Parsable Podcast

The Problem with Lean: Where You May Have Gone Wrong

Is your Lean implementation a failure?

Here’s a controversial take — it very well may be.

Many manufacturers halfheartedly try to go lean, but overlook critical components of the philosophy. But when done right, manufacturers can make a huge impact.

So what does right look like?

Bill Neeve, President at Cycle Time Management Inc, joins the show to discuss the principles of lean management and how to make it work for your company. 

We discuss:

  • Why lean management often appears to fail
  • Principles of effective lean management
  • Implementing a lean scoreboard
  • Training opportunities in lean management


Are you ready to start your digital transformation journey? Request a demo today.


Check out the full episode below:


[00:00:00] Bill Neeve: Lean to me is all-encompassing. If you take a company that’s operated in a very traditional way, and they decide to implement lean thinking, they need to think in terms of a total transformation of the operating practices.


[00:00:22] Josh Santo: Welcome to Conquering Chaos, the show for manufacturing leaders. In each episode, we are connecting you to the manufacturing leaders of today who are driving the innovations needed to futureproof the operations of tomorrow. If you feel like your time is spent fighting fires and trying to control the everyday chaos, this show is the show for you. My name is Josh Santo. I’ll be your host. Hey y’all, it’s Josh. Before we get into this episode, I wanted to put this into your ear. If you like the types of conversations we’re having, you’ll enjoy the content that we share through our mailing list.

Go to Scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up to get more insightful content delivered directly to your inbox. Okay, onto the show. Welcome, conquerors. We’re back with another episode of Conquering Chaos. Our next guest has over 25 years of experience in lean manufacturing, management, and training. As a pioneer in the field, he was instrumental in the development of the fundamental principles of cycle time reduction. He’s worked with companies throughout North America, such as General Motors, Procter & Gamble, J.M. Schneider, which is owned by Maple Leaf Foods, and the Royal Canadian Mint just to name a few.

Currently, the co-founder and president of Cycle Time Management, which by the way, was founded on the belief that any type of company could dramatically improve productivity by reducing cycle time throughout their business and squeezing out waste using lean methods. Please welcome to the show, Bill Neeve, Bill, thank you so much for being here today.

[00:02:07] Bill: Thank you, Josh. It’s a pleasure, and hopefully today we can add a little value to the lives of your listeners about lean implementation.

[00:02:18] Josh: That’s great. I love that. We want to make sure that this is a value-added activity for everyone involved, so what a great way to set the tone. Well, look, we start every conversation with the same question to our guests. What’s your day-to-day look like in your role?

[00:02:36] Bill: Day-to-day, I’m still very active in the business, the company Cycle Time Management Inc, with account management and business development. I spend as much time as I can with my family, and my grandkids, and we have a cottage up at the lake and just normal stuff like that. I work out, I’m healthy, both three times a week, so things are looking good.

[00:03:04] Josh: Oh, great. Well, great to hear that. Well, as we alluded to earlier, we’re talking about lean today. Now, the principles of lean manufacturing are not new, and lean is widely considered to be one of the most effective disciplines of continuous improvement. It’s helping businesses reduce waste, time, and resources required to make products. However, oftentimes manufacturers who believe they are operating lean, actually aren’t. We’ve had a couple of episodes that centered around this topic previously with Ray Ardahji as well as Jonathan Griffiths, talking about how companies are doing continuous improvement wrong.

I was on LinkedIn the other day and I came across an interview with Simon Sinek, who is known for being an expert on leadership, and he made a very bold claim. He said there has never been a company that has fully successfully implemented lean in the United States. I thought those got to be some fighting words, and then I stopped to think about some of the conversations that I’ve had with people like yourself Bill, and I was wondering, is he spot on? That’s what we’re chatting about today, are the common ways in which manufacturers get lean wrong.

[00:04:16] Bill: I don’t think he’s too far off the mark, but there has been a lot of success. I wouldn’t say no one’s been successful in implementing the Toyota Production System, which is where lean came from. In fact, it depends on what you call success. I’ve found companies like one in Michigan I was in about six years ago, and they’ve done a great job on the floor, but not the whole company. They implement a lot of the tools like lean metrics, 5S, air proofing, and one-piece flow. They’d really done a good job, but they recognized they had a general manager that really took the lead at the floor, regardless of senior management not being too interested in it, and that’s not the way to do it, but that’s the way they approached it.

Today they’ve turned out with their persistence to actually, some of the people who teach at the University of Michigan and share what they’ve been able to do over the last 10 years. That’s what I call a success. They finally got there, but it took quite a while. Another company that comes to mind is one that I believe I sent you the case study on, Josh. KeepRite, which is part of International Comfort Products out of Tennessee, we started out with them, and they just had tremendous- they did it a different way. They did it, what I call holistic. You really got to have the ingredients correct to make this thing really work.

