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
Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Next Generation Lean Practice

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Question:  How do you make time for improvements? 
I find it difficult to ask my people to make time for improvement work when they’re already completely busy doing their regular work. You may be making too much of a distinction between regular work and improvement. That might have sufficed in the 20th Century, when efficiency and cookie-cuttering the mass model seemed to be two universal business goals. A “Generation” is approximately the period of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their children. The original Lean movement in the West began in the 20th Century about a generation ago, ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Do You Want Type-I or Type-II Lean?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, February 9, 2014
Question:  How do I start with Lean? I think Michael Ballé is right to suggest you begin by asking, "What kind of Lean are we talking about?"  Specifically, you might first decide if you want Type I Lean or Type II Lean.  That decision will influence the spirit and everything you subsequently do to deploy Lean in your organization. Type I Lean is associated with increasing the efficiency of already-existing concepts of product, production and service. Type II Lean is associated with the broader topic of endeavor toward all manner of challenging objectives (which can include increasing efficiency). Examples: An automobile company.  Type I Lean ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: “I think I’m making progress” – Pablo Casals

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Question:  How do you understand what to in-source and what to out-source? How about this as one criteria for keeping work inside or outsourcing:  Is it something you want to get better at for competitive advantage? Mike      
Mike Rother

Mike Rother: We Can Tell You How to Find the Answer

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, June 28, 2013
Question:  How can Lean be sustained across a decentralized group geographically spread out? The daily behavior of people -- the social side of Lean -- is primarily what defines a culture of continuous improvement. Lean behavior as observed at Toyota is fractal. That is, each element of the organization is using the same basic pattern of working -- the way we do things around here. This in sum produces the organization's processes, products, services and business results. If 'sustaining in a decentralized organization structure' is your current challenge, then I think you should apply your organization's Lean behavior pattern (kata) to that ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Certainty Bias versus Reality

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Thursday, May 23, 2013
Question:  What can we learn from the Lean Startup? I think the current popularity of the Lean Startup approach, with its emphasis on iteration, experimentation and a willingness to "pivot" based on what you learn from the experimentation, has the potential to help Lean thinking evolve. Given a choice between a statement of certainty and a non-certain statement we tend to prefer the certain statement. This bias is potentially dangerous because any ideas or plans we have are actually only propositions that need to be tested. According to some neuroscientists, feelings of certainty and conviction are involuntary mental sensations, not rational conclusions. “Declarations of ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: A Practical Approach for Attaining Strategic Objectives

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, April 29, 2013
Question: Where to start with Hoshin Kanri in a not-yet-lean company? The Lean community has been talking about strategy deployment for 20 years. In short, the objective is arrows lined up (i.e., individual process improvement efforts working toward common goals) and an up-and-down dialog that keeps both the top and the operational levels informed about unfolding realities. So far so good. But the approach we took to operationalize this idea has not been very effective. We tried to copy Japanese companies' mature Eastern approach, called Hoshin Kanri, but basic principles of skill-building and brain science suggest this benchmarking or copying approach won't work ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: We Don’t Think About Standards the Way Toyota Does

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, March 18, 2013
Question:  Standards are often described as 'the best way known to perform a certain task'. How do you change a standard? We spent from approximately 2004-2009 researching how Toyota managers think. (You can't figure it out by asking them, btw.) Based on those investigations I can say that this sort of "standard = best way" question probably wouldn't make much sense to an experienced Toyota person. Their paradigm is just too different. What we found out about how Toyota people think about standards looks more like this: This paradigm immediately and automatically leads to two fundamental questions: Where do you want to be next? Where are ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Pay Attention to Outcome *and* Activity

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, January 28, 2013
Question: Is there a Lean way to measure productivity? Of course there is. A short answer is that you measure both productivity and the process characteristics that affect productivity. Deming said and wrote as much many times, as has Professor H. Thomas Johnson. With Value Stream Mapping + the Improvement Kata we finally have a complete routine you can teach and practice to operationalize their principles. I'll summarize it briefly here. (1) Draw a future-state value stream map. At this level you can define desired "outcome metrics" like lead-time, cost, volume. What does this value stream need to deliver? Productivity is ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: You already have a KPO… It’s called “Management”

