to learn to define target conditions and practice meaningful hansei

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, December 29, 2012
There is always a temptation to see TPS tools as operational tools rather than learning tools. Ringi as an operational tool is nothing more than a corporate way to deploy hoshin kanri. So what? On the other hand, ringi as a learning tool is essential to both defining target conditions and practicing hansei – big topics! I had not thought much about ringi for a while. I first came across the term, what – twenty years ago (it’s scary when you start counting in decades!) as we were all discovering Toyota practices and trying to sort out the Japanese from the ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Learning to make hit products

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
This is a very interesting question: how can lean help boost sales? There are two ways of looking at this: one, applying lean thinking to the sales function, or two, increasing sales with lean. As I don’t much about selling, I’ll tackle the latter – how can lean boost sales without touching the sales function? If we’re not focusing on selling, the product had better sell itself! There are four very large challenges here: How can we grasp customer preferences to design a product they’ll like (and buy)? How can we design the product to deliver these functional performances as well as genera ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Flow if you can, pull if you can’t

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, October 1, 2012
I was recently visiting a large German factory that manufactures industrial equipment – huge mix, low volumes. When I first saw the site, sometime last year, it looked like a plane crash, with cells and half-completed product all over the place – not surprising for a high variety long process product largely managed by the SAP. The plant’s management team had tried to streamline their flow by Value Stream Mapping extensively, filling in wall sized brown papers with hugely complex flows, and with little shop floor progress. Since then, they have completely changed tack and started by focusing on preparing ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: The company learns as long as the CEO learns at the gemba by supporting kaizen

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, July 22, 2012
The CEO of a construction company once told me that the day he was bored with the gemba, he’d better sell the firm. This, from a CEO who has more than quadrupled the value of his company in the past five years. This CEO has figured out that the company continues to learn as long as he continues to learn, and the gemba is where true fact-based learning happens. Senior management has a disproportionate impact on the firm because of its role modeling role. Chris Argyris, the influential organizational theorist that formulated “double-loop” learning pointed out the distinction between “espoused theory” ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Don’t reorganize! Learn to pull instead

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, June 24, 2012
Full disclosure : I wrote a book on re-engineering almost 20 years ago and I wish there was a recall procedure for published books :). As the book was put on the shelves I had reached the conclusion from evidence that a re-engineering project would stop the company working for about two years as every one tried to figure out their role and play musical chairs and the new “re-engineered” organization would work brilliantly for high-running products but very poorly for every thing else, which typically would be disastrous for market share. At the time I was writing it, I was pondering ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Work standards are both individual and collective

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, June 23, 2012
I was in a plant this week where assembly operators filmed each other and compared how they work on the same station stopwatch in hand, and get to an agreement on the standard way to build a specific part. On most aspects they agreed there was a “best way” in the stopwatch sense, on some they agreed to disagree as each individually preferred to do this gesture this way or that. As they went through the exercise repeatedly, they also highlighted many opportunities for kaizen to improve the workstation to make the job easier. I’m not sure the source of ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Where is the blueprint for a manager who wants to create a learning organization?

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, April 9, 2012
Learning is hard. Particularly in adults, learning requires a determination to learn. This means controlling one’s intuitive “first response.” Learning requires what is called “frame control”, which is a mindfulness about our mental models and knowing how to actively play fit-to-fact with new info or situations. Grown up minds are simply not designed for learning as we know what we know, and believe what we believe. In other words, first “what we see is all there is” – it’s hard to realize that the way we see a situation is only our own perspective on whatever is going on: part of ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean leaders make people before they make parts

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Management is essentially about getting people to do what you want them to do, like having an extra pair of arms to implement your ideas, whereas leadership is about getting people to fight your battles for you. These are two very different approaches to any organizational role. In that sense, whether lean or not, leadership is about how you interpret your job, and then how successful you are at doing what you had in mind. There are endless studies and books about “leadership” and no one has quite put the finger on what it is that makes some leaders great. On ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Takt time is a thinking device to combine flexibility and productivity

