Monday, December 31, 2012

What is the Ringo-sho process, and how does it fit into Lean?

I would like to wish each and everyone one of my readers a Happy New Year, I hope I can continue to bring more value-added posts to you in 2013!

So my last post of the year is shared from my contribution on hosted by Michael Balle'.

The question is in regard to the Ringo-sho process.   Some of you may be saying "what is that?"  It is a Japanese term and was used during my time at Toyota. 

The question on the website is from:
Lean Global Network: Can you clarify the role of “ringi” in lean?"What is Ringi? The Lean Edge has discussed Nemawashi, but could you clarify the practice of Ringi? How is this linked to A3? How widespread is its use within Toyota? Should that practice be adopted by lean thinkers?"                                                                  

I will have to admit when I saw the word Ringi in this question, it brought back many memories of my time at Toyota (TMMK). It’s not a word I’ve used or heard much since my time there, even though the thinking behind it could be more common if expressed differently.
As others have mentioned above Ringi or (Ringi-sho) is not necessarily a Toyota creation, it is a Japanese term which when translated (with help from John Shook) means:

A high-level formal authorization/approval process, usually for major policy matters, major projects and represents formal agreement (through nemawashi) of the authorizing parties (always including finance). It is a specific application of A3 (as a document size), used to (to repeat) garner formal authorization for those major policy matters and projects. It is finalized in a formal A3 called a ringi-sho (sho means “document”) that is signed by the authorizers, usually the top executives of the related departments or affected areas or functions of the company.
So as you can see no matter what you decide to label this process (remember its not about what we call these “tools” its the thinking behind them) the importance of it seems to reside around the “approval process” of a project described at a high level which needs financial authorization at an executive level as well buy-in.

It is often necessary to link the project to the Hoshin Kanri goals in order to measure the key performance indicator impact (i.e – Cost, Productivity, Quality, Safety, and Human Resources) otherwise known as ROI (Return on investment) this could be spread over several years. I think a common misnomer about Ringi-sho is because its linked to A3 its often label as a problem solving A3 and this is not necessarily the case. It could stem from a problem happening which a proposal or project could evolve from but a Ringi-sho is more about the financial aspect and approval process at the highest affected levels.

Once a Ringi-sho has been approved then its given a Ringi-sho account number, this number is then attached to any spending / cost around this designated project through Accounting. This project could be a few months in time to a couple of years depending upon the complexity of the project and everything it entails.

So Sammy’s example above touches on capital type expenditures as in- (equipment, buildings, expansions, company events and services). Usually a Ringi-sho is created for higher dollar projects that could be in any range. This could be an area where your specific company could set their own parameters around when you needed high level approval for finances or not.

The important aspect to remember is the relationship to Hoshin Kanri (Strategy Deployment), so once its approved financially and all signatures are completed then it begins to cascade downward to the related areas/departments who will begin to follow through with the project plan and this is where you could see the spawning of the “kanri cycle” which are micro PDCA activities that will take place in order to see the project from start to finish lead by the originator of the Ringi-sho. Each one of these Kanri-cycles could have a status report to ensure that the project stays on task, any contingencies should be reported at this point if it could effect the project plan.

Once a Ringi-sho is deemed “closed” meaning that the project is completed in regard to the financial aspect, then the account number is then closed as well. If at any point in the future some unforeseen cost arises that are related to that closed project a new Ringi-sho would have to be approved for addition funds.

So in the world of “Lean” I believe this “approval process” can be very value added to any company ensuring that funds are spent appropriately for ROI, and communication and authorization to all related parties become a standard practice.

This summarization of Ringi-sho is strictly based on my 10 yrs experience working in production at TMMK and dealing with projects related to the Plastics department and how we used this process to ensure proper approval and allocation of budgets all related to our department Hoshin as it related to the Plant Hoshin (TMMK).

Until next time,
Tracey Richardson
Last post of 2012 - Happy New Year!!!  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Caused versus Created gap A3's (Problem Solving vs Proposal / Strategy)

I thought I would share this short video clip I  did at the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) @leandotorg in Cambridge, MA.

This clip gives a brief description of "caused" versus "created" gaps, and which A3 format do you use for each one.

I teach several different types of courses for LEI, 3 of them particularly involve training around Problem Solving A3's:
  • Managing to Learn A3 (2-day)
  • Lean Problem Solving (1 day)
  • Problem Solving aligning People, Purpose and Process
Each of these courses we discuss Problem Solving A3's "caused gaps".    What I am finding is participants often bring "created gap" problem to class.   This video was an attempt to try and clarify the difference between the two, and to enhance the class experience by select the right type of problem.  I hope this is helpful not only for LEI courses, but in general to know there are different types of problems!

Please take a look!!

Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why has the Lean movement largely failed to capture the imagination of the sales team?

Hello everyone, this month's post is being shared from where I participate with fellow lean practitioners.

The question on the site is by:

Joel Stanwood: Why has the Lean movement largely failed to capture the imagination of the sales team?  Most management teams who testify to having implemented Lean will describe financial impact in terms of shop floor efficiency improvement – direct labor productivity, overtime reduction, inventory velocity, floor space utilization, etc. Paradoxically, in terms of company economics, the most alluring promise of Lean is to boost sales, delivering ever higher variable contribution margins while delighting customers and winning in the marketplace. Yet the language of Lean to unlock the growth engine of the company rarely enters the sales vernacular, and in general, sales professionals are far less likely to have participated in Kaizen. Why has the Lean movement largely failed to capture the imagination of the sales team?