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Question: What practical advice would you offer to companies as they establish their Kaizen Promotion Offices? Establishing a Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO) was a worthy Lean experiment and failed hypothesis of late 20th century Lean efforts in the West. As with any failed hypothesis, it's highly useful if we take the lessons it provides and use them to adjust our approach as we pursue the target condition. That target condition goes something like this:  Improvement at every process every day that is aligned with strategic objectives. What we learned from the 20th century KPO experiments is that establishing a KPO tends to ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Really? More Stabbing Around for Solutions?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Question: What is Ringi? Should that practice be adopted by Lean thinkers? The process of PDCA Thinking and Acting suggests we should experiment our way to a target condition. That is, when a step doesn’t work as intended (which happens all the time) you learn something valuable from that prediction error and you set up the next experiment based on what you just learned. In this way you create a chain of PDCA cycles toward the target condition; learning along the way and adjusting based on what you’re learning. What PDCA Thinking and Acting doesn’t say is that when something didn't work ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Depends on Your Goals

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, October 8, 2012
Question:  Where do you think we should start the Lean process in the Press Shop? Seems to me the answer to this question depends on what customer-related challenge your facility is trying to meet. In Lean terms, what does your 1-3 year, dock-to-dock future-state value stream map specify as the desired condition, on the way to the (dock-to-dock) vision of 1x1 Flow at Lowest Cost? This future-state map is a place to inject general Lean ideas like where to flow, where to pull, the scheduling point and lead-time goals. With that overarching challenge or direction in mind, apply the rest of the ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Keeping Your Lean Transformation Focused

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Question:  How do we ensure constant focus and momentum in our Lean transformation? This may be one of the most discussed questions in the Lean community these days. Over the last 15 years there have been a lot of improvements, but lots of stagnation and slipping back too. In your question you mention you’ve been focusing on training people in visualizing, analyzing and solving problems. Interestingly, depending on what you mean that can be part of the issue. We find that reacting to abnormalities alone isn't a sufficient and sustainable approach to improvement. Better... What's the process team's next target condition, how ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Time for Mindset Change?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, June 25, 2012
Question: "What are the five major things we need to do to help us successfully transform a silo based organisation into one focused on business processes, and what are the biggest risks we need to look out for?" To change the silo focus you'll have to change people's mindset, which developed out of them having been led and managed a certain way. Habitual behaviors can be changed and there are a few different ways to do it. One way is to deliberately practice new behaviors every day, which creates a new habit over time; like practicing in music and sports. Another is to ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Toyota Teaches its Leaders

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, March 11, 2012
Question:  What distinguishes a Lean leader from a very good traditional leader, in behaviour and results? I think there's little difference between a good Lean leader and a good traditional leader. Both want to transcend themselves. What we may actually be asking here is why does Toyota seem to have a disproportionate number of them? One factor is the way Toyota leaders acquire their leadership ability. Traditionally we try to select for leadership skills -- making the assumption that they are inborn -- while at Toyota leadership skill and mindset are taught in daily practice. The pattern Toyota wants you to ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: What’s Your Strive Vector?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Question:  Is there a lean way of dealing with falling sales? Conventional lean responses to falling sales -- like adjusting production to customer takt and giving rebates to help levelize demand -- reflect a view of Lean and Continuous Improvement that will be too narrow for sustained competitiveness. We tend to apply Lean inside our comfort zone, honing our existing ways of doing something. Unfortunately, if we don't also establish challenging target conditions outside our comfort zone and current competencies we won't even perceive the obstacles that would lead us to the learning vectors, innovations and competencies of tomorrow, much less work ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: A Vision is Necessary, but Not Enough

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, October 9, 2011
Question: What would you say is the role of True North in Lean Thinking? For my answer, please click on the compass. (if you cannot see the compass, please paste the following URL into your internet browser: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mrother/Handbook/1-Direction.pdf )
Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Lean Can Be a Great Integrator

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Thursday, July 21, 2011
Question: Did the writers of books about Excellence and what makes great organizations get it right to begin with and does lean add anything new? Recently, as I was watching an improvement team working at a 3-person U-shaped assembly cell at an automotive supplier, I was reminded of the importance of lean-specific knowledge. The improvement team’s task was to distribute the assembly work among the three operators in the cell, i.e., to determine the handoff points between the operators. As the improvement team discussed and sketched options I noticed that every one of their work-distribution scenarios was linear. That is, the only operator ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Whoever Experiments Fastest, Wins

