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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reframing Business Equation

Source: Business & Strategy

Business is, and always has been, a numbers game. The Phoenicians invented the number zero for “accounting” purposes and laid the foundation for the ongoing quest to quantify business, as embodied by Frederick Taylor (the American mechanical engineer regarded as the father of scientific management), the Whiz Kids (who revolutionized management science after World War II), and today’s oft-vilified MBAs. Most general managers will argue that the unquantifiable “soft stuff” presents the most daunting business challenges, but when it comes to thinking about operations strategically, there is no substitute for hard mathematics.

Operations strategy fundamentally demands trade-offs. Accordingly, equations of one sort or another often come to dominate the thinking of managers seeking to optimize the resources at their disposal to achieve the best bottom-line results. Sometimes these equations are formalized and reflect explicit trade-off decisions, as is the case with the economic order quantity (EOQ) formula, which optimizes setup cost and inventory carrying cost. But more often, managers operate with an implicit set of formulas that may be derived loosely from formal thinking but are in practice based more on trial and error. These heuristics often go unchallenged as they shape the managerial decisions that drive entire industries down a common path. Common, that is, until someone challenges the underlying assumptions and the rote thinking that results from them.

For example, when the Toyota Motor Corporation introduced its new paradigm for what became known as lean manufacturing in the mid-20th century, it might have seemed that it was dismissing the old logic of the EOQ and the mass production mind-set that it had engendered. But a deeper look shows that Toyota actually reframed the EOQ paradigm rather than dismissed it, because the logic of the equation still holds. True breakthrough operating strategies like Toyota’s, in fact, usually result from a reframing of the accepted wisdom.

To drive your own breakthrough strategies, you must first understand the implicit equations that influence management thinking in your industry. Once you define them, you can, like Toyota, reframe the equation to produce a new model of competition. By examining a variety of case examples, we have identified a basic method you can use if you dare to challenge conventional wisdom.

From Mass Production to Lean

The EOQ formula dates back to the Industrial Revolution and a 1913 article by Ford Whitman Harris, a self-trained engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company, in Factory: The Magazine of Management, a relic of another era. The article showed how to balance the fixed cost of ordering or producing a batch of goods with the cost of carrying the inventory between order periods. Graphically displayed with cost on the vertical axis and “lot size” on the horizontal axis, the elegantly simple solution occurs at the intersection of the upward sloping straight line (for inventory carrying cost) and the downward sloping curved line (which reflects the decreasing “setup” or “one-time ordering” costs spread over the batch size). The formula allowed a manufacturing manager to find the optimal lot size given the input parameters of per-unit carrying cost and per-batch fixed costs.

Today, many practitioners think that the EOQ embodies a way of thinking that’s no longer relevant. In reality, however, the trade-off between inventory carrying cost and setup cost remains. Taichi Ohno, father of the Toyota production system, knew that — as does anyone with a deep understanding of “factory physics.” Ohno’s innovation was to reframe the equation to solve for setup time rather than lot size.

Inspired by American grocery stores where consumers “pulled” products from a shelf that was continuously replenished, Ohno concluded that the optimal lot size was one unit. So, instead of trying to find the lot size that balanced setup cost and inventory carrying cost, Ohno sought to drive down setup cost to a low enough level to justify his ideal of a single unit for the lot size. To achieve his vision, Ohno turned to his industrial engineer, Shigeo Shingo, and challenged him to find a way to reduce a stamping press setup time of 12 hours to less than 10 minutes. Shingo and his team succeeded — and, as they say, the rest is history.

To put it in mathematical terms, Ohno solved for a different variable. He did not ignore the equation, but instead decided that what others assumed to be a given could in fact be changed. By reframing the prevailing equation of mass production, he broke the existing paradigm, and, in the process, created a breakthrough operating strategy that revolutionized the automobile industry.

Solving for Customers

Companies love to benchmark themselves against industry competitors, but no two firms are ever directly comparable. To compensate, industries tend to develop equations and associated metrics that adjust for these differences. For example, passenger airlines fly different-sized planes over different routes that cover different distances. But, regardless of those specifics, utilization, or “load factor” — which, on a passenger airline, means the percentage of seats filled — drives the economics. An empty seat represents unused capacity that can never be recaptured.

