Category Archives: Toyota Production System

The Culture Beast


Culture is a living embodiment of what the organization is – reflecting its past, its current customs, and foretelling its future – culture is a beast.  Culture is defined as a “blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time” – governing how people interact and even determining the organization’s ability to grow and change.  The organization creates its culture but is also bound by it.

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Any organization interested in developing and successfully implementing strategic initiatives must understand and incorporate the culture of the organization.  Culture facilitates the status quo and will gobble up attempts to change – unless the culture beast is aligned with the change.  Most failed attempts at lean transformation come back to culture.  Even if there are some obvious gains, they will often be in the form of “islands of excellence”.  A stifling culture will render change attempts stuck in the mud.    These “brown fields” are common – where top management attempted lean but could not get it to stick.  The culprit?  Unyielding culture.

Leadership can influence culture most directly through its actions – or inaction.  Depending on the company’s leadership and values, certain corporate cultures form which enable change and growth, while others stifle creativity and change.  A culture of fear will stifle any change.  If people feel threatened, they will not take risks – least of all driving change.  Even if there is a movement towards change, an organization beset by fear and uncertainty will quickly withdraw into a blame game and more effort will be spent on covering their butts and pointing fingers than on achieving company goals.

Dozens of studies have been made of the NUMI (New United Motors, Inc) plant, a joint venture between Toyota and GM, staffed by the UAW.  The plant was universally recognized as one of the best in North America, if not the world, for a number of years before being shuttered in 2010.  Despite sharing plant management duties, with complete access to training and learning, “General Motors lost and Toyota won” (Steven J. Spear).  The one lean lesson GM could not take back to its headquarters was the culture.  Tools can enable major change but will not by themselves instill a culture of Continuous Improvement.  Nevertheless, tools is where you start…

Want Change?  Feed the Beast

Culture is a living thing.  It changes over time and feeds on daily activity.  Changing its diet in the form of daily work habits and interactions changes culture, little by little. If culture eats strategy for lunch, structure shapes culture.  Structure is the fulcrum to leverage a change in culture.


Change happens only with sustained effort or major upheaval.  Entropy, the tendency for change efforts to dissipate or degrade, is enhanced by nay-sayers and those comfortable or benefiting from the status quo.  Existing patterns, relationships, and mores will only change with a shift in self interest.  If employees at all levels can see the benefit – resistance will be lowered and the possibilities for real and significant change increased dramatically.

A change in structure, or how information and product flows in the organization, can effect a change in culture, and thus in how we interact with one another.  Implementation of Lean Tools such as leader standard work, workplace organization and visual systems, pull systems controlled by kanbans (min-max), and kaizen events which promote communication, learning, and rapid change all have the effect of structurally changing how we work.   Lean Tools promote a Process Centered organization.  The schedule is no longer dictated from high up in the organization but rather based on pull from the customer, and replenishing kanban bins become the province of the employee.  The system itself drives work, and human effort is spent on improving the system.

What culture do we want?

In the traditional, Employee Centered Organization, information flows from top to bottom.  Command and Control functions are easily recognizable.  Directives are passed down to those who actually add value to the product or service, and little information flows back upward.  Little information transfers between functional silos, either.  Meaningful lateral connections are at the management level, and change is identified and implemented by Management.  Virtually all organizations see the value of employee participation.  How do we get it? How to get employees involved in improving their workplace, and consequently, the company?


In the Process Centered Organization, information flows both up and down the organization.  The conversation changes.  Management finds itself in the position of asking their employees, “How can I help you do your job better?”  Opportunities for improvement are readily identified and implemented across the organization, resulting in a continuous cycle of improvement.  Leaders still lead, managers still manage, and the entire organization is in step.  Culture has effectively flipped.  Instead of a few minds working on improving company processes, all employees own their processes and are seeking continuous improvement.

Continuous improvement is just that:  continuous.  As the organizational culture flips from a people centered one to a process centered one, people improve their problem solving abilities at all levels of the plant to achieve the organizations’ True North. The process is done in steps.   An upside down triangle is not initially a very stable structure; it needs a lot of attention to achieve balance.  Critical to sustaining this new process centered culture is turning workers into problem solvers, so they can truly control and improve their own processes.  Empowered workers will strive for ever greater productivity and waste elimination, especially if they share in the gains.  Conflicts and turf battles dry up in favor of joint collaboration to resolve problems.

