To Flow or Not to Flow? - That's Not Really the Question

Joshua Ebert, UL
Published February 17, 2015

In the early days of implementing continuous improvement tools at our 110-year old engineering services firm I had an opportunity to help develop visibility into our workflow. Most of our work resided on paper, in e-mail systems and in the minds of our associates. We labelled a lot of our initial efforts as “Making the Invisible, Visible.” We learned from other organizations and from lean consultants that we couldn’t improve our processes without first seeing flow or the absence of it. I believe we did good work and am proud of the various visualizations and tools we were able to produce including Dynamic Cycle Time Charts and Capacity Heat Maps.

All this work culminated in a global scheduling system that was designed to match incoming demand with the best available capacity. However, it wasn’t long before we started to get an occasional complaint from staff and/or customers that the way work was being routed potentially caused issues. This new way of redistributing the demand was revealing variability in our processes, as well as in our way of handling differing customer specifications. At the time, these new discoveries seemed like an undesirable consequence, rather than the gift they really were.  

“Embrace Scientific Thinking” - A Universal and Timeless Principle

Robert Miller, Arches Leadership
Published February 3, 2015

At first glance this seems like a strange thing to say. How does one “embrace” scientific thinking? Furthermore, why would they? To answer these questions let’s remind ourselves what a principle is. The Shingo Institute defines a principle as “a foundational rule that has an inevitable consequence.” If something is a principle, it is universal and timeless; it is discovered and understood rather than invented. At some level it is intuitive, and finally it is action-oriented, thus influencing an outcome or consequence.

Principle Based Behaviors

To embrace scientific thinking one believes deeply in the process of experimentation, is curious about “what if,” sets aside prejudices and remains open to possibilities. The scientific thinker bases decisions and actions on facts and data as well as intuition and emotion. An organizational culture that embraces scientific thinking expects and supports people and teams at all levels to be “scientists,” passionately and relentlessly looking for and systematically trying new and better ways to do practically everything.

Fostering an Environment of Scientific Thinking

Mike Martyn, SISU Consulting Group
Published January 21, 2015

Describing what it looks like when an organization “embraces scientific thinking” has evolved over the years at the Shingo Institute. If the reader were to look at the Shingo Model™ and Guidelines published just three years ago (2012), one would see a focus on training all associates in a “common understanding, approach, and language regarding improvement…(which) places a premium on defining and communicating desired outcomes…through a variety of models such as PDCA, the QI Story, A3 thinking and DMAIC.”

Today however, the definition of the principle focuses on the role of “cycles of experimentation, direct observation and learning” in driving improvements. And while the Shingo Institute still gives attention to the specific methodology used for practicing the scientific method, more emphasis is now placed on how organizations more generally “engage employees in teaching, modeling and thinking scientifically…[to] make decisions and experiment with good data…and seek the wisdom of others through collaboration.”

Three Truths to Inspire Better Process Design

Written by Julian Winn, The Manufacturing Institute
Published December 15, 2014

Many of the companies I have worked with who embrace the Shingo Model have built up years of experience of tools and systems as part of their lean implementations. They come to the Shingo Model with familiarity of guiding principles behind the Continuous Improvement dimension, and are often able to describe to me what they understand by Focus on Process. However, in my experience at The Manufacturing Institute, I find that there is often a gap in the deeper understanding of the principle. And this gap can lead to non-ideal behaviors at all levels of the business that make it difficult to truly focus on process.

The foundational belief we have defined for focus on process is: “Great processes set people up to succeed.” This is the human side of the principle, and I think we all like to be successful at what we do. As Fujio Cho, a former president of Toyota, famously said, “We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes, while our competitors get average or worse results from brilliant people managing broken processes. 

A Time for Average Heroes

Written by Val Liberman, UL LLC
Published September 9, 2015

A client from a large manufacturing organization once told me of their internal marketing campaign titled “Our Heroes.” It depicted, via giant posters hung throughout their facilities, a small number of employees who went above and beyond the “call of duty,” and highlighted their specific “heroic” achievements.

This story prompted me to think about the definition of the term hero, which I learned, with the help of The Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” As I continued my research, I learned that the term hero first appeared in mythology and folklore where it was aimed at entertaining the reader/listener in order to help them sympathize with the protagonist of the story. With the advances in the reach of mass media, heroes and their stories began to be used in propaganda materials, especially during times of war.

What is Perfection?

Written by Peter Hines, S A Partners
Published November 17, 2014

Ever since the classic Lean Thinking book1 talked about perfection as a principle in 1996, I have wondered what this really meant. What is perfection?

Here, the Shingo approach helps us with a definition: "Perfection is an aspiration not likely to be achieved but the pursuit of which creates a mindset and culture of continuous improvement. The realization of what is possible is only limited by the paradigms through which we see and understand the world."

In my own mind this chimes well with my own experiences since the early 1990s with a simple tool like value stream mapping and engaging teams to want to implement and embed future state maps. What I found is that simply telling or even facilitating a team to develop a future state map rarely resulted in a sustainable change. Why? I believe this was because many in the team did not understand why they were doing this, what they were trying to achieve and most importantly that the future state that they were defining was even possible.

The Power in Pursuing Perfection

Written by Abel Gomez, Opex Academy
Published November 4, 2014

Nowadays, a large number of companies are establishing principles of excellence as the path for their companies. Every day companies from various types of industry call me and ask to join all those who have taken the path of enterprise excellence based on principles. Although many have understood that such principles are the basis of competitive organizations, many still battle as to how to interpret them on a daily basis. It is not that simple for them to define what the application of the principles looks like on the floor – at the gemba – where things happen every day.

Although little-by-little companies understand the importance of involving and committing every member of the organization to create the golden dream of sustainable continuous improvement, there are still many concepts that are hard to understand and translate in simple and accessible terms – even among CEOs to whom the new era of excellence based on principles is not a common theme. In fact, many mistake the path to excellence for tools and systems that are totally misaligned from the true goal. So often, this misalignment creates situations that go against principles – particularly seeking perfection.