How do I know a good Lean consultant/coach when I see one?

Someone asked this question in the who I am page so I thought I would post my whole answer here as it was an excellent question! So here it is:

That is an excellent question!! I might have to write a post about that (note I have written a post just pasted the comment, I like to think of that as lean ;)). Firstly, if they profess to know and have done everything then you should be suspicious. Lean is a learning experience and not hubris. This makes humility a key skill in any good lean practitioner, the ability to learn and not rigidly stick to one approach is key. Ask them how they got to where they are today, if everything is perfect and all projects delivered perfect incredible results be suspicious. Ask what their influences are? How do they connect to the lean community? If they do read their stuff, blog, tweets, book etc. I have tremendous respect for Mark Graban as he puts it all out there. Being a lean thinker is about putting yourself out there and accepting input from others. Finally as a coach or a consultant (in any form not just lean) they should spend more time listening to your problems and your needs than they do telling you what you should do. There is a never a one size fits all approach in lean and be wary of those trying to sell you that. Lean is about learning how to implement basic principles in diverse situations. 

What else would you add?


Delivering Kepner Tregoe’s new PSDM course

There are some challenges with delivering the revised 3 day PSDM material from how it was previously. As those who have attended or taught the course will know before the course was very heavy on using easels. Easels were used for everything; process demonstration, case studies, teaching aids, lists and so on. A lot of easels. This also meant, a lot of easel writing for the course leader. Either as pre-written easels (and the subsequent headache of flipping between them…) or writing them on the fly (messing handwriting anyone?). The revised material brings with it a reduction in this easel based headache. Firstly, several of the easels that were to be pre-written for training material now exist in the powerpoint presentations with animations. Examples of these are the IS/IS NOT venn diagram or the deviation/standard/changes diagram, and they are much better for it. Secondly and this is due to necessity of increased process steps and more rich (note I am not saying complex) case studies, it is not really possible to fit all of the discover case/process demo on easels. In my conversion we were recommended to still do these on easels to some degree. however, I practised this at home (yes I have 2 easels in my apartment) and I just could not make it flow. I therefore decided to develop the blind specification into a blank table in powerpoint as the course attendees fed me the information. This requires a little extended desktop setting changes in windows but worked very well for both myself and the attendees.
This is all well and good but this then also raises another serious issue to deal with when teaching the new material. How do the attendees document their team work on cases? We cannot comfortably fit these on easels anymore as already discussed. I experimented a little with this. First I tried giving them the new ledger sheets. This worked ok, however, they tended to work individually rather than together and couldn’t present from it to the rest of the groups. After this was not all that satisfactory I got the attendees to sign-up and download the worksheet or the app or preferably both! This proved very successful. Teams then set one person in charge of documenting into the worksheet or app and the rest focussed on the example. It also made presenting very easy indeed. One minor challenge was that not all the team members could see everything but this will be solved for future course by having break-out rooms with external monitors.

Data Related Rant

Hello there people! Sorry for being so quiet. Lots and lots of travelling has been done. I am a little more settled this month so expect some more wisdom (?) to be imparted through this blog over the next few weeks. I just wanted to have a quick rant…. and it is about data. Or rather the way people interpret changes in values over the short term…. (I think many of you see where this is going)

These days everyone likes to talk a lot about making decisions with data. Unfortunately everyone who says this rarely understands the data that they see in front of them. I haven’t got good graphics at the moment to demonstrate these points so bare with me. I will add some later.

Usually data graphs are generated in excel and will look like a month by month value plotted on an over-sized scale. What does this tell us? Well it can tell us over time what trend we are dealing with. If I plot turnover per month for a full year I can get an idea whether it looked reasonably stable or not (?) or at least see if it is trending upwards or downwards. Usually upwards is preferred in this case! But how do I know if it is stable or not? If those month by month variations are small compared to the absolute value, how do I interpret them? If I am not looking at a large data set or rather a value month by month or week by week how do I know what the trend is or will be? Unfortunately, these are questions that are rarely rarely asked, but they should be.

I would suggest that if you do not know at the top of your mind what the answer to the above questions is you check out what a control chart is. There are lots of great resources online and on amazon for these. Wheeler wrote what many consider to be the premier books on the subject. The principles are very simple and easy to follow and despite what many people tell you, you don’t need minitab to draw them. I prefer a pencil, ruler, calculator and graph paper myself! Check it out, see what you think and let me know if it helps!

The Kepner Tregoe world of things

I love love love Kepner Tregoe processes. IS/IS NOT, distinctions and changes, DA, PPA. They are really fun to teach and really easy to use as a facilitator. I also think that whilst the 3 day PSDM (problem solving and decision making course) is intense and from my own experience when I first attended difficult to absorb everything, it really delivers an insight into how to be a more effective individual.

