• Bill Greider

The Genius is in the Simple!!

I'll never forget when I "finished" my certifications, watched all the Power Points, passed all the exams. I was now a certified lean/six sigma leader. It all made perfect sense. Then I was out on my plant floor on a Monday morning thinking, "ok, genius, where the #$%^ do I start?"

Many of the concepts associated with the Toyota Production System or a "lean strategy" seem simple enough. For example, the two pillars, continuous improvement and respect for people. They roll off the tongue, but are infinitely harder to understand and accomplish than 5 simple words.

Continuous means just that. It means non-stop, relentless, every single day. Not when we have time, or not a periodic "event". The hard part of this simple concept is achieving the continuous part, where every person in your business is making problems visible and making improvements continuously, as part of their standard work.

Respect for people means that it is disrespectful for ME to fix your job. The ME means managers, lean champions, supervisors, the lady down the street. Anyone except the person that actually does the work. Interested in finding out what your problems are? Respect for people means all you need to do is go ask, and then really listen (humble inquiry).

Depending on the level of urgency in your business, these two mindbenders can take weeks, or they can take years, or they may never be realized. If the "lever" (the term used by Womack & Jones in "Lean Thinking) is "we're in big trouble and need to change course right now", then things get very serious, egos get checked at the door, and it's all hands on deck. (Been there, done that one. Hence the gray hair and involuntary twitch). Without some sense of urgency, your lean transformation chugs along much more slowly.

To make it move at a reasonable, steady pace, the genius is in the simple. Try to refrain from Japanese terms on Power Point presentations. Try to avoid calculating variance components longhand in an attempt to get people excited about this new lean six sigma thing.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that confusing your customers (and employees) is not a very good growth strategy. As a chemist, I had a tendency to confuse technical data with features and benefits. Technical data sheets meant to inform could very easily paralyze my customer's ability to act. Confusing my customer makes them fearful of making a mistake. Same with employees. Figure out how to deliver your message so a sixth grader gets it, and you'll get that bungalow in the Keys.

Same with my lean journey. I learned that confusing my customers (employees) was not a very good growth strategy. 2 hour long value stream mapping workshops were fruitless. Drawing a map on a clipboard to define the current condition on an A3 to solve a problem on the shop floor with a team of machine operators was priceless. Every box didn't have 90 degree angles, and the lines were crooked when they sneezed. I think I even had some blood on one from a bloody nose. But they got it, And they could easily teach it to their peers. Root cause analysis? Forget Kepner-Tregoe, just do 5 Why to start. Help people do it over and over until they are great at it, then throw in a fish bone once in a while. Teach the tools in the context of solving real problems.

The REAL genius is in making what seems hard seem easy, what seems complex seem simple. And don't be afraid to throw some fun and a few smiles in there while you're at it!!

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