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I'm Michael Ballé, Ask Me Anything

by Michael Ballé
August 27, 2014

I'm Michael Ballé, Ask Me Anything

by Michael Ballé
August 27, 2014 | Comments (82)

Hello, I’m Michael Ballé, co-author of The Gold Mine, The Lean Manager, and most recently, Lead With Respect. I’ve been studying Lean for the past 20 years, first as a researcher, then as a workshop facilitator, then as designer of corporate lean programs and now as a CEO executive coach.

These days I’m thinking about questions like:

  • What does it mean to manage others in the 21st century as we move towards a knowledge society?
  • How can we reconcile companies and their customers, management and employees, performance and creativity?
  • Is there a way to teach both strong leadership and caring for people?

But what would YOU like to know about the challenges of implementing Lean? What problems are you working on with your lean work? This is your chance to ask me anything! So, go ahead, ask your questions in the comments below and I’ll respond to your questions here on the Post!

 

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  books,  leadership,  respect
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82 Comments | Post a Comment
Nicholas M August 27, 2014
Michael, is there a lean way to start an activity from scratch?

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Michael Ballé August 27, 2014
7 People AGREE with this reply
A lean activity, right? Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Isn't that a Lincoln quote? Starting lean is much like starting Tai Chi - first read the books, then co to the conference in the park, then join a small practice group, then ask the instructor to be your private sensei and then one day she'll direct you to her sensei and so on. Plunging in with the first available consultant to do a kaizen blitz is the best known way to hurt yourself - and we have twenty years experience with people doing exactly that. Lean is unique in that it now has a lot of recorded evidence, so before starting anything, I'd definitely read all the fundamental books such as Lean Thinking, Toyota Way, Lean Turnaround, Toyota Kata and so on, and get a feel for the aims and the values of lean, not just the activities. The four hours sharpening the axe may seem long, but you'll definitely recoup that effort in the mid term!

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Mark Graban August 27, 2014
Yes, that's Lincoln:

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahamlin109275.html#YObbOkH77LU5cwg0.99


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Oriol Cuatrecasas August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
Hi! What can we do when someone "needs" a detailed calendar for the whole lean path?

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Jean-Philippe RIGAUX September 05, 2014
Hi Michael. Hope you're doing well !
I fully understand your answer, and however I'd like to ask you: wouldn't you recommend to start something anyway (in the mean time, during the first four "hours"), to learn by doing ? Try -> succeed or fail -> learn
My experience is that we learnt a lot by doing mistakes during the first years of our lean journey. And we keep on learning  everyday =).
 


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Michael Balle September 06, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
It all depends of what you mean by right away :). I certainly wouldn't recommend to do anything before observation, discussion and 1) a clear statement of the problem we think we're trying to solve, 2) a clear statement of our success conditions and 3) a clear statement of how we intend to go about it and what key skills we might need bolstering to succeed. I agree that we learn from our mistakes but, with two important caveats:
1) we learn if we recognize its' a mistake, which means epiphany on the fundamental misconception that led us to this or that;
2) some mistakes you don't recover from because the political risk of admitting you were wrong (when others supported, signed off or followed you) feels too high.
So aim, aim, aim then fire - it doesn't have to take long, but think before you lean!


Rachel August 27, 2014
If my organization wants to do lean and we have a committed team, how important is it that we also have a sensei teaching us lean? I've read the book and it seems like having someone in this role is important, if not essential, but not everyone has a reliable lean sensei they can learn from.

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
2 People AGREE with this reply
Ouch. This is indeed one of the trickiest questions of lean. I have to say outright that I have - so far - not come across any successful, sustainable lean effort without a sensei's involvement. We've all been scratching our heads about this, and the answer seems to be that a lot of the lean knowledge is in the lean tradition - according to context, principles can be interepreted very differently.

Also, without a sensei, they're a very human tendency to focus on learning more about what we already know, rather than face our real problems - where we feel clueless and vulnerable. Certainly, my sensei always turn me back to face what I don't know how to deal with, rather than listen to me being happy with myself about what I do know.

A further difficulty, of course, is finding the right sensei. Real senseis are themselves in a tradition (I count degrees of separation with Taiichi Ohno). They're rare, expensive and difficult to work with. How do you know the guy in front of you IS a sensei?

One motivation Freddy and I shared in writing the Gold Mine trilogy is to share with others the feeling of working with a sensei - it's both tough, disturbing and exhilerating (you go from aha! to aha!). The books can't ever replace a sensei, but we hope they can help people in picking the right sensei.


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Joy August 27, 2014
What are some criteria to use when selecting the "right" sensei?

Assuming I find the "right" sensei, based upon your experience, what phases or feelings should I expect to go through as I go from "aha! to aha!" (e.g. denial, anger, acceptance, delight??) 