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, February 23, 2012
As time goes by fact becomes legend and legend becomes myth. Takt time is one of the core concepts of lean, which origins are now misted in myth – uncertain and unknowable, but thought-provoking anyhow. Legend has it that Ohno hit upon Takt time thinking when trying to improve productivity. Toyota was assembling trucks for the US army, and Ohno realized they’d spent three weeks in the month getting all parts in and then producing like crazy for the last week they started again. He figured out that rather than be an end-of-month company, if they were a end-of-day company ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Evaluate efforts to improve performance indicators and develop self-competencies

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, December 17, 2011
What an interesting question! And difficult to answer, as every organization has its own traditions and practices on the topic. If we’re talking evaluation and not incentive, the one thing I’ve learned the hard way in lean transformations is that you can’t simply focus on results because you’ll tend to give the hardest projects to some of your best guys. If a hospital evaluates its obstetricians on complications at childbirth, it will unwittingly punish the top specialist that gets all the hard cases. Results on key indicators are nonetheless important. What we tend to do first is to separate financials from ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean is a CEO practice to improve performance

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The first thing his sensei told my father when they started working together was that the great weakness of TPS was that it rested entirely on the plant managers. Years later, this statement turns out to be confirmed, time and time again. If there’s one thing we’ve learned is that lean is a practice – and well, a practice. I’ve been discussing this issue with other CEOs and one different way at looking at lean is that it is a personal practice for the CEO to have a direct influence on his or her company’s performance. This practice is based on, ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: True North is key because building capability feels like failure on the spot

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, October 31, 2011
“You’re the problem” told the Toyota coordinator to the shop manager when the latter complained about the level of the operators he had to work with. It took the manager a full year to understand what the sensei meant, and come back with “okay, I’m the problem – not the operators. What should I do?” His sensei then got him to start a training dojo. It took that manager a year to accept that he was the problem. It’s taken me fifteen to reach the same conclusion: if lean is rarely carried out beyond cost-cutting programs, we’re the problem. So: what ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean is unique, lean is different

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, July 21, 2011
This is the all or nothing question, so I’ll go all in! Lean is unique, lean is different. I have to confess I published four business books before specializing in lean. None of them very good, I fear. In youthful folly I believed in the value of reading the business books literature, cherry picking the best insights and trying to put it all together again, trusting that the assemblage would contribute to… something. As I’d discovered TPS early on, there was a smattering of lean in all of them: Deming, JIT, etc. But until I wrote The Gold Mine with ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: The boardroom is hard to convince, because it needs learning both lean and finance

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2011
At the latest lean conference in Paris one of the presenters was the producer of French TV’s most successful sitcom. We learned that what makes a sitcom work is the consistency of the characters. Since many authors work on sequential episodes, if there are many episodes between the one you’re currently writing and the last one showing, chances are character affecting events will have happened in the episodes still on paper in between you will not know. Not only this creates rework, but it also weakens the characters, and so, the attractiveness of the show. By applying lean concepts of ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean is an attitude

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, May 29, 2011
I’ve now lived through several heartbreaking cases where the chief executive of a lean company or division leaves (retires, company gets purchased, etc.) and all lean gains are lost in six to twelve months, sometimes faster. The company reverts more or less where it was before the lean transformation took off, sometimes worth. If this serves to show something, is that lean is a management method. Compared to that there are also countless cases of disappointing lean programs. Actually, I personally have still to see a lean initiative not driven by the chief exec succeed – and I’m looking! The best ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Individual responsibility to solve problems with colleagues from other fucntions

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, May 13, 2011
As I understand it, teamwork has a specific meaning within TPS: it’s about individual development through solving problems with others across functions. So, on the one hand, individual responsibility remains (one problem is owned by one person), but on the other this person cannot solve the problem alone but must collaborate with colleagues, and more specifically, colleagues from other functions. Interestingly, this definition doesn’t refer to “team building” – there is no notion of activities targeted towards developing a stronger team spirit. Also absent is the motherhood that “there is no “I” in the word TEAM” and that strong egos should ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Lean is never sustainable, but one person can become better and better at it