As a result, airlines talk in terms of revenue passenger miles (RPMs), a metric that derives from the available seat miles (ASMs) multiplied by the load factor. ASM measures the number of available seats per plane multiplied by the miles per flight. So a 50-seat regional jet flying 300 miles with an 80 percent load factor (i.e., with 40 paying passengers) will produce 15,000 ASMs and 12,000 RPMs. Alternatively, a 300-seat, wide-body plane traveling 1,000 miles with a 50 percent load factor offers 300,000 ASMs and generates 150,000 RPMs per trip. From a profitability standpoint, the price charged per RPM determines the revenue per flight against a highly predictable cost per flight based on jet fuel, equipment cost, and crew cost.

Focusing on this equation, traditional airlines have priced their seats to generate revenues to cover the cost per ASM, and evolved to a hub-and-spoke routing system to maximize the load factor. Their reasoning was simple and logical. Larger planes offered economies of scale to lower the cost of an available seat mile, and the hub-and-spoke system allowed the large planes to cost-effectively serve smaller cities. Their passengers, destined for a variety of locations, thus found themselves on a single plane routed to a hub airport such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, or Minneapolis. There the travelers were sorted and matched with customers from other cities onto other large planes that could be filled only by the combined demand of all the feeder flights. Such pooling of the demand in and out of the hub kept utilization up and costs down.

When Southwest Airlines Company started up at Dallas Love Field in 1967, founders Rollin King and Herb Kelleher didn’t challenge the fundamental logic of the airline equation: They, too, recognized the need to manage the load factor to be profitable. But they focused on different levers seeking to achieving the same objective with a more customer-centric attitude. Southwest offered direct flights between cities and used price as the lever to encourage more demand. The low prices attracted customers who would normally have taken a car or even a bus rather than a plane. Southwest also sought to amortize the high cost of the planes through quick turnarounds that kept them in the air earning revenue passenger miles rather than on the ground accruing costs.

As Southwest grew by adding more and more destinations, it continued to stick with its point-to-point model with aggressive pricing rather than using the hub-and-spoke approach. The big airlines failed to fully appreciate the power of Southwest’s model because the industry equation under which they were operating obfuscated part of the issue. The focus on “flown miles” failed to capture the fact that routing a passenger through a hub adds needless miles to the passenger’s trip. A direct flight between Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Miss., would require only one takeoff and landing to cover the 868 miles. But routing that traveler through an Atlanta hub adds another 260 miles plus an additional takeoff and landing. Because these extra miles are in the denominator of the accepted industry equation for both RPMs and cost per ASM, the hub-and-spoke airlines fooled themselves into thinking their model was more efficient.

Southwest’s consumer orientation helped the company avoid the blind spot in the industry equation. A hub-and-spoke model works well for freight — Walmart uses the same logic for its cross-docks to fill truckloads of goods as it routes them from suppliers to stores. Unlike the traditional majors, however, Southwest understood that its customers should not be treated like freight. And by starting with an important variable that its rivals had overlooked — the convenience of its customers — Southwest reframed the industry equation and transformed air travel.

Accuracy, not Efficiency

The Progressive Corporation offers another example of the power of reframing industry equations by starting with the customer. Unlike most businesses, which seek to make an operating profit, the insurance industry has traditionally accepted a model wherein claims and expenses exceed premiums, but the difference is covered by the return on the investment of premiums. Insurers work to keep expenses as low as possible, but ultimately make their profits by delaying the payment of claims to maximize the investment return. Progressive challenged this industry paradigm in 1990 with the introduction of its “immediate response” claims service. Embodied by the white SUVs driven by claims representatives equipped with laptop computers, this program paid claims in the field, often at the scene of the accident.

This innovation has been but one of many under the leadership of Peter Lewis, CEO since 1965 and son of the founder. Lewis has inculcated a customer-first philosophy that pushes the company to differentiated service levels unique within the industry. The service mind-set does not ignore the expense side of the equation. But rather than hold the claims to earn additional returns investing the premiums, Progressive realized that claims representatives could do a better job estimating costs by observing the car and accident in the field. These more accurate cost estimates, coupled with the willingness of customers to settle for a claims check in the field to avoid the hassle of the typical claims process, reduced the level of payouts and simultaneously increased customer satisfaction. Furthermore, the early payment typically prevents lawyers from getting between Progressive and its customers. When they do, it’s mostly the lawyers who benefit.

