Thursday, July 7, 2016

Video clip from Lean Enterprise Institute Mining Gold with Kinross and Teaching Lean Inc.

Check out this short video clip by Chet Marchwinski with the Lean Enterprise Institute at the Lean Summit this past March in Las Vegas.   Chet is interviewing Kinross Gold who has been on a Lean journey now for several year, along with Ernie Richardson.

Interview with Kinross and Teaching Lean Inc at the Lean Summit in March 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Raised by Toyota - Q&A with Ernie and Tracey Richardson

Hello everyone, #crossblogging this month.  Spent a week on a Q&A interview with the Lean Enterprise Institute extrapolating our thoughts and experiences from our time at Toyota and how we translate them to other across all different types of industries.

Check out the link to the column on The Lean Post by LEI

Raised by Toyota - Q&A with Ernie and Tracey Richardson

Have a GREAT 4th of July weekend coming up!!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Have you found the point of occurrence (poo) in your process?

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone,

This post is to have a little fun while we learn, and if any of you have been in our sessions the past few years you will know what this means. It's the funny things that often allow us to remember important thinking as we learn and practice lean in our daily activities across all functional areas of our organization.

We all should be familiar with PDCA (Plan - Do - Check - Action), its a systematic approach to problem solving among other business practices at a micro and macro level.   In this blog we will focus a bit more on the micro aspect.

So if you think of the 8 steps of problem solving we are looking at framing problems based on a proper go and see approach.   We determine from as much data and facts what is our current state.  This doesn't have to be manufacturing, it can be any process that creates an output, service, end result or product.   Material and Information (M & I) flow can be involved, or perhaps the "day in the life" of a document (hard-copy or e-copy), or a process of approval.   Once we have determined our current state and measured it against a known standard then we should have a quantifiable gap.

   What we find is most are unable to measure effectively so assumptions are made and problem solving begins and our result could be from shear luck.   As my trainers would say "lucky isn't sustainable" especially if we are running a business.  This thinking allows us to only get a symptom of the problem not the root cause and it normally just returns.   Also if we don't have a known standard, then start to document what should be happening in a process (based on customer internally and externally needs it to be).   Often I refer to it as an Ideal state or expectation - believe it or not standardization is a perceived bad word in some organizations.   I think for the most part we all can agree that we are doing "something" that creates our output, shouldn't we document it in order to improve?  Doesn't Taiichi Ohno tell us that we can't have continuous improvement without a standard?   So I encourage everyone to really look at how you frame problems in order to begin the shift from reactive problem solving to more proactive.   Minimize the "fire-fighting" approach and reduce your hose-holders in the rear.

Once we have determined our problem or gap properly we must think about slicing the data into manageable pieces.   Please reflect back on one of my past blogs about breaking down the problem. How to breakdown a problem correctly!

Once we have done this then we go to the process of a smaller portion of the gap.    Now how do we define a process?  A process can be:  (not an all inclusive list)

  1.  A standardized work document
  2.  The day in the life of a document, product, or individual etc.
  3.  An administrative process (how to apply for medical leave) or get approved for vacation time.
  4.  A flowchart
  5. Work Instruction or Job Breakdown
  6.  Engineering specifications
  7.  Material and Information flow
  8.  A pattern or routine that has been created (gym, workout, run path)
  9.  Grocery shopping
  10.  GPS directions

As you can see there are many articulations of what a process can be, usually it consists of a step-by-step approach that leads me to an outcome.   Now the question is, as an organization, where does the waste reside?  Do we recognize it?  Do we consider it an accepted norm?  Do we develop work around's to embed it as part of our process?  Does tribal knowledge cloud our thinking?   All these are good questions we need to answer through a go and see and engaging with people who do the work in all areas of our company. 

As we teach in class, of course in a jokingly way, we ask have you discovered the point of occurrence in your process(es)?  We often refer to as the POO? (Point of Occurrence).   We say if you have stepped in the POO, you have found the discrepancy that is creating "pain" (translates to KPI's) to your organization.  It could be in the form of quality, safety, productivity, or cost.  Point of occurrence's are there it's up to use to think in the most granular form to find those wasteful steps and eliminate the POO,   Just of late in the marketing world I have seen the Emoji's or Emojicon's come to life outside of our texting realm.   I see these in the form of stuffed animals and often pillow size.   We are in airports almost weekly and I ran across this little guy.   Of course one of the popular emoji's we all have seen.   This has become a "mascot" if you will within our sessions as a visual to know if you have found the point of occurrence (poo) in the process.  