They had a president that had been to Japan. This is back in the late ’80s, and early ’90s. He knew exactly what needed to take place to make them a streamlined organization, very efficient and effective, but he couldn’t make it happen. I can remember the conversation, he said to me, “Bill,” we’re in the boardroom. He said, “How do I get at least 10% of the knowledge out on the floor and in the office throughout the company that I know?” He was very schooled in the latest thought process on lean methodology. I said, “That would make you happy.” Well, we started working with him, and we got way more than that.

This company ended up going on tours with Productivity Inc. They’re out of the States, and they’re known for writing books on the Japanese techniques and all that sort of thing around the world. They used to go on tours and conferences. They’d take 10 to 15 people from the operation to talk about the good things they’ve done and set up and overall cycle time reduction, inventory reduction, and all the various things that benefited the company. I’m pretty proud of that organization, but they’re far and few between, going back to Simon’s point, and there are reasons for it, which we can discuss as we go along here.

[00:07:35] Josh: Absolutely. There were some elements in what you brought up of the need for a holistic approach, not just the siloed perspective on it, leadership buy-in, but before we get to that, let’s get down to the basics. Talk to us about what lean actually is, versus the common interpretation that you encounter in your work.

[00:07:56] Bill: I’ve been at this a long time. I’ve had different opinions with the more experience that I’ve gained through my organization, but lean to me is all-encompassing. If you take a company that’s operated in a very traditional way, and they decide to implement lean thinking, they need to think in terms of a total transformation of the operating practices. This is a holistic approach. It does not mean trying a lean tool here and there and hoping for the best. Like I say, it’s all-encompassing, Josh, and most companies don’t take it that way.

They do bits and pieces, and they don’t get success, and then they blame lean, or it won’t work here. It’s all about how you approach this and how you go through the implementation, which should lead to a total transformation, not just an implementation and you stop. Any successful company goes on year after year. It has to become a system and an operating system totally throughout the organization to be really successful. That’s where the real payback is.

[00:09:13] Josh: Got it. Some themes of what you called out were echoed by Jonathan Griffiths in the episode, You’re Doing Continuous Improvement Wrong. He gave the example where in his experience certain organizations would implement something like 5S and just 5S, that was it and call that- “That’s lean because we implemented 5S. We are a lean organization.” Then another important point that you just talked about, the fact that it has to become a system, we’re really talking about, you have to sustain it. It’s not enough to just implement it. It’s got to become a part of the everyday.

That’s something that Ray Ardahji brought up in the Secret Formula to Continuous Improvement. I love that we’re hearing some of those themes as well. I’d like for us to dig a little further into where manufacturers typically go wrong within their lean journey.

[00:10:02] Bill: My experience says they miss the understanding of the whole picture, the big picture. We’re back again to the tools like you mentioned, 5S, and value stream mapping. It could be any of the tools that fall under the Toyota Production System. I call them dabblers. They’ve started with something because they don’t understand the big picture. Of course, what happens in those companies, if you implement a tool, you may be successful in that part of the company, like 5S on the floor, but eventually, it’ll fizzle out because it doesn’t become a part of a system.

Then overall organizational operating system just is a piece of it. It’ll fall apart and you’re back to square one. I look at a company- ones that I mentioned earlier that are successful, that if they implement in total and they really understand it, starting that senior management, you’ll get to a point down the road years later, where it’s not an implementation anymore, it’s a transformation. You don’t talk about it like, “Hey, we’re doing setup reduction,” or, “We’re putting up visual controls.” It’s part of the system. If you don’t get that far, usually people give up and it goes away.

There are lots of reasons why people give up, not only the approach to implementation, but it could be a change in leadership, somebody pushed and wanted it- if you’re lucky to have a senior person that really understands it and wants to make it happen, but he retires. If you’re not far enough in the process through the transformation, somebody else comes in and disagrees and doesn’t want to do it and wipes everything out that was achieved in the past. I’ve seen that happen many, many times, not a good thing.

[00:12:10] Josh: Not at all. Some of the manufacturers I’ve been able to talk to have mentioned similar things. Here at Parsable, we have a specific technology that we implement and separate from lean or continuous improvement initiatives, we often encounter a perspective of, “Well, I don’t really have to adopt this because as soon as the next leader comes in, things are going to change.” It’s that constant shifting. Now, if someone listening to us, if they were to just go look around at their factory floor or their operations as a whole, what would you say are some telltale signs that they have a ways to go on their lean journey?