My response:

This is a good question and one that doesn’t facilitate itself for such a linear answer. I think all the responses so far have talked about many different ideas based on all our experiences out there with various industry and gives our readers some good perspectives to build on.
I suppose being part of Toyota in the beginning (1988) when we were setting up the systems at TMMK we realized Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) wasn’t necessarily part of our manufacturing plant (meaning onsite), they were a separate entity as Jeff and others described, but they determined our pull system. We were always told that every car we made was sold and TMS wouldn’t have us build to be building- that would go against the rules right? Many do not see this concept or believe its a feasible way to do business.
Toyota made it very easy for us to understand expectations (standards) and we designed our systems around this “pull” from the customer which we referred to as “takt time”. We got as low as 53 seconds a car at one time due to the pull from TMS orders and worked numerous hours of overtime and saturday’s to keep the customer happy based on that demand and/or the opposite if things slowed down. Our systems were “flexible” so we could adapt to change if the market changed. This happened several times in my time there and we were able to adapt with minimal to any downtime at all, just some good ole PDCA planning and thinking..
We learned we would never be a 24/7 shift producer, we would have only 2 shifts, that had the capability for overtime if necessary and also preventative maintenance (PM) to ensure our equipment could meet expectation with the high demand and lean environment we had. We all knew the “design to sell” value stream and ran “just in time”. You would never see Toyota hire manpower for full capacity production this was why the culture had flexibility embedded first and foremost, and was an essential element of the success of TPS. Time and seconds were important so we learned to value each one.
All of this took understanding the entire value stream from order to customer. Some of you have referenced design-make-sell.
I think to add to that thought Toyota recently has added “service” to this value stream, if you think about it, a service department can greatly impact sales of a product so although they are not part of the actual sales or manufacturing they need to understand the impact of their role in the value stream even after the sale. An important aspect many do not teach or discuss but if you reflect on the past few years you can see how sales could be affected by the lack of understanding in service very easily.
In my experience going to companies outside of the “Toyota” standard (which sits up on a pedestal to many) is eye opening in how removed sales and aspects around leveling and development are not included in their thinking and/or planning. To me it should be one of the first areas to learn since many are measured on “results” their sales, or what some call throughput, but the problem is they forget the process that gets them there and that is dangerous. The ole “process vs results” thing- imagine that.
So what I have seen in the past few years traveling around the US that sales are slowly becoming part of the learning sessions, at least where Im going, or ones that attend conferences I hear more often in class now-, “Im from sales”, I believe a pull has begun and my thinking is this:
If a company has sales as a part of the company, meaning they happen to be internal and are sitting next to accounting and/or the payroll folks then it “should” be easier to see the affects of their decision making, but unfortunately its not. The dangers I witnessed by sales not understanding or going to see the value stream even when its right next to them is they commit a product to a customer, without asking if its feasible, where it fits in the leveling process for manufacturing, lead times, manpower, or cost perspectives. To me this creates a “push” system for an organization, by sales having an entire lack of awareness to the entire value stream then they promise promise promise and when it gets funneled to production, they are like ” we cant do this, why did you tell them we could”, so several things can happen. (there are many that trickle down from this)
1. We prioritize orders by client size, order, or money
2. We push the “not so important” (in their minds) orders in “delay mode”
3. Or we miss the order completely putting at risk the reliability of the company
4. We overnight ship product which can result in very high costs
When these things happen then each day is just a reactive hodge-podge of getting what ever work we can put out and meet as many customers as I can. If no one is tracking the “pain to the organization” in regard to the key performance indicators then it can never get back tracked to sales lack of understanding. This can impact morale, costs, job security, company reliability and throughput.
So I feel its a slow pull, but one none the less, of a company seeing the need for sales to understand the entire value stream from design, make, sell, service and how to have “repeat” and addition sales (growth). Having sales understand this can be a paradigm shift in thinking for organizations on who are attending “learning sessions” whether its from a consultant, at a conference, or self learning from all the great books many here have written.
I believe when companies can get away from push production and embed pull production based on the sales departments improved understanding you will begin to see great things. I’ve began to embed this discussion at a awareness level to begin an understanding of the horizontal – vertical alignment of an organization.
I really appreciate the question, its not an easy one to answer without us all going out to ask deep questions regarding a company’s value stream and capacity, the more that is stressed the more I think we will see a slow change in sales becoming a valuable part of the value stream and the pull being the norm versus the abnormal. I hope this helps, this is my perspective based on my experience with some companies and working with their sales and also my time with Toyota to have a comparison.
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Check out my latest post on - Just in Time in Batch areas- where do you begin?

Hey guys, I wanted to share with you my latest post on w/ Michael Balle'.  The question is below from Andrew Turner, please see below.   You can go to the website to see other Lean author responses or see mine below the question:

Andrew Turner: Where do we start in a Press shop?
“Our company is split in 2 sections, the one a JIT assembly plant, the other a mass production Press Shop. Implementation of Lean in the JIT plant has been relatively simple (not that Lean is ever really simple), however, we are struggling with the implementation in our Press Shop. I know the importance of items like SMED and Heijunka in driving this journey, yet we are battling to get the ball rolling forward. Where do you think we should start the process in the Press Shop?”