Keeping the Beast Happy:  Servant Leadership

Managing from the “bottom of the pyramid” takes a completely different skill set than managing from the top.  It’s watering the horses, then the men, and finally, the officers.  The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.  Implicit in servant leadership is the belief that every person has value and deserves civility, trust, and respect and that people can accomplish much when inspired by a purpose beyond themselves – both foundations of a lean culture.

Chris Edmonds’ The Culture Engine, details five practices to servant leadership:

  • Clarify and reinforce the need for service to others, educating through their words and actions, encourage their team to do likewise.
  • Listen intently and observe closely, actively soliciting group participation, their ideas, and their feedback. They get to know each one of their employees, and they tailor their leadership approach accordingly.
  • Mentor others, guiding them and helping their employees learn vital skills that will both improve their performance, grow as people.
  • Demonstrate persistence – be tenacious and invest whatever time it takes to educate and inspire servant leadership practices in the members of their team.
  • Hold themselves and others accountable for their commitments.  Practice what they preach.  Push for high standards of performance, service quality, and alignment of values throughout the team, and they hold themselves and their people accountable for their performance.

Only through sustained, vigilant effort by leaders can the culture beast be happy with its new diet.  But a diet based on continuous improvement principles and practices is a healthy one indeed, and the organization will flourish, along with its culture.

Let Value Stream Focus help you get your organization moving on a path of Continuous Improvement and Cost Reduction.  Call 760-500-6006 or email


Kaizen Progression and Continuous Improvement

Adapting Continuous Improvement Tools to fit the Situation

Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “improvement”, or “change for the better” – referring to the entire Continuous Improvement process. Lean Enterprise is modeled after the Toyota Production System, and most Lean Tools were generated at Toyota. A Lean Transformation is a journey taken by an organization to realign its processes around what their customer considers valuable – those features, benefits, and activities which physically transform the product. The task becomes one of identifying and eliminating non-value added processes when and wherever possible. The method of eliminating waste changes as the organization’s lean journey evolves.

There are a number of means of achieving kaizen in the organization. The change method varies based on what stage the Lean Journey is in, the problem at hand, and the “maturity” of the people involved in the change. They range from full blown classes to department shutdowns to a mentoring/coaching process. Like other lean tools such as kanban and visual controls, each has its proper use.

Leadership issues and advanced training

Leaders in the organization should strive to create a vision and mission for the organization and align principles and policies to encourage Operational Excellence. The vision and principles act as a compass for the organization and become the foundation for all corporate policies and decisions. A good model for principles supporting concepts can be found at Shingo Prize.  Changing an organization is like turning a battleship – it must be done carefully and it doesn’t happen in an instant. Of course with practice and a committed commander and leadership team the change will happen much quicker. If the change is led from the Top, much of the early training can be more widespread. If the change is being led from the Middle, the training will be more concentrated in pockets of early adopters (see my post on the The Guerilla Manager“). Regardless of leadership issues, many change efforts are over sold and suffer from high expectations, which are quickly dashed. It is often wise to start small and gain some victories in order to establish and build momentum in your change efforts. As the organization begins to experience change the change leaders need to continue to exploit easy opportunities and continue to spread a foundation for further change (see The Four Drivers of Lean Manufacturing).

Early in the journey the most urgent need is to educate the members of the organization in the principles and tools of the Lean Enterprise. Of course those who will lead the change must have a much more profound understanding of the tools as well as having very good teaching skills and emotional intelligence. Much of the early education may take place in a classroom setting and would ideally by punctuated by tours of other organizations farther along in their lean journeys, both for learning and benchmarking.

Kaizen Events

The next progression of the Lean Journey is typically a series of Kaizen Events, specific multi-day change events focusing on improving one specific process or series of processes in a specific area. Kaizen events, or Kaizen Blitz (for rapid change), are concentrated improvement efforts involving the Process Owner along with members of her team and representatives of the process customers and suppliers as well as support from the Continuous Improvement team and Quality or Engineering, as appropriate. Typical Kaizen events include value stream mapping to “see” the current process and ideal future state. The value stream map can be used to identify the scope of the current event as well as identify opportunities for future Kaizen Blitzes. The scope of the kaizen event must be limited to what the team can accomplish during the event (typically 2-5 days) along with some follow-up activities taking no longer than 30 days. If the scope is larger than that, it is a project, not an event, and must be managed as such.



