Is the Improvement Overwhelming You?

The numbers of improvements we need to do are so many …. I do not know where to start

This is a concern that I have heard from more than one business owners or managers. I mostly work with small and medium sized businesses and I am always surprised that they find their problems overwhelming. Imagine company of the size of Toyota. How can they continuously improve despite their complex processes and products?

Understanding Continuous Improvement

In my opinion, the difference lies in understanding what continuous improvement is. Many people, who do not get it, thinks we need to improve everything at once in a day or two. Hence, they get overwhelmed with this idea. Continuous improvement happens every day in small steps getting closer and closer to perfection.  It may be a very small improvement like what Paul Akers show in the video below. However, continuously doing small improvements every day, everywhere with everyone we can tackle big issues. We do not need to solve every one of our problems but only the ones that matter.

Move to Gemba

One of the key lessons I have heard from many lean thinkers and practitioners is that you have to move the leaders to the gemba. Doing your gemba walk for improvements daily and observing the “three reals” is a great way for the leader to synchronize with what is going on in the company and align everyone to one direction. Discipline to do this every single day is the challenge faced by many leaders who then find the situation to be overwhelming.

Build a Culture of continuous Improvement

Other lesson I have learned is that the leaders should focus on building a teams of people who can solve problems.  The leaders need to learn to develop people for continuously improving our products and processes. Thus, the leaders are responsible to build a culture of continuous improvement. It is by building a culture of continuous improvement we can tackle that overwhelming number of improvements, as everyone will be working on it.

Video: TPS Basics

This is a good video to refresh your memory about the  basic concepts of Toyota Production System(TPS).

Guest Post: Improving Employee Productivity through Security

Antonio Ferraro

Antonio Ferraro

Author BIO – Antonio Ferraro – On behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR ( Antonio strive to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. His knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. He believe in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier employees.


It is natural human nature to perform better, feel more comfortable, and generally be more motivated to participate in activities when a person feels secure. However, feeling secure in an environment takes time; most people are not able to feel truly secure within just a few days. In order for a sense of security to be built, a level of trust and rapport must be constructed between people as well as the environment as a whole. This belief also holds true within a work environment. Nonetheless, the unfortunate truth is that many managers use “fear” to drive their employees instead of security. Fear is a powerful feeling that can be incorrectly utilized to motivate employees into preforming quicker, or to make less mistakes, or even just to keep their jobs. From the outside, it is pretty easy to see that using fear as a motivational tactic completely abolishes any sense of employee security. When fear is used as a driving force behind increasing production, employees often begin to hate the object of their fear that turns out to be the manager. Managers who incorporate the tactic of fear in an attempt to increase productivity often experience less than desired results, as employees tend to be less committed to quality and often silently rebel against the manager’s wishes.

Creating Employee Security

As mentioned earlier, building employee security takes time, however, it is often well worth the effort. Why use fear as a motivational tactic when you can use empowerment? Some key factors involved in building employee security and creating empowerment include communication, clear expectations, trust, and a safe work environment.

  • Communication

Step one communication is the key. Without proper communication, employees may feel more like pawns in a game of chess, just being moved strategically without any input whatsoever. Who are the people that are out working with products, processes, and equipment nearly every day? The employees! Employees are like an untapped treasure trove of valuable information for process and product improvements. If there is a hold-up or ongoing issue somewhere within production, most times the employees knew about it way before top management staff did. The need for open communication to share thoughts and ideas is vital to the livelihood and continued success within a company.

  •  Clear Expectations

Furthermore, clear expectations are also imperative to building security. When people know what is expected of them they operate towards the objective using more enthusiasm and passion. For instance, imagine that an urgent order was coming through for a business requesting 1,000 brake pads, the manager needs the order fulfilled and ready to ship within 2 days. Which way would be better to communicate the expectations to employees? Option 1: The manager tells employees they need to get a large order of brake pads out within a few days and that he needs employees to work as quickly as possible for the next few days.  Option 2: The manager gathers the employees for a short meeting and communicates to employees that a large urgent order of 1,000 brake pads has come in, the order needs to be out and ready to ship within two days with zero defects. Then the manager asks for any sort of ideas or thoughts before production begins. I think the obvious choice is option 2. The pure and simple truth is that people work better and feel more secure when communication and expectations are valued.