My Response:

Hi Andrew, I will answer to my personal experience in regard to this question. I think its a good one, it can bring out many dynamics that fall under that umbrella of thinking “flow vs batch” so I will try to cover several of them within my answer. When I was first exposed to the Toyota Production System (TPS) “thinking” in 1988 at Toyota Motor Manuf. KY (TMMK) I made an assumption that if you weren’t practicing one piece flow then you weren’t effectively practicing TPS. Now to explain that statement I was in a 2-week assimilation class before I ever was exposed to my work area, so we learned how to be “toyota team members” and for us; that was learning discipline and accountability to the methodologies that created our culture. I was hired into the Plastics department where we had Injection Molding processes and other similar “molding” areas. I soon realized that one piece flow wasn’t part of the mix there. We almost felt like we were “breaking the rules”, I quickly learned otherwise. I think a common mistake with Lean today is that if you aren’t practicing or creating flow then you aren’t necessarily Lean. I guess we were never Lean in some areas- ah the horror!!:).
So if you take a few steps back and look at a bigger picture you can see there are many things involved with implementing “flow type” thinking in batch driven areas. So in my experience it started with our Production Control Planning department (PC). As a leader in production I was always given a forecast each month from PC for the next month which helped me drive our production numbers to a very close average based on the last 3 months of pull from the customer. Now some may ask, how can you forecast customer pull so precisely? I say this because its not so linear in other industries, as it is perhaps in automotive, but when you think about it- can I really predict exactly what car the customer will purchase on the lot down to one for one? Unfortunately we can’t, nor can healthcare leaders know what is always coming through the door so you do the best you can to minimize waste and understand and track pull.
So if we use the previous 3 months of data to drive our future need we would try to predict within a 10-15% window, meaning sometimes there was flucuation in customer demand based on options/colors etc, and we tried to deal with that with our daily “leveling” (heijunka) if necessary. Just because our takt time (pull dictated by the customer) may have been 60 sec a part “off the end of the line” didn’t mean every car had to be 60 sec. We had to average 60 seconds at the end. So for example, a high end Camry may take 67 seconds to complete a specific process and a base model may only take 53 seconds, so Im averaging 60 seconds which is part of our production planning to try and forecast this to the best of their ability at level daily which met the montly expectations as close as we could (remember 10-15%).
So if Im given a production sheet for example stating we are making X amount of Camry’s and X amount of Avalons and X amount of Venza’s then I look at those high level breakdown points as my first level of “kanban” creation. A kanban is like an instruction for production or inventory regulation whether you are running one piece flow or batch type. The next level breakdown may look at specific exterior colors or interior colors, then even type of car for example sunroof or not, leather versus clothe.
So to countermeasure our batch areas to be the most efficient the Japanese trainers introduced us to a concept called signal kanban. This allowed us to run just in time with Assembly even though we had 3-4 mold changes per day (sometimes up to 45 min downtime per shift). Of course we looked at SMED too and got our changes down from 30 min to 10 min, but to know how many you were running and when to do the mold changes was mimicking just in time in many ways in an area where you couldn’t do one for one.
So based on the monthly forecast I was responsible for determining how many kanban (we had 20 headliners per a kanban)- in our case the kanban was an empty cart brought back from assembly. I knew how many assembly were going to pull based on the PC forecast, so when they emptied a cart the kanbans were posted on a board signaling us when it was time for a mold change and this same method went into our next shift, so they ran different molds than we did minimizing the changes per shift. The shift leaders worked together and rotated molds often monthly or quarterly based on the pull and to minimize waste. If you can envision a board with hooks by type, color and model we hung our kanban cards showing how many were pulled and then needed to be built by the next shift, it worked beautifully and yet we were still running “batch” but the most efficient way, maximizing every second of time to create as much value as possible. This was similar in our Stamping department as well. The signal kanban was necessary to compete in an Assembly driven one for one off line process, otherwise you would need lots of space to stack parts up if we were just mass producing.
Note** Within our assembly processes for the headliner pieces it was one for one applying hardware for the lighting and sunroof. So we embedded work cells within our mold changing areas that were driven by a one piece flow but at a higher level pulled from a signal kanban mold change system, we implemented the best of both worlds.
The key point is ensuring that your people understand the purpose/importance to stick to the kanban set by production control as much as possible, often times there can be situations where you would have an urge to “stock-pile” parts or “add” extra kanban to boost your inventory for those dreaded downtime days. It’s an absolute discipline when you really run a “batch” flow when you stick to your guns and run to what the kanban orders (in essence the customer) not to an inventory level that doesnt relate to a pull type system.
You also must create standardized work that meets the expectation per process that meets the assembly pull that creates your signal kanban, there was minimal ability for buffer creation if you followed the rules. In our case had about 3 hours of buffer between us an assembly, that kept us just in time and following the rules. It also enabled us to be in a continuous improvement “problem solving” mode- we encouraged a problem awareness type culture(problems were good). We used the Define-Achieve-Maintain-Improve model (DAMI) to ensure if we met a standard we raised the bar and improved it, again this thinking ensured we were respecting our team members ability to think and continuing to raise the bar on our processes allowing us to see waste. Waste can lead to excess inventory if not addressed and that isn’t a friend and shouldn’t be welcomed so we must create that discipline with our people in understanding expectation and teach them to see abnormality to standard at all times. My role as a leader was to live that and develop others in that thinking.
It’s hard to tell you exactly “where” to start without seeing more, but I can share with you my experiences in how I learned based on what my trainers taught me in a “mold changing batch area”. I think the key where ever you decide to begin based on all the replies you will receive is ensure you are utilizing the power of your people, ensuring standards are set so people can see abnormality and ask why, then lastly have a production planning process that forecasts very closely to customer demand and set up your systems with the flexibility to change monthly, bi-monthly, or even quarterly depending upon your product(s) demand. I think our flexibility was  the “cake” and knowing the expectation within a tight window (10-15% for example) was the icing. I hope this helped answer your question.
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Can we reduce nemawashi to lobbying ? Is nemawashi checking the relevance of a solution and enriching it with key field actors, or simply promoting / enforcing it ?