[00:12:52] Bill: That’s a good question. Over the years you gain experience- like any of my people, if they go into an organization, manufacturers or any company, we spend a few hours there and you look for things, they become automatic that they don’t see while they’re in there working day to day. They miss a lot of this, but things like if you’re walking through and you see excess scrap and rework, it’s one thing. I remember one of our clients that when it comes to rework and scrap, they actually had a department and some of your listeners might identify with this.

They actually paid the employees a bonus in that area. That was the best place you could work to repair the rejected parts, as opposed to going to the root cause and saying, “Why do we have this in the first place?” Believe it, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It blows me away every time I think about it. Look for long product cycles, products that take two weeks from end to end that should only take two days. If you take the standard times, you wonder what’s going on. Well, they’re not moving through the system the way they should. That’s another thing.

High obsolescence parts lean around so long they become obsolete. There are a lot of manufacturers out there that, like my poor old mother, they never throw anything away. You can’t do that, but you got to ask yourself, “Why do we have those parts laying around in the first place?” High obsolescence is another indicator or factor. Excess machine breakdowns. If you’ve got your machines breaking down all the time, that gives you a hint that you should be doing more productive maintenance. High warranty costs. You manage to get the product out the door, but three weeks later, they’re coming back and the quality’s no good.

Poor flexibility to respond to change. A good manufacturer that has everything in place with lean and is utilizing the methods properly should embrace change. They should be able to be quick, fast, and turn around things. If somebody wants a change, that’s what it’s all about, where we’re moving towards manufacturing operation, having the capability to make custom parts one-off, think about it, at the same price as mass production. If you think about it, that means short cycle time, fast, flexible turnaround, and that sort of thing. Well, some of the things I’m talking about are far from it.

Long setups, where a company might be doing a setup for 10 hours on a machine that should take 10 minutes if they utilize SMED, which is Single-Minute Exchange of Die. That’s old news, it shouldn’t be new news, but apparently to a lot of companies, it is. For the on-time delivery record, always behind. Usually, companies have a monthly quota they work month to month and they need to get a product out so many in that month. You’ll find a poorly run company that 10% goes out in the first three weeks and then 90% in the last week where they’re shoving it out the door and hence you’re getting warranties. There’s no balance to the situation.

That’s another thing to look for. Poor communication between management and shop personnel. Another quick thing is low inventory turns, meaning you’ve got way too much inventory. Well, they’re all interrelated. Those are some of the key ones that come to mind as you’re walking through a company and you’re asking management questions or people on the floor, and you can score that kind of thing. You know whether you’re doing well and your listeners, if they’re keeping track of what I just said, can check out some of those things and know if they’re doing good or bad, but I think instinctively, they know that.

[00:17:18] Josh: I think so too. I love how the first one you called out on the company that paid a bonus for how quickly workers could repair rejected parts. In an example like that, you almost run the risk of incentivizing parts to repair, because I’m going to make more money. I’m going to make more money off of poor quality, such an interesting thing. The point that you brought up is getting to the root cause and fix it. Another one that really stood out to me is the long setup and change over time. I’ve certainly seen a lot of struggles in identifying the variables that are impacting the changeover.

There are a lot of different ways to measure it. The most common ones that we see have been grabbing the stopwatch, and watch everything that the person’s doing. Then you create your Gantt chart and this is how long each task should take, but there are certainly opportunities to optimize there. Then the other one you called out, poor communication between management and shop personnel. I have seen that time and time again. It’s always with this phrase that you hear is, “Nobody listens to me. I raise this issue, nobody listens to me, I’m going to stop raising that issue.”

I appreciate you talking us through that. Listeners, if you are feeling one or more of these things that Bill has called out, it’s an opportunity to get back to the basics and revisit how lean is part of your organization’s culture. Now, Bill, some of the things you started to bring up, we’re really talking about a way that you can assess where you are. I know that your team has pioneered an assessment for measuring an organization’s lean implementation. I would love it if you could talk us through what you look for.

[00:19:12] Bill: Yes, sure. I’m sure a lot of organizations out there have developed questionnaires and audits and whatnot, similar to what we did. This is just our perspective on we put 15 I believe it is principles together so that you can go through and actually score yourself. It’s like an audit, and it tries to cover various parts of the organization that should be in a lean operating system. It’s based on lean thinking, it’s based on value stream flow, using pull techniques in your organization, and things like that. If you’d like, I could talk about a couple of them. I don’t want to go through all of them.

[00:19:59] Josh: Yes.

[00:20:00] Bill: A couple of important ones.

[00:20:01] Josh: Would love to hear some of the ones that stand out to you as most important.

