My product is trust

The recent nuclear reactor problems in Japan reminded me of an important message from Weick and Sutcliffe's Managing the Unexpected. Their book is about how some organizations have built systems that are able to quickly and effectively adapt to unexpected events. In that book, Weick and Sutcliffe highlighted some of anthropologist Constance Perin's work in Shouldering Risks: The Culture of Control in the Nuclear Power Industry. 

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SeaMicro uses "lean engineering" to build servers economically in Silicon Valley

My wife recently found me a great deal on Bloomberg BusinessWeek to get a 3-year subscription for $18. While reading the first issue to arrive, I found a great story about a company in Silicon Valley that has created a flexible, U.S.-based manufacturing system for their product. The company is called SeaMicro. They make low-power servers for Internet companies like Mozilla and eHarmony. I liked what the CEO, Andrew Feldman, had to say about why they have taken the unconventional approach of building their servers onshore.

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Fukushima will not hurt California

For all those people in California and the rest of the United States who are worried about radiation from Japan, I made this simple chart. It shows how radiation from Fukushima scales to other sources of radiation. The important thing to note is that everyone gets 3650 microSievert per year from natural sources. You can't escape that. This amount is 36,500 time greater than what a Californian might see from Japan.

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Which is more lean? Little Caesars or Papa Johns.

I have been enjoying Ron Pereira's great blog at He recently posted the following question to readers: Is Little Caesar's Lean?

Is Little Caesars Lean? I'd like to offer my view. A basic feature of the ideal Lean system is pull initiated one piece flow. Pull initiated means that the factory does not make the product until the customer places an order. One piece flow means that the factory is able to accommodate order sizes as low as one piece as well as high piece-to-piece feature variation with no finished goods inventory.

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Putting the cart before the horse

This morning, I experienced my annual visit to the optometrist. The wait was 30 minutes, but that is not what I wanted to address. At the optometrist, they have a fancy machine that takes a picture of your eye. I’ll call it the eyephoto. This is an expensive machine and insurance does not cover it. If you want to have the eyephoto, you have to pay $35 out of your pocket.

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United Adds $25 Fee for 2nd Bag

I saw this story about United Airlines charging customers to check a SECOND bag. Not the fifth or sixth bag, but NUMBER TWO!

This reminded me of a training slide that we have in our Lean education program. There are three ways to cut costs. You can cut costs across the board by reducing all budgets a fixed percentage. This is the lazy path. You can cut costs by cutting services. This is the stupid path. Finally, you can cut waste. The smart path.

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The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, also known as TRIZ, is a system of rules and tools aimed at practical problem solving. It was originally geared toward patents within the engineering community, but also applicable to many other disciplines including technology forecasting, strategic planning, etc. Basically, its an iterative process for systematic innovation that teaches you how to find answers to your problems, often by looking at other scientific fields. An underlying concept is that somebody, somewhere has already solved your problem —- the challenge is to find that solution and modify it into a new set of solutions to fit your circumstances.

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The Bloodbath to Come

All these lead paint toy scandals are only the beginning. On July 12, 2007, Businessweek ran a story, “Made in China: Faulty Tires.” This story foreshadowed the bloodbath to come. For every scandal, we can expect several high profile lawsuits to follow. On this blog, we’ve been talking about how American businesses encouraged the bad system that allowed for all these scandals to happen and keep happening. It is a good thing our legal system sucks, too. These businesses are now about to feel the pain of a predatory system that loves to take advantage of scandals for profit. In fact, it looks like it has already begun:

  1. Mattel hit with lead paint class action suit
  2. Couple files suit over lead in toys
  3. Toy Lawsuits Push Debate

I’m not even going to mention the many, many toy lawsuit websites that have been thrown up by ambulance chaser law firms trying to score a buck off these recalls. Personally, I’m really torn. I don’t know who to root for. The business that messed up and poisoned my kid with lead or the predatory lawyers that are going to steal millions from these companies. I guess there is no one to celebrate in this case. Waste begets waste begets waste. If only someone had the decency to do the right thing in the first place, we’d be spending our money on food instead of lead detector kits. I guess Enron and Worldcom really didn’t teach us anything. How about a new blog label called, “Stupid?”