Hello everyone,
I hope everyone is enjoying their summer, it has been a busy one for me traveling all around the US and Canada spreading the good word about changing how people think and practice as an organization.

My next blog post is being shared yet again from where I have been participating in the dialogue answering specific questions posted by individuals and/or companies on their lean journey.

This month's question is:

Can we reduce nemawashi to lobbying ? Is nemawashi checking the relevance of a solution and enriching it with key field actors, or simply promoting / enforcing it ?

I  think this is a great question and something we tend to overlook in the communication process of (engaging people).    Many have never heard of the word Nemawashi so please check out my answer to the question along with other Lean authors.

Here is the link to the site -

If you want a link to my specific response be go here -       

Until next time
Tracey Richardson

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How do we ensure a constant focus and momentum in our Lean transformation after these years and what are the pitfalls we must avoid ?

Hello everyone!

This post comes to you from again. is an online gathering place for lean authors, practitioners, and business leaders come together to discuss best practices.

 I'm active in many blogs and websites regarding Lean and the concepts around it so I want to ensure I share the great information being share from those sites.

This week's question is from Klaus Peterson:

We have been on the Lean journey for 5 years where we have been focusing on training people in visualizing, analyzing and solving problems. We have spend a lot of efforts in training managers to support the journey which they have done. How do we ensure a constant focus and momentum in our Lean transformation after these years and what are the pitfalls we must avoid ?

I'm sure many of you have had a similar thought if you are on the journey.   Continue to visit the site as people chime in with their thoughts.

My reply is here -

Until next time
Tracey Richardson

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why do we have to call it something?

Hello everyone,
This weeks blog I will take you to the Lean Enterprise Institute's A3 Dojo at

The column is about "Don't Call it Anything".  I believe that using labels to describe what I consider to be actions can be hindering for the drive for improvement.    I'm not saying Lean is a bad word, its just often misused or misunderstood by many and it's becomes an add-on to someone's job versus their actual job and daily responsibilities.

Check out the column and visit me at the Dojo where I am a sensei.   Would love for you or others to share their thoughts about A3 thinking, coaching, problem solving or anything around those subjects you would like to learn more about.

Go here!

Until next time
Tracey Richardson

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How do you change "silo based thinking" shared from

Hello everyone, sorry for the delay in posting again, I have been on the road training at various gembas and conferences across the U.S.   It's often difficult to post regularly so I apologize.  I will try to do better.   Hopefully there is plenty of good information on my blog to use as a reference for years to come :).
This post is sharing some of the good information be discussed on another site called The Lean Edge.  It's a website where many of us consultants, authors and business leaders get together and share thoughts based on questions that are asked by people trying to change the way they do business and the challenges that come with that.

I now have the honor to contribute to discussions so this post is about sharing my post this week and giving you the opportunity to learn from other Lean leaders. 

The question posted on is - "What are the five major things we need to do to help us successfully transform a silo based organization into one focused on business processes, and what are the biggest risks we need to look out for?"

Go here to see the different answers to this question.  Enjoy!  I hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far~!

Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Friday, March 30, 2012

Are you having problems with Problem Solving?

I would like to take you to the A3 Dojo at once again.  I am writing columns for the site so some of my material with be shared there.  I may link my readers there from time to time since I am a sensei on the dojo.

Please check out my latest column there - Are you having problems with Problem Solving?

If you are working on a A3 or have questions about any related to that or Lean please feel free to post a question or comment.

Until Next time,
Tracey Richardson

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Are your assumptions framing the way you do Business?

I would like to share a column that I wrote for the Lean Enterprise Institute's (LEI) A3 Dojo at  If you haven't heard about the dojo please come and visit.  I am a sensei on the site, along with Eric Ethington and David Verble.   We add weekly columns you might want to start checking out!  Come see!!   You can follow me on Twitter - @thetoyotagal!

Are your assumptions framing the way you do Business?

Click here:

Tracey Richardson

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What is your line of sight to the company business indicators?

In a company sense, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this question?  Often times within certain organizations it can be a “gap creator”.   What I mean by that is, having a “line of sight” often means I’m looking towards a specific direction with a goal in mind.  In the case of a business or an organization we frequently call that – True North.  I find throughout my travels that not every place I visit has a clearly defined one.  What could be the repercussions if we don’t have one?