Other insurance providers centralized their claims representatives into a pooled resource to minimize idle time. Their paradigm led them to focus on minimizing this expensive labor cost; Progressive worried little about utilization and instead focused on speed and accuracy. Progressive cares about expenses as much as its competitors do, but recognized that the real leverage came from more accurate claims settlements, not lower operating expenses.

Incremental to Step Function

Looking beyond individual companies, we can also find that entire functions or disciplines become defined by equations that need to be reframed. Consider the world of information technology (IT), which has pursued continuous expansion of computing capacity as defined by Moore’s Law. When Gordon Moore, cofounder of the Intel Corporation, noted in 1965 that the number of transistors on a computer chip had doubled every 18 months since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, he was simply making an observation of an empirical pattern. But that observation became a “law” that, ever since, has driven the industry toward a goal of continuous expansion of computing capacity. It even led to analogous “laws” such as Kryder’s Law, which has encouraged a similar pattern for the cost of data storage.

Riding this ongoing cost curve, most corporate CIOs have continuously expanded corporate processing and storage capacity, and have then added increasingly complex applications to consume the available resources. This behavior offers a modern example of Parkinson’s Law, coined by C. Northcote Parkinson, a British naval historian. Commenting on the British government bureaucracy in a 1955 article in the Economist, Parkinson observed that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” and later IT observers have commented that data expands to fill the space available for storage. Swiss computer scientist Niklaus Wirth coined yet another law integrating Moore’s and Parkinson’s observations with the unfortunate conclusion that “software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster.”

The solution to this incrementalism, perhaps, may be found in a complete reframing of the IT paradigm to embrace the growing power of the Internet and the step-function possibilities of “cloud computing” as practiced by technology leaders such as Amazon and Google. This new construct moves away from the cost curve of individual integrated circuits, or even storage devices, to a paradigm based on the scale and utilization advantages of distributed and shared IT resources, which are available to users with limited knowledge of the inner workings of the infrastructure.

Consider the case of Bechtel Group Inc. For more than 100 years, the giant construction firm delivered one massive global project after another. As IT became available, it was put to work, and over the years the IT infrastructure that supported the firm became ever larger and more complex. CIO Geir Ramleth realized that even though Bechtel had been successful at continually lowering IT costs, many new technology firms like Google and Amazon were operating on a different cost curve — and as a result were not shackled with the same levels of complexity. Furthermore, Bechtel employees worldwide had come to expect the simple user interfaces offered by these leaders and others, such as YouTube and Facebook, which put internal, homegrown applications to shame.

Ramleth convinced his team that the cost and flexibility benefits of the new approach were so great that it would be worth abandoning the costly legacy systems that the team had developed and supported for years. When the team saw he was serious, they went to work rebuilding the applications that enabled engineering and communication across the globe in a service model, like that used by, where users can employ a familiar Web interface to quickly engage only the needed applications. With development funded by the immediate cost savings, the new network significantly lowered the company’s cost structure — fortunately for Bechtel, just as the current business downturn deepened.

From large to small, firms can radically reduce costs and simplify their services by reframing the traditional IT cost equation. Abandoning the incremental model of legacy applications and embracing new models like “software as a service,” companies can fundamentally shift the cost curve and convert a high-fixed-cost structure into one with lower variable costs more in tune with user needs.

Changing Your Equation

As these examples illustrate, reframing your business equation offers the potential for breakthrough operating strategies. The first step is understanding the equations that drive your industry. Since most such equations are implicit, you will need to probe to uncover them. How? Start with the key metrics used to describe performance in your industry.

Next, think about your customers and whether your industry equation fully captures their needs. Finally, couple this customer insight with the equation metaphor. What variables might be added to or subtracted from your equation? Could you solve for a variable previously assumed to be a given, as Toyota did? What if you pushed a service metric to a new extreme, as Progressive did? Would the old “optimal” balance still hold true?

Stop and think about your business equation. Can you reframe it to create a breakthrough strategy that will differentiate you from competitors? It worked, after all, for Toyota, Southwest, and Progressive. It is also working in the IT industry, as evidenced by industry leaders Amazon and Google, as well as for more traditional companies like Bechtel. The only way to find out if it will work for you is to try.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blackbelt Kickoff!

