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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Elevator Gang in Japan

Welcome back Blackbelts (aka Elevator gang?? Watch the video to find out)!

As the cherry blossom season has come to an end in Japan, so too has the Blackbelt's trip. However, there is no doubt that the memories and learnings will last. We hope you enjoy the movie summary below.

Blackbelt - Japan Lean Tour - Spring 2014 from Lean Sensei Leanbelt on Vimeo.

Registration for our last Japan benchmarking trip of the year is now open:

Dates: November 17-20, 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Illuminate the World

Lean equips every single employee with the tools to provide utmost value to the customer. Each and every member of the organization has the power to raise the level of quality your business delivers. Your business has the power to influence the lives of others.

Use your light to kindle not only your co-worker's light, but your friend, your sibling, your spouse's light and watch as the world around you illuminates.

Lean Sensei International
Go Transform the World

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lean Roots

Lean – Made in Japan, Born in the USA

We often associate Lean with everything that is good about Toyota or the Toyota Production System (TPS). For some of us, the mystique of Lean may even include all things from Japan and everything about the Japanese people. Looking back in time, however, many of the foundational principles of Lean were not so Asian and were actually born right here in our own backyard.

We know how Henry Ford’s assembly line or flow production transformed the manufacturing process and revolutionized transportation and the American industrial landscape. We also know of Edwards Deming’s “plan-do-check-act” and his teachings to Japanese managers during the post-war period.  Ford and Deming’s work had a significant impact on Japan’s reputation for producing innovative and high-quality products in the 60s and 70s. However, the most significant contribution to TPS that is rarely talked about these days may be The Training Within Industry or TWI service model which was created by the US Department of War, and ran from 1940-1945. The mandate of the TWI service was to provide consulting-style, train-the-trainer service to war-related industries in order to increase the production output to support the war effort. You can read Jim Huntzinger’s article The Roots of Lean[1] for an in-depth study on how TWI had such a profound influence on Lean as we know of it today.

The TWI service identified the Five Needs of the Supervisor:

1.    Knowledge of Work

2.    Knowledge of Responsibility

3.    Skill in Instructing

4.    Skill in Improving Methods

5.    Skill in Leading

These skills were taught to supervisors and experienced workers through training sessions which included:

1.    Job Instruction (JI) – Based on the credo: “If the worker hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught”

It provided guidelines for trainers to coach inexperienced workers so that they can work according to the standard.

2.    Job Methods (JM) – The underlying goal was to empower workers by having them evaluate their own jobs objectively and analytically on factors such as efficiency, safety, quality, quantity and cost.

3.    Job Relations (JR) – Provided guidelines for supervisors to handle workers fairly and with respect under the principle that “people must be treated as individuals.”

4.    Program Development (PD) – For trainers (Sensei) to continue training others to solve production problems.

The TWI program was well received in post-war Japan and formed the basis of the Kaizen and Standard Work culture in industry, particularly at Toyota. Harnessing this mindset and incorporating Taiichi Ohno’s Just-in-Time concept and Sakichi Toyoda’s principle of Jidoka are what resulted in today’s Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way.

I’m certain that there are some people who feel that it is difficult to become a Lean organization without having the “cultural roots of the Japanese” - well think again! For starters, many of the key components of Lean that are familiar to us such as Kaizen, Muda, Sensei, Gemba and JIT actually have their roots in North America - but were adopted, evolved, and improved in Japan.

In North America we tend to prefer controlling over engaging, commanding over coaching, adding/subtracting over improving, which makes the environment more difficult for lean. We’ve got let go of our need to control our people. Instead, engage them in making their jobs better through kaizens and develop them through proper coaching and mentoring. By making them part of the solution to the problem, the chances of a more effective sustainment will be much greater than if they were simply told how to fix it. This approach is the essence of TWI which played a significant role in the evolution of the problem solving and people developing culture at Toyota. And what are the results after just a few short decades? According to Fortune’s list, Toyota is the eight largest company in the world by revenue as well as the largest manufacturer in existence.

