Monday, December 7, 2015

Healthcare Lean Safety Gemba Walk

I finally, after five years of helping many diverse manufacturing and construction businesses understand and use Lean Safety to engage their employees and move lean forward, was invited to train a senior leadership team at a medical center. The highlight of the day long workshop was the Lean Safety Gemba Walk. It provided me the opportunity to demonstrate that the Lean Safety approach is as valuable in a hospital facility as it is in a manufacturing plant or on a construction site.

The internal organizational development staff who had hired me was concerned about my lack of lean training experience in a hospital setting. I wasn't, for I understand that "a process is a process and people are people." All business types are composed of business processes that can be viewed, process mapped and improved and lean success, in any business type, is exactly the same - engaged lean savvy employees working together to improve their customer's experience.

In many manufacturing facilities gemba walks have become standard work for leadership. By using humble inquiry and asking why five times on their walk through the gemba leaders can begin to build new relationships with those doing the physical work. To speed this trust building process leaders should give focus to employee safety on their gemba walks. Doing this allows leaders to hit the engagement sweet spot for giving focus to employee safety answers the "what's in it for me" question that needs to be answered for all employees. Dialogue that results in work processes being made safer and easier (Lean Safety) quickly bridges and begins to repair the trust gap that is ever present between management and the workforce.

The workshop at the medical center focused the attendees on the need to go to the gemba in order build a different type of relationship with their staff. After some PowerPoint slides and small group exercises I led the attendees on a guided Lean Safety Gemba Walk. On our walk we engaged and observed some of their staff at work and listed the opportunities that would improve both safety and cycle times. After this eye opening experience the senior leaders were divided into teams of three and sent to assigned areas to learn by doing.

Following their gemba walks each small team stood before their peers in a report out session and talked about both the opportunities for improvement that had been identified and their employee engagement experiences. As I sat in the back of the room listening to each of them talk about the value of engaging their staff I knew my day had been successful. Attaining my personal goal, to change the world - or at least how the world views work place safety, was now a little bit closer for I had the senior leadership team at a Medical Center moving the Lean Safety methodology forward.

I hope each and ever one of you has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Stay safe!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

People Centric versus Dollar Centric Leaders

Businesses have been implementing Lean for about 20 years and yet I often read that the actual success rate is less than 5%. This dismal result is due to a lack of the right kind of leadership for lean doesn’t fail – management fails.

Most senior business leaders fall into the category of “dollar centric leaders.” Dollar centric leaders focus on the bottom line and see people as resources to help them make the numbers. Employees whose contributions are deemed insufficient are quickly and emotionlessly discarded for dollar centric leaders believe it is their responsibility to cut staff to make the numbers. Dollar centric leaders invest their energy and time growing sales and the bottom line. The culture in these businesses is unsettling and unstable and fear is ever present. Therefore Lean will not and cannot have any lasting impact on businesses led by dollar centric leaders for Lean is a trust building journey. Trust does not exist in a workplace gripped by fear.

A different style of leadership that almost guarantees Lean success is people centric leadership. People centric leaders focus on growing people and process improvement and trust that business success will follow. They work hard to build ever higher levels of trust by ensuring each and every employee understands they and their contributions to the business are valued by leadership. They invest their energy and time in growing their people knowing those efforts will lead to long term business success and growth. These leaders are rare which is why the Lean success rate is so low.

How can dollar centric leaders be convinced to find a balance so that they give equal focus to their reports and practice people centric leadership? What are your thoughts?

If you are on the east coast and are interested in attending a public Lean Safety workshop here is a link to an AME sponsored 2-day event to be hosted by Siemens Healthcare in Glasgow, Delaware on December 8-9.

Stay Safe!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Construction Industry Lean or Lean Doesn’t Apply to Us

Lean doesn’t apply to us is heard around the world in every industry type other than manufacturing. Because lean’s roots are in manufacturing it is a generally accepted philosophy and yet some people still resist involvement for a variety of reasons. I understand there is a common entry point from which to begin or restart a business’s lean efforts that eliminates the resistance and ensures Lean is applicable to all industry types. That entry point is safety.

The construction industry is segmented with layers of management that causes some confusion regarding who owns the work process and who has a right to challenge the process - the construction management company’s managers or the sub-contractor managers? This confusion regarding boundaries can be an excuse to dismiss Lean as having merit in the construction industry. My experience has taught me otherwise. A bad process is a bad process and all of the layers of management on a job site should work co-operatively to both make the work safer and easier and at the same time reduce the cycle time of the business processes.