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, April 15, 2011
Where do lean results come from ? increased Sales are supported by a firm understanding of PROTECT THE CUSTOMER within the company. Delivering products without defects on time has a remarkably rapid effect on sales. Sales are further developed by improving the engineering of the product or service in order to better satisfy customers, but the first step is to teach the organization to protect the final customer by protecting each internal customer. Secondly, Cash improvements come from the inventory reduction resulting from stabilizing and leveling customer demand and pulling the process. Both techniques are about the second big step in the ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Cap Ex is the key to understanding the life journey of a site – learning to think differently about investment is a make-or-break aim of lean

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, March 19, 2011
In the end, it’s all about Cap Ex. I’ve found that the best way to understand the past and future of a site is to find out what is the investment cycle on its main piece(s) of equipment. Auto industry, for instance, works around programs which last from two to four years, according to whether the car sells or not. In other industries, you can work the same machines until they collapse and the market wouldn’t notice. Flow industries are so dependent on one huge central investment, nothing much else matters. Not surprisingly, lean thinking affects investment decisions in many dimensions. ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: the Toyota Way has worked as it’s supposed to, helping the company to face its challenges

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, February 27, 2011
I had the great fortune and privilege of knowing and corresponding with Robert King Merton before he passed away, one of the great thinkers of American sociology, and he often steered me to look at how people defined any given situation. His general point was that the way people frame reality has real effects. Although no Toyota car has ever been found accelerating on its own, when the US transportation secretary tells the public to stop driving their Toyotas until they’re safe, regardless of how crazy that statement sounds in total absence of evidence, it has real effects: it creates ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Real lean results will show up in bottom-line and cash

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
If I'm honest, I have to admit this is not an issue I've encountered firsthand. I hear many people complain about the fact that their lean program does not deliver budget-level efforts, but I have to wonder what kind of lean we're talking about. Withe the CEOs and Operations VPs I work with, lean delivers in terms of bottom-line and cash in the one to two year horizon. or put it more precisely, the companies I work with show percentage points improvement in bottom-line and significant cash gains in between one to two years time. Since the effort is personally driven ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Waste Elimination Is The Ultimate Development Practice

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, January 10, 2011
Most companies would argue that they’re intent on developing their people, and to do so they invest a substantial part of the budgets in training of all sorts, from technical skills to managerial practices. Mostly, this training is conceived on the university model: an expert specifies the best known way to do something, trainees learn it as well they can and then are tasked to apply it. Because of obvious organizational constraints, training is separated into classroom training with a trainer, and then, hopefully practical application left to the participants. In such training conception, the trainees manager is not particularly ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: the Way of Waste Elimination (ie: waste elimination as a heuristic)

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Clearly, there is more to lean than waste elimination. And then again, maybe waste elimination IS the whole point. Let me go out on a limb here. Why would a french sociologist consider Toyota to be a role model? I was all set to follow the traditional path of critical analysis and join the club of naysayers. So: what changed my mind? It's not like it's an ideal company. it's not even as if it's a radical new organizational design. What it does have is an orginal intent: a project to be better than it is, all the way down to ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: LEAN = KAIZEN + RESPECT

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, November 8, 2010
Respect-for-people has been there all along in TPS thinking and is clearly mentioned in the early 1977 paper on the Toyota Production System and kanban, yet this aspect of the lean system has never received as much interest as, say, kanban cards. One common explanation is that, outside of Toyota, any company’s culture will “fight” more strongly people-related ideas than technical tools, but maybe it’s the other way around; Maybe tools make it easy to experiment with and deploy whereas general “fuzzy” concepts are hard to operationalize in practice. The question, I believe, is what does “respect” mean in operational terms ...