All this is not to say that we do not have great role models locally. Some exceptional organizations such as Medtronics or Dell Computers are present day manifestations of North America’s lean roots. Fortune magazine named Medtronics on their list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.  Access to some of Medronics’ best practices is accessible to you through Lean Sensei’s Florida Benchmarking tour. Of course you would have figured out by now that our Greenbelt and Blackbelt programs were designed many years ago based on the fundamental TWI principle of “train-the-trainer.”  The objective of these programs has always been the same: to prepare and develop people to become a true Sensei to others and eventually reach out to the entire globe.

Go Transform The World!

Coach Bob

[1] The Roots of Lean – Training Within Industry: The Origin of Japanese Management and Kaizen by Jim Huntzinger

Friday, April 25, 2014

Inspiration is in the Cards

“Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places.” One needs only to google this truism to be barraged with overwhelming evidence, but I will add an example by relating my personal story below.

My particular “Eureka” moment happened on a lazy Sunday afternoon while my son Christopher was attempting to teach me and my wife the game of Pokémon. For those who may be unacquainted with this franchise, Pokémon (a contraction of “Pocket Monster”) is a very popular trading-card game that is based on the 1996 Pokémon GameBoy video game created by Satoshi Tajiri. As my son laboriously explained the general rules and subtle nuances of the card game, and I equally laboriously tried to understand said instructions, I suddenly recognized a similarity between elements of this game and project-related staffing challenges frequently faced at work.

For example:

·         In Pokémon, you are limited to the cards that are in your deck. At Alpha, we are limited to the staff comprising our development team.­

·         Prior to actual gameplay, players first need to construct their deck of cards, deciding which victory condition the deck will focus on to win the game, and how it will best achieve this success. At Alpha, we structure and staff our departments to support the planned development activities and overall long-term strategies of the business.

·         Individual cards contain relevant data for the specific Pokémon, such as types, strengths, weaknesses, energy, skill levels and compatibility with other types, just as individual development staff members have their own disciplines, strengths, weaknesses, special skills, experience and compatibilities.

·         When building a deck in Pokémon, players try to make the card types complement each other if possible; balancing their cards using synergies between the cards that will help each other – for example, Water and Electricity are good companions, as are Fire and Grass. At Alpha, we attempt to pair up team members that have demonstrated success when working together, as well as try to separate those who may not be so well-matched.

·         Pokémon players attempt to build a deck that will minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths. At Alpha, we try to assign team members to the types of projects they are best at, and strive to staff the project teams with an optimal mix of experience and skills.

·         And finally, in Pokémon, once you’ve played all the cards in your deck, the game is over – there are no more cards to play. At Alpha, once all the team members are assigned to their allotment of projects, there are no more resources available to take on new projects, at least in theory.

Although all of the above comparisons were interesting and hinted at potentially fun possibilities, it was that last bullet that excited me the most – the physical absoluteness of being out of cards – which I felt could really be exploited to the benefit of the organization. You see, like most corporations, Alpha was challenged by having more projects to work on than available resources to do the work. Also, like most corporations, it was very difficult to say “no” to a customer, and thus equally difficult for the development team to say “no” to a project without an impactful and unambiguous indicator of over capacity. I have always been a little jealous of the manufacturing side of the business, as they have a plethora of lean tools to implement in order to plan, pace, control and communicate. Manufacturing has the regular heartbeat established by Takt; the smoothing of production via the Heijunka box and Kanban cards; the stoppage of the line and signal of a problem triggered by the Andon cord. Where were all of the neat tools for the product development half of the business? Where were our Takt, Kanban, and Andon cords? We were being constantly pushed, where we would much prefer to pull.