 Many laugh or smile, some roll their eyes but secretly think its funny.  I guarantee its an engaging way to remember are you finding the actual step in the process where the point of occurrence resides.   Because until you do, I promise you will continue to fight symptoms and your problems will continue to manage you, not you managing your problems.   Which is more value add for your company?  So use the Emoji in a completely different way than intended, it has a key chain latch so attach it to a process so the root cause can be identified.    Make "lean thinking" fun(ny) and see how much more interesting it can be.   It has been a little joke now in our sessions and we will be handing them out for the teams who find the most point of occurrences on a gemba walk!   Whatever it takes to move the needle!  Lighten up and LEArN!  Keep calm, go see, and step in the point of occurrence!

Until next time, 
Tracey and Ernie Richardson

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Join us at LEI in Cambridge for a RARE public session Aug 1-5th,2016

Hey guys, come join us for a rare public session at the Lean Enterprise Institute in Cambridge August 1-5th, 2016.


Go to this link below, learn more and sign up! 
Note you do not have to do all 3 classes--pick and choose as you like!

Mon-Tues-Aug 1st-2nd- we will be doing the Key Concepts of Lean class with our Landcruiser Manufacturing simulation as a conduit to bring to life the thinking behind TPS and other tools and people development skills.  Great interactive class!

Wed-Thurs 3rd-4th - We will be doing Managing to Learn/A3 session.  We will talk about Culture, Leadership, coaching, and practice-- reading, writing and coaching A3's in class.

Fri - Aug 5th - will wrap up a great week with a 1 day Gemba Walk session (Gemba TBD) but will be a company close by.    Expect to work in teams!  Great session to understand what a true Gemba Walk is about and what you are looking for that is value add versus non value add.

Come join us for a GREAT week of learning!!!!! 

Ernie and Tracey Richardson
@tracey_san  on twitter

Monday, April 25, 2016

Why don't we solve problems like we eat pizza?

So we have been conditioned since our youth that pizza normally comes by the slice, of course if we make our own we bake it then slice it, right?  Perhaps you can describe this as tribal knowledge or a learned trait.  I think many are familiar with that and have.   In the world of Lean thinking or doing business with the focus on adding value and respect for our people, we need to put problem solving methodology into that same category as well.

There is a misnomer out there that when we problem solve (using PDCA) that we must take on world-hunger level problems.   Some, that are experienced in A3, tend to think putting a largely scoped problem into that format will help them solve it faster.  Or should I say for some who may have minimal time, allow us to jump to countermeasures faster.   Even at my time at Toyota TMMK, I caught myself being pulled into this vortex.   We often need the problem fixed or the results to change so taking it all on a once seems like a faster process.  When you lower the water to see the rocks is it really faster?  You can do the cost translation to your KPI's.
When I first was introduced to problem solving I will admit we often went from a larger measurable gap (difference between the current state and the standard) to asking why, usually a fish-bone diagram.  This process often reared us many root causes, more than we should change at one time to be honest. Many times we found ourselves outside of the Gemba trying to make the best selection based on assumptions, opinions and past experiences.  This sounds good, especially if we have tenure in an area, but it's not a sustainable process - lucky at best as my trainers would remind me.   As we all know when we trying to implement too many countermeasures at once it's very difficult to measure which one actually fixed it, and how do we know?  So it's great if we can avoid rework and non value-added time if possible.  As John Wooden as said, "If you don't have time to do it right the first time when will you have time to do it over?"

When I was introduced 12 years ago, when I was an internal trainer for Toyota, to a new way to approach problem solving that developed an additional step in the process - the light-bulb came on for me.   Imagine for a moment, a process that encouraged you to take the large gap you have after defining a problem, and breaking that down into manageable pieces.  In essence you would slice the gap up into weighted (based on data) contributors to the overall gap.  Similar to a pareto chart where the sum of the bars equalled the total amount of the problem.   A tree diagram often works well visualizing the "funneling" of the gap into one slice.   Similar to pizza.

If we tried to eat this pizza in one setting without it being sliced it would be difficult for us on many levels.   There may be a few that can accomplish the task, but it's not a preferred style of eating.   Often times we would feel terrible afterwards, similar to the frustration commonly felt when we don't put problems to bed using true root cause analysis.   If we just take a slice at a time as we have been conditioned to do eating, we should get down to a portion of the gap that takes you to a process level.

  This process level allows you to be around 1-3 root causes maximum.   If you find yourself with 5 or more root causes at an individual slice it should be a red flag indicator to lessen the size of the problem we are tackling.   PDCA will talk to you if you use the process correctly and listen.   Only when we try to take shortcuts and by pass people or the Gemba we fall in a potential state of frustration and band-aid fixes.   Then the A3 gets blamed for being a terrible tool.  Folks will say, "This doesn't work, why are we using it?"

A mock example I use of breaking down a complex problem is below.   It shows how taking a world hunger level problem and getting it down to a manageable "slice" which is a process I can influence and go see.  Not just manufacturing but service industry and material and information flow style processes as well.  

