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


  1. A really helpful and informative blog thanx. badges manufacturer

  2. Hello Tracey! Firstly I want to thank you for sharing with us your thinking way. I reciently took the True Lean Training at UofK and we are pushing hard all this lean philosophy in our Global company.

    Thanks again and too much success!!