Due to their focus and concentration of resources, multi-day kaizens events can be very powerful in both discovery and elimination of waste. Each kaizen blitz participant becomes owner of the solution, and they can have a strong way to build commitment to the lean process. Participation builds engagement, and engagement builds momentum.

Mini Kaizen

An alternative to full-blown multi-day Kaizen events is the Mini Kaizen, consisting of two half-day sessions followed by a full day session (can be a Saturday) in which the major implementation takes place. Mini Kaizens are appropriate for many smaller efforts and may in fact be the only type available to lean efforts which don’t have budget or air cover from Top Leadership. Despite their obvious limitations in time and resources, the power of Mini Kaizens to effect major change should not be underestimated. Though the scope is limited by the time resources, the participation builds engagement, just as the multi-day full-blown Kaizen Events.

Problem Solving

At the heart of any Continuous Improvement effort is problem solving. Kaizen events help identify and define the problem. The principle problem solving technique employed by the lean enterprise is the Deming Wheel, otherwise known as PDCA cycle, short for Plan, Do, Check, Act:


PDCA cycles are a vehicle for rapid and robust experimentation.  Upon encountering an obstacle or setback on its approach to its Target Condition (the Future State or an intermediate Future State defined by your value stream map), the organization uses the PDCA approach to overcome the obstacle, quickly isolating one variable at a time and testing until a new standard work is achieved.

The progression of PDCA cycles continues as the organization approaches the Target Condition, or Future State, much like climbing a stairway.  Each small improvement (kaizen) is followed by a period of rest and reflection (standardized work), and each improvement gets you closer and closer to achieving the Target Condition.  Properly designed, each step yields process improvements and a reduction in waste.


A whole host of six sigma techniques focus on problem solving and can be used in conjunction with lean improvement efforts. Six Sigma employs a technique known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control). The sigma toolbox includes brainstorming, Pareto and fish bone diagrams, data analysis, process capability analysis, root cause analysis, design of experiments, and others. These tools are often used in conjunction with Lean and called Lean Six Sigma.

Coaching and Mentoring with A3

Many of the obstacles to achieving Target Conditions are either too small in scope or are simply too large a project for a kaizen event.  As the management team improves their knowledge of lean tools and problem solving techniques, many of these problems can be addressed using what is known as an A3.  Simply put, A3 is the name of an 11″x17″ paper, and the A3 process consists of analyzing the entire problem on a single sheet of A3 size paper.  The idea is to tell a story, from beginning to end, using pictures and charts, graphics, and bullet points.  To do so, each element must be concise and show clear thinking (one of the benefits of the A3 method).  A sample storyboard is as follows:

A3 formats may vary – just make sure the entire story is included in the A3. I have seen a wide variety of formats from Sales Analysis to Product Development to designing a garage.  All of the principle problem solving elements are there:  Background/Problem statement, analysis of current conditions, goals and targets (future state), analysis, proposed counter measures, improvement plan, and follow-up.


Like PDCA, the A3 is an iterative process.  The background and problem statement should be clearly worked out before too much thought can be given to analysis and countermeasures.  It’s a good idea to fill one out with pencil – there will undoubtedly be lots of erasing as the story develops.

The A3 is an excellent basis for mentoring.  The mentee, presumably less experienced in problem solving, presents the mentor with a partially developed A3 for review.  It is vitally important that the Mentor merely ask thought-provoking questions of the mentee, sending her back numerous times as necessary until the actual problem statement is well-defined, and so forth.  The A3 documents the interchange, the problem gets closer and closer to resolution, and the mentee sharpens her perception of both problem solving and the problem at hand.

In addition to mentoring, the A3 can be used in conjunction with other forms of kaizen (multi-day event or mini kaizen) as the “storyboard” and as a means of capturing the knowledge in one succinct document.  A3’s are an excellent digest capturing the “critical few” key points – the essence – of the problem and its resolution.  The A3 can be easily circulated and the learning shared distributed if it follows the 5:5:5 rule:  It should take a mere 5 seconds to see what the purpose of the A3 (or event) was, 5 minutes to study and capture the learning points, and 5 hours to thoroughly investigate and understand the findings.  Think about ways to capture the knowledge contained in the A3 through a good filing and archival system.  Each A3 should have keywords and an easy abstract and retrieval.