Now, I suddenly found myself literally holding the answer in my hands with the Pokémon cards. If only these cards represented the various engineers, designers, program and product managers, testers, technicians, manufacturing and quality engineers, and other personnel that made up core project teams. I imagined dealing out project teams until all the cards were spent and my hands were empty – how much clearer and absolute of a signal could there be than that! I pictured the raw power of the senior management team having to physically pluck cards out of competing projects if they wanted to insert a new project, with the obvious impacts and implications immediately visible on-the-spot! My imagination was getting the best of me as I started to think of the possibilities. Could I incorporate individual career development onto the cards – training, skills assessment, experience level? Would an analog to purchasing a “booster deck” of Pokémon trading cards be the utilization of contractors, term employees and/or outsourcing? Would it be better to use actual photographs or more fun to come up with artistic renditions of team members? It was evident by this time that my mind was elsewhere and I wasn’t going to be a very fun Pokémon opponent, so I bribed my son with some PlayStation time and escaped to Staples and Canadian Tire for supplies.

The next day I shared the idea with the Leader of Continuous Improvement and Director of Program Management at Alpha. Both immediately saw the potential, so we started working on a conceptual prototype. Gradually, the initial card-based idea evolved and grew into a total visual resource management system including:

·         large whiteboard “spreadsheets;”

·         magnetic default project trays color-coded by product family and project complexity;

·         product family based decks of cards individually colour-coded by discipline;

·         transparent card-overlays for identifying lead engineers, unrequired team slots and understaffed conditions;

·         a quarterly calendar section;

·         and additional magnetic pieces for indicating important dates, project status and performance-bonus targets.

Since implementing the Engineering Pokémon board, we have witnessed a substantial decrease in the problems faced prior to implementation, including less shuffling of resources and priorities, fewer incidents of overloading or over-multitasking, and a near elimination of “under-the-table” or “back-door” projects. Additionally, the Engineering Pokémon board has become a show-piece for factory tours, as well as acting as the new “water cooler” in that small groups tend to coalesce around the board and discuss project-related issues. As my cubicle is just adjacent to the board, this has provided to me the added benefit of keeping a pulse on various programs and an early-warning-indicator of potential troubles brewing.

Insightful words from guest blogger, Steve. Read his bio below:

When Steven Pratt is not busy by being inspired by one of his six children, he spends his time as the Director of Engineering, Power Systems for Alpha Technologies Ltd (Alpha). Steve obtained a Bachelors and Masters of Mechanical Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology, and holds over 40 issued patents. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Florida, Motorola and ASQ certified Six Sigma Black Belt and has participated in numerous Lean Sensei facilitated in-house Lean training programs at Alpha. Steve has led and is heavily involved in internal kaizen projects. He has successfully applied Six Sigma and Lean tools and principals to enact positive change throughout his career.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oh! Oklahoma - Tulsa Greenbelt kicks off this week

The Tulsa Greenbelt program kicked off this week in sunny Oklahoma with Lean training and a 5S Kaizen.

Group photo:

Value Stream Mapping:
Kaizen group discussion:
Getting details on the project areas:
Keep checking back for further updates with this group as we move into our Summer programs. For more information on our programs, please visit our website at:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!


"The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity...that's all there is. That's the whole economy. That's where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world."
-G. Nelson

We know in Lean that it is very important to step back and reflect, to take a look at the larger picture. It is often forgotten or taken for granted that we are sustained and nourished by the Earth, and would not be here if it wasn't for Earth's abundance and wealth.

Let's take a moment today to deeply reflect about in what ways we are respecting the Earth and how we can improve our organizations and our lives to be more eco-friendly and sustainable.

In the following report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Lean Manufacturing and the Environment, you can access more information and recommendations on how to develop and execute an action plan for becoming more environmentally friendly as you implement Lean.

