Wu Wei at the Gemba:

wuwei

In today’s post, I am looking at wu wei. “Wu wei” is an important concept detailed in the Chinese classic text “Tao Te Cheng” by Lao Tzu. This term is generally translated into English as Wu = No, Wei = Action, or no-action. There are other similar concepts in Taosim such as Wu-shin or no-mind.

Alan Watts, the delightful English philosopher described wu wei as “not forcing”:

The whole conception of nature is as a self-regulating, self-governing, indeed democratic organism. But it has a totality that all goes together and this totality is the Tao. When we can speak in Taoism of “following the course of nature; following the way”, what it means is more like this. Doing things in accordance with the grain. It doesn’t mean you don’t cut wood, but it means that you cut wood, along the lines where wood is most easy to cut, and you interact with other people along lines which are the most genial. And this then is the great fundamental principle which is called wu-wei, which is not to force anything. I think that’s the best translation. Some call it “not doing”, “not acting”, “not interfering”, but not to force seems to me to hit the nail on the head. Like don’t ever force a lock, you’ll bend the key or break the lock. You jiggle until it revolves.

So wu-wei is always to act in accordance with the pattern of things as they exist. Don’t impose on any situation as a kind of interference that is not really in accordance with the situation. It will be better to do nothing, than to interfere without knowing the system of relations that exist.

As a person interested in Systems Thinking and Cybernetics, Alan Watts explanation left a strong impression on me. When we try to solve a problem or “fix a system”, we assume a position outside the system looking in. We don’t realize that in order to manage the system we need to be a part of the system. The system itself is a conceptual model that we are using to make sense of the portion of the world we are interested in. The system is not a real entity in the world. The system is exactly a construction of the observer. Second order cybernetics teaches us that I, the observer, am a part of the system that I am observing. In a similar manner, there are other observers in the system as active participants. Their “system” is different from ours. Each observer stipulates a purpose for the system from their standpoint. Any human system is highly complex. Take for example, the health care system. It means different things to different people depending on how they view themselves in the system. The first act of systems thinking is to understand that the system is your mental construct, and that there are several such “systems” constructed by the participants. We need to seek understanding on how others perceive their purpose in order to make sense, and then collaborate to improve.

From a wu wei standpoint, Alan Watt’s advice of understanding the constraints, the pattern of things as they exist is highly important, if you want to make sense of the system you are interested in. At the same time, we also need to understand the perspectives of others interacting. We should also be aware of the environment we are in, and how we interact with the environment, and also how it interacts with us.

The paradoxical lesson of wu wei is that in order to act, one must not-act. This does not mean not doing anything, but as Alan Watts taught – don’t force anything, go with the grain. This brings me to Heinz von Foerster. Von Foerster was the nephew of the brilliant philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Von Foerster was also a great cybernetician and gave us the term, the “second order cybernetics”. He defined first order cybernetics as the cybernetics of observed systems and the second order cybernetics as cybernetics of observing systems. In second order, one reflects upon one’s reflections. One of von Foerster’s imperatives that aligns with wu wei is his therapeutic imperative – “If you want to be yourself, change!” This may seem paradoxical at first. My view on this imperative is that the only constant phenomenon is change. Therefore, to remain yourself, you need to change with your environment.

How does this all go with gemba? Gemba is the actual place where things happen. It is the environment; it is the reality. Most often, we come to gemba with our agenda and understanding of how things really work in the real place! We may start making changes without truly understanding the relations existing; without truly understanding that the system we are trying to fix is just our perspective with our imagined causal relationships. We cannot manage unless we are part of that which we are trying to manage. We cannot stipulate purposes for others. We need to seek understanding first. Wu wei teaches us to go with grain rather than against the grain. Wu wei is taking action with knowledge of the relations existing. I will finish with more lessons from Alan Watts:

Anybody who wants to alter the situation must first of all become sensitive, to all the conditions and relationships going on there. It’s terribly important than to have this feeling of the interdependence of every form of life upon every other form of life…

Wu-wei is the understanding that energy is gravity. And thus, brush writing, or dancing, or judo, or sailing, or pottery, or even sculpture is following patterns in the flow of liquid.

