All Posts By

James La Trobe-Bateman

Lean Improvement Words

Where Are Lean People Going Next?

By | Featured, Paradigms - Illogical Improvements & Achieving | No Comments
Lean Improvement Words

If you are in the business of improvement, then you must use lean, 6 sigma or total quality tools.  Or you have no credibility.

But does it make you effective?

The lean movement outside Toyota has been around for 30 years and yet it still only scores about 25% success rate (ref 1).

Why doesn’t it do better?

Some say ‘try harder’.  Many say that the key part of the Toyota method is ‘respect for people’, ‘empowerment’ or something similar, and that this is still missing from most implementations.  We need more ‘soft skills’, supposedly.  And even if we had them, would we be able to fight the rising tide of shareholder power (“give me results this quarter”) over stakeholder power (“sustain and grow the community that the business feeds from and to”)?   Big issues that ‘trying harder at lean’ will not solve.

That’s the context.

What does it mean for those who practice lean?  Those whose job is to improve things?

One thing is for sure. You do not have job security.  If 3/4 of the time you fail, those accountants aren’t going to want to keep paying you.  I’ve certainly been there, although I jumped before I was pushed.

So what do you do…as an individual working as a change agent?

You have to take a different approach.  You should think about improving yourself, as a person rather than as a professional.  I mean Personal Development not Professional Development.  Not another 5S or Taguchi or Poka Yoke program.  I mean grow as a person.  More Tony Robbins than Shigeo Shingo.

Why?

Because those failures are failures to change people’s minds.  How do you do that if you can’t change your own mind? It starts with you.

Now I know that this is a scary thought for engineer types.  In fact, I have to admit that I ran screaming from a live 2 day Tony Robbins event after only 4 hours of it.  Luckily I have a partner who understood about Terror Barriers and the way through them.  We learnt a model for understanding this that can be taught and that people can internalize.

We live in an ever faster changing world.  You can see this in the strong reaction to it in all walks of life.  The world needs change agents more than ever.  But those change agents must be skilled in more than Lean.  Then they will be really valuable.

There’s some learning to do.  You need to get past your own terror, then you can help others.

Once you get past the terror, you will find freedom.

  1. Ignizio, James P. 2009. Optimizing Factory Performance: Cost-Effective Ways to Achieve Significant and Sustainable Improvement. 1st ed. Mcgraw-Hill Professional.
Phase B Paradigm

Lean is a Phase B Paradigm

By | Featured, Productivity | No Comments
Phase B Paradigm

Or How to Provide Job Security for Lean Experts…

Joel Barker talked about the life cycle of paradigms in his 1992 book ‘Future Edge’.

His definition of the word ‘paradigm’ is more general than mine. He defines it as a consciously defined model or way of doing things that is useful because it solves lots of problems.
My own definition separates ‘paradigms’ from ‘models’ by saying that the paradigm is what you get when a model is sub-conscious. Despite this difference, we are in the same field, because we both care about how you change them.

He talks about the evolution of paradigms. In Phase A, they are being tried out, pioneered and tested on problems that had previously been poorly solved. In Phase B they pass into the mainstream and become adopted as the ‘go-to’ approach for (in this case) improving operations.

Lean and 6 Sigma have been mainstream for several decades, and so very much in Phase B.

But what happens to phase B paradigms?

They handle many situations, but not all. Over time, they accumulate unsolved problems. Sometimes a hammer is NOT the tool to use. Or perhaps I should say the philosophy does not help.

So what are the operational problems that Lean & 6 Sigma fail to solve?
Here are some that we have had to deal with:
• Argue against a proposed factory closure
• Reconcile supplier disputes
• Create co-operation between ‘rival’ sites
• Compare manufacturing systems of product concepts (during design)

…and some that we might have to deal with
• When to change to a new product concept
• Optimize new product design before start of manufacture

…and one that nobody talks about
• How to provide job security for lean experts

The solution to these is one or more new paradigms.

We have one: it’s the use of explicit models that force both parties to a disagreement to be clear about what they want.
But there are an infinity of other new paradigms that would work.

Lean and 6 sigma will keep you going for now.
Eventually you will need to adapt and adopt a new paradigm or two.

Models&Paradigms

Models and Paradigms

By | Featured, Goals - Dreams - Illogical Achieving, Manufacturing - Illogical Improvements, Marketing & Sales - Illogical Goal Achieving, Models, Paradigms - Illogical Improvements & Achieving | No Comments
Models and Paradigms Blog

‘Models and Paradigms’ means this to us:

Models are explicit.  Things are connected logically.  You can scrutinize the logic and challenge the assumptions. You can change them without emotional upset.

Paradigms are rooted in the human subconscious.  They are implicit. You can only tell they are there, because they show themselves through your behaviors.  The paradigm causes those behaviors.  For example, the way you walk is driven by a paradigm.  Can you describe its precise logic? Can you say why different people walk in different ways?