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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
My experience is this:
1) denial there is a problem - denial is not a river in Egypt, it's very real. Usually, in the form: I realize this is not ideal, but there's nothing I can do about it.
2) suing a tool to face the problem, and a first not-so-succesful kaizen effort that doesn't fix anything but clarifies the problem considerably. This is massive progress, but it feels really bad.
3) then think about it and sticking with it. For instance, I tell people trying flow-and-layout workshops that I am willing to listen at their fifth workshop, and to talk to them at their tenth, never their first. What they have to say at 10 is very different than at 1st.
4) oddly, after a while it gets more comfortable, fun even - which is usually when we start having the first aha! moments
5) and whn the sensei just pulls the rug from under your feet, and the whole process starts again.

On the upside I've been doing this stuff for 20 years now, and it's not got boring yet :)


Rachel August 27, 2014
Thanks for your answer. So if working with the right sensei is important, how do people find the right sensei?

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
If we accept the tradition aspect of it, I think of it as kung fu: you read the book, you go to the practice in the park, you join a small study group, you meet senseis, you hear about other's experiences and eventually you find the teacher that works for you. I know it sounds glib, but I really believe that the journey part of it is formative to lean wisdom beyond the lean vocbulary. 

The first step is to accept the importance of having a sensei. The next step is realizing that your first sensei won't be your last and that as you progress it's ok to seek other sensei. Personally, I think it's important never to face problems alone. Every time I thought on my own "I've got it" - "it" turned out to be the wrong thing :)


Dan Riley August 27, 2014
My observation is that companies that train some of their select employees to become senseis do better than those who bring in oursiders as senseis...if only because it eliminates the taint of being an outsider.

Dave August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment
While lean at it's core increases capacity vs reducing cost, is there an effective way to get low margin, cost focused companies in the process industry to see the benefits of lean methods?

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
2 People AGREE with this reply
I'm not sure thining in terms of "companies" is very helpful - I've not yet see a company adopt lean. I believe Jim and Dan hit it square on the mark when they called it lean thinking: it's a way of thinking, a way of looking at business situations. 

Individuals can learn to think that way, and experience shows that when they do, it brings them satisfaction and growth. I have see CEOs adopt lean thinking, and this influences every one else in the company. A great description of how this works can be read in Art's The Lean Turnaround.

Yet, even when the CEo learns to think lean, not every one follows or agrees. It's interesting to see in a firm when the CEO thinks lean and some of his direct reports as well, but others don't at senior level. A few years down the line we can see the effects on the company with deparments working in different way.

It is very possible that the CEO of a process industry company should adopt lean thinking (indeed, it must have already happened), but that is no guarantee that lean thinking would spread in process industry. As economist often remark: performance variation within an industrial sector is greater than across sectors - a fundamental argument for learning.


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Mark Graban August 27, 2014
Different type of question (you said "ask me anything) -- why write business novels as opposed to more straight forward textbook style books? I think readers would be interested in your thoughts about why you like that approach personally or why you think it's helpful.

Thanks!


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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
6 People AGREE with this reply
Hi Mark,

Good question. Truth is we originally intended to write manuals (I'm not overly fond of the business novel form myself), but two things happened: first, Freddy was bored with what we wrote and second, it was very frustrating to have to force a linear structure on the system there was no good way to show the systemic nature of lean.

By switching to storytelling we could both go deeper into practice rather than theory (which Freddy hates) and also, through the dialogue, show connections.

It turned out that the novel format also led to something substantially different: the feeling of lean happening. You can describe all the theory and even practical examples you like, but you'll never share how it feels to do lean, to work with a sensei, to have to convince people, to deal with emotional resistance and so on.

In the end, we found a way to share not just the explicit, but also something of the tacit feel of lean - and, I have to confess, as a writer it has been much more fun to make these characters come to life.


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Mark Graban August 27, 2014
Thanks! And I normally don't read novels (yet alone business novels), but I'm enjoying "Lead With Respect" so far (although I tend to skim some of the story.

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Ralph McDermott August 27, 2014

Looking forward to the new book!

Is it possible to foster and grow a lean culture with middle management as the driving force?  What would be the keys to success?

Also, what is your favorite color?



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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
2 People AGREE with this reply
Favorite color? Blue. I mean YELLOOOOOOW!

It might be possible, but, personally I've never seen it happen. I even run into trouble when I work with the COO and the CEO is not into lean thinking. In lean we call this the canoe problem. 

In the canoe, some people paddle one direction (say, lean), others paddle the other direction (say, manage by numbers). Most people just sit tight with their paddle in the air waiting to see which side will win. All real divisive questions sooner or later make their way up to the top. When the CEO is not a lean thinker, sometimes he answers one way, sometimes another on the merit of each question. As a result, the direction is never resolved and the canoe doesn't move.