In case you missed it, my last post was Karakuri Kaizen:

Karakuri Kaizen:

karakuri doll tea

As the readers of my blog know, I am an ardent student of Toyota Production System (TPS). One of the core philosophies of TPS is kaizen, often translated from Japanese as continuous improvement. It is the idea that one should continuously find ways to eliminate non-value adding activities, and in the process develop oneself and others to get better at kaizen. The idea of kaizen begetting more kaizen. Kaizen is a human capital enrichment philosophy. As Eiji Toyoda, Toyota Motor Corporation President from 1967 to 1982, said – “It is people that make things, and so people must be developed before work can start.

One of the ways Toyota inspire their employees to nurture their creativity is Karakuri Kaizen. It is said that in the early seventeenth century, during the Edo period, European clocks were introduced in Japan. This sparked a wide curiosity amongst the Japanese craftsmen. The idea of developing motion mechanisms with elaborate sets of springs and gears was new to them. This led to the development of karakuri ningyō, or mechanized dolls. These were dolls that moved around and did several tasks such as bring tea to a guest and then bring it back to the owner, or climb a set of stairs. There was even a magician doll that performed a cups and balls routine.

What set the karakuri dolls of Japan separate from the European clockwork mechanism was the humanization of the dolls. The dolls were created with high importance to its physical features such as face, movement of head and limbs; in an effort to the make the doll life-like. Aesthetics was of utmost importance. All the mechanisms were cleverly hidden beneath clothing such that no mechanism was visible from outside. The doll moved around as if it is alive. The karakuri dolls brought fascinated delight to its spectators.

All the motion was achieved using simple springs, gravity and gears. No external power source was used. How does this all relate to the manufacturing floor? One of the challenges that is often posed to an organization is to increase its production. This is often tackled by either hiring more employees or by using automation. Automation is highly attractive even though it is sometimes cost prohibitive. It might make sense that the nonvalue added activities such as transportation and repeated motions could be replaced with a robot. Most modern manufacturing operations are riddled with automation. However, this comes with its own problems. The main one is that the automation becomes the focus of manufacturing rather than the employees. The high cost, large equipment becomes a monument that everything has to work around the monument. It is an expensive way to ensure that the status quo is maintained. To get the most out of the high expense, the new machine is run around the clock increasing the unwanted inventory and it raises the cost of the operation.

This is where karakuri kaizen comes in. Karakuri, as explained before, is a low-cost automation that does not utilize external power resources. It is comparatively small and works solely based on gravity, counterweights, springs, gears etc. The key point of karakuri kaizen is that it should inspire more kaizen. Generally, a challenge is posed to the operators to come up with a means to remove unwanted strain and motion, and to eliminate waste. Normally, this would be task where a heavy part(s) is lifted and moved to another location or where a part is turned around and operated on. The first impulse is to automate the process. This would require an expensive piece of equipment. Karakuri kaizen focuses on solving the problem on hand with what is readily available and using minimal resources. This might be construed as pushing to minimize capital expenditure. However, the most important part is that the operators are being challenge to use their wit and brains. As Fujio Cho, Toyota Motor Corporation President from 1999 to 2005, said – “Human ingenuity has no bounds.” The karakuri mechanism does not become the center of focus. Instead, the operator does. The mechanism generally is such that it can easily be modified if needed, and even replaced with another karakuri. Unlike, a heavy piece of machinery, a karakuri does not become a monument. It is built specifically to achieve a purpose, and thus it is highly customized. It is also designed in-house. The “challenge” portion is a core ingredient for kaizen.

When Toyota started car manufacturing, it did not have a lot of capital or resources. They modified existing machinery to achieve its needs. They first used what they had in-house before going outside for solutions. They relied on their employees to come up with ingenious solutions to their problems. This meant that the solutions were made specifically for their problems. Generally, when an equipment or a software is purchased, it is not always made specific to the need of the customer. The customer often has to work with what was offered. Toyota had to come up with ingenious solutions to solve their problems without spending much capital. The only capital they would come up with was human capital. Even after Toyota became successful, this mindset was maintained.

As Toyota veteran Kazuhiko Furui explained:

Toyota has tried to use as little external power as possible in its car manufacturing since its foundation. Karakuri kaizen is one of the Toyota Way values. Karakuri is a mechanism that uses gravity, springs and gears instead of external power sources to manipulate objects. A karakuri does not always work well on the first try. If something breaks, we rebuild it, trying continuously to make it better, always reforming the mechanism. For us, when we succeed, there is a great sense of achievement: “we did it!” And that brings a drive to try making yet another mechanism. Developing karakuri is also about developing people. 