I have struggles with KT to some degrees but never to the extent that I would not use them or recommend them to anyone. I get very annoyed with people who challenge their IP and undermine it.

I am therefore very pleased with the 2013 PSDM upgrade. For those that do not know KT their material was last updated some time in the 90’s. It needed a bit of an update. This led to people still enjoying the course but a lack of take up of the tools in work without a strong management push. This new upgrade addresses all of these issues. A quick summary from my view is:

  • The training material itself links up much better between the instructor guides, presentation slides and the student handbook
  • The training cases have been updated and made more complex which makes them more relevant and engaging. They also provide a great demonstration of the power of apply the KT processes
  • The switch to video cases makes delivering the 3 day course much less of a physical effort for the trainer. I find this allows more energy for coaching during the case activities which is a big positive
  • The excel worksheet has been revised and is excellent! Especially compared to how it was previousl
  • The iOS application (iPad only, I think it is android as well) is great, I still need to play with this more though

So you can probably guess that I am very happy with all this. I think the changes above will result in a richer training experience, lower barriers to start using the process after the training and therefore justify how keeping training material centralised can result in a very high quality training experience and process interaction. Kepner Tregoe are pushing back the people who undermine their business by raising the bar significantly!

Good job Kepner Tregoe!

We focused on services as that is new

Sorry for not being around. I know I am writing this to very few people except myself so it doesn’t really matter. I was as usual intending to write a deep and meaningful post about the contrast between the lean start-up movement and lean in manufacturing. I haven’t had time to fully form those thoughts to sufficient quality (mostly due to being busy on six sigma projects for work). It is still going to happen though!

Something happened today which shocked me though and I wanted to share it. We are a generous bunch here in the company I work for and people get a lot of training and honestly there are very little expectations on the value returned to the company. A shocking example of this was a young guy we have who had the company pay for him to attend a masters course. As part of this masters he studied six sigma and therefore did a project. Bear in mind we are a manufacturing company…. his project was service based, in a hospital. His former manager approved this. I challenged this today in terms of the value this brought to us. His reply, “we focused on services as it is new and developing”. “It is also, more interesting.” <– WELL FUCK ME!!! You work for a manufacturing company kid. We produce stuff. Yes we are trying to grow our services and our existing service are sub-optimum but it is a long way away from being our core business. “Oh, by the way… I would like to attend this other training course next year.” <— NO.

Why am I sharing this, well, I think it is very important to invest in people. I do. However, that investment should always be to develop the person in line with the needs of the business. If it is not, there is no value for the company and therefore definitely no value for the customer. That means it is not lean.

We Labelled some stuff, that’s lean, right?

Erm… no. Wrong. Now before I go on to give a better outline. I must say to the person who said this to me. I like you and don’t be angry I quoted you albeit anonymously. 

I hear this a lot and I mean a lot. People mistake application of a lean tool here and there as “doing and “being” lean. I can say honestly it is better than doing nothing for sure but it is definitely not lean.

So what is lean? Well from my view which I expect is well aligned with those who are much more sage like than I is that lean is about constantly striving to be a more productive organisation. Respecting your firm’s resources in order to deliver the maximum amount of value to the customer. Then the following day, trying to deliver more!

I think it is important for people to remember this and prioritise understanding this concept before anything else. See my previous post on the topic. If we keep this in mind it helps to drive the correct behaviours from the top to the bottom of the organisation, every day. And that must be a good thing.

The frustrating part of working with this is the general lack of understanding or “buy-in” we can face. I recently was talking to a friend who was moaning about how his engineers do not have time to do all the work at his customer than he would like them to do. He was begging his customer to pay for a third full time onsite engineer. Obviously the customer refused as my friend could not show the benefit of the third person. His mind was in the state that the only solution to getting things better was to add resources. In order to try and get him to think differently I asked him, how was he respecting his two engineers who were currently onsite full time? His response was typical, that he paid them. We discussed this at length. After a resolution of views we then turned to more practical means. What do the two current guys do at the moment. What value are they adding to the customer. I suggested he breakdown the work they do into value and none value added time to the customer. We could then focus on the waste. I am waiting for the results and we will see how it goes!

I will continue the story above as it develops as I think it will be an interesting learning for my friend with some good reflections. 


To conclude this post, please take a more principled look at lean and not focus on the tools. They are the mean to the end which is not to be lean but to be always striving to be more lean than you were yesterday.

Promises promises

So I know I have been promising to have a post on here about lean versus lean start-up and it is in the works I promise. The thing is that the more I read about lean start-up and comparing it with lean the more I appreciate it as a model and I therefore want to do it as much justice as possible when I write about it. I think Eric Ries has produced a truly commendable piece of work and it is not often I say that about people in general. The wait will be worth it and to keep you all interested in the meantime I have saved up a few rants that I will write up this afternoon.