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LEAN is a Four (4) Letter word …

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of what author Angela Duckworth calls Grit. She defines grit as a sort of mash-up between passion and perseverance. What I’ve been thinking about is the way that grit overlaps with lean thinking and the sustained work of applying PDCA over many cycles over a sustained period of time.

Or in established mature process organizations CAPD … Check. Act, Plan, Do which allows you to act tactile and then plan strategic.

I’ve come to appreciate the relationship between the challenging work of PDCA and this thing called “grit.” Practicing lean over the long term is indeed hard work—but not in the way that some people assume or even experience in their companies. Calling for improvement through the disciplined and patient application of PDCA thinking is certainly a challenge, but should not be exhorting people to just work harder, jump higher, and do more.

To offer a lean perspective, I’ve come to recognize that the practices that embody PDCA (standardized work with kaizen, the A3 process, and more) provide means by which people can develop grit. If you involve PDCA in a disciplined and rigorous ongoing way (through mechanisms like Daily Report-Out huddles, hour-by-hour charts, and even kanban to offer a few examples) then the abnormalities that are revealed will lead you to develop a sense of perseverance. Facing and productively framing the waste, the overburden, the unevenness, and other gaps between what is expected or desired and what’s actually happening; can lead your team to develop perseverance. But what about passion?

Let me briefly tell you a story. Several years ago, a group of executives from a company that was early in their lean learning visited a Mature Lean environment. A relatively young Team leader made a presentation to the visiting executives that was supposed to last only thirty minutes. After ninety minutes and a lot of Q&A, the team member finally returned to his work. In reflection, the executives expressed as a main takeaway that their company needed to hire more people like him to boost the frontlines of their company. They were awestruck by his level of engagement with the company and passion for his work. But they missed the point entirely! They didn’t recognize that TPS (or lean thinking) helped create that result—that it was indeed deliberately


To focus on creating teams and organizations with grit and Perseverance requires an array of learning opportunities led by individuals who have experienced lean transformation

through persistent, patient struggle at their gemba, and who can help you improve your value-creating work, including the work of lean transformation.

While the results look simple to get there requires some sophisticated engineering.

Many organizations think that they can jump start their Lean Journey by leaping into the launch of a 5S program. Indeed this is a great way to create excitement, employee engagement but after the investment of significant time what is the result? An organized workplace …

But before the leap did the organization consider how they wanted to define their brand within the workplace? Did they have established standards or just allow individuals or teams to randomly apply adhoc solutions? Of course the traditional Look before you Leap … if you have established your Brand Standards did you prepare a budget?

5S applied will result in workplace organization … but does it improve productivity, velocity and profitability? Your 5S initiative can only be launched with a purpose and clear KPI to measure your results whether through significantly reducing inventory at all levels (RM, FG, WIP) or even as it is applied to reducing your set-ups or change-overs. If not considered your 5S initiative will be a waste of time and money. Unless you have a pot of money to burn to create a pretty work environment.

It looks simple and most people will deny themselves the use of a facilitator feeling that they can do it themselves. But as we constantly remind people … “for every mile of road there is 2 miles of ditch” and can you afford to run into the ditch?

Just like in school … the devil is in the details and we all hated to show our instructors our developmental work on how we achieved the answer. It is always easier to jump to solution based on our skill and experience … but is it actually the better way?

We often see the same error occur as organizations deploy Daily Management Huddle meetings. The Leaders are comfortable knowing that they were able to build the business through the methodology of “Command and Control” so in most cases their Daily Management just becomes an extension on the moniker just that they have installed nice white boards fitted with pretty graphs and charts to outward communicate results. Seldom, do they use the methodology to invite input and allow Team Members to become emotionally engaged with the process. Yes the devil is in the details and how you train not only your employees but your entire organization. Yes !!! it was indeed deliberately created.

Most important does it allow your team to measure personal success. They are most likely not vested to the process or the organization and are quite happy just to know what you want them to focus on next … so engagement is critical. You will not harvest all of them … but if I can at least increase engagement slightly .. It will definitely be an improvement.

Building trades understand that their involvement are creating legacies and heirlooms … we all remember our places of growing up … but do we remember who created them and what kind of thought process they may have used to create a home for you to remember.

So every action need to stimulate emotional attachment between the team and the process. Whether it is through the hourly documentation of units produced on hourly run boards .. The use of TPM to stimulate operator self-checks for the early detection of abnormalities that will result in a Disturbance to flow … or a stimulating daily dialogue through your Daily Report-Out methodology.

We all ultimately want increased employee engagement that will show our employees to act as owners … comfortable making decisions while enhancing our brand, improving customer perceived value without concern of receiving negative repercussions.

Recall your deployment has elements of Awareness … Compliance and finally commitment. It is during the Compliance phase that perseverance is critical. If you don’t understand the details required within a methodology … contact us.

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