Again, I'm not sure I understand lean as either culture or company. Lean thinking is to my mind an individual way to seeing and acting. When you get several lean thinkers in the same bus, then you  get lift-off. If you have one unfortunate lean thinker alone in a team of manage-by-numbers colleagues, she's going to get rather frustrated and unhappy.

As a middle-manager you can certainly run your department in a lean way, but I doubt it'd be easy to convince all your colleagues (I can see how hard it is even when it's the CEO teaching lean).

I'm not saying it can't happen - I'm saying I've never come across that situation. 

Now, my turn to ask a question :): what is airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? 


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Jair Reitsma August 27, 2014
What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
but I don't know that AAAAAAAHR!

Ralph McDermott August 27, 2014
Thank you for the response. 

I think it is important to understand the purpose of his flight.  Is it for the experience of flying or hunger or the scenery or a hot date?  These could all affect his velocity; they would certainly affect mine. 

Ok, probably took it too far, but finding solutions is often about pushing the limits and understanding the motivations of those involved. 
Regards.


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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
LOL

Josh August 27, 2014
Great response, I have seen this "canoe" effect first hand.  So, what options do we have for those of us "stuck in the middle"?

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
Choose sides :)). Looking up to someone as a role model has a disproportionate impact on your career as no one can't help mimicing our models. I'm certainly very grateful to Dan Jones, Orry Fiume, Art Smalley, Jeff Liker and Jacques Chaize for their role modeling (on top of their mentoring).

Erica August 27, 2014

I feel like people often get caught up in "well, we've always done it this way...he's worked here for 20 years, he needs time" kind of talk.

How do you approach this mindset of giving the value-adders the right "time" while continuing to work with them to make things better?



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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
2 People AGREE with this reply
To be honest, I usually agree with them. Nothing gets my goat as surely as lean guys telling some person who's work a process all their life they should do it differently. I mean, where's the respect? (now if the person is an incompetent idiot, that's trickier - but it's rather rare).

I start with visual control - by asking the people who do the job to somehow visualize the difference between what they plan to do and what really happens. The we discuss the gaps. I'm always amazed at how generalities break down into a myriad specific cases, and we get right down to expertise and competence.

Not to say this is simple because although I've not come across yet employees resisting visual control (as long as they own it), middle management does fight back - they don't see the point, it would be too much work to put up a whiteboard with hourly targets (yeah, someone would have to come around and actually read the comments). So it can get rough.

I don't feel having it done it this way for 20years is the problem - it's not being specific enough with what we've been doing for 20 years and whether it works with customers or not that is the issue. Being clear on work traditions is a great starting point. Next step is visual control to reveal problems (aaargh!) and then start solving them. At oeprator level this never seems to be much of a problem - resistance usually comes from middle managers and functional managers, and they have changed jobs every three years, so hardly in a position to have done this for 20 years :)


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Oriol Cuatrecasas August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment
What is your description/definition/feeling of Kata?
Thanks! Good initiative! ... and "less boring"! :-)


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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
Hi Oriol,

You're asking the wrong Mike! I think Mike has done a tremendous job at showing how PDCA is not a mechanical process but one of exploration. One of the real difficulties I come across in introducing lean thinking is that managers expect a quantified target and a plan right away. When you tell them, well, we're going to set up some visual control, look at what problems come up, observe and discuss with the operators and see where this gets us, they get very uncomfortable and awkward. With Kata Mike's really opened that one wide, and explained how lean is a way to move forward without having all the information at hand and learn-by-doing. Deep point!


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Oriol Cuatrecasas August 27, 2014
That's good! Because, probably, managers trying to have a quantified target before, means that don't take in account their people PDCA cycle (showing -maybe- low respect). Good work Mike's!

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Tom August 27, 2014
Lean practice creates fanatics. What is it about lean that triggers such devotion?

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
6 People AGREE with this reply
Well, when you've seen the potential of lean you can't unsee it - it drives you crazy. My personal rule is no lean at home :))). But, come one, you sit at a café and the waiter is cleaning tables rather than come and take your order. You see CEO investing millions in warehouses to fill them with inventory and then try to cut costs by laying off people, which will further damage the company and destroy value for anyone from shareholder to customer to employee - it's hard to stay cool!

Nobel prize economist Joseph Stigliz says it very well in his latest book on creatiuing a knowledge society - a model based on seeking dynamic gains rather than static efficiency is simply superior, both in terms of performance and people engagement. Furthermore, as the Lovins saw in Natural Capital, lean with waste-elimination is the only known method to tackle our very real environmental sustainability problems.

i've never been shy about my opinion that lean is a superior approach both practically and, dare I say it, yes, even morally. No wonder it produces fanatics.

The difficulty, of course is with the fanaticism. I agree with Dan Jones on this, we hate cults. True lean is about developping individual expertise and wisdome, not slavishly repeating formulas. There is an element of mystery in lean that I find fascinating but that fanatics refuse as they want to turn their little bit of lean into an algorithm every one should use.

