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Highlights from the Lean Transformation Summit 2015

by Tom Ehrenfeld & Lex Schroeder
March 4, 2015

Highlights from the Lean Transformation Summit 2015

by Tom Ehrenfeld & Lex Schroeder
March 4, 2015 | Comments (0)

Today and tomorrow we'll be live blogging and posting reflections from LEI's 2015 Lean Transformation Summit in New Orleans. View the complete Summit agenda here and stay tuned throughout the day as we share highlights from talks and various learning sessions. We'll share Summit attendees' questions and comments as they get shared with us and welcome your questions as well.

First up, we're looking forward to hearing from Toyota, The Food Bank For New York City, and the St. Bernard Project... Check back here again in a couple of hours as we add to this post and if you're on Twitter, follow live updates and photos at #lean15!

10:30am, by Lex Schroeder

Plenary: The Future of Lean is Where Lean Started, Latondra Newton (Toyota)

Good morning Summit attendees and folks joining us via livestream and on social media! This morning kicked off with opening remarks by the LEI team. COO Mark Reich shared a bit about the purpose of this year's Summit: we're reflecting on where we've been in the lean community and where we're going in the years ahead.

Beyond helping lean leaders/practitioners from a wide variety of industries improve business performance and operations and their approaches to organization-wide lean transformation, many Summit sessions will reflect a focus on where lean thinking and practice is showing up in new and different sectors, to meet new and different needs. Along these lines, our program began today with an opening plenary session from Latondra Newton, Chief Social Innovation Officer at Toyota Motor North America, Inc. 

Newton began by giving a little bit of lean history. "Have you ever thought of Toyota as being about cotton or silk? Our original business had nothing to do with transportation," she said. Toyoda was trying to make a more efficient loom for textile plants. He was a "religious inventor," invented loom in 1924 with sensors to detect flaws as they occurred. The goal was to make sure that defects were caught quickly long before they reached the customer, but there was a larger goal, too: solving problems beyond the factory floor (what you might call social innovation). It was also about using lean thinking and a systems-approach to addressing societal needs. And it wasn't just about improving the loom; it was about easing the burden on workers.  

Newton spoke about lean ideas Toyota teaches that can make an enormous difference in any industry: 

  • building in quality by eliminating the root causes of defects
  • stopping the work when there’s a problem
  • the idea that "automation can and should have a human touch"
  • the basic principle of kaizen and promoting continuous improvement as a regular practice
  • working consistently to make things work better
  • putting the customer first
  • inviting employees to improve the work every day, understanding problem solving as part of their job

She went on discuss how work is changing on the whole, again, across all sectors and fields. "One that's clear is our years of manufacturing experience can help organizations with missions that have NOTHING to do with mobility." She shared how the millennial generation, folks born in the early 1980s on - more than 50% - want to work for organizations with a mission, that are working towards a social cause. She noted all of these principles you learn from TPS allow you to better deliver on social missions.

Newton also spoke about the power of collaboration, sharing a video about TSSC's collaboration with Herman Miller. With all of TSSC's collaborations, Newton let us know that by making work processes more effective and efficient, these companies were able to protect jobs and actually improve the economy. The improvements we make in our organizations showing respect for all employees, involving frontline workers in the improving the work of the organization... these activities don't just benefit organizations; they scale up and make a difference for society on the whole.

Reflecting on Toyota's work and social mission over time, she said the question becomes, how do you create SHARED value for business and society both?

More to come from this conversation with Latondra Newton and Jamie Bonini from TSSC (Toyota Production System Support Center) and more morning keynotes and learning sessions... What are you noticing, learning, and enjoying at the Summit so far? Let us know in the comments!


