Leader Standard Work and Kamishibai [Case Study]

case studySituation. A multi-national manufacturer was implementing a lean management system (LMS) in a phased manner within one of their facilities. The target facility operated four separate comprehensive value streams. The LMS implementation incrementally covered the first pilot value stream and then continued to deploy it throughout the remaining value streams. LMS elements included daily tiered huddle or reflection meetings, gemba-based leader standardized work (LSW), one-on-one coaching meetings, and andon/andon response.
Problem. Due the breadth of the value stream(s) relative to the number of processes, number of natural work teams, plant floor footprint and the like, the sheets that the senior leaders used to conduct their LSW became too large and too complex to easily manage. For example, the site leader needed to personally check the sufficiency of and adherence to operational standardized work throughout the plant. However, the potential targets to check were in the many dozens. To illustrate, just two of the many checks were: 1) check one operator within cell XYZ to ensure that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient – right steps, sequence, cycle time, and standard WIP, and 2) check ABC FIFO lane to ensure that the max level is not exceeded and materials are pulled in first-in-first-out manner. Even after spreading the targets over multiple days and weeks so that the site leader only had a handful to check per day, the sheets were several pages long and it became difficult to understand what checks should be conducted at what time.
Action. Leadership desired to maintain the underlying principles of the LMS, but needed to find a way to conduct the LSW checks so that they were less onerous. They adopted the use of a kamishibai board (a.k.a. “standardized work audit board,” or “K board”), a visual tool that captures each LSW check for a particular area on an individual card. Each card lists the condition to check on both sides. One side is green in color (normal condition), and one side is red (abnormal condition). These cards are pulled by a leader from a box or bin attached to/near the board. The leader then conducts the check. If it is found that the condition is normal (i.e., the FIFO lane quantity is below the max, materials are flowing first-in-first-out, etc.), then the card is placed on the board green side out. If there is something abnormal (i.e., the FIFO lane materials are being pulled based upon how easy they are to build downstream and not first-in-first-out). The card is placed on the board red side out with a written explanation of the abnormal condition. The area leader, with coaching from their leader(s), as required, will then identify the root cause and the countermeasure and record on the same board. These boards are refreshed periodically – often daily or weekly.
Results. By using the kamishibai concept, the company was able to simplify the LSW sheets, thereby reducing confusion and stress. Many of the items on the sheet were replaced with instructions to go to the kamishibai board in a particular area and then randomly pick two cards (for example) and conduct the audit. In addition, the kamishibai board made abnormalities even more visible to the various stakeholders and prompted more sustainable fixes.

Related posts: Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, Respect the Process

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Balancing Two Types of Knowledge for Lean Transformation

I am halfway through reading, what I consider (thus far), an important lean book. Robinson and Schroeder’s TThe Idea-Drivenhe Idea-Driven Organization: Unlocking the Power in Bottom-up Ideas is a very thoughtful, practical book on the topic of employee engagement and daily kaizen.

Pure and simple, lean is not transformational without pervasive daily kaizen.

So, read this book.

…Anyway, Robinson and Schroeder refer to the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t up on my Hayek. I’m glad that the authors made the introduction.

Hayek identified two types of knowledge:

  1. Aggregate knowledge. This is ostensibly what top leaders possess (hey, stop snickering). It is developed through some level of intimacy with macro-level data and financial and operational performance information and analysis. This makes sense given the need for these folks to be able to absorb the big picture, set direction and formulate strategy. However, aggregate knowledge does have its limitations, especially when it is in the hands of those with a shortage of a key lean ingredient – humility. Even sufficient aggregrate knowledge in the hands (or head) of the un-humble can make top leaders feel that they know best. That means they can have the grand illusion that they know better than the folks who have the second type of knowledge, see below. This is folly, as proven out on a daily basis in so many companies and, I dare say, most every government organ. There’s a really good reason why central planning doesn’t work – the central planners lack the second type of knowledge, among other things (like true “stakeholdership”).
  2. Knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. This type of knowledge is derived from real-life, consistent gemba-based immersion. Folks who possess this knowledge, the ones who do the actual work at the actual place, by definition should be grounded in reality. (I say “should,” because not all folks sufficiently grasp the situation – their lean thinking may be immature or perhaps they’re not interested in acknowledging reality. It’s up to the leaders to help this along). In any event, with proper coaching and a good lean management system to facilitate problem identification and the targeting and flow of ideas, the people with this second type of knowledge are THE proper and most effective force to conduct kaizen.