As some of you know, our highly respected Blackbelt Certification program has been running for almost 8 years now. For the first few years, the program included a trip to San Francisco to visit Toyota/GM joint venture, NUMMI. As part of our continuous improvement initiative, we found ways to reduce cost while improving the content, and in 2006, we begin to offer Japan program as an upgrade - a major upgrade - to the Blackbelt curriculum. Since the very beginning of the Japan program, we have taken several hundred people to such places as Toyota factory, Denso plant, and Daiwa House factory - where homes are built like cars. 

This comprehensive, advanced lean program is the most respected certification in North America for developing future lean leaders, and we are proud to announce the kickoff of the 2010 fall Blackbelt class!

So what did we do on the first day? Here's a glimpse of some of the unusual things we did on the kickoff day.

Environmentally-designed Pizza Box

Take a look at this interesting take on a pizza box! Is this lean or what?

'Green Box' Product Promo (Pizza Box) from Green Box on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mentoring: An Essential Leadership Skill

Mentoring from a Mentor's Perspective

Building a high-performing team is a key part of being an effective leader. And this includes helping individuals within your team learn, grow, and become more effective in their jobs; which is why mentoring is such an important leadership skill.

But what does mentoring involve? And what do you need to consider before setting up mentoring relationships? In this article, we'll highlight some things a mentor does and doesn't do, and we'll help you decide how far mentoring is right for you and your team.

What is Mentoring? (from a Japanese perspective, we may call it the "Sensei-way")

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The "mentor" is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience and advice with a less experienced person, or "mentee."

Mentors become trusted advisers and role models – people who have "been there" and "done that." They support and encourage their mentees by offering suggestions and knowledge, both general and specific. The goal is to help mentees improve their skills and, hopefully, advance their careers.

What are the Benefits of Mentoring?

Mentoring can be rewarding for you, both personally and professionally. Through it, not only can you build a stronger and more successful team, but you can also improve your leadership and communication skills, learn new perspectives and ways of thinking, and gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction.

For potential mentees, the benefits of mentoring can be huge. They get focused coaching and training from a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced individual, and they also get assistance and advice in navigating the many tricky situations that can arise in the workplace. This can help them work more effectively, overcome obstacles, and break through blockages that would otherwise slow or stall their careers.

But even if you understand the benefits of mentoring and it sounds like a great idea, you have to decide whether this sort of time-consuming, in-depth relationship is right for you and for the person you're thinking of mentoring. If the mentoring relationship has arisen informally and spontaneously, then the chances are that things are fine. However, if you're taking a more formal approach to mentoring, it's worth exploring your reasons for mentoring and asking yourself whether you want to take this type of commitment further. To do so, ask yourself these questions:

• Is mentoring the best way of developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes the potential mentee needs? Or would other approaches be quicker or more effective?

• How will mentoring contribute toward your own career goals, and to the goals of your team and your organization?

• Is mentoring a particular individual a good use of your time? And are you comfortable that you'll be able to devote time to him or her on a regular basis?

• Do you have knowledge, skills and experience that the mentee is likely to find helpful?

• How much personal satisfaction are you likely to get from the relationship? Does this justify your involvement? And do you like the individual enough to want to invest time in mentoring him or her on a regular basis?

• In what areas are you willing to help? Are there any areas that you don't want to go near?

What You Should Consider

Although you may want to jump right in with both feet, make sure that you also think about these practical considerations:

• Formality of approach – Do you want to take a relaxed, ad hoc approach to mentoring, or do you want to approach sessions in a more structured, formal way?

• Frequency of contact – How much time can you commit to this relationship?

o Can you meet (however you do that) weekly? Biweekly? Once a month?

o How long can you spend in each meeting? Half an hour? An hour? More?

o Do you want to be available between "formal" sessions?

• Method of contact – Would you prefer face-to-face meetings, phone calls, or emails? If you were to use phone calls, who places the call?

• Duration of partnership – Do you want to limit the length of the mentoring partnership? Do you want to set regular intervals to review whether you're both happy with the relationship, or do you just want to informally review progress on an ongoing basis?

• Confidentiality – How will you approach confidential business information? Think of ways to speak about general concepts and situations while maintaining confidentiality.

Where to Draw the Line

When developing a mentoring relationship, make sure you have clear boundaries of what you can and cannot do for the mentee.