A few examples cited in the EPA's "The Lean and Energy Toolkit":

  • From 2005 – 2007, General Electric reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 250,000 metric tons and saved $70 million in energy costs.
  • A Baxter International facility combined Six Sigma and energy-efficiency efforts to save $300,000 in energy costs in one year.
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America has reduced average facility energy consumption per vehicle by 30 percent since 2000.
More resources:
Ignoring the 8th Deadly Waste
The Lean and Environment Toolkit
Lean, Energy, and Climate Toolkit

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thank you Japan

The Blackbelts have completed their mission for module 3 Japan tour with a resounding success! They managed to visit all the factories on time, on schedule and with no issues and even delivered  multiple flash mobs in public!

Thank you everyone for yet another memorable and amazing Japan Lean Tour - this trip will be remembered as a life enhancing event for Blackblets who are getting ready for the final module upon return. 

Some of the best photos of Japan ...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Japan Lean Tour Day 4 guest blogger is Mr. Dave Serba. Read this great post to find out what inspired him!

As we closed out our final day, we visited our last 2 facilities.  These were arguably the most impactful tours we took…..Mitsubishi Nagoya Works and Toyota.  The Mitsubishi Nagoya Works (MNW) focuses on factory automation and mechatronics.  The level of organization and “5S” within this facility was inspirational.  Having discussed with many in our group, this was the most impressive display of cleanliness and organization in a manufacturing or machine shop many of us have ever seen.  Everything had a place from micro hand tool to large carts and equipment.  More impressive than having a place for everything, was the fact that everything was in its place!  Not near, or close to its place, everything was located directed within the lines identifying it’s The sustainment of this “everything in its place” culture was incredible!  MNW is a great example of vertical integration.  After viewing the manufacturing process of large scale industrial  equipment, we headed inside to see the manufacture of the hundreds of circuit boards that drive the equipment.  Again, what a great example of Lean principles.  Each of the U cells within the process were assembling different components that would comprise the controls mechanisms for factory automation. Each piece was individually tracked through bar code scanning.  An employee would scan the piece at each stage of process and also scan their own employee card.  This allows for the real time tracking of the manufacture of each piece, parts replenishment trigger (Kanban), and also accountability for error proofing.  Also to note, the team at MNW was able to quickly and efficiently produce circuit boards with more than 400 parts on a 3” by 3” board, while it took our group 5 mins (and many attempts) to simply switch our shoes to slippers and get organized.  We have some work to do!
Next we were off to Toyota City, motherland to the Toyota manufacturing empire and birthplace of the Toyota Production System (TPS).   We were greeted by 2 tour guides, a senior guide and a trainee.  In Japan, April is the start of a new work year and as such, new employees can be seen all over the country being trained and coached by experienced and tenured employees.    The facility we visited was over 1,600,000 sq. meters, employed over 4100 team members, and manufactured the Crown, Mark X, and Estima models.  I would be challenged to explain this experience in less than 10 pages, but will speak to what inspired me.  Two things stood out for me, the actually process and the culture.  It’s truly impressive to see a production line that can produce hundreds of different products….sequentially.  This example of “just in time” production is incredible.  The same line will produce any model, any colour or feature, any drivetrain (hybrid or gas), and any even drive orientation (RH or LH) all in sequence!  It was like watching a well-orchestrated ballet.  The pace was well balanced and did not feel hectic at all.  This is a direct result of the culture at Toyota.  High above the production work being done by humans and machines, were banners that explained why.  “Good thinking = good products”  This simple statement says it all.  Every employee (and supplier) at Toyota takes pride in what they are creating.  They quickly identify and rectify any potential defects that may arise.  They would never send a defective product on to the next step.  Our guide explained that there is no need for an abundance of inspectors walking the line as “all workers are inspectors”.  This hit home for me.  Imagine the quality and efficiency increase you could make in your organization if we all thought like this!  What a great way to wrap up and incredible week in Japan.  Now we take this momentum back to North America with us to “Transform the World”!

Dave Serba

Japan Lean Tour Flash Mob - With a suprising twist!

