EDITOR’S LETTER – Missed any of our articles this past month? Fear not, as our monthly roundup of Planet Lean content is here to provide you with the highlights and keep you up to date with the latest in lean thinking.
Word: Roberto Priolo, Editor, Planet Lean
April is ending, and I know we are all looking forward to summer – at least I am here in London, where it snowed this week – but let me look back to the past four weeks for a moment, because we have had quite a few pieces that I believe you will find of great interest.
We have had the honor to feature some of the most well known lean thinkers out there. I am not just talking about Jim Womack and his superb Yokoten column, of course, which this month discussed the opportunity that lean thinking represents for a changing aerospace industry. I am also referring to the interviews we published with Greg Lane, Mike Hoseus and Art Smalley. Each of the three interviewees has worked for and with Toyota in the past, and they all shared incredible insights into what it takes to be a lean leader and into what mistakes Western management tends to make.
I particularly loved the anecdote Mike Hoseus shared about his Japanese sensei telling him that the fact that his board was all green and that there was seemingly no problem was actually a big problem! And it’s hard not to appreciate the incredible experience of Art Smalley, who at some point during the interview explained to me how Toyota wants you to be a leader and calls you one (the Japanese word is cho) while in the West we want you to be a leader but call you a manager. It’s so interesting to see how even a simple word can reflect a company’ culture.
Lots of Toyota this month on Planet Lean. Ian Glenday, in another article from his series, explained how the company achieved the stability in production that is necessary to establish a continuous improvement culture. The secret? Heijunka!
Speaking of the basics – the fundamental lean principles and techniques – one of the most widely utilized (and perhaps one of the hardest to understand) is A3s. At the beginning of April, we had a good article by Karen and Steve Bell on the topic. They reminded us that A3 thinking is not a prescriptive approach to problem solving but a way to progressively deepen our understanding of a problematic situation. “Without an organizational dedication to learning through coaching,” they wrote, “problem solving […] will never become a holistic practice in the organization.”
But how do we make problem solving capabilities commonplace in our organizations? There is no doubt that without leadership this might be impossible to accomplish. This past week we published a wonderful account, written by a CEO, straight from the gemba of a French construction company. John Bouthillon of PO Construction used the lessons he learned at the gemba to provide useful tips other organizations in the sector might find useful. But his insights on leadership apply across all sectors. He wrote: “As we see more problems, we become experts at digging up waste and come up with countermeasures. As a CEO, my contribution to this activity is critical: I regularly visit all sites and review with them how they solved their problems. I try to identify patterns and to determine in what instances they need headquarters to help. Whenever people find a smart, creative way to deal with a problem, I spread the word.”
They say we never stop learning, and lean thinking is indeed a great example of this. In a lean organization, everybody learns at all times: the front line learns, middle management learns, even leadership – who is tasked with coaching the front line – learns. In fact, learning and teaching go hand in hand in lean, as the profile on lean healthcare expert and coach Alice Lee, which I authored, told us.
Learning is also what NS NL, the Dutch railways operator, is trying to do as they apply lean to their HR department to improve their hiring process. A great turnaround-in-the-making story from the Netherlands.
Finally, the regular opinion piece by Israel Lean Enterprise president Boaz Tamir, who used the example of a recent protest carried out by Liverpool F.C. supporters to remind us that as organizations we should never lose sight of customer value. In fact, we should strive to turn our customers into fans!
Now it’s on to May, and you can expect more great content coming your way. Till then…
Roberto Priolo is a London-based journalist and Managing Editor of Planet Lean. Prior to joining the Lean Global Network and launching Planet Lean, Roberto was editor of Lean Management Journal and associate editor of The Manufacturer magazine. He holds a degree in Political Science from the Università Cattolica in Milan, Italy, and a postgraduate diploma in journalism from the London School of Journalism.