There are at least a couple of things that the “aggregate folks” can do to help themselves gain some particular knowledge. Coincidentally, this will help the organization.

  • As Fujio Cho, now honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation, taught, leaders should religiously go see, ask why, and show respect. Much of this should happen within the context of well-developed leader standardized work.
  • Leaders can periodically participate in kaizen activities firsthand with the stakeholders. This will force leaders to go to the gemba, directly and rigorously observe reality with their teammates, and only then, earn some of the necessary insight to share in local PDCA.

Similarly, the “particular knowledge folks” can obtain a least a modicum of aggregate knowledge, more like expanded line of sight, by the incorporation of frequent regular visual process performance metric (people, quality, delivery, cost, and rate of continuous improvement) reviews as part of their natural work team huddles. Less frequently, they should be apprised of performance at the more aggregated levels of value stream, business unit, etc.

Now, we’re not saying that one type of knowledge is better than the other. Every organization needs both in order to survive and ultimately thrive. However, like most things in life, there needs to be a balance.

But, here’s my humble advice to the aggregate folks – set policy and create alignment, establish the lean ecosystem vis a vis lean management systems, model lean leadership behaviors, challenge, encourage, and coach the “particular guys,” …and in a large measure, get out of their way.

Related posts: Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle, Eight Ways to Avoid the Kaizen Roach MotelWhy Do You Ask?

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Bus Schedules and the Lean Management System

What do bus schedules have to do with a lean management system?bus schedule

Quite a bit…even though, obviously, the notion of a bus schedule is more metaphor (or is that analogy?) than reality.

Effective lean management systems are largely constituted by “mechanics” and lean leadership behaviors. The mechanics include, among other things:

  • tiered meetings (a.k.a. huddles or reflection meetings) to drive alignment and problem solving,
  • gemba walks during which leaders check the adherence to/sufficiency of standardized work
  • andons to flag and quickly respond to abnormalities and drive timely containment and problem solving at the lowest/most appropriate level in the organization
  • one-on-one coaching to facilitate problem solving and personal development of the coachee

These are critical elements that must “cascade” through multiple levels in the organization. Tiered meetings, by their very nature roll bottom-to-top, for example the natural work team meeting(s) occur first, followed by the value stream tiered meeting, etc. Similarly, there is built-in redundancy in gemba walk based standardized work. For example, the team leader, group leader, and value stream manager may “check” the same stuff, but will do so with differing frequency.

The basic underpinnings of all standardized work are sequence, standard WIP (SWIP), and takt time. To that we can easily extrapolate to steps, sequence, timing, cycle time, SWIP, and takt time.

…Which gets us to the bus schedule.

All of the lean management system elements must follow a cadence and with that, an explicit and synchronized schedule. Without that, there is chaos and a system that is not very systematic, and thus not effective.

Ultimately, these notions get us to lean leadership behaviors which include respect for the individual and consistency. Respect for the schedule is respect for people.

The mature lean organization maintains a profound and pervasive respect for the schedule and thus the scheduled times to conduct tier meetings, gemba walks, and one-on-one coaching meetings. Not only do we want to ensure the right stuff gets done at the right time, we want to instill a rhythm of expectation and execution within the organization.

I’m probably stating the obvious, but it is nearly impossible for lean leaders to:

  1. check the adherence to/sufficiency of the leader standard work and the application of lean leadership behaviors of their subordinates if they don’t know when the observable events (huddles, gemba walks, one-on-ones) are going to occur. And, if the leaders can’t directly observe, their coaching will be less than effective.
  2. Avoid setting meetings and other commitments for folks that will compete with the lean management system activities.