Or believe different things?

Or make decisions?

So What Do You Do About It?

If you want a different outcome, we have 2 approaches:

  1. Play with the variables of an explicit model for its logic to produce the results you want.
  2. Modify the paradigm so that you dream up a completely new model that produces a better result (this is harder to do)

1 is about Optimizing what you have.  It also serves to open up your thinking ready for 2.

2 is about taking a quantum leap to Create completely new model.

It’s 2 that corporations and modern society really needs, but it gets stuck on those subconscious paradigms.

Remodel International’s approach is to first create explicit models and then work on 2 to invent a new model and make that quantum leap.

Creating models is an intellectual, conscious exercise and lays the groundwork to tackle the subconscious paradigms and unleash your creativity.

Trying To Improve Too Far

By | Manufacturing - Illogical Improvements, Productivity | No Comments

Suppose you work in a factory which is part of a larger group of companies.

What happens when the operations boss comes to visit you from head office?

He or she will congratulate you on your good work, meet and greet your staff…smile. However, you will always be left with an instruction to ‘keep it up’. This usually means ‘make your products cheaper next year…and the next’.

If you have been that good up to now, you know it is going to get harder and harder to reduce cost.  You will feel that you are being driven against a steep mountain slope and being whipped into going up it.

Here’s what the operations boss knows. His marketing people are telling him that the gross margin of your products is being eroded and that to maintain profitability, unit manufacturing cost must keep coming down.

If there are alternative business approaches that you could take in the market, then you don’t have enough information to say and anyway it’s outside your authority.

If you are truly reaching the limit of cost reductions set by the inherent product design, then it is difficult to say so without the operations boss feeling that you lack determination.  It would put your own future in jeopardy.  .

The upshot is that you continue to work harder and harder to achieve less and less, until the time comes when the last cost reduction that makes any sense is to move the improvement people out and save their salaries.  Your accountants will very quickly be able to tell you how much you will save in this scenario.

In the meantime, a number of increasingly (they have been getting better and better at improving) talented improvement people get more and more frustrated because they know they are achieving little in measurable results.  Plus you will have to pay them.

To avoid this lose-lose situation, you need to know when to stop improving.

At that moment, you will also have to clearly decide: do we stay where we are, do we undertake a significant product redesign or do we explore different business improvement ideas that exploit the ability of manufacturing to be more flexible or responsive for the same cost?

No Go Areas

By | Featured, Manufacturing - Illogical Improvements, Models | No Comments

I’m curious about ideas that are “off limits”.

Stanley area minefield map
Sheep in a Falklands minefield

We see life as something of a ‘minefield’.  We carry a picture in our minds that is like a map.  Ideas that are safe to hold [green], ideas that are a bit controversial [blue]  and some definite no-go areas [red].

But what if we did not have any preconceived ideas?  We would be more like the sheep that can’t read the signs. They are oblivious and happy.

Are we better or worse off than the sheep?

Neither option feels right.

If there really ARE mines in there, then we really don’t want to go there.  But what about the places where we are not sure?  Are we just frightened because we don’t know?

Or are we wary because someone else is frightened?

In business, I would say that is more often than not this last.  We don’t take risks because we are making our bosses frightened. Of being seen as irresponsible, overseeing mistakes being made and ultimately losing their jobs.

How do we get past this?  How do you test an area to see if it is safe? What is the equivalent of ‘sending the sheep in first’?

Our answer is to build models.

Models can be exploration devices. A way of going somewhere in your mind before you set foot there.  It’s completely safe. It’s all about ‘What If?’  We have called models a ‘Bridge of Faith’, because you can simulate crossing a chasm without actually stepping into the void.  Visions are what makes leaders stand out.  Some follow naturally, most need to be coaxed.  A model is a coax…and a coach.  It teaches while it explores.

Plus, we have found that models do much more than exploring the unknown. You can defuse fights with them. I once was called in to arbitrate in a dispute between a subcontractor and a major medical diagnostics manufacturer.  The subcontractor was a sole source and had put their prices up by 40%.  What could the customer do here? Accepting the price rise would make their products unprofitable and rejecting the price rise meant losing their own business.  They clearly needed to reach a compromise.  So I built an operations model.  It had a number of scenarios to see what would happen if sales dropped or rose, product mix changed, raw material and labor rates changed and whether manufacturing improvements were made. Each of these scenarios tackled a different risk for the supplier.  They wanted a guaranteed profit margin, but were not in control of demand.  They had demanded the 40% price rise to cover themselves.  But they didn’t need to.  In the end the model became part of the new contract between the companies with a pre-agreed formula for pricing.

They went on this way for more than 5 years, happily.