So I completely dig the fact that lean can turn you into a fanatic (It probably already happened to me a while back), but you can be fanatic about lean without every being, well, a fanatic. My favorite lean practice is seven theories for everything. Open mindedness and teamwork are critical elements to lean thinking, and that doesn't gibe well with true fanaticism.


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Anne-Lise August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Nowadays, there are plenty of new "management theory" based on human ideas and benevolence, sometimes even without managers (like holacracy), so what is the specificity of lean with "respect for people" ?
In your side, have you seen others ways to developing this kind of mindset in firms ?



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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
Lean is rather unique in that it has elements of a science. Contrarily to many other management approahces we now have close to twenty years of documented cases and many of them failures or half-successes, so that makes a big difference with otehr good-sounding management ideologies.

Respect for people is built on a long standing tradition of practice, and it can be learned and taught - which makes it very different from most good ideas out there that are little more than wishful thinking , or worse, wish fulfilment.

Still, many lean consultants now are going the ideology route and not too careful about documenting their hypotheses and successes and failures - whcih weakens the movement, I belive, more than we think. 

I remember meeting Jim Womack decades ago in Turkey and the discussion was about when would GM go into bankrupcy (his timing turned out to be prescient) and when would Toyota reverse to the mean. Ironically, Toyota still shows many signs of lean vigor, as seen by the rediscovery of highly trained employees to teach production to robots and so on, but the lean movement is the one that very much risks reverting to the lean and blurring the difference between true lean thinking and run-of-the mill consulting (you know, strategic clarity, servant leadership, freedom Inc. and so on). 

Irony remains the main driving force of the universe!


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Vikram Bhat August 27, 2014
Hi Micheal, 
big fan of your writing. And have drawn inspiration from your books consistently to implement lean in my organization. Appreciate. respect



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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
Thanks Vikram!

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Vikram Bhat August 27, 2014
Hi ,
when I currently studied the value added time to the lead time we demand from our customers it is about 0.5%.what is a good lean standard to be at. Of course being  close to 100% is a life long aspiration.


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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
No idea, to be honest. I rmember when I used to do Value Stream Mapping workshops, we'd get from 2% to 20% but, honestly, I doubt these numbers mean anything (I'm assuming that you are comparing value added time to total time).

The in-built bias of VSM as oppsoed to Toyota's Material and Information Flow Analysis is that if you're not careful you can easily focus on one product and exclude others. If you have several products in the same flow, no wonder the ratio is small because time of production of B and C is non production of A (or inventory).

I now start with a product process matrix to giure out what the product families are and go at it straight with an objective to reduce set-up time in order to accelerate the flow. Halving set-up time will open so many doors, you don't worry much about process "efficiency" after that - but focus on effectiveness instead: are we making products in the right quantity and the right time and in the right order?


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Pete Abilla August 27, 2014
4 People AGREE with this comment
Consider the following questions:

1: Some people have elevated the role of the value stream map when, at bottom, it's purpose is to document the flow of information and material. But, some lean consultants have what I call "value stream map worship" - they have elevated a tool with a very specific purpose to something much higher than it should be. What do you think? 

2: Related to #1, Lean consultants are, on the whole, misinformed and pass that misinformation to clients. For example, those that begin their lean journey start with creation of product families, current state value stream map, future state value stream map, then fill in the gap. This boilerplate approach is what Ohno would likely call the approach of a "Catalog Engineer". What do you think?

3: What's your view on the leanstartup movement?

4: What about the convergence of Lean and Design Thinking?


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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
Wow. Hmmm.

Value Stream Map worship - I like it. Well, if the only thing you know is a hammer, you'll treat everything as a nail :)

You've hit one of my pet peeves here. I have a reputation for disliking consultants which I don't believe is quite fair because I doubt I've ever disliked anything in the plural. What does get to me is that consultants don't impose on themselves the same learning discipline they ask of their clients. I mean, it's very easy to be the guy who says "you should do this or that" and not have to learn yourself.

What I personally found in lean was a rigorous method that supports thinking, not applying, competence, not compliance. I guess that boilerplate solutions work in boilerplate situations - but how many of these do you know?

Lean startup movement? No set idea. Jury's still out on that one. I co-wrote the preface to the French edition of Eric Ries' book and am a great fan of the book. The cusotmer orientation is certainly something we've not developped as much as we could have in lean. On the other hard, shifting from PDCA to Build-Measure-Learn takes out the "Plan" (to some extent the "think, think, think") step of the cycle, so... In any case, I don't subscribe to generalities and I believe true knowledge is in specific cases, so, the question is how many specific cases of a successful (or failed) lean startup are published?