With my roots being from Toyota I often reflect on the true north statement that was always there as our company’s guiding beacon; no matter what an individual did or what level they reached in the organization you could tie your daily work into that statement.   For example, a true north statement could look similar to this:

We will always put the Customer first, while making the highest quality product, at the lowest cost, in the shortest lead time, in the safest manner, all while respecting our people.

As you look at this statement you can visualize the key performance indicators such as quality, cost, productivity, safety, and human resources.    These indicators are what drive the company to improve their processes which in turn assist those results we all tend to focus on heavily.  This type of true north is evolutionary, meaning if you reach the lowest cost then raise the bar on yourself and continue to improve it (continuous improvement).   I’ve seen true north statements say something like – “To be #1 in the market.”  Although I feel that is misleading at times, but the more important part of that is the customer- is that the first thing on their minds?  We often have to be careful with such a result oriented direction.  It’s more so about the processes / thinking that get us there.

With the above as our true north, it allowed us to look at our own work as the business goals cascaded downward from the 50,000 foot level of the organization to the 1000 foot level.  It’s essential that everyone articulates what they are doing to contribute and measure.  If they fall short of that then we could ask the question- “How value-added are we”?  Let’s take a look at how a sequence of questions can align us to that true north and ensure we are adding value.

During my sessions I embed the time to ask specific questions in regard to the line of sight.   It normally is a real eye-opener to some as they realize what they are doing (sometimes reacting-i.e. firefighting) isn’t always contributing towards the company goals in the best way they could be.

The first question I ask them is – What is your role in the organization? This makes them think about their role or scope of work.  This may seem like a simple task to many, but it’s “deceptively” simple as we continue to ask more questions.  Believe it or not, some struggle with articulating their specific role.  It’s often not always defined by our leaders from day one.

The second question is – What is my work responsibility?  This allows you to think about what you are truly responsible for in your daily work in regard to your role.  What is all involved with my responsibilities?  Sometimes I ask “why did the company hire you?”  What is your true responsibility in regard to the business goals?

The third question I ask is – What is your job’s purpose?   This particular question begins the thinking process, most come back and say – “what do you mean what is my purpose, my purpose is to do what I’m told?”  I chuckle inside as they continue the exercise, because it continues to challenge them further and gaps begin to surface.  It’s hard to take sometimes but we all should drive our purpose towards specific standards which contribute to the business need.  Otherwise are we spinning our wheels?  Just as we all have seen the “Got Milk” ads in the past – I ask, “Got Purpose?”

The fourth question I ask is – What are the goals that guide your job’s purpose?  Am I making this more difficult or what?   I normally start see people staring to the left to the right depending upon what side of the brain they are pulling information from.  It’s an interesting process to witness because some have never thought of it in the context I’m making them think of before.  Some say, “What do you mean the goals that guide me? - I meet the results!”  This is where I give them a hint towards their key performance indicators.  Everyone’s job has to be aligned with those key performance indicators we discussed before.  If not how do you really know if you are creating value?  How are you measuring your own work back to the company’s goals?  This is why true north and cascading goals are essential in a culture focused on people, purpose, process and problem solving!  See a previous column on  called the 4P’s. 

The last question I ask is –What are the company goals?  This empowers them to align themselves with true north and how they contribute.   As I stated before, how do you go from the 50,000 goal to the 1000 foot level.    It’s an upward cascade regarding your work that parallels with the downward cascade of the strategy deployment of the business plan.   Once I finish the series of questions I tell them to write “My own Ideal Situation”, to the side.   What I have created in essence is that very thing.   If we know our role, purpose, the goals that guide us, and the company goals then we should be able to articulate with our daily actions where we are against that standard at any time.  When you lower the river to see the rocks it’s your own personal development towards the company’s goal which in turn proves your contribution to long term sustainability and growth due to your actions aligning.  When they don’t align you can always ask why and understand what is keeping you from those goals.   (Almost like a background A3 running in regard to your own performance- imagine that)

Let me show you a very simple example that I often use in my sessions that I did for my own line of sight as a problem solving instructor.  Yes I practice what I teach.

My role – Problem Solving Instructor

My work responsibility – is to learn, understand and practice the problem solving process /thinking (PDCA) and also how the company values/principles are intertwined with that thinking to deliver training sessions to various organizations.

My job’s purpose – to effectively deliver the problem solving process to any level /role within the organization that ignites a culture of ongoing thinkers who are able to see gaps against a standard.  (*Note I underlined effectively in the sentence above, I measure my effectiveness as an instructor during and after a class to see if I’m meeting their expectations).

What are the goals that guide my job’s purpose – for my participants to learn, understand, practice, and develop their people in problem solving in order to fulfill the company’s values and true north vision.  (*Note I underlined develop in the sentence above, it is part of the goals that guide me that I teach at a rigorous level so participants can not only learn themselves but also eventually develop others)

What are my company goals – to fulfill the customers’ expectations by providing, high quality training, which enables them to do business differently by changing how their people think and do business.