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, June 19, 2011
Question: What are the most difficult industries and activities to introduce lean to and why? Here’s a thought: The more similar a company’s business is to Toyota’s, the more it can try to copy and implement Toyota’s visible tools rather than practicing and developing the PDCA skill that is essential to Lean. PDCA = the scientific method. Scientists know we often advance to new solutions and levels of performance through disproof. Why? Because a refuted hypothesis (when things don’t go as expected) reveals a knowledge threshold and helps take us beyond our current ability and thinking. Even the best-developed plans should ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How to Measure Lean Success

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, May 28, 2011
Question: How would you define lean success? Manufacturers have made many improvements in quality and productivity. There’s no question that our factories are better than they were 20 years ago, and that significant progress toward world-class manufacturing status has been made. But the world doesn’t stand still. A question for me is how organizations can keep improving and adapting - systematically - along unpredictable paths, as a part of what they do every day. Capability development So I agree with Jeff Liker that there is no end point to lean success, only transformation leading to continuous improvement toward your vision (which, by ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: What is Lean Teamwork?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Question:  Lean focuses on individual problem solving, yet stresses the importance of teamwork. What would be your definition of teamwork in the lean sense? (Who says Lean focuses on “individual problem solving”?! I’ve never seen an individual solve a problem solely by him- or herself. Think about it.) You can say a team is a group of people working on a shared objective. In regard to teamwork in the lean sense, I think something Toyota does that sports teams do, but many business organizations do not, is deliberately teach team members a common and systematic means for achieving objectives. A kata. So we ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Ain’t No Such Thing as Sustaining

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, April 29, 2011
Question: How can lean results be sustained over time? It's been difficult to maintain lean improvements. Our efforts have generated many successes, but not so many sustainable ones. We tend to involve dedicated lean experts, who become a constraint. When they turn their attention to the next improvement project, the one just completed degrades. Overall improvement progress is slow and the cultural change to continuous improvement is minimal. We should get something out of the way right off: There's no such thing as sustaining. There is no steady state. And, frankly, as long as we think there is we may not ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: A Little Lean Doesn’t Go a Long Way

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, February 11, 2011
Question: Why is it so difficult to see the financial benefits from lean? I wonder if in many cases the answer is as simple as this:  We haven’t yet progressed with lean to the point where you can see the results financially. One can argue that lean means working on improving every process every day, even if only in small increments. Each process and product would always have a target condition, on the way to an overall vision, that the process owners are striving to achieve by working through the obstacles step-by-step with PDCA. But instead, we’ve tended to give responsibility for lean ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: The Lean Movement is Changing

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, January 10, 2011
How does a lean organization ensure it provides value?  By continuously improving. How does a lean organization do that? By having its members practice every day how to continuously improve, so it becomes habit and culture. A Shift in the Lean Movement There seems to be a new thoughtfulness in some quarters of the Lean community, and I’m impressed. More and more people are asking why so much education, training and consulting and so many books and articles have produced so little change in what managers and organizations actually do. And thanks to developments in brain research there is a growing awareness for ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Our Evolving Understanding of Lean

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Question:  Do you agree with the characterization of Lean as eliminating waste?  Why or why not?” I think the characterization of Lean as "eliminating waste" is too narrow. The question above, from Jerry Weinberg in the software development community, is an opportunity to expand our thinking. Agile software development is about providing customer value through iteration and, you know what, that's not too different from what Toyota is doing. If you want to get a process to function as described in a standard, or bring a Heijunka leveling pattern to operation, or make a Kanban system work as designed or achieve your ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Respect for People

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, November 21, 2010
Question:  How do you define respect for people within the lean approach? I think "respect for people" is often interpreted as be nice. I‘d like to comment on another perspective, as suggested by this illustration from Toyota Kata: In studying Toyota I often got the impression that respect for people means that it's disrespectful of people to not utilize their human capability to learn and to grow. That is, each person’s working day would ideally include some challenge, and each person is being taught a systematic way of meeting challenges. I’m not suggesting that all of our work needs to be a challenge, nor ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How to Set Objectives with Lean