Design Thinking? Definitely over my pay grade :)


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Pete Abilla August 27, 2014
2 People AGREE with this reply
Pop Culture Lean Consultants are fond of starting with the value stream map. Yet, at Toyota I don't remember ever beginning with Information and Material Flow Analysis. It was almost always one of the last steps.

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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
LOL, I remember a Toyota consultant at a supplier once checking his secret book of MIFAs to figure out some logistics conundrum - Tei-Tei on presses, I never got it. When the supplier guys saw it they begged to be explained, but the sensei said "no can do - if I show you this, you're bound to misuse it."



Steven Leuschel August 27, 2014
Assuming everyone is willing to learn, who do you teach lean to first and why?

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Michael Balle August 28, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
I agree with Art Byrne on this: start from the top. 

The next interesting thing is that the CEO often wants to start in manufacturing because, as Art also says, people don't see lean as a business strategy. The tendency is to start with production and show productivity gains, then tackle logistics and then, eventually, engineering and finally sales.

I've learned the hard way to start with the entire chain right away - if they'll let me. I start with logistics to get the customer deliveries under control. With engineering to understand what kind of product issues we're having. With production with a pull system to figure out quality and flow, which then involves procurement. I have to confess I'm still weak on sales and i don't know much about a lean tradition regarding sales (other than in the problems they cause production and logistics with silly make-the-month policies and promotions).

Starting with engineering right away has turned out a real boon as lean is new to engineers and they haven't had the time to develop the various forms of resistance to weird lean messages we find on the shop floor. My target is to get as quickly as possible to some understanding of Value Analysis and Value Engineering and get engineering and production to work closely together because that's where the real results are. So I'd say:
1. ergonomics workshops in productions
2. sort out logistics to deliver on time
3. Focus on customer quality issues in production
4. reduce set-up times and accelerate flows
5. get engineering involved with kanbans and dojos right away
6. try the first milkruns in procurement upfront

That usually keeps us busy for a couple of years, and forces all the silo heads to work together as a team.


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Gilberto August 27, 2014
Can lean have success if you do not apply also lean accounting concepts in Administration office?
Thanks in advance


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Michael Balle August 28, 2014
I don't know. Orry Fiume, the author of Real Numbers is one of my mentors and we've discussed this many times, but I've personally never come across any issues in that area - maybe european finance is different with the US. I assume that if results are visible enough they'll show up in the numbers in any case. The usually it's so hard to know what is what looking at the accounts that it's a big political fight anyhow. I uderstand how reducing inventory could impact profitability if you use standard costing measures, but I have not been faced with this directly - I've seen it happen, but it was usually lost in the fog of war and all the various other battles regarding delivering to customers better. No opinion on this one, sorry.

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Dan Riley August 27, 2014
 
Michael, as you well know this is a hot button issue with me, and I believe that had the company I watched fail in its lean initiative been more attuned to your lead with respect approach than the "our way or the highway" approach it followed, the initiative would've been more successful. This is not just a lean issue though. Recently I've heard from a guy who goes in to help unions organize and a gal who goes in to help teachers adopt to technology and both  have run into the wall put up by people who take pride in doing their jobs feeling resentful toward outsiders coming in to help them do better. Respect needs, it seems to me, to be a two-way street…and to make it so, the client's employees have to accept that they need help and understand that whoever the company has brought in is there to help (if that's true of course). Does your book address how to make respect run both ways? (And I promise to buy it and read it whether it does or not….)


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Michael Balle August 27, 2014
Ooookay, this is another difficult question. There is a compuslory aspect to lean, and one where listening to people who do the job is essential. Bear with me as I go into it.

The compuslory side of lean is visual control: putting in place the visual element so that we can compare plan to actual and every one can see together, know together, act together. This is usually done through physical organizations or boards. People tend to grumble about this because it exposes gaps between what we're supposed to do and what actually happens - no one fights this harder than middle-management, for obvious reasons.

Now, once the visual management is in place, listening to people IS lean thinking: what are the obstacles they encounter - no shooting the messenger, no pooh-poohing bad news. Problems first is the foundational attitude to lean thinking. And so is supporting initiatives.

My own brand of lean is about three topics for continuous improvement: 1) improve visual controls so that 2) improve individual skills, which 3) leads to improving processes.

I experience contention in the early days of getting a visual control system up to scratch - not equally, to some people it feels just right and they go for it right away, others hate it. But no lean person in their right mind would impose a process change - it it doesn't come from kaizen, it's reengineering, not lean.


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Angela O'Hara August 28, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
Dan, your comment reminds me of the proverb Shook cited in one of his posts: "one can't be a prophet in one's own land".... :)

Lead with Respect is a great read, Michael! Just what I needed in this exact moment--I'm using bits this week as I try to encourage folks to visualize the problems and get comfortable with the discussions that ensue. Challenging but exciting!