So this is my personal line of sight, which I consider my ideal situation.  It’s evolutionary and constantly makes me improve how I teach based on the customers’ response.  In essence it’s a gap creator for me that I always look at as my standard and where I am at against it.

In closing, I hope this column gives some insights toward your personal line of sight within your company and your role, but further more do you understand the importance of everyone having one that leads upward to the company true north.  This makes it much easier to cascade your business plan down through the organization.  If people don’t understand it, they tend to be reactive; reactive isn’t something you want to develop has a habit.   Now let’s get to aligning ourselves!
Until next time
Tracey Richardson

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Leading and Learning"

I can vividly remember the moment I was promoted into Management (Salary) at Toyota (TMMK- Toyota Motor Manufacturing KY), when my Japanese trainer came up to me and shook my hand and asked - “Tracey san, do you realize the expectation as a leader?”  I had quickly considered this may be a trick question but with my experience on the production floor observing other leaders I answered, “Yes!”  He gazed back at me and said, “Please understand that now as a leader you must spent 50% of your time developing your people!”  I will have to admit I was a little perplexed as to how I was going to allot half my time to develop others; if this was the expectation then it was going to be a challenging task.  My mind began to race with thoughts like:

·        How would I make time for staff meetings?

·        How would I answer calls?

·        Take care of issues regarding Human Resources?

·        How would I keep up with evaluations or performance expectations?

·        Maintain my key performance indicators for my group?

·        Maintain budgets?

·        Keep up with my visual management system.   So on and so on!

Had I taken on more than I could handle?  These were my thoughts as I tried to imbibe everything as a new member of management with high expectations.  I think many leaders in various organizations have many similar responsibilities and often find themselves in that reactive (fire hose) mode of doing business.   Unfortunately, some companies promote based on how many fires are put out the quickest.  This management process is short-term gains at best and slowly eats at your culture/morale like a virus.  It also tends to tell the ones you are managing the wrong message and terrible habits are formed that we often label as “tribal knowledge”, or assumptions.   How do you remedy this?  This is a reality for many!  

I can remember when I took on the responsibility I felt the urgent need to always have the answers; if I didn’t, wouldn’t I come across as an inadequate leader? Isn’t the leader supposed to know everything? What would my people think if I didn’t?  How do you gain knowledge or experience and train others to do the same simultaneously? 

I remember my trainer calming me by saying, “it’s ok not to have all the answers or even have failures along the way”.  His biggest concern was that mistakes were learned from and they weren’t repeated.   He told me regardless of my level or role I was in for the organization, there was one thing that never stopped; that was “leading and learning”. No matter how much time a person invests in a role or gains experience there will always be a level of “leading and learning” that simultaneously happens  with any individual in a leadership role.  The key point he told me which I believe is the essence of how they do business- that is as a leader, “you must always study harder than your subordinates”!   As a current instructor in corporate America, I still find myself practicing this type of thinking.  As consultant do I always have the right answers?  As a consultant will I make a mistake?  Of course, but my goal is to study harder, learn, listen and engage others.  By doing this I’m practicing continuous improvement for myself so I can then share that new wisdom immediately!  For me this could happen week to week.  I could learn something from client A and share with client B the very next week.   I may develop a new “cheat-sheet” or handout that helps explain a theory by bringing it to life.  This is my constant challenge of “studying harder”.  As a leader we must constantly find ways to teach/lead by our actions.  Actions should be lead with a PDCA-mindset that supports our Business plan/True North.  With that as our guiding beacon and our willingness to engage it’s a recipe for a culture where people are your most important asset.  Hence the 50% rule! 

I think in the beginning start up phases at TMMK we were ALL leading and learning at the same time whether we realized it or not.   The Japanese were trying to teach us a new way to think in a different language, set up systems, lines and standards while newly promoted leaders were learning their role, yet at the same time teaching others, if you didn’t study harder then you may be passed by.   There was no room for complacency when the discipline is “everyday-everybody-engage people in problem solving”

When it was explained in this way, it took a little pressure off of me because I realized quickly that being present on the floor (at the gemba), involving, engaging, challenging my people pushed me to be better at asking the right questions and developing their thinking.  It was really a continuous improvement cycle as a person, and believe it or not the people start to mimic your actions as you mimic the actions of your leader.  This is how you “grow” your own leaders! 

I often tell folks that are trying to embed a Lean Culture in their organization that as a leader if you are “comfortable” in your role then you probably aren’t challenging yourself or others.  In all my different roles at Toyota they always challenged me, personally, to be better and I had to challenge others, my goal was to just be one step ahead at all times.   My leader was doing the same thing with me; this was cascaded downward throughout the organization from the President down as I’ve stated.  One thing to remember it was an expectation of our job not a choice.  This is where I feel there is such a disconnection with companies trying to embed lean; it comes across as this “add-on choice” not an expectation/discipline, or a way to do business.  When we try to label it and something special I truly believe it loses its importance.  In the late 80’s we didn’t call it anything we just lead by actions which supported the business.  Does that really need a label other than our job? Think about that! 

So my message to you if you are a leader out there and “work for” your people , you must do this at the gemba real time, asking questions and understanding current situation.  This mentality must be passed down to your leaders and the people below them.   My goal as a consultant/trainer is to always be uncomfortable in my role- that is to say challenge yourself to be better each day through self-development by engaging others in what they do.  This is the key to success not only for you as the leader and your people, but the organization as a whole which creates long-term sustainability and continuous improvement.  “Lead and Learn” give it a try!
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Friday, February 10, 2012

What are some the KEY "take-aways" from participants during my training sessions?

