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Learning the Social and Technical Aspects of Lean on the Kentucky Lean Leadership Tour

by Lean Leaper
August 23, 2019

Learning the Social and Technical Aspects of Lean on the Kentucky Lean Leadership Tour

by Lean Leaper
August 23, 2019 | Comments (0)

Josh Howell: Welcome everybody, and thanks to John Shook and Jamie Bonini for joining me in a conversation about an upcoming joint activity between Toyota and the Lean Enterprise Institute that we call the US Lean Leadership Tour. It’s going to take place October 7 through October 11 in Kentucky, where we will be visiting three sites: GE Appliances, Toyota Motor Company, and Summit Polymers. In preparation for the tour, I’ve asked Jamie and John, who will be two leaders, to describe the experience they’ve had on previous tours and highlight some of the key aspects of the upcoming tour.

Jamie Bonini: There's huge misunderstandings about the Toyota Production System (TPS) that we're working very hard to clarify in this tour. We define the Toyota Production System as an organizational culture. It's organizational, not just manufacturing, and it's a culture of highly engaged people, solving problems to drive performance: an overall culture of engagement that drives performance. The tour participants are going to see that in all three places.

This culture is created and sustained by the system, and has three elements. One third is a philosophy, one third is technical tools, and one third is the managerial or the leadership role, which is to design an organizational structure that is capable of solving problems one by one as they occur. For this tour we're going to emphasize the managerial role more than the technical tools, and we'll be able to see that managerial role on three different sites.

John Shook: To expand on Jamie's response, it's worth noting that you mention technical tools only. And one of the misunderstandings I think we want to correct is that all those technical tools of TPS are actually social tools at the same time, when we use them correctly.

Think of any of the technical tools of lean that you may have learned. We often apply them only halfway, which is the technical use. All of them enable a social dimension of how we should behave as well. So whether you're thinking about the kanban for example, where you're taking responsibility for the action of using the kanban to do kaizen down at the level where the work is taking place so you're cascading responsibility to that level.

The powerful thing about all these lean tools, TPS tools, is that they are both social and technical. And if you only use the technical side, you're missing out on half the value, which means you're probably missing out on more than that because you're not going to be able to get the full value out of it. So that's one of the things that we're going to be able to experience throughout that week. We'll look at a lot of misconceptions around the managerial side: around how people keep their mind on purpose as they use the tools, and not just copy and use the technical side, but also stay mindful about the social side.

Josh Howell: You mentioned earlier that Toyota in Kentucky, Summit Polymers, and GE Appliances have been at this for different amounts of time: 10 years or so for GE Appliances, 25 for Summit, and then over 30 there at TMMK. What is the value for learners to see that kind of variety?

JS: One thing that's powerful about this variety is that it's no accident that the number is three. Anytime you see one of one thing, you've seen one. You see one snowflake, you've seen one. And you can't place it with any kind of perspective into a broader scheme of things. Even if you see two, that really doesn't give you the ability to do what you can do with three, which is to triangulate. And that's a term of geometry and also something that surveyors do, because you can't place yourself with perspective unless you see three things.

GE Appliances has been at this for 10 plus years. They're also part of the GE organization which is over 100 years old, and they were undertaking a massive transformation that started a little over 10 years ago. So we can see what they've been through, not only what they are today. They'll tell the story of their journey.

And then in Georgetown (Toyota), we'll see an organization that was designed to be lean, from the ground, from day one, and was built really on big ideas, bringing a system, a fully mature system from Japan.

Summit Polymers was a greenfield who came to TSSC as it was building the plant in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, and said, "We're just about to build this thing in order to supply Georgetown, so why don't you help us to make it the way it should be from the very beginning?" All they had in the beginning was four walls and a floor, and so they've been going on quite a journey that last couple of decades as well.

So being able to see all three enables you to understand more deeply, and also to relate that back to whatever your circumstance may be.

JB: Here's what I've learned about the value for the learners. We've done this a few times and I've had a chance to debrief with the participants at the end of the week, and the feedback has been very positive about seeing that evolution and seeing different organizations at different states. But I think vastly more important is, I've had a chance to visit a number of the companies several months afterwards, and asked them what is of value three to four months later. And universally what I've heard from everyone is that seeing organizations at different stages of evolution helps them get a better image about how this might evolve in their case.

JH: I've definitely heard from people who have visited companies that are far along in their path that that can be kind of intimidating—almost like how could we possibly achieve that state? So being able to see various companies at different points along that sort of journey can be helpful. More relatable.

JB: And seeing the company that is in an advanced state, and listening to and seeing what they're doing, listening to what they have to say, very often reveals some fundamental building blocks that they take for granted tacitly. These practices can be fundamental towards the early phase of a journey. And it can be a little deceptive if you go to an organization like a Toyota factory that's been at it a long time to not really see or grasp some of the foundational items that they take for granted.

Josh: This is the second year for Toyota and the Lean Enterprise Institute to partner on this activity. When this activity began, what was the sort of problem that Toyota and LEI were trying to solve by offering this experience?

