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I'm Karen Martin, Ask Me Anything

by Karen Martin
April 22, 2015

I'm Karen Martin, Ask Me Anything

by Karen Martin
April 22, 2015 | Comments (34)

Hello, I’m Karen Martin. I began my career as a scientist, received a Master’s Degree in adult learning, and then transitioned into operations management and business performance improvement where I built, managed, and improved rapid-growth operations.

I left Corporate and founded my consulting firm in 1993. A long-time Deming student, I began studying and applying Lean in 2000 and have authored four books: Value Stream Mapping, The Outstanding Organization, Metrics-Based Process Mapping, and The Kaizen Event Planner.

In life and in business, I have more questions than answers. But these days I’m thinking about… 

  • What are the best ways to help people understand and learn how to apply the full spectrum of lean management principles, practices, and tools (vs. the watered down, narrow understanding and applications we often see)?
  • How do we help business leaders see that Lean principles apply to everything in business from strategy to product development to accounting to supplier relationship to compliance to staff recruitment, hiring, and onboarding?
  • How do we help improvement professionals learn how to go beyond incremental improvement and help their companies achieve substantive gains that shift market share and grow margins? 

What are YOU thinking about these days? What problems are you encountering? Ask me anything!

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  learning
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Value-Stream Mapping: a Methodology for Sustainable System Improvement
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34 Comments | Post a Comment
Damien Schreurs April 22, 2015

Hi Karen, 

I'm currently working on a way to assess the Lean maturity level in my organization.

Finding relevant questions related to behavior is not that difficult, but how can I assess/measure Lean thinking?

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015

Hello Damien - Good question! Since behavior typically demonstrates one's mindset (except when cognitive dissonance is present and the party behaves differently than he/she is thinking), in some ways you're already assessing the degree of Lean thinking that people possess. 

To get more direct data points, I always assess how one solves problems and makes decisions. If leaders avoid mandating "solutions" and instead highlight problems and then pass them to the people who do the work for resolution, they are exhibiting Lean thinking. If a person takes time to properly define a problem and goes doggedly after root cause, he/she is exhibiting Lean thinking. If decisions are made in a consensus-building way and involving representatives from all key stakeholder groups, there's evidence of Lean thinking.

Clear evidence of non-Lean thinking: bandaid solutions, continuing to push work into areas where large queues already exist, not engaging workers in defining direction and solving problems, command and control leadership practices, narrow thinking (e.g. standard work doesn't apply to us), and so on.

To asess, I would use a combination of interviews and observe. In the early stage of an engagement, I often ask to attend leadership meetings just to observe. And I nearly always interview people before getting going just to know where the client is in its understanding of Lean and where it sits on the maturity curve.

Your assessment will be fairly subjective, but with well-defined attributes that warrant certain scores, it can become more objective.

Does this help?

Reply »

Damien Schreurs April 22, 2015

Yes it does, thanks!

One concern I have is that sometimes behavior can be affected by the rewards & recognition program currently in place, without profoundly altering the mindset and attitudes of people, thus explaining relapse after changes in key Leadership positions.

Having said that, we're heavily investing in A3 training at the moment, with the intention to positively affect the thinking of our people, leaders and associates alike.

Overall, your comments are very much in line with the picture that I have of our current state as well as how the ideal future state could look like.

To have a broader assessment of the gap in our Lean maturity, I'll combine the questionnaire currently being assembled with interviews and observations, as you suggest.

For sure, I'll need some additional brainstorming on this topic and possibly guidance along the way.

Would there be resources that I'm unaware of and could be useful for this?

 

Reply »

Tom Ehrenfeld April 22, 2015

Hi Karen:

I really liked the way you used lean fundamentals to show how, in The Outstanding Organization, companies can become systematically better at what they do. How "orthodox" do you believe organizations need to be in their lean approach in order to reap the benefits? What are the hazards, in your opinion, of hewing too closely to established practices; and what, on the other hand, gets potentially lost when generalizing too much? 

 

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Ahhh... great question, Tom! I'm fairly "purist" in my approach with Lean management. I think much of the bastardization I see that organizations say they do in the spirit of "adapting to our needs and environments" are avoidance tactics.

This is a small example of what I mean: I had a client once accuse me of being inflexible about involving certain functional groups in solving a problem that they were key stakeholders in. I saw it as a certain group wanting to exclude another group. They saw my "persistent coaching" as holding too rigid to Lean philosophy about cross-functional involvement and consensus building.