Final Words:

What is the point of kaizen? The simple answer is often to make things better. If kaizen does not beget more kaizen and if it does not improve the thinking of the persons involved, then it is missing the meaning of kaizen. Kaizen should lead the employees to develop their abilities to see and identify waste, and come up with ways to eliminate waste. It should lead them to second order thinking where they don’t just what is my goal, but also ask what is the purpose of my goal. This means that the employee becomes part of the meta-system rather than just doing what they are told.

I will finish with some fine words from the great philosopher, Immanuel Kant:

The human being can either be merely trained, broken in, mechanically instructed, or really enlightened. One trains dogs and horses, and one can also train human beings. Training, however, does little; what matters above all is that they learn to think. The aim should be the principles from which all actions spring.

In case you missed it, my last post was Weber’s Law at the Gemba:

 

Weber’s Law at the Gemba:

Ernst_Heinrich_Weber

In today’s post, I am looking at Weber’s Law. Weber’s Law is named after Ernst Heinrich Weber (24 June 1795 – 26 January 1878), a German physician who was one of the pioneers of experimental psychology. I highly recommend the Numberphile YouTube video that explains this in detail.

A simple explanation of Weber’s Law is that we notice things more at a lower intensity than at a higher intensity. For example, the light from your phone in a dark room may appear very bright to you. At the same time, the light from your phone in a bright room may seem insignificant. This type of perception is logarithmic in nature. This means that a change from 1 to 2 feels about the same as a change from 2 to 4, or 4 to 8. The perception of change for an increment of one unit, depends on whether you are experiencing it at a low intensity or a high intensity. At low intensity, a slight change feels stronger.

This is explained in the graph below. The green ovals represent the change of 2 units (2 to 4) and the red ovals represent the same change of 2 units (30 to 32). It can be seen that the perceived intensity is much less for the change from 30 to 32 than for the change from 2 to 4. These are represented by the oval shapes on the Y-axis. To achieve the same level of perceived intensity (change from 2 to 4), we need to create a large amount of intensity (~ change from 30 to 60, a difference of 30 units).

Weber

All of this fall under Psychophysics. Per Wikipedia; Psychophysics quantitatively investigates the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they produce. What does all this have to do with Gemba and Lean?

How often were you able to see problems differently when you came to the production floor as an outsider? Perhaps, you were asked by a friend or colleague for help. You were able to see the problem in a different perspective and you saw something that others missed or you had a better perception of the situation. Most often, we get used to the problems on the floor that we miss seeing things. We do not notice problems until things get almost out of hand or the problems become larger. Small changes in situations do not alert us to problems. This to me is very similar to what Weber’s law teaches us. Small changes in intensity do not appear in our radar unless we are at the low intensity area.

A good example is to imagine a white sheet of paper. If there is one black spot on the paper, it jumps out to us. But if there are many spots on the paper, an additional dot does not jump out to us. It takes a lot of dots before we realize things have changed. One of the experiments that is used to demonstrate Weber’s law is to do with dots. It is easier to see the change from 10 to 20 dots, rather than the change from 110 to 120 dots.

Weber-Fechner_law_demo_-_dots

Ohno and Weber’s Law:

Taiichi Ohno was the father of Toyota Production System. I wonder how Taiichi Ohno’s perceptive skills were and whether his skillset followed Weber’s Law. I would like to imagine that his perceptive skillset was linear rather than logarithmic. He trained his perceptive muscles to see a small change no matter what the intensity was. Even if he was used to his gemba, he was able to see waste no matter if it was small, medium or large. Ohno is famous for his Ohno circle, which was a chalk circle he drew on the production floor for his supervisors, engineers etc. He would have them stand in the circle to observe an operation, trying to see waste in the operation. Waste is anything that has no value. Ohno was an expert who could differentiate a little amount of waste. Ohno’s Weber’s Law plot might appear to be linear instead of being logarithmic, when compared to a student like me.