[00:20:06] Bill: Okay. One of the first principles is to base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals, that’s just an indicator of companies realizing if they’re looking at the big picture, they understand it’s not going to take three months to implement lean. It took Toyota 70 years and they’re still new in terms of continuous improvement. They continually try and improve the methodologies that were developed over that timeframe. Companies that understand the long term, utilize some of the methodologies like tying to their strategy- when they’ve got their say five-year strategy, tying tools in with that, so that it’ll drive the organization forward with a lean methodology like hoshin planning, which was developed by Toyota.

We actually- when I worked at Hewlett-Packard used hoshin planning for total quality control. Hewlett-Packard back in the ’80s was famous. John Young was the CEO and he led that worldwide, the whole total quality control which over the years has become total quality management and that sort of thing. But using the tool hoshin planning, which allows you to feed in off of your strategy, some of the key objectives, and down a methodology to start at the top with the objectives and drive them down through the organization. People understand how they can contribute to making the company better using lean methodologies in this case, to improve their processes and all of that sort of thing.

The idea there in that principle is it’s not going to take three months. It’s going to take years, and you’re in for the long haul in changing the organizational operating practices. That’s what that one’s all about. The second one is to create a continuous process flow, to bring problems to the surface. Most organizations and consulting firms, training firms, look at organizations when they want to improve vertically, and companies do this. The purchasing department needs improvement or some other department or the shop floor on its own needs improvement. Value stream mapping to find out the flow is really the way to go.

To look at your organization, how it flows horizontally and not vertically. If you look at improvement vertically, you improve a department and that may slow down the process throughout the organization. You have to look horizontally. This is how we came up with cycle time reduction, way back when, is we said cycle time reduction should be from end to end. From the time you get a customer request, till the time they receive the product, what is the cycle time it takes horizontally to go all through your departments and that sort of thing? The idea is if it was three weeks, how do you make it three days? How do you shorten that timeframe?

What we run into, from a flow perspective you had all these things going on long setups and on the floor, all kinds of rocks, I call them, in the middle stop in the flow, and to straighten that out and streamline it using value stream mapping, is really one of the keys in that whole situation. When you use value stream mapping for flow throughout the company, a lot of companies think, “We did the value stream mapping. It’s over.” It’s not over, products change continually, customer requirements change, and all kinds of things change in the organization. It’s a tool that has to be used dynamically as far as I’m concerned, on a continual basis to maintain the flow.

As you said earlier Josh, how do you sustain this? This is one of the tools that need to be used on a constant basis. When you have any big change. Let me look here. Another principle, five, build the culture, a culture of stopping to fix problems to get quality right the first time. In that, it really says- and we are all aware now in 2022, you don’t make a product, get it to the end, and then inspect it and find out that the 45 components that were put in there, the second one that was put on was wrong and you got to disassemble it and all that. We backed our way up to what we call quality at the source.

Giving the people the proper training and understanding of how to measure their quality levels right at the source where they’re doing the activity, which also leads to if you have difficult areas going into error proofing. Don’t let the person make a mistake, employ error proofing, and avoid the mistake right from the beginning. That’s that one. I’ll touch on another one which is really key here. Number nine on our list. It’s about growing leaders, who thoroughly understand the system and lean and the work, and live the philosophy and teach to others. What we’re saying there is the grow your people is the subject onto its own.

When you look at lean and you’re going through a transformation, the main part about this whole thing is about people and culture. How do you change people? Training’s a good subject. How do you train people? A lot of companies I talked to, and I know when I come through the ranks years ago and I worked in manufacturing, supervisor used to come around and say, once a year, “Bill what training do you need this year?” I don’t know. My point is there’s- and a lot of companies even today, there’s no structured approach for training and growing your people. I don’t want to make it sound like nobody does that, a lot of people do.

My biggest learning point was when I worked at Hewlett-Packard, when I joined they had an onboard training program. They had a catalog of courses, and this is back in the ’80s, of training. They went through it thoroughly. They spent, I think it was 10% of their gross on training their people. It was a natural thing in the organization, and Toyota’s no different. They do the same thing, train, train everybody you can, but that’s how you grow people. You engage them, you train them in new things. You try and broaden their mindset, in terms of what they’re doing. You don’t keep them at a workstation, and they’re pounding the press down for the rest of their life.

The idea is a good company, that’s going through this kind of transformation is to become a training organization. That’s how you grow people, through the process. You got to get more structured, and your budget for training. Most companies don’t budget for training. They see a conference and turn- and somebody will say, “Do you want to go to this conference?” It’s not in context with anything. Therefore you go to the conference, you get all excited and come back, and nothing changes. [laughs] To have a structured approach and you send somebody out to a conference, and it connects with what you’re trying to do in your organization, and you’ve got the right people involved, perhaps you can get the benefit out of it.


