Monday, October 19, 2020

Lean Means Don’t Be a Dumb-Ass

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

I owe this gem to our friends & colleagues in the great state of Alabama.

Our partners there have a way with words, and a fine appreciation of Lean fundamentals.

Lean is ‘simple’, is it not?
  1. Define Purpose clearly
  2. Make problems visible at all levels
  3. Treat people with respect – team members, customers, suppliers and the community
  4. Involve everybody In problem solving
Lean methods like visual management, standardized work, Help Chains and the like are about making problems visible, so we can fix them.

Once the problem is visible, the countermeasure is often obvious, no?

To be sure, some problems (e.g. Strategic, Design, Supply Chain, machine, information flow etc.) are complex and have multiple causes.

Countermeasures reveal themselves only after much reflection and experimentation. Lean methods enable this process. (Without them we often jump to a dumb-ass ‘countermeasure’)

An old Henny Youngman joke goes like this:

Henny, flapping his arms like wings. “I went to my doctor and told him it hurts when I do this!” Henny makes a face. “The doctor told me, don’t do that!”

Lean methods help us understand what ‘that’ is, so we can fix it.

Our challenge is that we often learn dumb-ass things in college and in dysfunctional organizations. Things like, let’s hide our problems, let’s brutalize our team members, let’s try to hoodwink our customers, and the like.

The truth will out.

Don’t be a dumb-ass.

Best regards,


PS Andy & Me and the Hospital, describes how not to be a dumb-ass in healthcare.

In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

“Lean – So ‘Easy’, It’s Hard”
“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”
Building Quality into the Process
Standardized Work for Knowledge Workers

Monday, October 5, 2020

Lean – So ‘Easy’, It’s Hard

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Striking how ‘easy’ Lean is, no?
  1. Define Purpose clearly & communicate it tirelessly
  2. Identify the main obstacles and/or enablers to achieving Purpose
  3. Treat people with respect and seek to involve everybody in improving the business
  4. Go see what’s actually happening regularly and with purpose
  5. Reflect regularly, openly & honestly on what’s working, what is not working, and why
  6. Keep going (until you die)
That last one is perhaps the most difficult, and, in my view, the sign of a great sensei. It’s how we transform a management system into a way of living and being, something that remains after we’re gone.

I think of George Kissell, the legendary St. Louis Cardinal minor league manager, teaching baseball fundamentals well into his eighties. Or Ed Deming still teaching, kicking butt and taking names from a wheelchair at the age of ninety three.

We’re fortunate enough to work with a number of faith-based hospital systems. I find it profoundly moving when they begin a day or a meal with a prayer for wisdom and humility.

I’m sure you can cite many more examples. Enduring excellence in sports, business and management, is based on bedrock principles (very much like the ones above), no?

The more you practice the easier – and harder it gets. Easier, because repetition develops muscle memory.   Harder, because we humans – or at least this one – are lazy, tricky and dishonest (especially with ourselves).

We think we can outfox the fundamentals, that we can ‘get away with it.’ The more success we experience, the more lazy, tricky and dishonest we tend to become. As a result, success corrupts, just as ‘power corrupts’.

Greatest senseis throughout the ages have adopted various countermeasures to our innate vulnerabilities. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the world’s most powerful person then, meditated on death every day.  St. Jerome kept a human skull on his desk.

(My daughters, knowing my respect for the afore-mentioned, gave me a skull replica, which sits on my desk as I write, wearing my Green Bay Packers cap. Needless to say, I am no St. Jerome…)

Our Toyota senseis countermeasure was to check frequently and severely. “Target, actual, please explain!”  “Your activities have no meaning, Pascal-san!”  “This is NOT countermeasure!”

They were right, of course, and I felt like the village idiot for a long time. Good thing too – how else could I unlearn the rubbish I’d learned engineering and business school?

(Don’t want to be misunderstood – I learned plenty of good stuff in professional schools too. But often it’s mixed in with rubbish, no?

In summary, Lean fundamentals are really life fundamentals – simultaneously easy & hard. Seek them out, practice and keep going.  Very good things will happen.

Then, remembering Marcus Aurelius and St. Jerome, double-down on humility.

Best regards,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”
Building Quality into the Process
Standardized Work for Knowledge Workers
Difference between Hansei and a Post-mortem

Monday, September 21, 2020

“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”

By Al Norval (bio)

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes by John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA where he won 10 NCAA national basketball championships over a 12 year period including an incredible 7 in a row.

I like this quote not only because it’s a nice play on words but more deeply because it’s simple, it’s obvious and painfully true.

Given that, why do so many organizations fail to plan?

Are they really planning to fail?

Granted most organizations have some semblance of a strategic plan. It may take the form of a financial plan or a 900 slide PowerPoint presentation commonly referred to as “PowerPoint Junk”. True story – even the executive version was 90 slides long and completely incomprehensible.

True planning means taking the time to grasp the situation and think deeply about the issues, then determining countermeasures that are testable. It means deploying these countermeasures by focussing the organizations resources on these countermeasures and aligning the organization to their execution. It means having a quick check/ adjust process for when things go off plan.

In reality most organizations actually do have a plan, it’s just that outside the leadership team no one knows what it is or how the work they do contributes to it and therefore people don’t follow it and don’t impact it.

So the reality is – they are planning to fail.



In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Building Quality into the Process
Standardized Work for Knowledge Workers
Difference between Hansei and a Post-mortem
TPS and Agile