To help you better understand let’s use a real life example. While leading a Lean Safety gemba walk at a construction site I observed a truck load of drywall being unloaded and then transported to the area where it was to be installed. Drywall is shipped flat because cranes and forklifts are used to move the product up until it gets to the job site. At this point people had to manually lift each sheet to a vertical position and then man handle the sheet to slide it onto a drywall cart that had vertical containment structures used to hold multiple sheets. Once each cart was loaded the now heavy load had to be pushed through the job site hallways, onto and off an elevator, and then down additional hallways to the location of the install. The hallway floors across which the load was pushed were littered with scrap and waste material which made pushing the cart even more difficult. This job is performed by “laborers” which tells you all you need to know about what it takes to perform the work task. The fact that laborers are required on job sites is an indication that there is a division of labor between them and the craftsmen on the job site. The laborers role is to physically struggle and if management would lead the effort to make this physically demanding work easier and safer the laborers would understand and see the value of Lean on their construction site.
What could be done to improve this physical task?

• Put rollers on the cart’s flat surface
• Have the drywall vendor deliver the drywall already on carts
• Use a battery powered drive unit to move the carts at the job site

These are just a few of the “low hanging fruit” opportunities. I am not trying to find the best solution but am instead trying to make it crystal clear that every job on a construction site can be made safer and easier. If construction management teams focus on making work safer and easier they will reduce the cycle time of the work processes. That in a nut shell is the essence of Lean Safety. Engage the workers in efforts to make work easier and safer and at the same time reduce the cycle time of the business process. It is a win win approach for both management and the workers on the job site.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lean Leadership Lesson - No Whinging Allowed!

intr.v. whinged, whing·ing, whing·es - Chiefly British – To complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner.

I eliminated the opportunity to whinge about winter in the Chicago area by spending the month of February on Maui. Family and friends, who endured the fifth worst February winter in Chicago weather history, must have tired of my Facebook posts with photos of sunsets, beaches, whales, and Mai Tai cocktails. Because of my semi-retired status I can choose to get away from winter and did. Then when my month in the sun ended rather than fly home to Chicago I flew directly to Australia to facilitate Lean Safety events.
My workshops provide the attendees with lean leadership lessons about employee engagement and empowerment. Too often managers whinge, or complain, about their workforce. Leadership teams who have discredited Lean by using it as a cost savings program are whingers. They view their employees as expenses rather than assets. They sit in meetings and talk about ways to reduce their employment levels. Of course they would use the term “headcount reduction,” rather than staffing levels, because they treat their employees like sheep and cattle – directing them, controlling them and telling them what to do rather than engaging and empowering them to make a difference in the business. Because of these whinging managers lean has gotten a bad name in the world. My workshops help these dysfunctional mangers see the value of both their workforce and the philosophy called Lean.
They learn to engage their workforce in a unified pursuit of work process improvement simply by making work processes safer and easier. Using safety as the entry point for discussions and activities during the initial pursuit of Lean clears up the confusion about who benefits from Lean. Lean should benefit all stakeholders, not just the stockholders, for it is not a cost savings program. Lean is a manufacturing philosophy that focuses everyone on improving delivery to customers by identifying and banishing “waste” from all business processes. Lean is a trust building cultural change journey that is only possible if managers engage and empower their reports.

I receive feedback from workshop attendees via surveys and email messages. Here are some messages from recent workshop attendees who believe what I advocate is true.

• Wow, great session on integrating safety into lean culture and vice versa through engaging the employees.

• I was pleasantly surprised by how exceptionally applicable this workshop is to my organization and the role I play within my organization. I have a new found passion for lean safety and look forward to implementing what I have learned today at my organization.

• The attendees of this course have taken away an enormous amount of ideas for improvement and the involvement of staff at the workplace. Part of the learning was the benefits of combining safety and lean principles within the work environment, staff empowerment, and the positive effect this has on company growth. I would highly recommend Rob and the Lean Safety Workshop to any company wanting to take the next step in their lean journey.

• You are helping the world become a safer better place! Thanks heaps for all your time last week, learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed meeting and learning from you.