Roots of Lean

Today and tomorrow, I have the pleasure of taking part in a Lean Six Sigma summit being hosted by our corporation. One of today’s presenters was Mike Micklewright. He posed many challenging and introspective questions to our lean champions. One of his best points was that lean is not about copying Toyota and rolling out a set of cookie-cutter tools. He suggested that the roots of lean lie in three fundamental principles:

  1. Elimination of waste
  2. Focus on cashflow
  3. Respect for people

From these three principles, Toyota systematically invented the lean system that we hold in high regard today. Although the three principles are debatable, I like the point of his thinking.
He talked a bit about how American companies used to embrace TQM, then moved to Six Sigma. He mentioned that Toyota started on this journey several decades ago. It occurred to me that there is a fundamental difference between the American experience and the Toyota experience. In the Toyota experience, they learned a basic attitude from Ford, Deming, Juran, and others. With this attitude, they continuously used basic principles to invent customized solutions for unique problems. Over decades, they continuously labored to perfect and systemize their countermeasures.
In the U.S. experience, we saw TQM, QFD, Six Sigma, and Lean roll out in our corporations as systemized best practices of leading companies. These systemized “best in class” practices consist of toolsets supported by underlying principles. Is there a big difference between TQM, QFD, Six Sigma, and Lean? Personally, I don’t think so. The underlying principles all came from Ford, Deming, and Juran. The problem is each generation of “innovators” that has stamped his or her copyrighted brand onto quality has also added tools and slightly different language to help sell a new movement. Rather than build on the fundamentals (like Toyota does), we have been relearning everything over and over again. Sounds like waste to me. If only we could embrace something and commit to it for decades, we would have plenty of U.S. companies that are just like Toyota right now.
My two questions to blog readers:
1. Are there presently any U.S. companies out there with successful “home grown” quality programs built on fundamentals?
2.What do you consider to be the three or four fundamental principles of lean and quality?

Lean in Science

Originally published on Mark Graban's Lean Blog in 2007.

Lean in Science. Cookie cutters are really good at cutting cookies, but you can't bake a cake with them. This is my general attitude towards the tools-based approach to Lean. For the past couple years, I've been involved in an interesting Lean transformation. We're trying to apply it to science.

To prepare for implementation, I took our corporate black belt training and also attended the Lean Experience at the Lean Learning Center. In the course of my study, I found Spear and Bowen's 1999 HBR article, "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System." It has since become my favorite piece of Lean literature. You can read a review here, but I highly recommend that you buy it.

Spear and Bowen's extensive analysis of the Toyota Production System extracted four basic rules behind all the various Lean tools. The rules:

Rule 1: All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.

Rule 2: Every customer-suuplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send request and receive responses.

Rule 3: The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.

Rule 4: Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.

The real gem for people in my industry is Rule 4. Scientists are a notoriously skeptical bunch. When you tell them that they will benefit from a system that is used to make cars, every red flag in the room goes up. I often hear statements like, "We are not a factory, so lean doesn't apply to us." A scientist can tell me that Lean doesn't apply to research, but he can't tell me that the scientific method doesn't apply to research. In fact, when I tell him that what we are doing is applying the scientific method more rigorously, what else can a scientist do but applaud?

Thanks to a reframing of what it means to be Lean, we are crushing that cookie cutter and driving, what I call, "Lean Spirit(TM)" into the organization. With Lean Spirit, traditional countermeasures don't matter. We've got the rules that allow us to create custom countermeasures that fit our problems. Lean Spirit is the way to become your own Toyota, not to become a copy of Toyota. Thank you Drs. Spear and Bowen.