JS: It's a great opportunity for LEI and Toyota to be able to cooperate and work together. Each organization can bring its own strengths, and we offer those strengths to the participants throughout the week in the form of observations as we're walking alongside by side looking at these companies, as well as in the reflections that we'll be doing every day.

JB: I think that what hadn’t been done before was a workshop that showed organizations that were at a different evolution in their journey, in a one compressed week, in tight succession. To my knowledge, that hasn’t been done before and we thought that we wanted to see how that would play out for participants to help them with their learning.

And the second thing that I don't think has been done before, is that we're seeing a set of TPS tools and practices that come together cumulatively at the end of the week. This is a good package deal with two assembly lines and then one sort of replenishment type system at Summit. I think those two things, the evolution and the set of different practices, has made it very relatable and accessible for the participants.

JYS: A broader problem to solve has to do with what Jamie mentioned earlier, which is helping clarify many of the misunderstandings out there. And even if you set the misunderstandings aside, I think that what often happens is people may have some conceptual understanding of what lean is, or what the Toyota way is, or TPS, but what they should actually do about this is a very different matter. There's a professor at Stanford whose work I tend to like quite a lot named Robert Sutton, who talks about the “knowing-versus-doing gap.” And I think this is a huge gap in the United States, and in industry, where we have a great deal of smart leaders who take executive education courses and read many books on lean and understand a lot of things such as TPS conceptually, but they still don't know what they should do.

And this tour gives people an opportunity to really connect to that. They can see how the concept, the underlying philosophies, translates into their behavioral changes on their own behalf, and what kind of systems and work processes they can put in place in their companies.

JH: Will folks get the opportunity to get a little closer to the action so to speak?

JYS:  We're really lucky in that all three of the companies have agreed to let us get out on the floor and see what's actually happening. I don't think we'll be actually kicking machines, but we'll be close enough to them that we could, and we'll be right there where the action is. And as we see what's happening, we try to focus on that, and then step back and reflect on it afterward as well. So this is not just “drive-by” industrial tourism: we’re able to get inside and see what happens and reflect on it.

JH: You mentioned this is a week-long experience, which is a lot of time for folks to commit. But what is it about that sort of length of time that adds value in this instance?

JYS: Well, we can experience or read about something and think we know it, but sometimes you need “soak time,” you need to sleep on it, and it's helpful to be able to sit back and then discuss it with someone. One of the powerful things that happens during this week is you're able to reflect alongside other learners, people from other companies. Sometimes it's a similar industry to yours, sometimes very different. And you're able to share your reflections, your thoughts. So you can do that both with us from LEI, from Toyota, but also with each other.

And you can use in the following week when you go home. Starting with the day you get back. There will be some longer-term changes to make, but what could you do that day, an action you could take that day? We try to keep that kind of thinking out of the moment when you're on the plant floor during the visit and bring that to bear later. We spend Friday of that week focusing on the challenges of each company. So as we go through the first four days trying to just really learn, be an open-minded learner, we'll spend Friday thinking about what you can do when you go back. And hopefully, you'll have a plan that you can begin to put into place Monday when you go back to work.

JB: Yeah, the most important thing is to go back to your company and take some meaningful action. We find that learning the Toyota Production System is about 10% conceptual understanding, which you can get by reading and seminars, 10% exposure, by seeing sites that are doing this, which is what we're going to do during this week, which is great. And then 80% is hands-on application—like when you learn to ride a bicycle, or learn to swim, or play chess. TPS is deeply and fundamentally learned by doing, so therefore my biggest piece of advice is based on the insights from this tour. Go back and take some meaningful action in your home environment, wherever you are in your lean transformation, and that will deepen your understanding and ability to actually move forward in a practical way.

Josh: Is that the kind of thing that you find is easy for people to do on their own? Or should they have help in some way?

JB: Our experience is there are very, very few organizations that have been able to learn and apply the Toyota production system with much depth without high-quality coaching or assistance. And I would call that support, on-site because this is intentionally learned by doing. So, in general, that's the approach that we have found most effective.

However, I do think some folks could get some meaningful insights out of this learning tour that they could tweak and adjust and refine with work that they're already doing. They may not need to have some additional on-site coaching or support. We've designed this in a way that we hope that people will get those insights. And I think the most important insight is the leadership or managerial role—which is what most companies miss. Most organizations see the Toyota Production System as a collection of technical tools, assuming that if we install the tools, we'll get the results. And that is a deep misconception. 

So for folks that join this tour, we hope that at the end of the week they will really understand the definition of what is the Toyota Production System. Because we’ve found there are lots of misunderstandings around this. The Toyota Production System is an organizational culture of highly engaged people, solving problems or innovating to drive performance. It's a culture of engagement driving performance. And it's organizational wide. That culture is created by a system, and that system is like a three-legged stool, it has three pieces that have to work together, a philosophy about how to run the organization and treat your people that underlies some technical tools, principally under just-in-time and jidoka, and finally a leadership role which is to design an organization and engage and develop people to solve problems to drive performance.


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