Therefore, the schedule must be pervasively known and understood throughout the organization. It should only be violated in very, very extreme situations. (Of course, we know that leaders will occasionally have someone else cover for them, but the “show must go on.”) And, the standardized schedule should be adjusted only when the lean management system is adjusted for improvement’s sake.

So, how’s your bus schedule? And, are your buses running on time?

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Build the Lean Management System and the Behaviors Will Come. Not Exactly.

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Strategy Deployment: Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

I remember, years ago, watching my oldest child struggle in his attempt to loosen a bolt. This was one of those all too few, brief, and shining child-rearing moments where I could easily and quickly share some trusty words of wisdom.

“Righty tighty, lefty loosey.”

I’m pretty sure that my son’s response was somewhere in the vicinity of, “Huh?” Not the effect that I was looking for necessarily.

…Nevertheless, I’m going to try to apply the same advice, but to a different subject (totally without threaded parts).

Strategy deployment (a.k.a. policy deployment, hoshin kanri, etc.).


Well, specifically, I’m talking about strategy deployment x-matrices and the direction in which they should be developed…which is clockwise.

Righty tighty is good. Lefty loosey, or counterclockwise, and the whole thing unwinds. Not good.



We must remember that matrices are tools. They are a way to capture and communicate thinking, facilitate discussion and improvement (through practices like catchball) and, in the event of strategy deployment, aid in vertical and horizontal alignment within the organization.

The standard, neck-craning, x-matrix clocks the reader typically through the following generic elements for an organization (think corporation, business group, business unit, plant, etc.), while cascading through the appropriate organizational levels:

  • 3 to 5 year breakthrough objectives, to
  • the relevant annual objectives, to
  • the relevant annual improvement priorities or strategic initiatives, to
  • the targets and means or deliverables,
  • while identifying who is responsible for the deliverables (and ultimately getting the point of impact where a person actually is required to execute)

This sequence is clockwise on the x-matrix. Clearly, it can be read clockwise or counterclockwise. But, it should only be BUILT clockwise.

Righty tighty!

Why is that?

Well, as Taiichi Ohno is credited with saying, “Start from need.”

We don’t start with targets and means (which are fancy words for countermeasures). We start with the organization’s relatively long term breakthrough objectives, which oh, by the way are guided by the business’ true north, competitive market realities, and the like.

This is where the thinking starts and is preferably rigorous and guided by things like hoshin A3’s and proposal A3’s (and, where appropriate, problem A3’s). All require, at some level, the users to grasp the situation and articulate the rationale.

Implicit in this is an understanding of the causal relationships. It does not facilitate “loosey” counterclockwise leaps to justify pet countermeasures by thinking up annual improvement priorities and breakthrough objectives.

So, just like we don’t build an A3 right to left, we must only build our x-matrices right tighty…and with the requisite thinking.

Related posts: Strategy – First Formulate, THEN DeployWhy Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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Newsflash: Behavioral Benefits of 5S Are Clinically “Proven”

Larry Loucka, a close friend and colleague, recently pointed me to a February 16th Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article.

Now, before you roll your eyes and give me the WSJ-isn’t known-for-getting-the-lean-thing-right look, hear me out. What the Journal published is really, really good stuff…even if lean, and 5S in particular, was the furthest thing from their brilliant mind(s).

The title of the WSJ article is “Messes and Wrong Guesses.” Much of the content is ostensibly gleaned from a work written by Boyoun (Grace) Chae and Rui (Juliet) Zhue, entitled, “Environmental Disorder Leads to Self-Regulatory Failure.” It was published in the December 16, 2013, on-line Journal of Consumer Research.

I’m guessing most Gemba Tales readers aren’t very familiar with that journal.

But, I digress! Here’s the pertinent stuff.

Chae and Zhue conducted several revealing experiments with two different populations of volunteers. One group of participants was placed in a messy and chaotic environment. The other group was placed in a more organized environment.