Answer the above questions to help yourself define the boundaries for the relationship. Then, when you're meeting, you'll better understand your own mindset – what areas you're interested in covering, and what you will and will not do.

Take the lead on where you'll allow the mentoring relationship to go and what ground you'll cover. As a general guide, focus on your expertise and experience. If anything is beyond your skills and abilities, refer the mentee to another expert.

For example, if a discussion about human resources issues raises a concern about employment law, consider sending your mentee to an internal expert or attorney. If conversations about work problems lead into personal or family problems, the mentee may need more focused professional help from a psychologist or therapist.

As a mentor, you can become the mentee's confidante and adviser. You may be called upon to be a "sounding board" for all sorts of issues and concerns. So know in advance how you're going to deal with difficult situations.

Key Points

By mentoring effectively, you can do a lot to improve the performance of key individuals within your team, thereby helping yourself reach team and organizational goals. Mentoring can also give you a great overall sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that you're helping someone else learn and grow on a professional and personal level.

Before you begin a mentoring partnership, it's useful to think about your reasons for becoming a mentor and the practical considerations and logistics of such a relationship. If you decide that mentoring is right for you, the time and effort that you put into it can reap great rewards that far exceed your expectations.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Turning Employees Into Problem Solvers

Source: Harvard working knowledge

Ten years ago, the Institute of Medicine published To Err is Human, a groundbreaking report that pushed the issue of medical errors into the public spotlight.

That we all make mistakes was certainly nothing new: Operational failures occur across all industries. But the impact of errors in the context of the health-care industry drew instant attention. Preventable medical errors resulting in injury cost the industry somewhere between $9 billion and $15 billion a year, the report stated.

Even more shockingly, by some measures the number of patient deaths attributed to operational failures annually in the United States equaled the crash of one fully loaded 747 airplane every one-and-a-half days.

Since then, much research has focused on the underuse of incident-reporting systems. After all, the thinking went, a system used to collect and report incidents will only help an organization learn from its mistakes and lead to better safety results—to the extent that employees report information that can be used for process improvement.
For incident-reporting systems to fulfill their promise, employees must use the system to "speak up" when they encounter a problem. Managers receive additional value when reporters speak up constructively by offering suggestions that facilitate process improvement.

A Harvard research team recently set out to better understand what managers can do to encourage employees to speak up about problems, and to investigate how managers can encourage employees to offer solutions.

The team's working paper, "Speaking Up Constructively: Managerial Practices that Elicit Solutions from Front-Line Employees", considers data on nearly 7,500 incidents from a single hospital to determine whether two types of managerial actions increase the frequency with which frontline workers speak up by reporting incidents and do so constructively by including solutions in their incident reports.

The paper, authored by Julia Adler-Milstein, an HBS doctoral candidate in the Health Policy Management program; Sara J. Singer, assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School; and HBS professor Michael W. Toffel, also considers how organizational information campaigns and department managers' engagement in process improvement interact to influence the extent to which frontline workers speak up constructively, which could enable organizations to improve their operating processes and ultimately (one hopes) improve patient safety.

Manufacturing and service organizations also benefit from worker input. But people, it goes without saying, are harder to work on than cars and hotel rooms.

Two managerial processes that helped

"Hospitals are enormously complex," Toffel observes. "Imagine a factory where every part has to be custom-built and can require any number of 100 or 200 services and subprocesses. On top of that, the most knowledgeable people about those subprocesses-the doctors-come and go from the factory and are not employed by it."
That complexity makes errors inevitable. And despite the growing emphasis in health care on patient safety, the researchers note that our understanding of how managers can increase the value of reporting systems remains incomplete.

To shed light on how to encourage staff to share constructive feedback when using reporting systems, Adler-Milstein, Singer, and Toffel examined the influence of managerial engagement on problem solving and of an organization-wide information campaign.

First, the phenomenon of patient-safety information campaigns: Such campaigns increase the frequency of frontline workers' speaking up following an incident by 5 percent, the researchers learned. However, when it comes to sharing a solution to the problem, the campaigns had a much larger effect, nearly tripling the frequency with which frontline workers suggested a solution to the problem.
In addition, units in which managers "practiced what they preached" by actively engaging in problem solving saw substantial increases in the frequency with which staff reported solutions when they filed incident reports.