• Thank you again, I really enjoyed the course, I am putting the learnings into practice every day.
I start every workshop by noting that I want to change the world – or at least help the world understand you can get lean via employee engagement in safety improvement. A secondary goal is to help mangers become leaders of lean rather than whingers. I am succeeding at a slow pace.

Travel in the next few months will take me to Denver, Calgary and Milwaukee. If you reside there and would like to get together to take about lean leadership let me know. I will also be traveling to England to conduct a two workshop in June. One of them will be a public event at Brompton Bicycles outside of London. Let me know if you would like information on this or other events.

If you wish to purchase either of my books, Lean Safety or Lean Safety Gemba Walks, the publisher has offered a 20% discount and free shipping if you use the following code when ordering on their website. Code AVPO at

Stay safe!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Safety Challenge – Schedule a Lean Safety Gemba Walk in 2015

A new year brings new opportunities to each of us. The question is will we continue to cope with all of the problems that occur during the workday or will 2015 be the year when we say “enough is enough” and choose to focus on continuous improvement. While developing my business plan, and therefore my focus for 2015, I began by reflecting on 2014.

During the past year I had the opportunity to make a safety difference in many companies around the world. The variety of the businesses I visited reinforces the fact that Lean is indeed a universal philosophy that applies to all business types. In 2014 I visited facilities that were involved in brick making, cement production, Mexican food products, newspaper printing, paint manufacturing, screen printing, multi-story building construction, heavy machining, auto frame fabrication, coiled steel processing, medical device assembly and producing packaging products. At each and every site the need was the same - to engage the workforce in both business process and workplace safety continuous improvement. Following are a few quotes, sent to me this past year, that support the need for Lean Safety.

Bob came to our facility in April 2014 to for a brief "safety gemba walk" and to provide his input and guidance on our overall safety practices. We still talk about that visit and what Bob encouraged us to think about in terms of our safety program and policies, etc. Bob's perspective on safety is very people-centric and thought-provoking. It's not the traditional approach to safety and that's just what most of us need!

I've read several books about lean (but not nearly enough) and I've attend a variety of seminars and workshops, but you opened up a new perspective for me. The idea of recognizing safety risks as opportunities for lean improvement is unique. By making a work activity safer we also make the work more productive. I think most lean practitioners do the reverse - they look for waste in the production cycle, fix that, and then trust that the process improvement also makes the work safer. But having a worker-centric point of view makes the whole lean improvement idea more personal and grounded in ethics, which makes sense to me.

After decades of grappling with variability in lean implementation results, along comes Lean Safety Gemba Walks and ties all the loose ends together into a coherent, practical and very powerful approach to the engagement of the hearts and minds of those employees who traditionally suffer the most injuries, the very same people who we want to “transform” into efficient assets. Enough with management pushing transformation - bring on the employees pulling it. The question is whether management can keep up.

I recently purchased a copy of your book and want to tell you it is an excellent read, not only in the content but the writing style. Having read many books on leadership, lean manufacturing and industrial safety topics, I find that your book succinctly covers all of the principles and puts them together in a formula that leaders and managers can easily apply. The greatest challenge is getting those who set the culture to read, understand and adopt the right behaviors.

As noted in the last quote leaders set the culture of a business. The Gemba, where the work is performed, is a in the mirror reflection of management. A common complaint in the Lean community is that the senior leaders are not involved enough in the promotion and support of Lean. For me a noteworthy accomplishment in 2014 was the December release of my second book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change. Because it contains 20 case studies that describe how a facilitated Lean Safety Gemba Walk can have a dramatic impact on how leaders think about Lean, safety, employee engagement and work culture, I believe 2015 is going to be a great and very busy year for me. I expect an increased interest from business leaders in the application of Lean Safety and I will challenge each of them, along with you, to participate in or lead a Lean Safety Gemba Walk. After you take your walk send me an email describing the impact of the activity both on yourself and the people in your organization. Then, next January, I will summarize those testimonials into a blog post. I look forward to your feedback.

Therefore my 2015 business plan is to continue to focus on making a safety difference in the world by helping leaders and their reports view safety differently. To expand their thinking so they understand that safety is not just about compliance to OSHA or other regulatory agencies. It can also, and should, be about employee engagement in efforts to make work safer and easier. Making work safer and easier in turn reduces the cycle times of the work performed. That is the essence of Lean Safety.

Early in March I will again travel to Australia to conduct a series of Lean Safety workshops. Let me know if you would like to arrange a visit while I am there.

Stay safe!