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Michael Balle August 28, 2014
By the way, in Lean we all say that we value experiments gone wrong as well as successes but few have the guts to actually write it up and publish them unvarnished.

For all lean officers out there, I recommend Dan's book Look Before You Lean - it describes (painfully at times) exactly the kind of lean project you want to avoid.

Although I disagree with many of Dan's overall conclusions about "lean", I still feel the book should be mandatory reading for any lean guy because I've seen my share of lean implementations that look just like that if the Respect -for-people dimension is misunderstood.

So let's apply lean to ourselves and distinguish OK from NOK in lean implementation - to do so we need to learn both from OK such as in Lean Turnaround, but also NOK such as Look Before You Lean.


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Chris89 August 28, 2014

Dear Michael Ballé! As I respect you and your work I would like to ask something about lean managemant. I am writing my study at the univeresity about the lean improving in my workplace. This Company produce only individual Products (the biggest series was maybe 10-12 unit) , but the process of logistics is low and the Production is not efficient. Is there exist any method of lean, what help us to improve the processes? Thank you!



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Michael Balle August 29, 2014
I look at lean thinking as a system of questions, and then have to figure out the answers, even when they seem counterintuitive. The questions are the same:
1) What is Takt time - even if the products are not the same, they are products, so there is a takt, by value stream?
2)have you visualized on the shop floor planned versus actual?
3) do you list problems and investigate causes and countermeasures?

In high mix low volumes cases, engineering and logistics are usually the key to improve the flow, so you need to look at lean globally and start with engineering as well (what is takt time, who does what at what rhythm, what products do we know how to do right first time, where do we have difficulties) and inbound logistics for odd components and missing parts.

No silver bullet, I'm afraid, just a lot of hard work - start by reading the books about high mix low volume leans, there are several in print now :) Good luck.


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Jet Jacobse August 28, 2014
What advise can you give to us working virtually, across the globe! As a result we can rarely bring folks physically together or put things up on walls in physical environments. Looking forward to your thoughts!

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Michael Balle August 29, 2014
I havet o leve with you, I've never done so - have you come across any Takashi Tanaka's presentations about the virtual Oobeyas he's creating with Dassault Systems?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao29d29W9SI



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scott Ziarnik August 28, 2014
"lean at it's core increases capacity without reducing cost" was a statement posted. How can eliminating waste not save money? Before
we implemented Lean, we were a $50 mil company with 600 people.
Now, we are a 75 mil company with 290 people. Lean is not responsible for all the improvements but Lean did help us achieve
predictable profit, month after month. This gave us capital to purchase
new technology when needed.
    


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Ken Hunt August 29, 2014
Which begs the question - What did you do with 310 people?

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scott ziarnik September 05, 2014

Mostly through attrition. We have never a layoff for more than a few months. If sales decreases, we use voluntary layoffs for 30 days so our people never lose insurance benifits.  
  



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Akay Beyazay August 29, 2014
Hello Sir. I want to know Porsche's success. According to J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Initial Quality Study, Porsche ranks highest among 2014 nameplates IQS and Toyota is fifth. So what is the special factor of the German technic?

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Michael Ballé August 29, 2014
I'm not an automtotive expert :). I've visited Porsche plants and talked to their engineers, they have been doing lean since the mid 1990s, and their focus has been on the reduction of work content through, amongst other things, very smart modularization. The standardization of the assembly process combined with modules gives them quality, variety and low costs. 

Bear in mind that Porsche is a high end brand - high price/high cost equilibrium with a very, very well understood products. Their engineers are some of the best in the world and they understand production issues - top operation by all respects - a purely personal impression because I'v enot studied the matter deeply, sorry.


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Akay Beyazay August 29, 2014
Thanks for your thoughts

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Jay August 30, 2014
I am handling a operation of a business who has a distributor as customers.I have been tying to cultivate lean culture fo 2 years.I lean from my readings about lean as right processes can produce right results so I am not bothered about my numbers but focus on my current state.
This is working really well also, but it is really difficult to make this understand to sales team as most of the orders I am receiving are push orders given to meet order booking KPIs.This orders end up for me as overproduction becasue distributors are only picking them when they actually need them.I tried to explain my management to stop this push sales but i was explained that whereever you go with any business with deales,push sales is very common,
Is this true becasue this is really not helping my end customer? 


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Michael Balle August 30, 2014
Join the club, get in the queue :). This is one of the most frequent problems I've faced with no good answer. there are two big problems here. One, if you're not the CEO, you're back to the canoe issue. Two, lean tradition doesn't have many tools dealing with sales, so we don't quite know how to talk to these guys with confidence.

In terms of "malke the month" this is definitely a CEO issue - as long as the incentive structure rewards salespeople to do bizarre things (such as reserving products in the finished goods inventory knowing that they won't sell them and so on). 