11:00am, by Lex Schroeder

Plenary Q&A with Latondra Newton (Toyota) and Jamie Bonini (TSSC)

Among other questions, Newton and Bonini responded to a question about their challenges learning TPS and lean thinking early on. Newton shared how she thought lean was about learning tools in the beginning, but very quickly she began to understand it's really about bringing a totally different mindset to the work - one that invites open discussion of problems. She spoke about how the learning curve was steep and CONTINUES to be, as lean is all about learning. It doesn't stop. Bonini said the challenge early on is understanding TPS as an integrated social/technical system and understanding that lean thinking requires a very different role for managers and approach to management than what most people learn in the West. It's about solving problems and seeing the work clearly and creating alignment at all levels, then helping others bring a problem solving approach to their work as well.

LEI's Chet Marchwinski then asked Newton and Bonini to reflect on what they hear from others (employees and partners) about their biggest challenges learning lean. Bonini reflected on how most people expect to learn from books and seminars - that's the most prevalent learning model. That builds a strong foundation for learning he says, but real lean learning (that you can actually sustain) requires learning by doing and practicing with an excellent coach.

Newton spoke about how so many people she speaks to don't even like talking about organizational and operational problems or calling problems "problems", even just using the word. We have a natural aversion to the word she says because we all aim to do well, so the shift is about making problems transparent and letting people know that looking at problems is a good thing.


8:00pm, by Tom Ehrenfeld 

Developing Problem Solving Capabilities

I attended Tracey and Ernie Richardson's learning session today (1 of 9 learning sessions this afternoon), "Developing Problem Solving Capabilities." It all starts with focusing on four things: purpose, process, people... and practice.

They began by reminding us how our organizations always have systems running in the background. “Computers are projecting an output. Lean problem-solving culture is the invisible system that you don’t see." In a lean organization, PDCA is the core practice dedicated to understanding the larger system and team members improving their daily work. For leaders, the question to ask is, what are we doing to facilitate problem-solving at the gemba? It's not about "selling" people on anything, but engaging them in improving the work of the organization.

Speaking about daily practices for leaders, Tracey shared some of her thinking on what she calls GTS to the 6th power, which she’s written about on the Post.

  1. Go to See
  2. Grasp the Situation
  3. Get to Solution
  4. Get to Standard (No standard, no improvement)
  5. Get to Sustainability (“A standard without accountability is not a standard.”)
  6. Get to Stretch goals…

Ernie expanded a bit on standard work and the concept of standardization. What needs a standard? Processes that you actually need to control. Standardized work is the device we use to tell abnormalities (not when you are doing work correctly, but you're doing it incorrectly). Don’t use standardized work in a constrictive manner! Develop standards for where you want to control the process, but don’t apply standard work to everything under the sun.

On A3 thinking, Tracey reminded us, don’t just fill in the boxes. Instead, ask the right questions. Tracey emphasized, “a problem that is clearly defined is half-solved.” If you’re a new manager, Tracey and Ernie spoke about how 50% percent of your job really means developing people. As a manager, looking at a transformation model looks simple, but in teaching and practicing lean, there will always be roadblocks. For a new coach or a coach who is seeking to improve, really listening proves difficult. What helps make lean transformations easier? Go and see, teamwork, challenge, continuous improvement, respect for people, and the idea that for continuous improvement you need to have a standard, a baseline to improve from

In summary, they shared how Lean does not mean less employees are needed. Instead, "use lean thinking and practice to get ahead of your competition." They continued, "Companies that are super successful are problem-solving companies." It's encouraging to see more and more companies working this way... not focusing on lean tools, but focusing on developing people. Practicing lean is a way of investing in your people. What keeps lean leaders in organizations over time? It’s the learning—the opportunity for continuous learning.

To close, Tracey and Ernie shared some good questions to get us all thinking about improving our own work. "Do you believe that your organization has your best interest at heart? Do you come to work every day with the best interest of your company every day? As leaders, the TPS principle of "Respect for people" involves telling team members the what—the how and the why. Respect people enough to share your expectations of them. "Can everybody here describe the true scope of work that your leaders expect of you? Is it documented?" 

More to come tomorrow here on the Post!

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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