The Japan Lean Tour Blackbelts took a moment out of their busy schedule to get funky with a flash mob in a busy area in Tokyo, Japan. Dancing to a 1975 chart-topper, the group managed to engage and convince some Japanese junior high-school students to join in the fun as well.

This group has some serious moves!

Japan Lean Tour Day 4 - Today we visited Mitsubishi Nagoya Works andToyota Motomachi.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 3 of the Japan Lean Tour wraps up. Today we toured the Kirin Beer Factory and the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology.


Here is a powerful and introspective blog post from one of our participants, Randhir Sanghera.

I knew when I embarked on my lean journey that it would be stimulating, challenging, allow for personal development and that I would be pushed beyond my comfort zone at some point. Through the Greenbelt training program I gained a broader conceptual and application understanding of the basics of the lean toolkit, be it 5S (sort, stabilize, shine, standardize and sustain), value stream mapping (VSM), root cause analysis and Value Innovation, theories which I had previous working knowledge of from the UK. The Blackbelt training program has added greater depth, strategic lean thinking and understanding of the methodology at a more holistic level.
For me the significance of keeping things simple, visual and uncomplicated really takes on new meaning. There are so many examples of how we and technology have added a layer of unnecessary complexity to how we carry out some of our process and to some extent how we limit ourselves by the way we think. I saw many examples of how lean thinking organizations make processes easy to understand through the use of basic visual aids. It's basically so simple that's its complicated to grasp how it would work, if you know what I mean. The saying, "a picture speak a thousand words" really takes on a new meaning.
All being said, for me the delivery and implementation of these basic theories and principals alone has not been the decisive factor for the success of the organization we visited in Japan. There is more to it than that. I don't want to make a big statement about the Japanese culture and that it's the underlying reason for their success. Rather, I would state that it goes deeper than that, maybe there's something to do with a certain mindset, values, loyalty a sense of honour and overwhelming pride in what they do and how they go about doing it. The customer really is king in Japan.
Another aspect of the business psyche that comes through loud and clear is the importance of self reflection, Hansei as it's called in Japan. I can not see how self reflection would not eradicate the challenges associate with the term "old habits and fixed ideas". Maybe, we need to take a step back here and reflect on the power of Hansei. There is reverence in the term Takumi, which is giving to individual who reach an innate level of competence in their profession. I wonder, how this level of competence could be reached without reflection and a desire to strive towards perfection, whatever perfection means. The Japanese believe that perfection is akin to True North, a journey which never ends. If only we could somehow instill this mentality into our lives and workplace, wouldn't the world be a better place.
For me in business and life in general, it starts with values, through which culture can be developed and reflected upon to ensure you stay on the right path.  

Day 2 Blog Manager, Ruslan Ilyushenko reports on our activities and aspecial trip to Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market

Day 2 -- Lean Sensei Japan tour. Today we visited the Toyoda Logistics and Forklift facility to get a first glimpse of the Toyota Production System. Immediately we were immersed in the culture of flowing value to the customer and eliminating waste out of the value stream. There seemed to be a harmonious combination of high-tech and low-tech "common sense" tools to flow product and information through the system and to the customer. Visual boards and mistake proofing tools were everywhere. 
Among many "aha!" moments, a few stood out for me:
1. Waste comes from old habits and fixed ideas. Do not be afraid to challenge the status quo.
2. "UFO" at Toyota means something different. It loosely translates as "if you rush and cut corners, you will make a fool of yourself and make waste"
3. If you start dancing in the middle of the street, more people will eventually join you in the fun. :)

I am writing this at 4:00 am in the morning of day 3 while waiting in line to see the famous Tuna Auction. Lean thinking is present here too. We wear color coded vests, that tell who is in group one and who is in group two for the auction tour. When they run out of vests, it means the group is full. We got the Poka-Yoke down, now if only we could eliminate the 90 minute wait.
Day 3 activities start in 5 hours. Bring it on!...

Best regards,


Waiting to get into the fish market. Colour coding ensures effective visual management.