[00:28:50] Josh: Hey, we’re going to take a real quick break to hear from our sponsors. Stay tuned for more Conquering Chaos.

[00:28:55] Rob: Hey listeners, it’s Rob. I’m one of the producers of Conquering Chaos. I’m right here with you for every episode, working behind the scenes to make sure everything is just right for your listening experience. Whether you’re a new listener, binging content to help you conquer the everyday chaos, or a dedicated fan tuning in for each new episode, there’s one thing to always keep in mind. Information is useless unless you use it. Obvious, right? It’s so easy to learn, forget, and then miss out on the opportunity to make real improvements to day-to-day activities.

The folks at Parsable have an opportunity for you to learn, experience, and make real improvements to those same day-to-day activities. Get rid of paper on the factory floor. It’s the quickest and easiest way to make a measurable impact on safety, quality, and production. Think about it. Paper-based checklists, forms, and SOPs isolate workers from getting the information they need when they need it, which leads to a number of inherent inefficiencies that you probably accept as a part of your own everyday chaos. As a result, you can’t respond quickly to problems.

You struggle to standardize the completion of critical tasks, and you miss out on new continuous improvement opportunities. Parsable is proven to help across a number of different functions, including autonomous maintenance, line changeovers, in-process quality checks, and more, which has helped industry-leading manufacturers reduce unplanned downtime, increase OEE, improve throughput, and more. See for yourself how easy it is to bring a connected digital experience to your frontline workers by using Parsable risk-free for 30 days. Check the show notes for the link. All right, back to the show.


[00:31:02] Josh: There’s a lot of great principles that you brought down and I really appreciate you sharing each of those. I want to sum up some of the key takeaways that I had in listening to what you shared. That first principle that we’re talking about on really placing priority on the long term over the short term, that one is sometimes a very difficult conversation to have with people because- especially when you think about what’s happening in manufacturing right now, there is a lot of pressure to produce, there’s worker shortages, skill gaps, supply chain struggles.

There are a lot of burdens and a lot of pressure being placed on manufacturers to still deliver despite these problems. That makes it even more difficult to talk about those short-term trade-offs for those long-term gains. I think everyone would agree that the long term is key, but when it comes to the actions that people take, that doesn’t always line up. We talked with Jim Parker from Inline Plastics who talked with us about their strategy for worker retention. One of the things he talked about was how they got the entire plant together for a day, shut down production completely just to have a heart-to-heart with employees, to find out what’s going on.

What could we as management do better to serve you? Which gets a little bit into some of the points that you brought up previously. I love how you called out looking at the entire flow and how this is something that you have to continually reexamine. This is one thing that has come up before is you have to continuously improve your continuous improvement. It’s got to keep on keeping up with the times. We just talked with Pavel Kuviarzin who talked with us about the importance of flow, and how if you just take this siloed approach, let’s say you optimized–

The example he gave was a laser cutting machine for, I believe it was a refrigerator manufacturer, and how they optimized this part of the process with a new automated tool that was putting out sheets of metal faster than the rest of the people and system could keep up. In the end, it wasn’t helping them make more because it was actually causing a ton of work in progress at that point. That idea of stopping to fix problems, getting it right the first time, is something that came up with Jamie Flinchbaugh, who talked with us about how in his book, People Solve Problems, he argues for the need to prioritize problem-solving.

How you have to protect that time and let people get to the root cause, fix the root cause so that you have that right first-time approach. Then finally, I think maybe one of the most important points, you have to teach, you have to help other individuals who are involved become the leaders who can carry on this work because that’s part of sustaining it. It has to be carried on throughout the lifetime of the organization. I think it was such a great assessment. I really appreciate you taking us through each of those particular examples.

[00:34:09] Bill: You’re welcome.

[00:34:12] Josh: Admitting that there’s a problem is the first step, getting to the root cause is the next. We’d all agree that if you’re not tackling the root cause, you’re not solving the problem. Let’s talk about the root cause of these lean implementations that missed the mark. Bill, from your perspective, what are common reasons for the disconnect between the ideal lean state and then the reality of the implementation?

[00:34:37] Bill: There’s a number of reasons, but I think one of the main reasons- and we touched on it, is the lack of investment in appropriate training. That starts with senior management. When it comes to senior management, I mentioned one who was just brilliant and recognized. He had seen it firsthand in Japan and recognized he wanted to share that with his company and was really looking for, how do we do that? How do we engage the people? He got it. There’s a lot of CEOs that say, “We’re doing lean,” but they couldn’t tell you the first thing about it because they’ve downloaded it to other people in the company like Jerry or the general manager, you handle that.