Hello folks,
The subject for this blog post is about key learning points that were "take aways" from my Key Concepts of Lean class at the LEI conference in Los Angeles, CA.  There were 25 participants which is 1 above capacity for this class and they shared their "ah Ha's" with me so I felt I would share them with you.
  I believe I have written about key learning's before in a previous blog post, so I felt it was time to revisit this type of post to share with my readers what other participants are learning from my sessions, either through LEI ( or my own business Teaching Lean Inc.   These key points help me become a better trainer by understanding what my customers want and need during their lean implementation journey as well as encouraging me to write subject matter here on my site.  I have linked some of the key learning's below to previous blog posts Ive created in the past on the subject if you would like to read more on the concept.  

The Key Concepts of Lean class is structured to give participants a variety of concepts around the entire aspect of Lean.   It's a "jammed-packed full of information" type of class that has exercises, discussions, PowerPoint, and a manufacturing simulation to bring many points "to life" as we learn them throughout each day in class.
It is a common practice during my sessions to share my stories from Toyota and my experiences as a team member, team leader, and first level management as a group leader during the 10 years I was there in Production Plastics department.   Those experiences are priceless to me and my ability to translate them in a 16 hour session is my goal!  I like to hear from my participants to get a "finger on the pulse" (grasping the situation) of what they are getting from class so at the end of each day so we do a key point exercise.  This helps me understand how to be a better translator of Lean.  Continuous Improvement right?! :)   So everyone shares their key learning or a "light bulb or Aha" moment from the day and I capture them on a flip chart so they can collectively visualize what the entire class learned. 

So I will summarize them from each day.

Day 1 Key Learning's:
Day 2 Key Learning's:
Lots of good stuff shared over these 2 days, I hope it is helpful to see what others are learning.  I call it "planting seeds" :)
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What do the 4P's have to do with Lean?

As I continue to share my thoughts on successful Lean Implementation across the U.S as a trainer, I often get a response that is common in various industries that aren't manufacturing related.    When I share my wisdom with folks within my sessions, its based on how I was taught at Toyota by the Japanese trainers and my 10 years experience on the production floor at in various roles.   So of course my learning is manufacturing based but it can be translated.    The response I get often  during a session is "Ah! this is great stuff, but I don't work in manufacturing so I don't think it will work for me unfortunately".   As a trainer is my responsibility to eliminate this question and translate the "thinking" to any organization.

If you think back when Taichii Ohno developed the Toyota Production System(TPS) it was basically a set of "tools" or "countermeasures" to help them be more effective, efficient and develop people.   I chuckle inside when I tell folks that not ALL the tools worked even within the walls of Toyota.   It's not the tool that is the important part really, its the "thinking" behind the tool that I try and translate.

What I have found there are several essential elements to Lean and how to translate it to any organization regardless of the product or service.   I call these the 4P's.   Similar to Jim Womack's 3P's but I'm adding one more.

So when people say to me, "this is just for manufacturing", I look at them and ask a few questions.

1.  Do you have a purpose to your organization?
2.  Do you have people in your organization?
3.  Do you have processes that create some type of output or service in your organization?
4.  Do you have problems within your organization?

So when they answer "YES" to all these questions above, I tell them they can implement the "thinking processes" to this thing we all call LEAN.  See sometimes the labeling of what we are doing often skews the thinking behind the tools and we tell ourselves "it wont work in our environment".  My thoughts are, "you can't think"?  What do you mean it wont work?   I begin to differentiate the tools from the process or thinking behind it.   Then the light bulbs often turn on.

Let's look at each one briefly!  You will have to come to my classes to dig deeper! :)

When I think about purpose, I think about True North.   What is True North?  For me its a guiding beacon that continues to give me direction as a company and leads the company to successful thinking that fosters good leadership.   An example that guided us at Toyota was - Customer First thinking, making the highest quality product, at the lowest cost, with the shortest lead time, in the safest manner, all while respecting people.  This cut across all our key performance indicators as a company and it was an evolutionary statement.   We never got there because if we did we raised the bar and improved.   Purpose to me is why you are doing business!

When I think about people I think about the most important asset in your organization!  It goes on to say in the Toyota Way Values book that they (your people) can determine the rise and fall of your business.   If we don't invest in our people then we are missing out on the extraordinary brainpower they have to make a difference.  It is our job as leaders to develop their thinking everyday at the gemba by asking the right questions.  People are the heart and soul of lean thinking and without their buy-in, engagement, involvement, and understanding of how it ties to purpose and alignment of their work; then it will be short term gains at best.   As we all know the infamous "flavor of the month" sets in.  I remember when I was promoted into management at Toyota my trainer said to me, "Tracey san, do you realize that 50% of your job now is to develop your people"!  I'm here to tell you this is KEY!