I'm a big believer in "purposeful adaptation." But much of the adaptation I see is unwillingness to shift long-standing mindsets and behaviors.

Reply »

Eric April 22, 2015

Hi Karen, 

Lean is ideally everybody, everyday.  But many organizations use experts, internal champions and coaches that often sit somewhere in the middle of the organization.

Much of the literature (even to an extent your VSMapping book) seem to pitch thier advice to the senior leaders of the organization.  What advice do you have for the internal coach/belt/champion on leading change?

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015

Hi Eric - Could you be a bit more specific? I give a ton of advice every day to internal people leading change. An internal improvement person lives in a very board space - so many skills that need to be built, and experience to be gained. What can I help you with?

Reply »

Cyndi April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Hi Karen,

Some people in my organization love lean thinking and seem to "get it" and are making progress in their area. A lot of other people DON'T and also don't seem to care. How do I make real progress working with a team made up of these two different groups of people in my organization? Any advice you can give would be great. Especially in terms of working with folks who just aren't convinced it's worth doing or learning.

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
4 People AGREE with this reply

Hi Cyndi. I feel your pain. It doesn't sound like you have top-down buy-in and enthusiasm for Lean. Is that a fair statement? If that's the case, you can "influence up" and "influence across" by proving Lean's worth.

Make sure you're adequating socializing what Lean's capabilities are. Create a "change story" that includes what the future could look like if the organization took Lean seriously. Make sure you're quantifying your results and selling them to leadership.

Include the naysayers in solving a high profile, painful problem. Once they experience Lean transformation, they can become your biggest cheerleaders.

And most importantly - THIS IS CRITICAL - use classic problem-solving for this problem. Why are they people who aren't convinced feeling/thinking that way? What are the root causes? Only then can you make good headway. Hope this helps!

Reply »

Daryl Wirges April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Karen,

I have used Value Stream Maps for a long time to help visualize current realities & communicate future opportunities, inidcate barriers to information and material flow and to communicate to organizations that a journey of change in underway.  

I hear the other day the terms "Static" & " Dynamic" used to describe constructing VSM's ... I think I know what they mean but I am curious if you can share your thoughts.

(I apologize if I am not including enough context to answer this question clearly.)

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Daryl - Yes, I'd like a little more information to understand your question. What was the specific comment you heard about VSM that included "static" and "dynamic"?

One thing I'll say that may help is that the future state map should be viewed as a blueprint or roadmap for solving prolbems and making improvement. As such, it should be VERY dynamic. As improvements are made and stabilized, you need to go back to the map and make sure the metrics are current. Assuming you add kaizen bursts to the future state map, they should be removed as improvements are made. And very often, you need to actually tweak the process blocks as new discoveries are being made. The FS map should not be set in concrete. It's a real-time guide for problem solving. 

Reply »

Vikram April 22, 2015

Hi Karen,

1. Work to standards is one of the principles, how do you use this principle when judging aesthetics perceptions for a product which is subjective.

2. can we use the concept of work to takt in desk jobs? like people in customer service or finance?

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Vikram - I'll assume you're talking about what to do when voice of the customer varies. (if this isn't what you're asking, please clarify). We experience similar issues in providing services - what's of value to one client may not be to another. Enter the era of customization! Increasingly, goods and services are being "modulized" to allow for customization based on perceived needs (may or may not be real needs) and customer preferences.

This means you need to be judicious in creating and applying work standards, with a focus on assuring consistent quality and avoiding problems. Over-application of work standards is as problemmatic as under-application. This is highly situational and requires specifics for determining the "sweet spot." 

As for takt, I'll be a good little consultant and answer with "it depends." :-)  In production-type office process (e.g. mortgage application processing, accounts payable, reviewing/auditing records, etc.), absolutely you can apply takt time. And you can also apply it in high variation environments by segmenting the work based on complexity and the process time variation that exists. Where it is less useful is in those environments where people are juggling so many tasks with wide ranges of process time that they're never available consistently enough to apply takt. But not all is lost. You can first rethink roles and resposibilities and the flow of work and create an environment where people's time and the tasks are a bit more predictable. Hope this helps!