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, November 1, 2010
Question:  How do you set objectives with lean? In some ways the answer is easy. To set an objective with lean you simply go to the process level and answer the question, “Where do we want to be next?” What’s difficult is not so much setting a lean objective, but putting it in a way that allows it to serve as a useful, workable target condition. Doing that requires you to deeply grasp the current condition of the process. Let me give you an example. At the plating process in a factory that makes bathroom fixtures, an objective of “100% production reporting accuracy” ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Why You Need a Vision

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, October 31, 2010
Lack of a direction-giving vision is a lack of leadership Our colleague Art Smalley cautions Lean Edge readers to not get overly bogged down by mysterious sounding notions of ideal future states. I agree that many teams are frustrated by an inability to achieve, as Art nicely puts it, some vague conceptual notion of a perfect future state that has been written on a white board. But this doesn’t mean you don’t need a vision, because without a vision: We tend to jump from one direction to another. Proposals get evaluated independently, instead of as part of striving for something. I see no reason ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Is There a Difference Between Problem Solving and Kaizen?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, October 31, 2010
Question:  What's the difference between problem solving and kaizen? In a recent post here on The Lean Edge, a friend and colleague suggests there is a technical difference between problem solving and kaizen, stating: “Are you closing a gap to a known standard that was previously being met or are you raising the standard of a capable process? Each situation requires slightly different techniques and thought processes.” He also points out that: “In product development in contrast objectives might include making lighter engines which burn more cleanly and have less noise or vibration. Each department is different in this regard.” Many people have said ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How to Teach Lean Thinking and Acting

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, October 11, 2010
Question: I’m being told to delegate more lean issues to my line managers, but many of them do not rise to the challenge, resist or ignore the improvement work we're trying to do. What would be the lean way of dealing with this? I agree completely that just delegating will not change anything. Human perception, which determines behavior, relies heavily on past experience. Perception is changed through new experiences. In that last sentence lies the opportunity for change, and an answer to your question about how to get your line managers to rise to the challenge of continuous improvement. Skills and mindset can ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How Can Standoffs Between Lean & IT be Avoided?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010
Question:  How can ugly standoffs between lean and IT be changed, and what would be the first steps in such a journey? If IT is about data and standardizing and Lean is about facts (go and see) and continuous improvement, then collisions between IT and lean are predestined. But, you know, collisions aren’t necessarily bad, as long as they are viewed as challenges. A lot of things we take for granted today arose out of problem solving triggered by seemingly unsurmountable dilemmas and obstacles. I think the answer is simple, but not easy... everyone in the organization works within a context, a ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How Can Standoffs Between Lean & IT be Avoided?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010
Question:  How can ugly standoffs between lean and IT be changed, and what would be the first steps in such a journey? If IT is about data and standardizing and Lean is about facts (go and see) and continuous improvement, then collisions between IT and lean are predestined. But, you know, collisions aren’t necessarily bad, as long as they are viewed as challenges. A lot of things we take for granted today arose out of problem solving triggered by seemingly unsurmountable dilemmas and obstacles. I think the answer is simple, but not easy... everyone in the organization works within a context, a ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Ya Gotta Wanna See Your Problems!

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, August 22, 2010
Question:  Why so much about JIT and so little about Jidoka? Here’s something to consider. A possible deep-seated and subtle reason for our limited use of Jidoka is that we don’t actually want to see the problems in our processes. That, in turn, keeps us from developing a problem-solving way of thinking that gets to and eliminates the root causes of issues. A neuroscientist colleague, Professor Gerald Hüther, tells the story of an experiment in which subjects do text messaging while inside an fMRI scanner. When college-age subjects performed this task the researchers could see new neural connections activating as a result ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: What About Using TWI ‘Job Methods’ for Kaizen?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, July 19, 2010
Question: What are the upsides/downsides of using TWI "Job Methods" as our approach for kaizen? Just last week I got an email and Powerpoint presentation from a small plant that introduced its first assembly cell. Most of us know the excitement that comes with first efforts to eliminate waste. Not only do the processes operate much better than before, but our eyes also become opened to the potential! At the beginning of a lean effort, eliminating waste works and is exciting. But after a while -- four or five years into a lean journey seems about right -- those of us who ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: The Evolution of Lean