Weber Ohno

What we can learn from Weber’s Law is that we need to improve our perception skills to perceive waste as it happens. We should not get used to “waste”. When there is already so much waste, the ability to perceive it is further diminished. It would take a larger event to make us notice of problems on the floor. We lack the ability to perceive waste accurately. We can only understand it based on what has been perceived already. This would mean that we should go to gemba more often, and each time try to see things with a fresh set of eyes. As the Toyota saying goes, we should think with our hands and see with our feet. Change spots from where you are observing a process. Understand that gemba not only means the actual place, but it also includes people, equipment, parts and the environment. We should avoid going with preconceived notions and biases. As we construct our understanding try to include input from the actual users/operators as much as possible. Learn to see differently.

Final Words:

One of the examples I came up with for this post is about cleaning rooms. Have you noticed that cleaner rooms get messy fast? Actually, we perceive a slight increase in messiness when the room is clean versus when it is not. The already messy room requires a larger amount of mess to have a noticeable difference. What Weber’s law shows us is that our natural instinct is not to think linearly.

Humans evolved to notice and minimize relative error. As noted on an article on the Science20 website:

One of the researchers’ assumptions is that if you were designing a nervous system for humans living in the ancestral environment, with the aim that it accurately represents the world around them, the right type of error to minimize would be relative error, not absolute error. After all, being off by four matters much more if the question is whether there are one or five hungry lions in the tall grass around you than if the question is whether there are 96 or 100 antelope in the herd you’ve just spotted.

The STIR researchers demonstrated that if you’re trying to minimize relative error, using a logarithmic scale is the best approach under two different conditions: One is if you’re trying to store your representations of the outside world in memory; the other is if sensory stimuli in the outside world happen to fall into particular statistical patterns.

Perhaps, all this means that we learn to see waste and solve problems on a logarithmic scale. And as we get better, we should train to see and solve problems on a linear scale. Any small amount of waste is waste that can be eliminated and the operation to be improved. It does not matter where you are on the X-axis of the Weber’s law plot. I will finish with an excellent anecdote from one of my heroes, Heinz von Foerster, who was also a nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein. I have slightly paraphrased the anecdote.

Let me illustrate this point. I don’t know whether you remember Castaneda and his teacher, Don Juan. Castaneda wants to learn about things that go on in the immense expanses of the Mexican chaparral. Don Juan says, “You see this … ?” and Castaneda says “What? I don’t see anything.” Next time, Don Juan says, “Look here!” Castaneda looks, and says, “I don’t see a thing.” Don Juan gets desperate, because he wants really to teach him how to see. Finally, Don Juan has a solution. “I see now what your problem is. You can only see things that you can explain. Forget about explanations, and you will see.”

You become surprised because you abandoned your preoccupation with explanations. Therefore, you are able to see. I hope you will continue to be surprised.

In case you missed it, my last post was OODA Loop at the Gemba:

I also encourage the readers to check out my other similar posts:

Drawing at the Gemba

The Colors of Waste

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Lean Lessons

UX at the Gemba:

joy

In today’s post I am looking at UX (User Experience) at the gemba. Generally, usability (how the end user can effectively and efficiently complete the tasks needed) and UX (the meaningful and relevant experience the user has from effectively and efficiently completing the tasks needed) are two terms that are associated with product design. I would like to see how this applies at the gemba.

ISO 9241 (Ergonomics of human-system interaction) defines Usability as – a measure of the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in a particular environment.

While UX is defined by ISO 9241 as – a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service.

We should use the same ideas at the gemba for the operators. How easy is the operation in making a product? How is the work station laid out? How is the process flow? At the gemba we can view Usability as – the operator making a good product with ease, and UX can be viewed as – the operator enjoying making the good product.

Some of the terms that are associated with usability are:

  • Task oriented – objective values
  • Functional – works as intended
  • Reliable – always works as intended
  • Usable – can be used with without difficulty

Similarly, some of the terms associated with UX are:

  • Experience oriented – subjective values
  • Convenient – easy to work with and does not give grief
  • Pleasurable – an enjoyable experience
  • Meaningful – adds to personal value and significance

At the Gemba:

Marie Kondo, the great Japanese organizing consultant is famous for her question – “does it spark joy?” To me, this is a great UX question. Does your operation/process spark joy?

When you are at the gemba, observe an operation. Take a note of how many times the operator takes a tool and put it down, only to take it again for another step. Take a note of how many times the operator has to look around and reach for a tool. Take a note on whether the operator is in his or her ‘zone’. Or is he or she getting frustrated with the steps?