"When managers had been more proactive in responding to incident reports, there was a greater likelihood that staff would share their suggestions and actions taken to resolve the underlying problem, which is very valuable information for managers because they are unlikely to be able to get this information elsewhere," says Adler-Milstein.

That result prompted further investigation: Do staff members in units with high managerial engagement respond differently to a patient-safety information campaign, compared to staff in units with low managerial engagement?

"Interestingly, we only saw a meaningful increase in offering solutions by employees in units with low managerial engagement," says Adler-Milstein.

"In a sense, the units with high managerial engagement were already kicked into high gear," explains Toffel, noting that this result also suggests possible future research on the duration of campaigns.

"At first, these campaigns are great—they bolster the frequency with which solutions are shared by a significant margin. But there's a reason why we don't have a campaign all the time, whether it's in a hospital or for the United Way: fatigue.

"A campaign's optimal duration for maximum benefits is still unclear. At what point do people shut off?"

Next steps to improve safety practices

The team's database offers additional information to consider that was not examined in the working paper, Toffel says. Other questions to answer include: What types of responses to incidents are most effective? When should behavioral corrections be implemented? When should technological corrections be made?

"I'm excited to look at this data longitudinally," says Singer. "Ideally, one would hope that an incident gets reported and that a solution is implemented so that the incident doesn't recur. We can look at whether this happens over time. Knowing this will make a significant contribution to improving patient safety, because a lot of hospitals rely on these reporting systems and promote their use, if only to fulfill accreditation requirements.

"The real question remains, are they serving the intended purpose? It could be that very little happens with these reports in terms of the long-term learning that you would hope to see."

Says Adler-Milstein, "We could also determine if the same type of incident is occurring in a given unit over time, even when it is being reported. That would then make it possible to focus on how particular units resolve their problems."

Identifying pockets of excellence would enable more qualitative research to determine what exactly a unit is doing to achieve its success—and to identify how those practices could be codified and adopted elsewhere.

"Health care started out with largely independent practitioners and a limited body of knowledge," says Adler-Milstein. "Given the changes that have occurred recently, technological and otherwise, health care hasn't caught up quickly enough with the new practice methods that accompany this very different, modern-day model. I hope we will get there eventually, but right now there is a lag."

Drilling down to discover when frontline employees speak up most constructively, and how to translate this into problem solving, should help bridge that gap.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tokyo Tower

A quick stop in Tokyo on the way back to Canada reminded me how different Japan is from China.  More interestingly, I stayed at a hotel near Tokyo Tower and took some lovely shots of the fascinating structure.  Here's a bit more information about Tokyo Tower, soon to be overshadowed by a taller structure called the Sky Tree Tower.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower located in Shiba Park, Minato, Tokyo, Japan. At 332.5 metres (1,091 ft), it is the second tallest artificial structure in Japan. The structure is an Eiffel Tower-inspired lattice tower that is painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations.

Built in 1958, the tower's main sources of revenue are tourism and antenna leasing. Over 150 million people have visited the tower since its opening. FootTown, a 4-story building located directly under the tower, houses museums, restaurants and shops. Departing from here, guests can visit two observation decks. The 2-story Main Observatory is located at 150 meters (492 ft), while the smaller Special Observatory reaches a height of 250 meters (820 ft).

The tower acts as a support structure for an antenna. Originally intended for television broadcasting, radio antennas were installed in 1961 and the tower is now used to broadcast both signals for Japanese media outlets such as NHK, TBS and Fuji TV. Japan's planned switch from analog to digital for all television broadcasting by July 2011 is problematic, however. Tokyo Tower's current height is not high enough to adequately support complete terrestrial digital broadcasting to the area. A taller digital broadcasting tower known as Tokyo Sky Tree is currently planned to open in 2012.

Friday, September 17, 2010


If you are curious as to what our LPS (Lean Problem Solving) methodology looks like, here's a water-marked version of the methodology.  If you are interested in finding more about the LPS, please contact us.

Thank you Shanghai

A big "thank you" to the entire Johnson & Johnson team in Shanghai this week as we successfully completed a comprehensive Lean Problem Solving Executive workshop.  Designed to immerse them into an advanced form of problem solving called LPS by Lean Sensei, the session brought new challenges to the participants.  Superb coordination by the local team helped to make this session a true success.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

LSI in Shanghai

This week, I am in Shanghai with Master Blackbelt Kevin Wack to conduct the Lean Problem Solving session.  The three-day executive program was well received and the program brought new insights to the participants from fortune 50 company.  What an exciting week!  Take a look at our brief summary video.