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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Objectives for today and objectives for tomorrow

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, October 23, 2010
There are two aspects to kaizen: one is to make sure today works as its supposed to, which is about satisfying customers today, and making money today and the other is about preparing for the future in terms of solving larger problems to sustain growth. Objectives for today are about keeping operational processes working as they should. In this sense, TAKT TIME = BUDGET because the budget is established to deliver a certain customer takt. If we’re faster than TAKT, it means we have too much resources on the line, conversely, if we’re slower than takt it means that we’re wasting ...

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Michael Ballé: JOB = WORK + KAIZEN

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, October 14, 2010
Bob Woods, in The Gold Mine, argues that he’d change every manager right away for someone better – if he could. Since that’s hardly practical, he then says you’ve got to start developing those you’ve got. And then the chances are that, in a short time, they’ll become better than anyone you’ll find on the job market. It’s certainly is an interesting conundrum, but which also hinges on another: how good are we at developing people in lean? One common temptation is to try and teach the whole lean shebang: the TPS, the 14 principles, the toolbox and so on. For ...

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Michael Ballé: It’s all in the computer, but can the computer learn?

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, September 9, 2010
I recently visited an aeronautics factory (low volumes, high diversity), trying to demonstrate what we mean by a “gemba walk”. I didn’t have much success because as I walked the plant with the CEO, I’d point at piles of parts asking “why is this here?” He’d shrug and ask someone who would answer: “it’s in the computer.” “Why are we working on these parts now? Is this something the customer needs right now or are we filling up a stock?” “It’s in the computer.” “What is today’s on-time-in-full delivery rate?” “I don’t right know, but I’m sure it has to ...

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Michael Ballé: Pick to light and learning to teach Jidoka

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, August 10, 2010
It's not 100% pure jidoka as Art would have it because the machine itself never detected the defect - the operator still did, but I recently saw an application of "pick-to-light" in a semi-automatic assembly process: this is an automated line where operators fit parts into the machines which then assembles the product on palets, to end up with a final product. In this process, the plant had greatly progessed by simply noting defectives on the production analysis board, reacting rapidly and building up pareto charts to help them focus on the main problem. These actions allowed them to reduce considerably ...

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Michael Ballé: Jidoka is the key to on-the-job learning

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, August 5, 2010
I remember visiting Toyota’s French plant and standing in front of andon board: the call lights kept flashing on and off. An operator would call the team leader, who would sort the problem out within the imparted time before the fixed-point system would stop the line. “Management reactivity,” I said. “Nope,” they answered, “operator training.” “This isn’t used to get management to react faster to problems?” I insisted? “Operator training they repeated.” And so on. It took me a while to understand I was projecting our usual management models on Toyota’s practice. In my worldview, management’s role was to be there ...

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Michael Ballé: Pull creates an architecture for kaizen

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I visited three factories this week: one that is thinking about starting with lean, two that have been doing kaizen for three to four years: there is clearly a world of difference between doing kaizen and not. However, the two factories doing kaizen are interesting to compare. In both cases, senior management is driving the lean effort. In company A, the CEO himself is choosing problems and conducting the kaizen workshops. In company B, the group’s operations VP is driving the lean program. Both the CEO from company A and the ops VP from company B work with a sensei. Both ...

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Michael Ballé: Waste elimination (in dire straights) as a key to competence increase (and saving the day)

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, July 11, 2010
How about a 40% production cost reduction and a few million Euros cash flow improvement in less than a year? I’m not sure this is the best lean success story I’ve come across, but it’s the most recent. One plant of a large global group produces components for the tier one plants, and was losing its bid for the next generation product and facing shutdown because of a price difference of 20% with Low Cost Country competition. The group recognized that once you lose production, you lose development, and once that has happened, it’s really hard to bring work back, ...

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Michael Ballé: Define Success as Learning, and the Culture Will Follow

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, June 19, 2010
Culture is largely about how you define success, and the acceptable means to obtain this success. Within lean programs, the issue of failure rarely comes up because we define success as learning, and failure and success are intimately linked in the process. What we do find, is that some people take to it quite naturally, while others adamantly refuse to learn, whatever the consequences. I was recently on the shop floor in an automotive supplier plant with the operations manager, the plant manager and the area manager. They’d been working with lean for a number of years and had implemented several ...