  •  Trust and Safe Work Environment

Lastly, trust and a safe work environment go hand-in-hand. Employees need to feel that they can trust their employer and managers to do what is in the best interest of the company as well as the employees. Trust is a two way street, managers need to trust that employees are working efficiently in regards to production, and employees need to trust that the managers believe in them and their quality of work as well. The employer and managers should also strive to create a safe work environment for employees as well. When employees feel safe within the work environment, they also feel a sense of security.

In a nutshell, security is not something that is automatically felt by people; it is more of an earned sense of safety that takes time to create. However, a company cannot truly become great without secure and empowered employees. In order to create an efficient and effective work environment with top rate production levels, employees need to feel secure.


Tagged ,

The Truth about Lean Failures

The truth is, most lean implementations are a failure over long duration. The reasons could be many. However, some of them are the major causes, as identified by the people involved in the implementation. They may be the right or maybe these are just the symptoms. We have to find the root cause in our own organisation.

I did a survey last week and here are some of the top reasons for lean failures as per the readers of this blog. Thanks to all who contributed their valuable time to answer the survey. It was very insightful.  You too can spare just a minute to answer the survey here.

Top Management

  • Does not walk the talk
  • Does not buy in
  • Does not support the process
  • They are not committed
  • Lacks the leadership qualities
  • Fears loss of power or resources


  • Mindset change for the people
  • What’s in it for me
  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of understanding
  • Engagement
  • Responsibility without  Authority
  • Change agents not talking in their language


  • Is related to the culture and top management
  • People Lack Skills for implementation
  • Project thinking and not embracing it as a lifestyle
  • Random  application of tools
  • Did not consider continuous learning as part of the process


Are they really the cause of failure?

Be careful do not jump to conclusions here. Failure and success are pit stops on the journey of continuous improvement.  So do not dwell on this too much. It is good to know the reason so that you can figure out ways to counteract it. Learn from failure and find a way to succeed.

When you think something was the cause of failure, dig deeper. Find the root cause. It may be something else. If you jump on the first thing that comes to your mind then there are chances that you may be on the wrong boat.

For Top Management, ask if you are just blaming them for your failure. If they are responsible then what was the cause. Were they educated on the benefits? Did you get a buy in? What qualities do they lack? How can you sell the idea to them?

For culture, is the whole group prepared for the big change?  What does your culture lack?  Do leaders respect and engage people at all level? Do people with responsibility given the authority to change? Do you see improvement activities as value or as cost?

For Sustainability, Is this just a temporary phase? Can you learn from this experience and make the changes stick the next time?

So What is the Truth?

Are you part of failed Lean implementation? Hey, do not worry. You are not alone. Almost all of us have been there. It is a part of the process.

There few failures before you succeed. Moreover, if you do not take effort to sustain there can be a failure after the big success. The success and failure come and go. We see companies as successful ones, when they have far more successes than failures. Even the big companies like Toyota have failed, but they did not stop there. The truth is only persistence matters. So take actions, fail fast to succeed fast.

Other truth is the way we think. We (mostly the western world) have the mindset of result-focused approach. Nothing wrong in having goals, but the problem lies in the means to achieve the goals (More about this here). Under traditional management, people who focus on the means are not always recognized. Like one of the person in survey said, “They promote the heroes- fire fighters …” These people achieve some incredible results, which are only short term and neither try to solve or prevent the issues from happening in the future

What is your Story?

People always want to hear about successes. However, there is lot to learn from failures too. I would love to hear your story about a failure. Were any of these reasons responsible? What did you do about it?