Reply »

Vikram Bhat April 22, 2015

Hi Karen, was referring to voice  of customer. Coming from jewelry industry the aesthetics are highly subjective and especially for first time products. We are trying to create reference products as standards but that's about it. Can anything else be done? Thanks Vikram 

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015

I'm still not 100% clear. Are you saying that you receive conflicting/contradictory information from customers re: value? Do you use customer panels in the design process? What type of standards are you referring to? Can you please give me an example?

Edythe April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Hi Karen,

I am considering how to redesign a series of tasks so that the number of reviews and "redos" can be reduced and give us confidence that the quality will not suffer (I actually believe it will improve, but that's yet to be demonstrated).

One thought is to divide the task into parts and carefully sequence the parts so that changes in later parts will not affect work on the earlier parts.  It sounds good until I think about the people and their need for holistic tasks, autonomy, and feedback, factors that appear to be lost in this design.

What have you found to be effective in respecting and engaging people in job design?

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

Hi Edythe - I'm a big fan of sequestered, cross-functional teams (but in no case more than 10 people) to solve problems such as this. The timeframe depends on the complexity of the problem and how well defined the current state already is.

Before a team begins designing an improved process, we offer them the following countermeasures for consideration: eliminating steps, re-sequencing steps, automating steps, moving serial steps in parallel, etc.

Skilled facilitation of these team-based activities is essential for the greatest degree of success.

Reply »

Manuel Peralta April 22, 2015

Hello Karen,

As a Lean consultant and practitioner could you mention 1 - 2 Lean Games training books ?

 

Tks a lot for being open to share experiences !

 

Manuel

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015

Hi Manuel - What type of development do you seek? I always begin with a defined objective before determining the proper approach for achieving it. If you want to heighten awareness about basic Lean principles and have people experience a simulated transformation for a specific process, I recommend any of the games/simulations that have three rounds of improvement. You can Google to see the Lego airplane version, the paper airplane version, and the pizza-making version.

When we work with clients in office and service settings who want a basic introduction to Lean, we use one we adapted from another setting, which we call "Alphabet Soup." It's a time-based "competitive" game three rounds that demonstrates the power of standard work, pull, co-location, quality at the source, and work balancing using takt.

As for books, again it depends who the audience is and what learning objectives. Please let me know that data so I can make specific recommendations.

Reply »

Bryan Coats April 22, 2015

Karen, can you suggest a couple of the best articles or presentations (like SlideShare) that you believe do the best job of concisely leading people through Hoshin and completing the X Matrix in the appropriate manner.  There seems to be some confusion over what goes where on the matrix and the difference between goals and objectives, etc..  Thanks.

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Bryan - For books, I prefer Getting the Right Things Done by Pascal Dennis. I've given several webinar on the subject, available at www.ksmartin.com/webinar-library. The slides for those webinars are on SlideShare. (The webinars are also on YouTube and Vimeo).

Now as for that pesky X-matrix, I'm not a fan. AT ALL. For the very reasons you state. After finding clients consistently struggling to understand the "simple" one page view of their plan, I ditched it and created my own Excel-based plan. So maybe ditching is a reasonable countermeasure for you as well! :-)

Hope that helped!

Reply »

Bryan Coats April 22, 2015

Thanks, I've seen some of your slideshares in the past and always found them helpful. I'll check and see if I've missed anything recently.  I'll look for your excel-based plan to replace the matrix.

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015

I haven't released the Excel plan I use because I tailor it somewhat for each client. All I did was "linearize" the X matrix. It's legal paper width.

Rick April 22, 2015

Karen,

Can you say more about how lean applies to overall business strategy and where an executive might start?

Reply »

France Bergeron April 22, 2015

Hi Karen,

Good to "see" you here.  As you know, I really enjoy all your books and webinars. 

I often encounter people asking about Lean Belt certification.  With you experience in Lean and your degree in adult education, I'm sure you have some good points to help people with choosing the right type of training for someone who wants to implement Lean in their own work...not to be a facilitator :-).

Thanks a million!

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hello France! Great to "see" you as well! Ah, the question about Lean "training" always brings a smile to my face. So let's do a multi-media experiment here. Give me a few minutes - I'm going to post an image on my Facebook page that I want to reference here. Please take a look: www.facebook.com/karenmartingroup. I'll be back here on The Lean Post in a few minutes to continue with my response.