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Michael Ballé: Lean Is Not For Every One

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, June 4, 2010
Rather than think about how to convince others to be lean, let’s try a different thought experiment: what does it take to be a lean leader? First, you need someone who has reached a senior position and is still committed to self-improvement and learning, and be willing to learn about the lean principles in depth. Secondly, this person must be ready to commit to going to the gemba at least twice a week. Thirdly, they must profoundly believe that if they train their people better and empower them to solve their own problems (and help them doing so), they can ...

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Michael Ballé: An Innovative Way of Looking At Innovation

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Peter Drucker once said: “since the purpose of business is to generate customers, only two functions do this: marketing and innovation.” This doesn’t seem to leave much place for lean, since lean starts with operational effectiveness – in effect the ‘industrial smile” with engineering at one end, sales & marketing at the other and production down in the middle (all problems, no glory). Nonetheless, the lean approach extends way beyond manufacturing and into engineering and contributes in specific and unique ways to innovation. Innovation is a vast word, and we can take it to mean three different things. First is the ...

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Michael Ballé: Learning To Think in Terms Of Lead Time

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, May 1, 2010
"Some people imagine that Toyota has put on a smart new set of clothes, the kanban system,” writes Shigeo Shingo more than twenty years ago, “so they go out and purchase the same outfit and try it on. They quickly discover they are much too fat to wear it! They must eliminate waste and make fundamental improvements in their production system before techniques like kanban can be of any help.” Lean IS about having no back-up inventory (or at least not much) and no workaround system, but it’ about getting there, not deciding this arbitrarily. We’ve all seen companies who do ...

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Michael Ballé: Quality = Sales is the hardest lean lesson for management

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Thanks for asking the question – the difficulty in getting senior executives to focus on quality has to be my number one frustration with teaching lean (number two being people engagement). I have been puzzled for years how come all our Toyota teachers always started with quality, but somehow we never took that onboard as we did lead-time reduction or spot waste elimination. To my mind, the question is: why can’t we capture senior management’s interest on quality? The first issue appears to be the mindset of price = volume. In Ohno’s terms, I’m increasingly convinced that this is a misconception. ...

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Michael Ballé: Program vs System: Lean’s ambition is to propose a full business model, not just a productivity improvement program

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, April 4, 2010
A few years ago, at the first French Lean Summit, one participant would stand up at the end of every presentation and ask “what about six sigma? Couldn’t this be done better with six sigma?” – until José Ferro, President of the Lean Institute Brasil answered with his incomparable charm that he didn’t feel competent to answer, having never worked with six sigma, but that the Toyota veterans he knew absolutely hated six sigma for its anti-teamwork spirit. The idea of having a green belt or black belt present to senior management the work of an entire team, he explained, ...

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Michael Ballé: Quality First, Safety Always

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, March 19, 2010
Would Toyota sacrifice safety for profits? I have no idea how to test such a hypothesis, but I find it highly unlikely. If culture is made visible by behavior, one of the first things that impressed me with Toyota engineers as I observed them working with suppliers, was their unique focus on people before machinery or parts. Certainly, their safety focus was much higher than anything we’d seen before, and they played a strong part in raising safety awareness across the board. Indeed, one of the first points I personally raise in doing lean with any company is safety and ergonomics. ...

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Michael Ballé: Combining the three Cs of Organodynamics: Competence, Compliance and Creativity

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, March 12, 2010
FIRST LAW: without continuous process improvement, performance will deteriorate Entropy affects organizations as it does engines: without constant attention, any process will deteriorate. In the past this has been accepted as a necessary evil compensated by occasional investment. Let the machine run down and when you can’t do anything with it anymore, buy a new one. Kaizen thinking has opened a new way: by improving continuously existing processes we can avoid the performance decline by keeping people’s attention focused on getting the equipment and its operations as close as nominal performance as possible. Overall, significant leaps in performance will still be ...

