So you do have a roadmap for a lean transformation?
Ward: Heavens no! More of a guideline. No one in their right mind would disagree about improving safety, quality, flexibility and productivity. To be accurate, people who disagree tend to be uneasy with one of Lean’s basic tools and try to justify a workaround rather than simply learn the tool – in particularly with demanding tools such as leveled pull systems, quality problem solving or TPM. But there are plenty of great workbooks around, so the knowledge is out there for those who want to learn. I don’t believe there would be any serious debate in these five steps, but, to be honest these steps don’t tell you much – it’s how they happen that matters.
Ultimately, improvement is contingent on people and situations, there is no way around it. The way I look at it, each person has their own learning speed – which on top of everything is not consistent across topics – and is in a position with greater or lesser spillover—
Ward: Um, yes, impact on the entire system. It’s all connected, see, but some functions have a wider impact than others. The master scheduler, for instance, is critical because how well (or poorly) this job is done will impact every single function of the plant. On the other hand, while quality in something internal such as goods inspection is very important and is key to stabilizing the production cells by mastering supplier quality; whatever happens there won’t spill over as much across the entire system as what happens in scheduling, or with product engineers, or sales ordering and so on.
Basically, if you have a fast learner on a high spillover job, say, the master scheduler, you can improve incredibly fast. On the other hand, if you have a slow learner on a high spillover point, you can be stuck for a long time. Progress is completely contingent on how fast each person learns and how much their learning impacts the system as a whole. This is why I’m not a great believer in road-maps or programmatic approaches. We basically never know what we’re going to come across. What matters is that people have the intent to improve, and that they are learning to learn.
Which brings us back to the topic of the book?
Ward: Absolutely. The way I was originally taught, in a Taylorist frame, was to define the best way to work and then force people to adopt it. If we’re learning together this simply won’t work: you can’t force anyone to learn. Learning is voluntary and occurs within a relationship. Always.
I can see two basic forms of learning relationship. First there is teacher to student, or in the lean lingo sensei to deshi: the sensei promises to teach if the deshi promises to learn. This is essentially a cooperative relationship. If the sensei focuses on the wrong topics, or if the student doesn’t make a real effort to understand where he or she is pointed to and why, we get a lot of resentment and not much progress. The other kind of relationship I’ve come to appreciate increasingly over the years is that of learning from intense collaborations with people equally expert in other fields. Because of my own learning path, I learned mostly within the relationship with my boss and sensei, Phil Jenkinson and his sensei, Bob Woods. But in working with Jane Delaney I now see the power of teamwork in a way I had not “grok”-ed before. By exchanging ideas and trying things out between the plant and the software firm I’ve come to a completely different view of what software could bring to us.
Ward: Oh, man, it’s huge. To name but one, I was completely missing Big Data. You hear about it, but, heck, we make automotive parts, so hey… But now I realize that if we had captors in some of our functional parts, we could gather information when people take their cars for service, which could tell us a lot about how our products behave in live usage – which could help us improve and innovate spectacularly. I have no idea on how to move ahead on such ideas as yet, but the collaboration with Delaney’s teams has opened my eyes to something which is around us and that will impact our products one way or other and that I was simply not seeing. The future is now.
Thanks you Andy for your answers. Anything you’d like to add?
Ward: Not really. Well, maybe. A word of caution. Lean is hard to talk about because it’s so pragmatic – it only makes sense at the gemba, with tools and parts in your hands. As Taiichi Ohno used to tell his disciples: “See with your legs and think with your hands.” As I said, in order progress from local improvement to system leanness, we need to develop respect for each person’s autonomy and teamwork to learn to collaborate more intensely across functional barriers. This is spot on, and absolutely reflects how I feel about it. But one should not dismiss the tools. The tools are what makes us progress, and without deep knowledge about the ins-and-outs of the lean tools and how they apply in very specific situations, one can make bad, costly mistakes both financially and humanly. For instance, I’ve so often seen five–minute operator meeting to discuss what went wrong in the previous shift and how to check standards turn into management pressure tools to reach objectives without helping people.
So attitude is everything, certainly, but attitude only makes sense in the context of using a tool for a specific performance improvement. To see the real impact of attitude, one must first master the tool. As my sensei’s sensei often says, Lean is neither philosophy nor a toolbox – it’s a practice. The practice of working with team members to kaizen their workplace and partake in the fun, the joy of creation.