To me, I mentioned John Young, who was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard worldwide. That’s a way to do it. You have to lead to charge yourself. You’ve got to get engaged using some of these methodologies that tie to your strategy. You’ve got to show the people that you’re in for the long haul. This attitude– We all remember this from Nike. When people talked about lean in the ’90s and going in 2000, just do it. Well, boy you talk about chaos in manufacturing. Just doing it can lead to a lot of problems if it isn’t structured. People that do that and download it, the president reads a book on a plane and goes, “Oh, this is good stuff,” or talks to a friend and then downloads it and walks away from it and the senior management doesn’t have a role.

It hasn’t got much of a chance. Somebody will try 5S as we said, he’ll do it and it’ll disappear because it doesn’t tie together with anything. That’s the problem. You have to have it at the top and they got to drive it and they got to stay with it. They got to be properly educated in the tools. You can’t expect other people to use lean tools that you don’t know what they’re about yourself. Understanding how long the transfer is- realistic time on how long it’s going to take you. Every company’s a bit different in terms of the time, really depends where you are when you start and the products you make and things like that.

In a nutshell, if you don’t start at the top, you might have a very ambitious person down in the ranks. I mentioned that with the company in Michigan, they had the guy in the shop floor and regardless of what senior management was going to do, he was going to make it happen. It was like a company on its own. He worked from the bottom to try and shove it back up to the office and it took him like 10 years to do it, instead of starting at the top, setting the expectations, getting people involved, structuring a little bit and then going forward that way.

[00:37:52] Josh: Got it. When you say senior management, you’re talking about the executives in charge of the entire organization. It’s not just something let’s say a director of operations could do for example, or plant management.

[00:38:09] Bill: It depends on the company because whoever has the financial responsibility for the environment they’re working in. That could be a corporation. It could be a plant with a plant manager. It depends on how they have their structures set up. Like in some companies you’ve got a plant in Tennessee and it’s run by a plant manager. It’s not run by a CEO. Do you see the difference? Whoever has the physical responsibility for that environment is the one that needs to step up.

[00:38:44] Josh: Needs to be driving this as a change. Understood. One of the tools that we see very commonly in lean is standards. Standardization, standard operating process. This is the way that you do work. Is there a standard like ISO for example, that could help standardize the implementations of lean?

[00:39:08] Bill: To date, I’m not aware of any standard for lean anywhere in the world. Every lean consulting and training company or manufacturer interprets the Toyota Production System as they see it. It’s no wonder that we have problems, we’re all over the place because we don’t have an ISO standard.

[00:39:34] Josh: I think that’s such an interesting parallel. What you just called out, no wonder it’s difficult. Everyone’s really just trying to emulate the Toyota Production System based on their understanding which they may or may not be limited to. It seems like that could be something that would be really beneficial, having some standard for lean. Do you think there could be a standard?

[00:40:01] Bill: Oh, absolutely. It’s 2022, in the early ’80s, about ’83 when people started going to Japan to find out what Toyota Production System was all about and bringing it back to North America, I could see there’s no standard because we weren’t smart enough at the time. Didn’t have enough experience to figure out the lay of the land. In 2022, it’s fairly obvious that these tools and how they link to the implementation, there’s an order to follow as you go through. You’ve got stabilization tools like value stream mapping, 5S, visual control, and standardization in general.

Then you’ve got flow tools that come next, batch reduction, setup reduction, plant, and office layout, air proofing, and total productive maintenance. They fit into the- they’re affecting flow, and then you’ve got what I call just-in-time, that fit into Pull and Kanban, and point of use storage and level production, heijunka boards, and cellular workstations. Those things all affect how you pull through the organization. If a company starts on a tool without, first of all, understanding the big picture, it’s tough. You bounce around and you try one thing and not another, but after you’ve done the top piece, it’s easy to follow what I call the- areas I just ran through.

There is an order, you wouldn’t start a Kanban system before you’ve looked at flow. Another one’s 5S. I don’t know how many companies I’ve gone into, they said, “We started 5S.” Part of 5S is really, one of the exercises is to lay out lines on the floor so you know where the equipment is and the boundaries and all that. Well, you go ahead and do all that, but if you haven’t looked at flow, you may find out later when you do flow, then you have to move all the equipment. It was a useless exercise, so there is an order to follow this stuff today in 2022.

[00:42:26] Josh: That’s such a great point. You don’t want to end up having to rework your continuous improvement. You want to make sure you’re tackling it in the best order that you can because, without a standard, it seems like these organizations are really just trying to do their best to implement lean. Sometimes that gets into the situations that we were talking about earlier. We’ve talked about some of these root causes of lean implementations that have gone wrong. Let’s talk about what can be done about it. After all, we’ve just observed the problem, we’ve diagnosed the root cause so now we can take corrective action. Bill, what would you recommend as a starting point for reinvigorating lean implementations?