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Michael Ballé: The leadership to learn to recognize the problems you create and lead the organization to solve them

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010
There are reasons leadership gets stuck in a dysfunctional cycle. To get out of a bad-outcome pattern, you first have to admit to yourself that you will need to learn to dig yourself out of the hole. Sadly, I’ve met many leaders of companies in similar situations, and they are convinced that it’s a matter of making the right decisions and then executing ruthlessly. Unfortunately, they are blind to the fact that it is their very decision-making process (and not the big bad world out there) that delivers unsatisfying results. The decision-making framework assumes that 1) we already know all ...

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Michael Ballé: a “problems first” attitude is the key to sustaining learning leadership

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The first answer is leadership, the second leadership and the third… leadership. But a very special and specific kind of leadership. Of all the quirks of the lean thinking the one that has always fascinated me is “problems first.” In practice this means we are not so interested in successes (the right results from the right process) because there is nothing to learn there – we are only interested in problems, failures, and things that don’t work as expected, because there is much to learn. “Problems first” also means that any employee can come up to a manager and discuss ...

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Michael Ballé: A heroic “line stop” or has Toyota lost its way? Toyota’s unique contribution to management is collaborative problem solving, so Toyota is at its most interesting when it has problems!

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, January 31, 2010
There are two extreme ways of reading current Toyota events. From the lean perspective, Toyota is reacting to an exceedingly rare problem by stopping its sales, production and organizing its largest recall ever – regardless of the impact on its cherished quality reputation. Or in reading the press, the story is that the US government has finally forced Toyota to deal with a problem the company has been trying to fudge consistently and the accelerator issue is a red herring to divert attention and blame to a Canadian supplier from the real issue of sudden acceleration that Toyota has been ...

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Michael Ballé: Lean leadership is knowledge leadership – lean is for people with the ability to learn

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Friday, January 15, 2010
Lean is not always that hard. Sure it's work: difficult to think that any method  to perform better would not be. But more importantly, not all people take to it equally. A few find lean to be just work: challenging, but quite natural. Many will never get it. Peter Senge hits the nail right on the head as to the difficulties encountered with adopting the lean approach: 1) the learning component of lean is often underestimated, no matter how much the sensei insist upon it; 2) lean learning is based on acknowledging one’s mistakes and taking responsibility for the fact ...

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Michael Ballé: Leaning processes is about seeking true cost

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, January 7, 2010
Lean can certainly help in getting commitment on specific financial targets and seeing that these targets are met on schedule, but not in the way one thinks, which is again one of the interesting paradoxes of this new way of management. First, the lean approach is definitely more precise about costs. For instance, I was recently looking at purchasing practices in the automotive industry. In a traditional group, purchasing assumed a ballpark figure of a few percents of the part cost for transportation and holding. In a company that has been doing lean for years, there are tables to calculate the ...

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Michael Ballé: Lean is about facing one’s problems and learning to solve them

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Thursday, December 24, 2009
Lean management is teaching the right people to solve the right problems the right way. None of this is easy. Senior management must agree to teach, not tell; middle managers must agree to learn. This is not easy and win/win doesn’t necessarily mean nice/nice. First off, it’s important to note that regardless how tough the managerial debate can become no serious lean practitioner has ever had a cross word for a frontline operator. In fact, many of the harshest discussions with middle-managers are about teaching respect for value-adding operators. The lean premise is that the people who add the value, who ...

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Michael Ballé: Lean is about better managing costs, not cutting costs

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Monday, December 7, 2009
The fundamental insight is that in any cost structure there is a kernel of costs which are common to all competitors in terms of materials, components, labor, equipment, overhead etc. and then around these costs, an additional layer of costs which are due to the firm's operational method - waste, in the lean sense (costs you incur unnecessarily because of things we don't know how to do, poor planning decisions and wasteful activities this generates). "Lean" is lean in the sense that it tries to progressively take the unnecessary costs out of the system. Lean usually approaches cost management with ...

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