Tagged , ,

Become a Good Manager: Simplify your Work-Space

In the previous post we talked about focusing on changing ourselves before starting the change in the company. Learning to change and adapt to meet the new challenges is the key to lead and survive any major transformation process. But how do we start changing ourselves?  This is the question we will try to answer today. This is by no mean a complete or the only way to transform your habits to become a good manager but it provides a starting point to one aspect that you see and use every day.

Why to Simplify your Work-Space

Our work space tells us a lot about how we work. If your desk is over crowed with documents, unwanted samples and other things then it is clear how disorganized you are. If that is your state imagine you preaching others on shop floor or office to be organized. It will be hard to gain their confidence. How about applying 5s to your office/desk?

Applying 5S in Office

The following presentation provides a guide to applying 5S to your office/desk. You can use it to improve your work area. The purpose of going through this exercise is beyond mere cleanup of your desk. It builds the right habits necessary to develop mindset for continuous improvement. So try it out and if you do great please share your success stories by sending us your before and after pictures.

Remember this is just the starting point and we will learn lot more as we practice daily.

Become a Good Manager: Change Yourself Before Changing Others

Before you start on any change process like Lean you have to understand yourself and what you want. You have to focus on one thing that is important. Understanding and experiencing the change yourself is the only path to become a good change agent. Thus the focus is changing you.

The changes that need to be done in most organizations, big or small, are of almost revolutionary nature. If you do not prepare yourself for the war you will be destroyed the first day you set foot into the battle.

The changes that will take or should take place are not merely physical. You have to prepare yourself to change the way people behave and think. Changing the way you behave and think may need to be changed. For this you need to have an open mind. We had previously discussed the exercise to clear your mind here. This readies you to learn new things.

The next step is learning how to simplify and minimize.

“Perfection is achieved ,not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Did that thought worry you? Are you afraid of letting go something? This is exact same fear going through the minds of people you are trying to change. As leader you have to understand the psychology to be more effective change agent.  The core of lean is about understanding what is of value and what is not. You should practice it in your daily life and work before you start preaching it to others.

So what do you think should be minimized and simplified?

Sit and Stand-up Workstation

This is a  interesting concept of sit and stand workstation by Herman Miller. I recently moved into full time independent consulting and have been looking for work desk for my home office. I have been using Stand-up Station and a separate sitting desk at my work place for well over an year. But this combine the two into one. Of course there are simple ways to convert your standard sitting desk into stand up station, like by putting a box or bunch of books on the table to raise the laptop to standing height.

Video: Managing By Means

This is an interesting video by Mike Rother. You have to listen to this one, so turn up the volume.

Managing By Means and Not by Results


Go Lean with 5S Rules for Office Space

We all know the power 5S to transform a cluttered workplace into an efficient and safe environment. Here is video I found on one of the discussions boards online. It shows an example of 5S applied to improve an office space.

I have personally found office space to be challenging place to change. People in office (including myself) often find it difficult to accept that they  have to follow the same standards as shop-floor when it comes to organizing your work space. Office is often cluttered with personal items like family photos, souvenirs and gifts etc. Paper (printouts, magazines, files, mail) is the another cause of clutter. We don’t wont to loose anything and keep adding it to the pile only not to use it ever again.

Instant Declutter of Your Office

  1. Get couple of empty boxes, one for documents and other for stationery and other small items
  2. Dump everything from your desktop and drawers in to these two boxes. Don’t keep anything other than your phone and computer. Remove all other equipment and unnecessary items
  3. Now you have a clutter free desk
  4. Now only when you need something pull it out from the box and make a proper place for it. Make sure you absolutely need it in future, if not shred or dispose it off. Sometimes you can just scan a document instead of keeping paper. But be careful, do not clutter your computer.
  5. Keep doing this for couple weeks to a month and you will know which items from the box is really needed. Do not let our office or desk clutter again by repeating this process every few months.

I hope this helps in improving your work space. Do share your experience or if you have a different approach to solve this problem.

Here is another link from about decluttering in general which can be applied in your daily life:

15 Great Decluttering Tips

Get Adobe Flash player