Both groups were subjected to several tests. The results reflected that the folks in the messy environment, in comparison to those in the more organized environment:

1) were willing to spend more for a variety of products (including a high end TV, vacation package, and pen),

2) took longer to complete a tricky, brain teaser type test

3) demonstrated less stamina when attempting to solve a difficult (actually unsolvable) puzzle.

Now, I don’t know what the sample size was, but the WSJ article stated that, “[i]n each case, volunteers in the organized environment did better…”

The researchers, Chae and Zhue, “say the results show that disorganized surroundings threaten people’s sense of personal control, which in turn taxes their self-regulatory abilities.”

So, next time someone challenges you on why 5S is a good thing, look them in the eye and tell them it’s (sort of) proven that it lowers stress and enhances the self-regulatory abilities of everyone in the workforce. That sounds like respect for the individual AND a greater capacity for execution and daily kaizen.


Related posts: What Happened to 5S’ Fourth S? Let’s Standardize! [Guest Post], Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes


Holiday Lean Math

As some of you may recall, I launched a new blog called Lean Math back in February with a couple of my buddies. In my humble opinion, I think that the ever-growing content is pretty useful stuff for lean practitioners.

In any event, I just wanted to share some basic holiday lean math…




I am painfully aware that while the equation is simple, the successful and sustained (mathematical) execution has been eluding humans for a long, long, long time.

Here’s to the sincere hope that you and yours may have a happy and blessed holiday season.


Related post: New Blog Launch – Lean Math!

Build the Lean Management System and the Behaviors Will Come. Not Exactly.

OK, I know that what I’m about to say may sound cynical, but 20 years of personal, hard knock lean experience tells me that this is reality. And most folks I think would, or at least should (I hope), agree with me.

The majority of companies pursuing a lean implementation do so superficially. (Did I just hear you yawn?!)

Many fail to understand the transformational lean principles, much less have the will to rigorously live them. Lean wannabes are attracted by and then reproduce the easily reproducible “shiny objects” and “eye candy.” The objects and candy are the tools and trinkets that are seen in books, seminars, and drive-by benchmark visits (a.k.a. industrial tourism).

Lean management systems are chock full of shiny objects – huddle (a.k.a. tier or reflection meeting or metric) boards, leader standardized work, visual process adherence tools, suggestion boards, task accountability boards, etc. But these things are just things.

An advertisement that I spied on the backside of a Philadelphia area bus is pretty darn profound…and relevant,

Until you know what it really means, it doesn’t mean much.

In other words, just having trinkets doesn’t make a lean management system. In fact, a trinket-only system is pure muda.

So, what ANIMATES a lean management system? What is its soul?

Lean leadership behaviors.

Now, I prescribe to the notion that an organization can act its way into a new way of being, as reflected in the figure below.

principles in action

BUT, lean principles in action are initiated, taught, coached, and reinforced by lean leaders largely through their behaviors within the context of the lean management system.

What the heck does that mean? Behaviorally speaking:

  • Instilling discipline. Human systems don’t naturally gravitate to discipline and rigor. Effective leaders readily model, promote, and enforce discipline first and foremost by doing their own leader standardized work.
  • Prompting critical thinking. Critical thinking and lean thinking go hand-in-hand. Most folks, at least initially, are deficient in both. Leaders develop the critical thinking skills of team members by consistently prompting reflection by asking open ended questions and resisting the almost irresistible urge to tell and fix. And, lean thinking is infused, explicitly and implicitly in everything.
  • Facilitating daily kaizen. Daily kaizen doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Most companies have, accidentally and/or purposefully, smothered the kaizen spirit and failed to develop the necessary technical capabilities. Lean leaders constantly coach folks to aggressively identify and acknowledge opportunities (and prioritize them when appropriate), identify root causes, formulate and execute countermeasures, and then follow-through. This is a powerful mix of know-how and behavior that leverages critical thinking, challenge, creativity, and the freedom to fail.
  • Coaching personal kaizen. Here lean leaders coach folks to apply critical thinking for their own personal development. Coach guided self-reflection yields the identification of personal behavioral and performance gaps and ultimately, the formulation of coachee-owned personal countermeasures with a follow-up plan that the coach can check on. Over time, the coachee should eventually be able to use the same methods to coach others.