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Question: What would be our best success stories to illustrate what lean is all about? You’re asking that question at a moment when the lean community itself is trying to answer it. Our thinking about lean, and our definition of it, are evolving. However, trying to answer the question by looking at success stories is too surface-level. Besides, we learn from mistakes, not from successes. To gain a better understanding of what Toyota has been doing to generate its successes, try to discern the intentions behind Toyota’s visible practices and to reflect on where our own efforts have fallen short. Not in a ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Convincing Decision Makers that Lean is Not a Program

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, June 5, 2010
Question:  How can you convince decision makers that lean is not just a program? Knowledge about Lean tools like cells, kanban, etc., seems to produce continuous improvement only if the surrounding management system is intent on striving toward a customer-oriented vision and is teaching people a systematic routine for how to do that. Lean Industrial Engineering produces one-time benefits, but it can do more. It can generate continuous improvement when applied within Lean Management. That's the argument I think. Do you want continuous improvement or one-time improvements? A Different Task Changing how you manage an organization is a different undertaking than implementing tools or programs, ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: What’s the Difference Between Innovation and Lean?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, May 16, 2010
Question:  What's the difference between innovation and lean? We've tended to define "lean" as eliminating waste, but that concept is way too limited. We've tended to think of "innovation" as new solutions and levels of performance that come from periodic leaps by certain creative individuals. Like the famous inventors we learn about in school. This concept is also way too limited. What is innovation? If you look closely, those lone inventors we see in our mind’s eye are actually standing on the shoulders of hundreds of other individuals who went through thousands of PDCA cycles, which culminated in and made feasible “inventions” like the telephone, ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Use the Kata, Luke

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, April 24, 2010
Question:  When is lean too lean? Behind this question lurks a way of thinking about Lean that is slightly off the mark. As Taiichi Ohno supposedly remarked, “You need enough inventory to hold the system together,” i.e., enough inventory to compensate for the current amount of variation in the processes in the value stream. Many target conditions at Toyota will indeed involve striving for greater efficiency. But pursuing greater efficiency alone does not ensure an organization’s competitiveness and does not explain Toyota’s successes. Contrary to popular belief, Toyota’s core kata is not fundamentally about doing more with less. It's a way of tapping ...

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Mike Rother

Rob Austin: When Is Lean Too Lean?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010
"Lean" sounds efficient, and I like that. But I worry that it also sounds like "no backup inventory" or "no backup system." I've heard stories about what sound like too-lean operations disastrously disrupted when unexpected problems caused severe delays and there were no backups.  So what is the relationship between lean and robustness in the face of unexpected problems? Can a lean system also be resilient?
Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Getting a Better Understanding of How Toyota Operates

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, April 17, 2010
Now there's a revealing conundrum: Mike Micklewright asks, “Why Is Quality So Rarely Central in Lean?” He sees experts using Lean to increase efficiency and productivity, and reduce costs, without connection to quality. The word Lean is a name that in the late 1980’s we gave to what we observed at Toyota. Jeff Liker reminds us that over the last 50 years Toyota has virtually defined quality in the auto industry, and that quality is evident everywhere in the company. I think the answer to this puzzle is simple in hindsight:  We have been focusing on the what, the visible stuff that changes from ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How do We Want to Manage Our Organizations?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, April 4, 2010
Question:  How do Six Sigma and Lean fit together? I think these kinds of questions about Lean versus Six Sigma are somewhat tangential, and don’t do much for addressing the more essential issue of, how do we want to manage our organizations? Several years ago there was a similar debate between “Agile Manufacturing” and “Lean.”  Eventually it got quiet around the agile topic, and it seemed to go away.  But agile continued on in the software development world and increasingly concerned itself with the question of, by what patterns should teams do work so that the product of that work meets customer ...