So you can see the highlighted path down to one slice, which we can say is 40 of the 500 defects.  This is a mock example so just allowing you to put some number to see the slice.   In our real world problem solving we would attach values to each of these so they track back upward to the gap.   It not only illustrates our path of thinking but shows there was Gemba visits to differentiate facts from our beloved opinions and assumptions.   This process shows how many slices of pizza are remaining that contributes to the whole gap!   It seems like a lot of time, it can be if you aren't an organization that track / measures very well.  But this gives you the entire picture.   It shows to you as a leader how many stakeholders I potentially need to involved and how many "city level" A3's I can disperse as training and development opportunities for a team or department.   I think many feel they have to take everything on themselves.   Another misnomer, we are only as good as we let our extraordinary people think for us each day.    We have to foster that and find ways to manage all the gaps that are out there.    It does come easier with having standards in place, either way you will get to improving a process.  That is where the "extra cheese" lies.

So next time you consider tackling a world hunger problem just remember we need to feed the cities first, just as you would prefer a slice of pizza at a time. 

Until next time
Tracey and Ernie Richardson
Teaching Lean Inc.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

You can't spell "challenge" without "change"!

Ernie and I were blessed to have many lessons from our Japanese trainers during our time at Toyota Motor Manufacturing.   Some were purposely orchestrated for us to fail, some through detailed thinking, some during observations and some verbalized.   The little nuggets that were often told to us were deeply valuable.   We didn't always realize it at the time, it wasn't until we were in a situation that took us back to the moment when it was said.   Then we had the "ah ha", and finally knew the greater lesson.   Sometimes the discrepancy was our language barrier, but often times we couldn't grasp the metaphor or analogy they were using, but eventually it came full circle back and that's when you truly "got it", kind of like the muscle memory of riding a bike. 

For example, the word "nemawashi" was used quite often in our environment and we labeled it under the category of gaining consensus or getting proper buy-in.   At a high level this is correct.  In the way that a Japanese trainer may explain it you might find it to be a little more in depth.   I can remember once my trainer describing it as "prepping the soil" to plant a tree.   Of course I gave them a bizarre look, but they asked me to think about what is necessary for that to take place and for the tree to flourish.    Well I articulated that process step by step to him (the trainer) and he asked me to think of the "tree" as an idea.   How can we cultivate ideas on a daily basis and prepare them for sharing and applying among the team?   As a leader we must always be prepping the soil, not only for an individual but for the team and how that cascades upward to the company.   It's an important challenge everyone must embrace and connect their line of sight. 

I can vividly remember the moment I was given my team leader hat.   In our culture the hat with a specific stripe color was a visual control for leadership.   A blue hat with a brown stripe was a team leader, and a brown hat with a blue stripe was a group leader.  These positions spent the majority of their time at or near the process supporting the team when discrepancies occurred.   When I was handed by blue hat I remember my trainer saying, "Tracey-san", always be uncomfortable."   I didn't totally understand this statement in the context of how he said it, but I could promise you as a 21 year old team leader I was uncomfortable those first few months(and continued to be).   So no worries there (grin).    As I grew as a leader and an individual in this role I realized that uncomfortable was like being "challenged".   That if an individual feels comfortable in their position each day then complacency can step in and then it becomes about putting my time in and going home.    

We don't want an environment that feels like a prison sentence, but rather a day full of empowering folks to challenge themselves.   This means as a leader I/we have to do the same.   Our trainers often referred to that as leading and learning simultaneously.  This practice allowed us to learn but at the same time coach.   How can this happen one might ask? Isn't it necessary for us to have the answers first?   So I often say, just lead not from a position of power, but an empowering one.   Often times you might have to say, "I don't know", and that is OK.   You can say, "let's go find out together and learn".   To many that might be uncomfortable at first because we have been conditioned as humans that the boss always has the answers.  If they don't then they should be the boss, correct?   This is a myth, one that is hard to change my lean thinking friends.  If the work manages us each day and our people are going through the motions then we might as well turn their brains off and put a battery in.    I will admit that the comfort zone is a vortex we can easily find ourselves sucked into, we cling on to the sides to not fall down further.  It's not easy to climb out, but if we take it one step at a time we find that we can avoid the black-hole of comfort all together.

This is a paradigm shift in thinking, it's not easy to put yourself out there without a back-up plan at times.   Raw unplanned learning can often give us the most rewarding results.   Being a preferenced introvert I can admit that I didn't really care for speaking in front of others in my earlier years.   So my leader and trainer pushed me to do our KYK 5 min talks in front of our team.   I was nervous at first that people would notice the tremor in my voice or how fast my heart was racing, but in time it became less difficult so I was asked to raise the bar.    My next task was to join a Quality Circle, these were our problem solving teams that worked together (7-10 people) to solve problems in their specific area.    You had to share ideas, follow PDCA, and then create new standard work with the team leaders if the ideas were valid through experimentation.  After working through several activities I decided to enroll in the class to become a quality circle leader.   This would challenge me at an entirely different level, I just wasn't responsible for myself, but now for a team.   I had to not only guide (as a team member level), but coach problem solving and foster ideas.  Little did I know I was developing myself for the next level.   All this took place across a 3 year span, but slowly I was creating base hits preparing myself for a home-run one day. 