In terms of better working with sales, no silver bullit. What we end up doing is setting up a regular lunch wiht the sales director, to build a relationship before trying to improve. Sometimes we're lucky and it wotrks. I can thin g of at least to sales directors who understood how critical it was to deliver on time. Sometimes it has the opposite effect and the sales guy will use any information you share to reinforce his view that production is the problem. Never easy :)


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Jay August 31, 2014

My intension to ask above question was to strengthen my view over push sales as a fundamental waste.

I got my answer. People really behave like the way they are measured so only this thinking can change paradigm of push sales.

Is there any book you suggest to understand sales function in more depth? I am at a middle management in operations and want to understand complete cycle of order to cash.



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Michael Balle August 31, 2014
it really is not my area! A book that helped me is Mike Bosworth's Solution Selling. He's written a number of things since and his thinking has evolved, but I still love his first - and he's a great guy. 

Bear in mind that as we're all living interesting times because external change is so much faster than internal change, the sales function is probably under greatet pressure than any of us as Internet is disrupting both the balance of power between salespeople and customers, as well as distribution channels.

In my experiences, many sales functions are in complete disarray, which over-emphasizes individual quirks and doesn't make it easy to work with. In to companies I know, CEOs have decided to rebuild sales from scratch. So it's really a messy area.

In the end, Sales is really a different function from what we know and well worth looking into, so I believe you're definitely doing the right thing in finding out :)


Jv31may August 30, 2014
I am handling operations of a value stream where End customer's orders are coming via dealers.Most of the time i observed that orders are coming from dealers to meet order booking monthly numbers.AS these are not real demand,dealers are picking them when they need it actually.
This resulted in over production at my operations which is fundamental waste.At one end i have been trying to cultivate lean culture in my value stream but push sales is really stopping benefits raching end customer.Top managemnt accepts this push sales explaing that with any distributor base business,push sales is very common in whole world.
Is this really tue?


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Elliot September 03, 2014
A group of 4-5 senior leaders wants to do a gemba walk together. How do you recommend it not turning into a dog-and-pony show, but remains an opportunity for each leader to gain their own individual insights? Thank you.

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Michael Balle September 06, 2014
Nothing wrong with Dog-and-pony show if they're really senior. The whole point of gemba walks for senior management is for them to learn something from the gemba, so if you've got something to show them, make it visible!

More seriously, if this is goingt o be a recurring event, this is what I focus on as we walk along the value stream (from shipping back to procurement):
1) VISUAL CONTROL: is OK/NOK visible, are problems noted, do people visualize their plan vs actual and the gaps?
2) MINIMUM JOB ROLE: are basic skills in place? Is the training to basic skills in place? Is their visual control for this training?
3) KAIZEN EFFORTS: are difficult conditions identidfied? is kaizen supported? Do we get suggestions?

The discussion I have with senior managers during the GW is about: do we see opportunities to improve the process for better delivery radically, and are we building the necessary skills on the shop floor today. How does this touch engineering? How does this affect supply chain? And ultimately, who do we have here demonstrating a growth mindset that can lead these changes?

What do you think?


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John Kennedy September 04, 2014
Hi Michael, I am currently supporting a business development activity for my son's who run a personal training business (fitness). I am trying to develop applications of industrial lean, as taught by you, into this environment. Have you had exposure to such activities or are you aware of previous work done in this area. Are there any pitfalls in health and service or is an assumption that lean is lean - full stop.

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Michael Balle September 06, 2014
Wow - Interesting one. No idea :), sorry.

I do think that lean is lean, full stop, but then again that's not much help, because no two people have the same understanding of lean. I do tend to think in terms of lean thinking rather than lean processes.

So where to start with lean thinking? Well, value. Typically in a fitness business value is going to be very hard to define because what customers will seek in their relationship with their coach is:
1) complex (and often complicated)
2) unsaid - health is personal, so let's rely on the Dr. House maxim that customers lie to you as they lie to themselves
3) changeable, with mood and circumstances

I suspect that you can help your son by constantly going back to the fundamentals and asking him ad nauseam about customers and what skills he masters and where he needs to improve - certainly what my own father does with me. He finds me too abrasive with Top Dogs and Fat Cats and is constantly trying to get me to me more political, which is kind of funny coming from him - but he does have a point.

Not sure my comments are helpful, but applying lean paraphernalia to a one man business is risky as it was invented in a very different setting. Focusing on success conditions is always a good start!


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John Kennedy September 09, 2014
Thanks Michael,
There are 6 trainers. I guess areas are Safety - Staff / Clients, Scheduling (Flow), Efficiency, Quality as defined by customer, Visual Management including 5S, Suggestions - Staff / Clients and implementation rates and as you always reminded me listening is paramount. I will let you know how we get on.


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gavin September 05, 2014
Michael , I am new to Lean managemant , where do I start ?

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Michael Balle September 06, 2014
Still time to change your mind :).