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Karen Martin April 22, 2015

OK, I'm back. I wrote a long response and it somehow disappeared. Unfortunately I need to get on a client call, so I'll have to rewrite what I wrote later today. Sorry everyone!

Reply »

France Bergeron April 22, 2015

OK, got the image on your Facebook.  I remember the picture from your (GREAT) book The Outstanding Organization (p. 115).  Now waiting for your re-post :-)

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
3 People AGREE with this reply

OK, I’m back. Let’s try this again. As you see on the image I posted on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/karenmartingroup), learning progresses from general awareness to mastery. The first two levels are heavily cognitive (understanding based) and then the person prgressively builds demonstrable skills. The progression isn't 100% linear: learning skills deepens understanding, etc. 

Now to your question. I actually don’t use the term "training." In all cases, learning = development. So we seek to develop people vs. train people. Training is a construct; learning is the desired outcome.

“Training” often implies classrooms. While classroom learning can be a highly efficient method for conveying information, heightening awareness, and selling concepts (e.g., Lean) to gain acceptance and readiness, it’s not typically the best venue for developing skills and, eventually, mastery. Even in highly interactive workshops with simulations (which we deliver) and the like, there’s a limit to what people can learn if they’re not applying content immediately in real-world settings.

For this reason, I strongly prefer real-time development with a skilled coach present. By skilled, I mean people who already possess high degrees of demonstrated proficiency in the subject matter being taught. (You wouldn’t take piano lessons from someone who couldn’t play the piano, would you?)

It’s slower to develop large numbers of people this way, but far more effective. Learning through one-on-one coaching also assures that people are learning what they need to know at the time they need to know it versus teaching content in a classroom that people may not need to draw on for years and, by then, will have forgotten that they learned it.

These same rules apply to any level of development, whether people who just want to learn how to apply Lean in their own work or those who want to devote their career to improvement.

Developing people is critical and we have to be very careful to do it properly. Which brings me to the subject of certification and belts. The problem I have with certification and belts is that it often implies a level of proficiency that simply isn’t present. Sure at least you know that someone put some effort forth and had the discipline to complete a task, both of which are important indicators. But what you don’t know is how well they learned, how effectively they can apply what they learned, or to what degree they’re continuing to learn.

I hope some of this sparks some new thinking in terms of how best to develop Lean thinkers.

Tim Dixson April 22, 2015

Karen -

A question about the meta-environment of Lean...

How do you feel about the fact that so much of what is being taught regarding Lean is targeted at mid and top-level management, when the vast majority of Lean, at least in manufacturing, is actually executed by associate-level employees?

Another way to ask the question might be: why is so much of the content with regards to Lean consulting so disconnected from the people who actually execute Lean on a daily basis?

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Tim - I can't speak for other consultants, but we prefer to work with all levels simultaneously. We've found high degrees of failure when senior leaders aren't "all in" -- fully supportive of Lean AND exhibiting Lean leadership on a consistent basis. 

True, the people who do the work are the experts and should, therefore, be the ones actually designing, testing, refining, and implementing improvments. But without the proper leadership and cultural environment, most of all that wonderful front-line work fails to be sustain.

What specifically are you seeing that shows the disconnect?

Reply »

Amy April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Hi Karen,

How do I present lean in such a way that employees don't see it as a threat to jobs?

Reply »

Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Amy - The most successful organizations with Lean deployments commit to no layoffs. That's a first step. Without that committment, no wise worker will fully engage in identifying waste and creating process efficiency.

The second step is to commit to fully involve the people who do the work. As a colleague once said, "It's uplifting to kaizen! It's traumatizing to be kaizen'd!"

Third, improvements should result in not only in better results for customers and the organization, but also easier work (once a learning curve is complete) and a better, less stressful, safer work environment. This is one reason why I always point out that Lean, done well, is extremely union friendly (vs the opposite assumption/suspicion).

The proof is in the pudding. Skeptics need to experience "real Lean" to trust the messenger. Especially if that trust has been eroded in the past.

Done well, Lean results in a win-win-win-win-win-win for customers, suppliers, shareholders, the organization, the environment/globe/society, and the workers themselves.

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Karen Martin April 22, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Thank you, everyone, for a wonderful Ask Me Anything event! Your questions were insightful and reflect a group of thoughtful improvement leaders. Thank you for joining me on LEI's The Lean Post to spread learning and share ideas! Have a wonderful evening!

Reply »

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