This stuff just doesn’t magically appear when the huddle boards are populated and hung-up and the first huddle is conducted or when the leaders conduct their standardized work audits, etc. Indeed, that’s just wishful thinking.

Only proper lean leadership behaviors and technical know-how can animate the accoutrements of the lean management system. And, that can only happen if at least a nucleus of the leaders possess those things to begin with…or who have ready access to one who can coach them.

Related posts: Lean Management System: Accountability’s Four Questions and Two Tools, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings, Why Do You Ask?


Respect the Process

We’ve all undoubtedly had the notion of respect for people drilled into our heads. Of course, it’s easy to speak about such a principle. Much  harder to live it.

In any event, let me humbly add another recipient of our deserved respect.


First, a distinction, it’s not THE Process, meaning we are not talking about one single, special process that is elevated above all others. We’re talking about ANY process within our value streams.

OK, you may be thinking, why would we respect a non-person or non-entity? And how would we render such respect?

Why?respect process 2

  • Every process, standardized or not, should be respected at least to the extent that we must grasp what it is (admittedly difficult if it is not standardized) and the reason for its very existence. How many times have folks eliminated or changed a process without understanding what problem it was trying to solve in the first place, only to find that their rash “improvement” was counterproductive?
  • Basic respect is extended to people because of their inherent human dignity. A standardized process has a certain inherent value in that it provides, if nothing else, a starting point for improvement. Think back to your last time you (improved and) standardized a previously non-standardized process. Hard work, but it established a critical foundation for the next kaizen activity. As Taiichi Ohno (and Henry Ford, previously) is credited with saying, more or less, there is no kaizen without standard work. Implicit with this concept is that the proper use of standardized processes readily reveals abnormalities, which is the feedstock for problem solving.
  • Standardized processes, until improved yet again, represent the best way for the organization to do things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Why wouldn’t we respect that?
  • A standardized process represents, if established properly, the genuine PDCA and SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) efforts of a number of folks. We need to respect their hard work, courage, and creativity.
  • And then there’s the slippery slope of inconsistency. If we pick and choose which processes receive respect and which are casually disregarded, the discipline and scientific thought that is so necessary for effective lean transformations goes up in smoke.


  • PDCA. It’s difficult to respect what you do not understand. Good old fashioned PDCA requires the lean practitioner to grasp the situation. The plan portion of PDCA calls us to understand and compare what is happening versus what should be happening and what we know versus what we don’t know. In other words, we should not willfully further process ignorance.
  • SDCA. SDCA is about ensuring, via audit, that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient. This assumes an organization-wide discipline to follow the standardized work and a leadership obligation to reinforce adherence and, in the event of lack of adherence, determine the reason why and the help develop and deploy an appropriate countermeasure. Sometimes lack of adherence is driven by one or more of the following: the process is insufficient, a better way has been adopted (and should be reflected in updated standardized work), insufficient training, willful disobedience, etc.
  • Patience. Standardized work needs to be lived with for some measure of time before changes should be experimented with and/or instituted. I’ve witnessed folks “trying” standardized work that was SDCA’d in an identical process from another location immediately dismiss it as insufficient (compared to their organic, non-standardized work) and then desiring to change it or just plain ignore it. Here, we suggest reasoned “tasting before seasoning.”
  • TWI. If we truly respect the process AND the person, we will effectively instruct the worker so that he understands the how and why of the process and we will verify that he can consistently execute the process. TWI’s job instruction program, for example, provides a time-proven approach for doing just that.
  • Andon. Workers must be empowered and expected to pull the andon when they cannot maintain the process and/or the process is deemed insufficient. In turn, workers must expect lean leaders to respond to the andon pull, escalate when necessary, and ultimately facilitate problem solving.

In short, respect the process and it will respect you.