[00:43:15] Bill: There isn’t a company I go into that- they’re all in different positions in terms of lean. I do a scoreboard. I would recommend to your listeners out there, whatever they’ve been doing if they don’t feel like they’ve got a holistic approach and they are dabbling doing one tool here, and one tool there and nothing meets, I would recommend that they sit down and they take a look at what they have been doing. They refresh the good things they’ve done and the not-so-good things. You get senior management, I’m talking about senior management sitting down, and going through this exercise, and you audit a more extensive- that I talked about earlier, but you really find out where your gaps are in the organization.

You can re-kick your implementation or your transformation but start at the top. It’s never too late to start at the top. Tie in your hoshin planning, understand it, be trained in hoshin planning, how it ties to your strategy, and how it drives the overall system transformation. I believe that’s the way to go. Figure out the roles and who’s going to engage, and how you do that as you try and reinvigorate the situation. Don’t give up and say it didn’t work here. Try and find out the reasons why it didn’t work. Again, to start over, start at the top, and get people engaged right at the top of the company.

[00:45:00] Josh: Okay, so when you think about that, not just getting people at the top involved, but what other resources are required to make this happen?

[00:45:09] Bill: I think if you do what I called [unintelligible 00:45:12], you really need to create an internal structure. Now you need senior management that is taking a look through the hoshin planning at the next three years’ objectives. You need to find some disciples throughout the company. What I always find interesting, and we’ll call them champions or mini champions, is you need people driving this thing throughout. It can’t just be one person- or I’ve seen, I mentioned that company, they had the one person that did drive it, never gave up and he used to tell me he used some of the lean methodologies at home to restock the fridge. [chuckles] Anyway, you need champions.

You need teams. There are still companies today in 2022 that don’t put the appropriate people together to solve problems. Team exercises, putting teams to do continuous improvement is still foreign to a lot of co companies, smaller companies. The larger ones have their own universities these days, us that we’ve been talking about, but I’m talking about the small to medium size companies that haven’t really gotten involved that could get involved, and do it the right way. You need a reporting system.

As you go through your implementation, you need to recycle and feed the senior people as to what’s going on at all times and agree with your other people, your champions, and the teams, this is where we’re heading, and set proper expectations.

[00:46:59] Josh: Right, and do you think, should this be a purely internal project, or do you think manufacturers need to look outside of their organization for help?

[00:47:09] Bill: That’s a good question. I think it depends on where you are starting from. You need to evaluate where you are against what we’ve been talking about. I’d be glad to share my assessment with anybody, any of your listeners- or we’ve collected tools over the years, I’ll share anything with anybody that’s trying to make an effort. Let’s take the scenario, if you have a number of key people that have a good understanding of lean, you may not need outside help. Canvas your workforce, find out– It’s amazing. I’ve sat and talked to presidents over the past, and it’s amazing when you really get involved with something that’s beneficial like this, you find many bright stars that have been hiding out in the office and the shop.

We really don’t get to know our people the way we should. As you get engaged in this sort of activity, they pop up. It gives you a chance to really find out who your stars are and then work with them. You may need an outsider- but I would suggest before you do that, you do what we just talked about, but you might want to find other companies that think they’re doing fairly well. Form a small consortium where you’ve got a few CEOs that sit down once a week, they talk about their experiences.

There’s no rush to go out and hire a consultant. In fact, a lot of consultants even today look like they can come in like a one-man-band or a two-man-band and beat their drum for a while and then walk away, and nothing’s embedded. Be cautious of that sort of thing.

[00:49:03] Josh: Got it, the risk there being, you want this ingrained in your culture and someone from the outside who is just temporary, there’s really not much they can do to sustain a culture there. A lot of times you can get people hyped up and excited, and maybe implement a couple of those tools. Really you’re more dabblers like you said before. Then that group leaves, and it’s not sustained. That ultimately doesn’t help. That becomes a non-value-added activity, but from your perspective, when you think about making this transformation, is there such a thing as a quick fix, or do people need to get comfortable with the idea of there are going to be some short-term sacrifices?

[00:49:43] Bill: Again through our conversation today, I think we’ve traveled a path that says, here’s what you could do, and give your listeners a sense that there is a way forward. I would say there’s definitely not a quick fix. This is a long-term situation that a company has to you’re either in or you’re out. If you can’t do it, get started. You got to think of the emotions of your people. You don’t want this to be looked at as another project of the month. This has to really make some sense to the senior management. They got to get their head around this and then they got to address the people in the company.