Copyright 2012 by Paul Yandell.  Let Value Stream Focus LLC help you get your organization moving on a path of Continuous Improvement and Cost Reduction.  Call 760-500-6006 or email


Stuck?  Strive for Uninterrupted Flow

If your organization’s Lean Initiative is getting bogged down or you are not seeing the benefits you hoped for, it is likely you have poor flow.  Rapid flow quickly identifies bottlenecks and weak processes which in turn become targets for quick improvements.  At each improvement, throughput rises while lead times, inventories, and costs drop – a very powerful cocktail. The goal is to keep products moving at all times, with no delays in awaiting transportation or a machine to be freed up.  For most, this is a drastic re-thinking.

While Workplace Organization (5S) is a necessary foundation for all lean operations, it seldom produces improved flow by itself.  Sorting all non-necessary items is the first step, then setting processes in order and.   Standardize work is absolute necessity for both controlling processes and as a basis for process improvement.  Shine maintains the workplace in top condition, and Sustain keeps the whole effort going.  Where most organizations stumble is in Set in Order.  Processes are seldom really thought through during initial lean efforts, and 5S becomes window dressing of current efforts rather than a thoughtful reengineering of processes to minimize waste.  If flow has not improved through 5S efforts, it is likely weak processes enable repeated interruptions and poor flow due to quality issues (Standard Work and Visual Factory) or poor flow design (Set in Order).   Once basic workplace organization is established, concentrating on the flow of products through your facility will show the true promise of Lean.

Assessing flow with Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping, or VSM, is a method of creating a “one page picture” of all the processes that occur in a company, for order receipt until the customer receives the product.  The goal of VSM is to depict all information and material flows across all value adding processes required to produce and ship the product to the customer.  It should show all processes, those adding value and those not adding value (waste).  Making a simple map such as the one below will show the major delays in processing and give clues to a path to improving flows.

The simple value stream map shows a Total Lead time of 68 days for value added processes totaling 15 minutes.  Sadly, metrics such as these are not uncommon in companies as they start their Lean Journey.  Most initial efforts at Workplace Organization work around the major flow issues – focusing on “house cleaning” and visual factory – important foundations, to be sure, but the result is a little like a sandwich without the meat.  The beef is flow.  Just like a burger without the beef, lean efforts without flow are not satisfying.

In addition to Value Stream Map, a spaghetti diagram, a diagram showing part path through your plant showing the current flow vs. potential future helps identify excessive parts paths.  In the next figure each product line is shown using a different colored line, with the weight of the line indicating overall production volume.

Once the process is understood and the possibilities for manufacturing cells are identified, the flow challenge is manageable.  Reorganize the plant flow as quickly as possible, focusing on one or two easily identifiable, regular products to cut your teeth on.

Cellular Manufacturing

Cellular manufacturing organizes the plant around similar product flows, rather than processes, as in the classic machine shop.  Cellular Manufacturing strives to develop small “factories within factories” to focus efforts and wastes associated with moving and processing, including transportation, setup, and long queue times.  Imagine the setup in the figure at right:

How does each department know what to work on at any given time?  The management challenge for traditional department layouts is traffic flow and queue management.  Quality problems are not often identified until the entire batch is completed.  Due to conflicting demands, priorities, setups, run sizes, and material requirements (and delays), the complexity becomes astronomical is short order. Now add department production goals.  Supervisors measured on productivity will tend extend work on products using the same setups or “easy work” even if it is contrary to the needs of the company.

Cellular Manufacturing, or a Factory within a Factory, is achieved by breaking up traditional departmental layouts, dividing like-machinery concentrations and reconfiguring the plant into single piece flow layout.

cell1 cell2

The resulting manufacturing landscape offers a simplified management challenge.  Products move from machine to machine rather than machine center to machine center, and products flow easily from one station to the next.  Benefits include:

  • Single piece flow means quality issues are identified immediately and adjustments made accordingly.
  • Specialization in both machine and manpower largely eliminates setups and adjustments.
  • Batching and queue for transportation and then processing are eliminated.
  • Simplified flows can be balanced with ease.
  • Cross training opportunities abound due to the proximity of processing centers.
  • The entire process flow can be increased or decreased by adjusting cell resources.

Once cells are brought on line, revisit scheduling and kanban systems – they should benefit immensely from simplified flows.  Use visual systems wherever possible to pass decision making to the lowest level possible and watch your plant hum!