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Mike Rother

Rob Austin: What advice can lean offer about breaking the dysfunctional cycle of “fire fighting”? How do you shift the focus from urgent rework to systematic improvement?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010
I know of a service delivery organization plagued by administrative difficulties. Many service requests are mishandled. People within the organization who handle things effectively become known, and then everyone goes to them for help, which causes them to become overwhelmed; usually they either burnout and quit (or move to another job), or they become ineffective as a result of being overwhelmed. The reward for doing good work is that you get buried by an overwhelming volume of additional service requests. One problem this organization has is that its people don't have a habit of making problems visible. When you point out a ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Making Improvement & Adaptiveness Part of Your Culture

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, February 20, 2010
Question:  Does lean ever become part of the culture? As implied in the question, the lean task is not just to introduce new techniques, principles or solutions, but to establish a culture of continuous improvement, adaptation and innovation. Here's how I see the culture-change issue at the moment: Changing the culture requires changing mindset. Edgar Schein defines organization culture as the set of shared basic assumptions that operate unconsciously and govern behavior.  I think of culture as the personality or character of the organization. Organization culture, in turn, develops out of people’s mindset, which is a subconscious, habitual way of thinking and ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Making Improvement & Adaptiveness Part of Your Culture

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, February 20, 2010
Question:  Does lean ever become part of the culture? As implied in the question, the lean task is not just to introduce new techniques, principles or solutions, but to establish a culture of continuous improvement, adaptation and innovation. Here's how I see the culture-change issue at the moment: Changing the culture requires changing mindset. Edgar Schein defines organization culture as the set of shared basic assumptions that operate unconsciously and govern behavior.  I think of culture as the personality or character of the organization. Organization culture, in turn, develops out of people’s mindset, which is a subconscious, habitual way of thinking and ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Learning to Lead a Lean Transformation

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, January 15, 2010
Question:  How do you help people see the depth of personal commitment it takes to lead a lean transformation? Thank you Peter Senge for your question. Generally speaking I currently coach leaders in practicing through three increasing levels of capability, in a behavior pattern I call the improvement kata.  The levels are awareness, able to do it, and able to coach it.  For some details on how, please see pages 243-6 in the book Toyota Kata (foreword by Tom Johnson, by the way!). --> Comment 1: "Discover," is the right word I think.  People can't learn how to lead such change from books, classroom ...

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Mike Rother

Rob Austin: Can lean help operational managers realize specific targets on schedule?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Wednesday, January 6, 2010
As a financial manager, what I'd really like from operational managers is a commitment to realizing specific targets--cost reduction, productivity improvement, whatever--on a schedule. Then I want to see people work to deliver those results on schedule.  Can lean help me get that?
Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Can You Teach Lean without Bullying People?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, January 4, 2010
Question:  Can you teach the lean ideal of respecting people without actually bullying them? It depends on what you mean by respecting people and by bullying. Toyota lists the five principles that underlie its managerial approach and business methods as Challenge, Kaizen (improvement), Genchi Genbutsu (go and see), Respect, and Teamwork. Interestingly, outside of Toyota lots has been written about the last four, but the principle that Toyota lists first -- Challenge -- has been overlooked. Yet based on my research, what Toyota is doing is very much about challenge, which can be defined as "a test of one's abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating ...

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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Lean Ain’t Just Cost Cutting

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, December 18, 2009
Question:  How do you avoid lean becoming just cost cutting? How do you get people to embrace the philosophy? When we started investigating Toyota 20 years ago we looked at Toyota’s outcomes -- reduced waste -- and labeled that “lean production“. That's what we've been trying to implement, and what then leads to lean as ruthless cost cutting. We missed Toyota’s less visible thinking, intentions and behavior routines that produce the outcome of reduced waste. Is Toyota simply cost cutting? Try this on for size: Toyota corporate guidance in the current harsh economic climate is:  “No permanent layoffs ...

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Mike Rother

Rob Austin: how do we assuage fear of cost-cutting in times of crisis?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, December 6, 2009
As exciting as the lean ideas are, there's a concern a person might have that starts with the name: Lean.  As in "lean and mean" or as in "cut your staff by half to make your operations leaner." How do you keep lean initiatives from being bushwhacked by the cost cutting crowd, especially in today's down economy? This is not an abstract worry. I've seen some so-called "lean" initiatives that looked suspiciously like cost cutting to get an organization ready for sale or spin off. How do you keep a program called "lean" from being (or perhaps becoming, step by step, ...

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