Do you realize as human beings that our lives our centered around processes or routines?  When you get down to it everything we do has some type of process to it.  We are creatures of habit.  Just to get to my blog there was a process for you to follow.  To get up everyday and get ready for work you have a process.   If there is an output created then there is a process involved.   It is our role as a leader to document these processes and standardize them so your people understand the expectations.   As Taichii Ohno says, "without a standard there can be no kaizen!".   So standards are just the processes we do.   I agree we may not have the same way to do them, but as a leader you must create the best known method in order to gain consensus and buy-in (as discussed above).  Then if there is a better way we improve.   You do not have to manufacture anything to have processes.   I can value stream for you going to the grocery store and all the waste involved. :).   Please understand that with a solid purpose, engaged people, and documented processes sets up beautifully to recognize the abnormality; which takes us to the last P.

When we have the ability to recognize abnormality at a glance we are light years ahead of most organizations.   I often ask the question:  How do you know you have a problem?  I often hear, "well it happens a lot".   I can remember once saying that to my Japanese trainer.   He replied, "Oh, a lot I do not understand, please explain".   This was his way of saying please do NOT make assumptions if you don't have the facts.  What is a lot?   If we don't have documented standards where we can see abnormality the it leaves us to guess guessing leads to symptom fighting.  It also tends to remove the ability to hold our people accountable for their actions.   Once the abnormality is discovered then we apply PDCA (plan do check act) thinking in the form of the 8 step problem solving process to eliminate the gaps.  To me, problem solving is the glue that makes it all stick together!  Without the 4P's you probably have a fire hose on your back.  Just a guess! :)

So if you have any doubts that lean is just a manufacturing based methodology, then I would like to challenge you to think differently about the thinking behind lean and that it can be translated into ANY organization.  I promise!  
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Monday, January 16, 2012

How to translate waste to cost - My 1 second lesson!

So as many of you know, I was blessed with the opportunity to learn lessons from my Japanese trainers during the start up phase at TMMK (Toyota Motor Manuf KY) in 1987-88.   I was in production and we had to determine many things ahead of time in regard to standards, 5S, work instruction, and visual controls in order to meet the needs of our customer which was the Assembly shop.   Each of our groups were assigned a trainer or two depending upon the size and they were there to mentor us every step of the way.   At the time I really didn't think it was so interesting or how priceless their presence really was, they could be very annoying and deep down you wished you could have hid from them.  They seemed to ask WHY all the time- go figure!. :) 

  Looking back almost 24 years later I didn't realize how special those times were and if I had to do over again I would see it through different eyes- meaning "picking their brains" as much as they would let me.  One of those famous hindsight things we all think about after the fact.  Ah! to life experiences!

 Their actions and way of thinking did rub off on me and has contributed greatly to the sensei I've become today and how I've led and learned my whole career!  I can't begin to thank them for their time and patience they dedicated to our learning.
There is one lesson today I would like to share with you that really opened my eyes to how important the smallest actions are within your daily processes/work and how that translates to the company long term sustainability and also how can learn to do business.

Let's call this the 1 second lesson:

I can remember this vividly as if it was yesterday because it was a moment in time where the lightbulb came on and I was only 19 years old.  This lesson defined how I looked at things after that moment.  So if know me personally you may say it was the start of my obsession with seeing "muda" or waste. :).  If you have been in any of my sessions before you have heard this story.   I speak about it during my morning Culture session on Day 1.   This story was about our culture and how we were taught as individuals to think and how it benefited us in our work and ultimately the company.  They valued our thoughts on a minute to minute basis!

So one day our trainer gathered us together and said, "everyone, I have challenge for you"!  We were somewhat excited yet nervous regarding what expectation he may put upon us; remember their role was to get us to do what were didn't think we were capable of.  Similar to my role now as a sensei!

   So he requested us to all look for 1 sec of waste in our process, for me when he said that it was like a deflated balloon feeling.  I was saying to myself inside "Is that all"?  "sheesh"!!  "Who really cares about 1 sec?"  So he sensed we didn't share the same passion for the 1 second as he did so he stopped and explain WHY it was important.   One thing that we were always involved in as workers during my time there was understanding the purpose and why we were doing something.    Many companies explain what they want you to do and sometimes even how they want you to do it, often left out in the cold is the purpose/why its important.  See a previous blog post about the WHAT, HOW and WHY!

So the trainer explained the importance of 1 second.   So basically he translated that 1 second to a cost for the company, which many aren't willing to do nor understand how to do.   He stated, "if everyone in the plant saved 1 sec on their process we could make 8 more cars a shift!"   Internally to myself, I was like "WHAT!"  So let's just say that each car was a profit of $1000 dollars (disclaimer** I am making up an easy number for Math) so that is $8000.00 that was "waltzing" out the door that we "rolled our eyes at".  No one should care about 1 sec right? Isn't that too picky? Give me a break right?  Well after that moment, I started saying "wow", 1 shift, how much is that in a week, month, year? --That adds up! That 1 second could be my Job Security one day  Really just 1 second!!  So from that moment I was looking for seconds everywhere.

So how do you translate this to your world is the question?  I ask companies it may not be a second like it was for us, but it could be:
1 hour of time
1 day of lead time
1 penny
1 dollar
1 week
Where is your waste?  Are you seeing it? Can you translate it if you do see it?  This type of thinking is a requirement in my opinion not an option.  How much has to hemorrhage out your door before you care?  "Go Thinking" as my trainer would say!
Until next time
Tracey Richardson