Related posts: Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Invitation to LEI’s Managing Kaizen Events Workshop

Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) will be hosting its first Fall 2013 session. The session, comprised of 13 workshops, will be held in Minneapolis from September 17th through 20th and will focus, “on such fundamental concepts as standardized work, leader standard work, kaizen (both daily improvement and team-based rapid improvement events), visual management and value-stream mapping in the context of organizational change and learning.”

I’ll be instructing the new Managing Kaizen Events workshop September 19-20. If you would like a description of this interactive workshop, please view the video below. Click here for more information (great idea if you don’t want to see and hear me drone on) and to register.

I hope to see you in Minneapolis!

Balancing Two Types of Visual Controls within the Context of Lean Management

Some folks may wonder what the heck I mean by “two types.” Within the context of a lean management system, we can make the following distinction:

  1. Visual process performance (VPP). These are typically metric based visuals that provide users with meaningful insight into the health of the process or value stream. For example, we can easily relate to graphs that are displayed on tiered team meeting boards. These graphs, often categorized in people, quality, delivery, and cost-type buckets, trend and compare performance to targets. They help team members and leaders quickly identify and acknowledge performance gaps, which should naturally lead to root cause identification and implementation of effective countermeasures. But, VPP visuals are not limited to simply metrics. A classic example is a plan versus actual chart (a.k.a. production analysis board). It captures typically hour (or pitch), by hour (or pitch) planned production and compares it against actual performance for a given line or cell. The visual, as all good visuals, should be worker managed, and will reflect the reason for any substantive misses.
  2. Visual process adherence (VPA). Leader standard work requires leaders to assess both adherence to and the sufficiency of standard work. This is largely about PDCA’s sister, SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust), and provides necessary insight into process and value stream health. So, what kind of visual controls are we talking about here? The examples are pretty far and wide – standard work sheets, standard work combination sheets, FIFO lanes (and the related max levels), shadow boards, supermarkets (and the related kanban cards, their flow, and the periodic supermarket re-sizing process), heijunka box (including, how it’s loaded and relieved), etc., etc.

Assuming that the notion of VPP and VPA is less than radical, why my concern about balance?

Because, frankly, I see so many folks who care somewhat (plus or minus) about VPP, but not a lick about VPA.

That’s illogical!

Effective lean leaders care deeply about what the process or value stream is producing from an output perspective (at least better, faster, and cheaper) AND how the process or value stream achieves (or doesn’t achieve) those results from a process perspective. In other words, lean practitioners want both…

…because they really, really NEED both.

Besides, how does one identify performance gaps and then not fix process!?!

We’ve probably all seen the following characterization, but it’s worth revisiting.

  • Good results, bad process means we probably just got lucky and the likelihood of repeating the good results is remote.
  • Bad results, bad process should be expected.
  • Good results, good process should be expected and all the more reason to ensure adherence to the good process(es).
  • Bad results, good process should be impossible…if the process was indeed good…and was followed rigorously. Further investigation is warranted in such a situation.

So, why would folks not seek the proper level of visual balance within their organization?

There are a few possible reasons why an organization is “performance heavy:”

  1. Developing good VPA visuals is hard work. For example, developing standard work sheets and standard work combination sheets for a number of different processes can be daunting.
  2. Checking on process adherence and sufficiency is hard work. Let’s face it, this is really auditing the system. This requires multiple levels of leadership to perform their leader standard work audits at regular intervals at the gemba and identify abnormalities (think 5 why’s) and sometimes have hard conversations with folks who don’t really like to adhere to standards, ever.
  3. The culture values outputs, not process. This is the realm of non-lean thinking hero cultures. You know, the “we don’t need no stinkin’ standard work, we have a bunch of super smart folks who will work a ton of overtime and pull a victory from the jaws of defeat…every month, or every project, forever.” Heck, why fix problems and keep them fixed with good standard work, when you can wrestle with the same ones, over and over again?

If the reasons are #1 and/or #2, it’s time to get busy. But, do it smartly via a pilot. Go narrow and deep. Learn and then expand. The results of VPP and VPA balance are within your reach.

If the reason is #3, there’s probably a need for some fundamental leadership education and alignment first.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts, Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics

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