They’ve got to make the people understand there’s a benefit for everybody in the way you work and the way they move forward and supporting their families and all of that thing. There is no quick fix and you don’t jump ship with the first problem that you run into and say it doesn’t work. That’s why you need strong senior management that goes, wait a minute. We don’t want to stop our efforts because we ran into this problem or that problem.

You really, as you’re going through the transition, you’re running two companies at the same time. You’re running the old company in parallel with where you’re trying the lines are going to cross and that could take two or three years to make that happen. You got to be in the game until the two points meet each other. All of a sudden you’ve got a new system that’s working throughout the organization.

[00:51:33] Josh: I love it. Bill, I certainly feel like this conversation has been value-added for me, and I think I speak for everyone listening to them as well. I’d love it if you could take us through how cycle time management could help.

[00:51:49] Bill: I didn’t want to do this as a commercial. I was hoping to add value, but one of the things we’ve moved to in cycle, I guess this pandemic COVID helped us push a little further. We’ve always sent people in to train organizations and we have a process to start at the top and so we do what we say and work our way down through a company. What we’ve done in the last couple of years is we’re moving towards our own transformation from sending people into eLearning. We’ve captured all our valuable information that measures up against the Toyota Production System.

We have all the courses that one would need. We have a full belt system from white belt to master black belt. We’ve got a course for owners to take to give them the big picture as to what lean’s all about, and we have all the 14 tools that have courses on each one. They’re all on a platform, a high well functioning platform. The courses all run and they’re on our website. The other difference with them, a lot of the people- and it’s pretty competitive in the eLearning field for lean, most of them are what I call the academic. They will teach you what these things are but when you take their course, they haven’t got a clue as to how you would use them with true examples.

Ours are all built on, here’s what the subject is, and here’s how you apply it in your organization. We wanted to develop one of the first how-to-lean eLearning courseware, and we’ve accomplished that. We’ve had a few thousand people go through our courses and we get good feedback. We sometimes work with- a company at a time somebody will call and say they want to really go through this. We also provide the learning management system that the courses run on. There’s no charge for that. You get actually your own digital training center in a box with all the courses, and then we work out a fee.

You can also take them as an individual going on our website, but there are 50 other companies trying to sell it that way. I prefer when I talk to people and they tell me about what they want to do for the whole company. Then they get our platform and they get all the eLearning. If they need mentoring on the side, we have people that do that.

[00:54:56] Josh: A lot of great things here. You mentioned before the importance of investing in training for people, and then just how that helps sustain, educate people, and the practical application side of things, that’s critical. It’s one thing to understand conceptually what something is, but to then reframe it in the context of your day-to-day is super important for grasping that true understanding. How can our listeners continue the conversation with you?

[00:55:24] Bill: You can reach me at my phone number. Do you want me to give you the phone number?

[00:55:31] Josh: It’s up to you. It’s your phone number.

[00:55:33] Bill: 226-747-7475, or you can email me at, or you can go to our website for any information, which is

[00:55:53] Josh: All right, Bill. I certainly appreciate the conversation. Thank you for taking us through the assessment, the principles, what people are getting wrong with lean, and what they can do about it.

[00:56:03] Bill: Josh, a pleasure, I just hope that some of the tips we went through help your listening audience. I’d be glad to talk to anybody about anything. As I said, we’ve accumulated like 30 years worth of everything relating to lean. We’re a warehouse of information. If somebody wants to talk and needs something I’d be glad to help them out.

[00:56:30] Josh: I think that’s such a great offer, and that’s what this is about. Here’s a way of distributing ideas and concepts so that everyone can improve. I love that. Bill, thank you so much for your time.

[00:56:41] Bill: Thank you very much, bye-bye.


[00:56:50] Walter: Hey all, this is Walter. I’m another producer for Conquering Chaos. Before you go, if you’re not ready to try Parsable to help you get rid of paper, why not watch a quick video instead. Check the show notes for a link to a demonstration Josh put together to show frontline workers what it’s like to use a dynamic digital experience to get work done. In it, Josh shows you how using a modern-day app enables you to connect to people, information, systems, and machines just like the apps you’re using in your personal lives. Take a look and let us know what you think.

[00:57:25] Josh: That’s the show. Thank you so so much for joining us today. Conquering Chaos is brought to you by Parsable. If you’re a fan of these conversations, subscribe to the show and leave us a rating on Apple Podcast. Just tap the number of stars you think the show deserves. As always, feel free to share what’s top of mind for you and who you think we should talk to next. Until then, talk soon, take care, stay safe and bye-bye.


[00:58:01] [END OF AUDIO]

Listen to find out where you may have gone wrong with lean.