Many thanks to Kevin for co-teaching the session with me and to Hilda and Mayu for supporting the program.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Making glasses in Japan is lean

First of all, my apology for late submission of blog posts.  I have been very busy getting ready for a major Asia trip and had to put the blogging on hold for almost a week.  The good news is that I am now in Japan and will be blogging short insights.  I am off to China on Sunday so I will continue to blog some thoughts during my visit there too.

Making prescription glasses in North America is a hassle

In North America, it takes so long to make glasses that it;s a hassle, not to mention how expensive it is to get one made.  The trips to optometrist or ophthamalogist and a visit to your local eyewear store takes a couple of days of my time typically, and my glasses often cost more than $500.  My solution to this expensive and time consuming activity?  - make glasses in Japan. It took no more than 20 minutes today to get my eyes checked (at the eyewear store here in Tokyo), and then just 30 min to make new glasses. The entire cost? - about $70 for basic glasses.  High prescription and high index lens will increase that price to about $150, but it's still about 80% lower than in Canada or the US.  The frames are great designs and superb quality too, so I always make new glasses here in Tokyo.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Simple Time Management

Do you feel as though your work, studying or chores always end up taking too long? Do you feel as though you could be more effective if only you could stay on task?

Maybe you’re convinced it’s a question of will power, or organization, or motivation. The solution, though, might be very simple.

One of the easiest ways to get dramatic improvements in your productivity is to use a timer. You can grab the one from your kitchen, use the alarm on your phone, or try one of the popular free online timers like or Tick Tock Timer.

When you’ve got a timing ticking away, you’ll suddenly discover a new sense of focus which you never knew you had. Here are five specific ways in which your timer will help:

Writing and Working Faster

A lot of the writers I know – of fiction and of non-fiction – use timers to focus for specific periods. It’s all too easy to get distracted when you’ve told yourself that you’ll spend a whole morning on that report or article or short story … when you’ve got thirty minutes to sit down and focus, you’re much more likely to get on with the task at hand.

Timers work particularly well for big tasks without an obvious end point, like clearing your emails. You might not be able to face getting through the whole backlog at once – but spending fifteen focused minutes every day will go a long way to clearing it.

Studying More Effectively

If you’re in school or working towards a qualification, you’ll be spending at least some of your time studying. Your brain can’t focus on learning for hours on end – experts think that it’s best to concentrate for between 25 and 45 minutes, then take a break to recharge.

Next time you sit down to study, try setting a timer for thirty minutes. It’s a lot easier to stay focused and motivated when you know you have a break coming up.

Getting Through Chores

Most of us hate doing chores, and often end up putting them off – which only means they end up being more of a pain! You might well feel the same. One technique that works really well is to spend just five to fifteen minutes on something – it’s surprising how much you can get done.
FlyLady popularized the idea of using a fifteen minute timer to tackle chores, and hosts of fans around the internet testify to the effectiveness of this.

All we ask is that you set a timer and spend 15 minutes a day decluttering. That’s it. Anyone can do anything for only 15 minutes, even if you have to break it down into 5 minutes segments.

(Declutter 15 Minutes a Day – 5 Great Tools That Make it Easy! on

Limiting Your Procrastination

We all need to take breaks in order to remain productive. The problem is, it’s all too easy for a twenty-minute break to turn into two hours of browsing the net and giggling at pictures of cats with silly captions.

When you decide it’s time for a break, set a timer. Give yourself around ten – twenty minutes, depending on what you feel you need. Once that alarm goes off, get straight back on track with your next task. (It helps if you’ve made up your mind what to do next before taking your break.)

Making Phone Calls

How often have you been on the phone with someone for far longer than you meant to? It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re chatting, only to realize that a whole hour’s gone by. If you’re making a call, set a timer going (preferably one which has a silent alert, like a pop-up on the screen). Once the alarm goes off, you’ll be reminded to draw the conversation to a close.

If you’re conducting an interview by phone, this is also a good technique to make sure you don’t have to keep one eye on the clock – you can chat away with your full focus on the conversation, and when your alarm goes off to tell you there’s five or ten minutes to go, you can draw things to a close.