So from my experiences, which were many, I feel that the lessons I learned were layered like a wedding cake.   Each layer of learning is foundational to the next.   Without a strong foundation we can find ourselves on unstable ground.    What we (Ernie and I) often find out there in various industry is the need to cling on but we know, what is comfortable.  What we know is often what we hoard, create as our own, or what is easy for us.   To walk down an unknown path can be compared to walking in the dark.   But if we aren't moving the furniture each day (chaos) we can navigate through all the layers we created in the form of standard work and sustainable processes.    This allows us to have a baseline to improve, in order to do that, we often have to challenge the status quo and build upon that tribal knowledge we have gained to create new and better ways we all can align with.   When we align we cascade upward and downward hitting the KPI's the organization has set.  When we know we are making a measurable difference, there is nothing like that base-hit.  It really drives us to want to be at the plate more.    So when I may find myself getting too comfortable with what I do or how I/we coach.   We challenge ourselves to find a better way, this keeps us on the value-add side of the fence.  Never stop pushing, always be learning no matter what level you are! 

Until next time, 
Tracey and Ernie Richardson

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The thinking behind an effective Gemba Walk

 So what is the "Gemba"?  In simplistic terms - it's where "work" happens or the "actual place".  The Gemba doesn't have to be specific to manufacturing (a common misnomer).   Often Gemba's are invisible or cyber in nature - some examples:

  • Material and Information Flow
  • The day in the life of a document
  • Following a policy in human resources
  • Specifications in Engineering
  • Software integration
  • Date entry
In our experience from discussions and observations there are different articulations of a Gemba Walk across the various industries.   In an organization trying to evolve a culture it's important to understand how essential an effective Gemba walk can be in regard to developing people.   We have often been told that Gemba walks are about: 
  • To be seen
  • Review KPI boards (score-boards)
  • Downtime situations
  • Tours
  • Talking to People
  • Check up on daily result
Not all of these are necessarily incorrect, but we need to understand the purpose behind each "walk" we may be doing, and how it fits into the "development of people" category.    

A question a leader (or anyone) going to the Gemba should always ask is - "What value are you adding to the organization by going?"  Are we removing barriers and constraints for the people to do their process in the most effective and efficient way?   Are we providing resources for people to be successful in problem solving?

So what some of the key points to an effective Gemba walk?

Show Respect  

  • Ask good questions, not demeaning one's, - the people at the process are the experts
  • Build a mutual trust relationship (get to know your people)
  • Sincere communication (listening skills)
  • Leadership accountability for developing people
What are some (not all inclusive list) questions you should ask before, during, and after a Gemba Walk?


  • What is the purpose for this walk?
  • Location?
  • Who is attending the walk?
  • Are there preconceived notions driving our thoughts?
  • PPE requirements
  • Safety Standards


  • Let the process owners or team know why you are there
  • Are there standards (quality etc)?
  • What is the process flow?- can you see it from start to finish?
  • Do we see a push versus a pull?
  • What is takt/cycle for the process?
  • Differentiation between assumptions/opinions versus facts
  • Is the process meeting internal/external customer expectations?
  • Identifying 8 forms of waste?
  • Are you seeing through the process (people are behaving differently because you are there).
  • Go-See, Ask Why, Show Respect
  • Be noticed - noticing, but not judging 


  • Document findings
  • Discuss improvement areas for the Gemba Walk process
  • Develop plan
  • Confirm plan with process owners
  • Support


  • How "value-add" was the Gemba walk to the company? (KPI relationship)
  • Did we develop people?
  • Did we engage with people?
  • Did we provide resources for problem solving?
  • What is the strategy for the next one?

Things to avoid

  • Harsh criticism
  • Selling, telling or convincing
  • Creating a hostile environment
  • Giving answers without questions first
  • Intimidating presence
  • Blaming the person first, instead of looking at the process
  • Root blame versus Root cause (defensive questions)
So to summarize, Gemba Walks are a essential part of a culture that focuses on developing people.   It is the responsibility of all leadership to be the servant leader and remove barriers and provide resources for true problem solving to take place.    Problems that are framed correctly are half solved, so finding the truth is crucial in completing the PDCA kanri cycle.   If you take the time you will often find that where you think discrepancy lives, there is a vacancy instead when you discover the power of the Gemba.  Utilize the extraordinary power of your people, they are one of the most important assets of your organization. 
Until next time, 
Tracey and Ernie Richardson