Tag: Reflection

Vow of Silence

I was under the weather the other week, but decided to push through and ensure a couple of key training sessions I was giving occurred as scheduled.  By the end of them, I had lost most of my voice and was considerably worse off than when the week had begun.  So I decided that my first priority was to rest my voice, and so I took a self-imposed “vow of silence” for a 24 hour period.

This was an interesting experience.  First of all, it was difficult to even remember not to talk sometimes!  Cesar MillanBut it also reminded me of how much we rely on words to get our points across or get things done vs. other methods.  For example, when the dogs went to go bark at the mailman, you couldn’t yell at them to sit and be quiet.  You had to find another method not involving your voice that they would understand.  Usually, it was a much calmer method than yelling.  Cesar Millan would be proud!

Also, it meant when sitting at the dinner table I was able to simply listen to the conversation between my wife and kids, instead of trying to think about how I was going to respond.  Or when we were playing a board game I could just sit and watch as the kids took their turn and enjoy how much they were learning and growing instead of trying to make small talk.

How does all this relate to Lean thinking?  Well as I sat there in my small world of silence and ridiculous hand gestures, my mind drew parallels to two concepts – standing in the Ohno circle and listening to the Voice of the Customer.

Standing in the Ohno Circle

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching”.  Early on in my lean journey I remember reading about or hearing about the concept of standing in the Ohno circle until you were able to see waste and come up with improvements to eliminate it.  WhOhnoen we were first learning about what waste was, we went out to the machines and observed what was going on, coming up with examples of all the types of waste.  We were developing our capability to see, and there were plenty of waste examples to go around.  But you didn’t interject yourself into the process, didn’t go fix something you saw right then and there without understanding the cause – you simply observed and built a deeper understanding of how the process functions.

It is a little bit harder to stand in a circle in an office environment.  If you draw a circle in the hall, you’ll probably write down lots of examples of copier waste, walking back and forth between meetings, having to get up to get a drink of water or hit the restroom… things that may not be all that useful for driving results with lean transformation.  But I’ve found it very effective if I actually sit in with someone in their office and simply watch them do work and have them describe what they are doing, asking “why?” every once in a while.  Even simple tasks such as observing them writing an email and asking why they need to write it to get information they should already have reveals gaps in the business process.  Or perhaps you shadow someone for a few hours, sit in the meetings they sit in, and record all the forms of waste you see, including how many meetings don’t result in any actual actions or decisions.

Usually if you are standing in a circle on the shop floor, there is room somewhere for you to be out of the way and slightly more inconspicuous than if you are sitting in a cube looking over someone’s shoulder.  It can be a little uncomfortable at first, both for you and the employee.  But this is where the work is done, this is where the time is spent, and this is where the waste occurs that you need to be identifying and striving to eliminate.  So maybe it should be difficult and uncomfortable – if it was easy to see, someone probably would have already improved it.

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

What is value-added through the eyes of the customer?  Knowing this is what drives us to improve our processes, because everything that is not value-added in the eyes of the customer is waste – and why would we want to keep producing that?  It isn’t always easy to hear the voice of the customer, because we don’t always listen when they talk to us.  Many times I have seen people receive feedback from a customer but during the discussion defend the way things are done currently, tell them why they can’t give them what they want, offer potential band-aids to some of their concerns, and even direct the problems back onto the customer and try to blame the problems on them and their demands!

Is some of that justifiable?  Sure, maybe, in some sense.  But the key here is that obtaining the customer’s feedback in order to understand what they are thinking, what they value, and what they wish you could deliver to them shouldListening be the objective of the conversation.  Shelve the notion that you need to deliver a solution to them that very minute.  Shelve your pride and try not to defend why things are the way they are.  Try not to interject yourself into the conversation other than to steer it and to ask questions that probe deeper into their needs.  Remember that your goal is to listen, to hear, and to understand, and to take that feedback, reflect on it, and determine if there are reasonable things you can do to improve on what the customer values.


It’s nice to have my voice back now, but maybe I’ll have to schedule myself to take a short vow of silence every once in a while just so I remember how to listen.


Inspirational Quotes and Reflection

Tom SelleckI watch the show Blue Bloods, with Tom Selleck as the police commissioner of New York City.  He is portrayed as a very deep and wise thinker who does a lot of hansei, or reflection.  During a recent episode, he and several members of his family all seemed to know a particular Teddy Roosevelt quote, and it was one I didn’t know but as I heard them say the words I decided it would be one that I would look up and keep for future reference.  The particular quote was:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt

I suppose many people could infer many different things from this quote.  One reflection I took away from it was to push for excellence, push for greatness, push for improvement.  Many times during a lean transformation people discuss things in terms of “sounds nice, but we’ve never done it that way” or “wow, that would really help a lot, but when would we find the time?” or, “ok, let’s move forward but in small steps so we aren’t too disruptive.”  The kicker is, many of the “visions” people shy away from implementing or transforming into are countermeasures to the very reasons they hesitate: It is a new way, but it would be better; this would help free up time for improvement activities, the time you say you don’t have;  the move would be disruptive but would prevent disruption in the future.

The gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat” To me that is just an analogy for maintaining the status quo, for continuing along the same path you are already on, too hesitant to get your shoes dirty, step off the sidewalk, and walk through the field to try out the welcoming trail you see.  The bottom line is, if you see an improved future state, you should be moving towards it with purpose and vigor rather than hoping to eventually get there.  Sometimes you need to cut a new path through the weeds in order to reach that other trail across the field.

As I searched for the Roosevelt quote, I ended up looking through several other quotes from various sources.  I came across one I liked as well, one that I thought connected well with themes from a great book I am reading from and teaching from this year, “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” by Jeff Liker.  The quote was:

“As kids, we’re not taught how to deal with success; we’re taught how to deal with failure.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  If at first you succeed… then what?”

The theme I thought it connected well with was around reflection and self-development.  Whether you have just reached the end of a very successful project that made a lot of money and improved the quality of your product or service, or whether you just had a major quality issue arise that threatens your market share and reputation, you would approach each of these situations in the same way: deep reflection to understand how you could improve.

In so many cases we do not study and learn from our successes, we only do an autopsy when there is a failure.  Studying and learning from successes can be just as, if not more, powerful and valuable.  When we succeed we must ask why we were successful.  What really worked well?  What, even though we succeeded, could still be improved the next time we do this?  We must take these learnings and lock them in for the future, be disciplined to them, adopt them as the new best-known way to do things, share them with others… and continue to improve upon them.  Do what makes you successful, do it often, and then do it better.
Charlie Sheen

So I loved that quote, and then I was surprised at first when I looked down at the author.  Who other than the venerable Charlie Sheen.  Wisdom coming from a place I might least expect it, as least in recent months.  Thanks Charlie!