Twenty years experience says you start by educating yourself rather than by plunging in into a project wiht a consultant. Read the books, at the very least Lean Thinking, Toyota Way and Lean Turnaround, go to the conferences and meet lean people and start mapping what the movement is about.

The lean movement is unique inasmuch as it has a wealth of documented cases and twenty years worth of experience, comments, books, etc. I realize this can be daunting, but, the unknown unknonws about starting lean without looking first are HUGE (career-threatening huge). 

If you're keen to go there, take your time at first to map the territory before committing to an action. I realize there's a notion that one learns from one mistakes, but early mistakes can be a very expensive education :)


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Michele F September 14, 2014
Dear Michael,
I am thinking to do a Master in Lean Management (part time) of 1 year duration.
I'm a lean facilitator from about 5 years.

I think that the Master would help me
1. to develop and sustain a good network experts in lean;
2. to develop People as leaders;
3. to face a lean transformation that I have launched in the Company.

What is your opinion about?

Thx in advance for your feedback.

Michele


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Irene Abrisqueta Peris November 03, 2014

Hi Michael,

I love the business novels. I like reading how the different characters evolve during the lean journey, what they think, feel and do in every situation. Now I’m half way through The Lean Manager.

Have you thought about making the trilogy a TV series? Or webisodes?

And, would it be a comedy, a drama or a musical?

Have a good day!

Irene


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Michael Balle November 03, 2014
Probably fantasy LOL. Musical sounds good. If you know someone in Tinseltown that would buy the rights, please remind them we've got this large pointy ugly metal tower to sell to them as well :)

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Irene Abrisqueta Peris November 03, 2014
:)

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Chris June 30, 2015

Michael,

I have a question about determining product families.  Should cycle times be considered in determining product families. For example, if we have three different 'possible' processes that a product can go through, should the 'cycle time' of those processes be considered?  (My concern is that, based on the variation in the size of product run on the same machine, we could have a larger product that goes through 'one' of the processes and have a longer cycle time than a smaller size product that goes through 'two' processes.)

Chris



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Michael Balle June 30, 2015

Ouch - can't answer this one outright. The Product/process matrix is the basic tool to establish product families, and it's a living thing :).

What problem are we trying to solve? We're trying to produce as close as we can to Takt Time with basic stability in the sense that products take a known path through the plant, and not go on this machine or that according to the MRP calculations or decisions by the elves, so that guys on the line have some idea of what to expect and learn to make the product better.

Cycle time certainly matters, but not as much as varitey. If teh question is "which cell" or "which sequence of processes" should I send a product through? The deeper question is which cell can cope with it: how many otehr products is the cell already making? How easy/hard is it for them to change from one product to the next? How do they cope with existing variety and can they take one more?

Are we talking about unitary products or are you batching?



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Chris July 01, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Thanks for your response!

A brief background on our product/process.  We make pipe with different options on the end of the pipe depending on our customer requirements.  The ends can either be plain (just a cut end of a pipe), have a flange threaded on it, or have a groove put on the pipe OD near the end.  Those are the three options.  The pipe comes in many diameters from 4”-48”.  The length requirements are specifically stated by the customer.  So, we don’t start the process until we have the order and know the length, size, pipe end configuration. (make to order)

We have three cells that can do any of the three pipe end configurations.  The three cells are structured according to the pipe diameter - small diameter, medium diameter, and large diameter. The cycle time/cost in any of those cells has fair amount of variability – within the cell - depending on the “size” (more time to thread or groove larger pipe), and “pipe end” configuration (more time to flange both ends vs. both ends being plain)

To answer your questions: Each cell can make any product configuration, within the cell size requirements described earlier.  It is relatively easy to change from one product configuration to the next.  They cope relatively well with the mix.  We tend to batch the “cutting” operation, and then have more of a single piece flow through the cell.  Then we tend to batch again at the paint booth.

I am looking for the best way to create product families that we can structure the associated costs around and view as a single value stream.

Again – appreciate any insight you can provide!

Chris



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Dung January 27, 2016

Hi Michael,

Would like to ask about the lean team posistion in an org. Thank you.

1. Is there a better way which the lean team should be in an org. chart and who should the lean team report to?

2. In the apparel factory, do you think it better to have Lean & IE in the same team, or is it better that we have Lean & IE team respectively? My leader think eventually there should be only IE team and no lean team, otherwise people always come to Lean team when there's anything that needs to be improved.

 

 



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Michael Ballé January 27, 2016

Hi Dung,

 

Hard to answer iun general terms, as it much depends of the size of the organization. Personally up to 100 Million euros turnover, I work without any lean team. Beyond that, it makes sense to have a lean guy by site, attached directly to the plant manager, but his role is to teach lean rather than conduct any improvement activities directly - this is the responsibility of frontline managers.

Not sure what you mean by an IE team - what's IE?



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