As Lean leaders/engineers, we owe it to our team to design a good process. This was the theme of Industrial Engineering pioneered by Taylor, Gilbreth et al. At best, this approach falls right under usability. My challenge to my readers is to consider UX for the operators. We should minimize the cognitive load on the operators. The complexity of an operation is generally a constant. A good operation absorbs this complexity through easy to manufacture design, good fixtures, poke yoke, well laid out work stations etc. This way, the operator does not have to absorb the complexity, leading to a good UX model. This idea is explained here.

One of the ideas in UX is visibility. This aligns very well with Lean. This idea is about being able to know the state of a system just by looking. Is it working properly? Does it say what is going on? Are the signals easy to interpret? Are the correct parts visible and are they conveying the correct message? By seeing that something is wrong, we can stop to correct the problem.

We should design the process for the operator and not for the product. This means that we should work with the involved operators from the start, making improvements as we go along. We should be open to their input and ideas. The UX approach requires empathy. The UX view is a big picture holistic view. Making an operation consistent, intuitive and easy for an entry level person can actually make the operation easier for the most experienced person.

Some of the UX based questions you can ask yourself (along with the ones already posed in this post) are:

  • How do people learn to assemble our products?
  • What makes a step easy or hard to remember?
  • Why do people make errors?
  • Are our products easy to manufacture, again and again?
  • Are problems easy to see?
  • Do we have the right tools? Do the tools fit what they are used for?
  • Are they more likely to assemble the product the wrong way? Is it more easier to assemble the right way?
  • Is our product easy to inspect? Do we rely on 100% visual inspection to catch problems?
  • Would you do the operation? What would make it easy for you?
  • Above all, Does it spark joy?

Final Words:

I will finish with the great Don Norman’s words on UX from his wonderful book, “The Design of Everyday Things.” Don Norman is a pioneer of UX.

It is relatively easy to design things that work smoothly and harmoniously as long as things go right. But as soon as there is a problem or a misunderstanding, the problems arise. This is where good design is essential. Designers need to focus their attention on the cases where things go wrong, not just on when things work as planned. Actually, this is where the most satisfaction can arise: when something goes wrong but the machine highlights the problems, then the person understands the issue, takes the proper actions, and the problem is solved. When this happens smoothly, the collaboration of person and device feels wonderful.

The above passage has underpinnings of Jidoka where the idea is to stop the line or the machine when a problem occurs. The same idea is important in UX as well. Norman continues:

Human-centered design is a design philosophy. It means starting with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. This understanding comes about primarily through observation, for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering.

My take on this passage again is Lean-oriented. Toyota teaches us to go to gemba to grasp the facts. Going to gemba and observing, identifying waste and solving problems is an excellent way to develop oneself.

Great designers produce pleasurable experiences. Experience: note the word. Engineers tend not to like it; it is too subjective. But when I ask them about their favorite automobile or test equipment, they will smile delightedly as they discuss the fit and finish, the sensation of power during acceleration, their ease of control while shifting or steering, or the wonderful feel of the knobs and switches on the instrument. Those are experiences.

Experience is critical, for it determines how fondly people remember their interactions. Was the overall experience positive, or was it frustrating and confusing? When our home technology behaves in an uninterpretable fashion we can become confused, frustrated, and even angry—all strong negative emotions. When there is understanding it can lead to a feeling of control, of mastery, and of satisfaction or even pride—all strong positive emotions. Cognition and emotion are tightly intertwined, which means that the designers must design with both in mind.

Norman’s above passage to me captures the essence of UX at the gemba. Our processes must be user friendly, and should always yield positive experiences for the operators.

My post has barely covered the basics of UX. I encourage the reader to research further on this topic. Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

ladder

In today’s post, I am looking at Wittgenstein’s ladder at the gemba. Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most profound philosophers of the 20th century. His first book was Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which he came up with the picture theory of language. He defined how language and reality relate to each other, and how limits of language corresponded to limits of knowledge to some extent.

Loosely put, the Tractatus explained how language can be used to directly depict reality. Language should mirror exactly the arrangement of objects, and their relationships to each other in the real world. Wittgenstein proposed that what can be said about the world makes sense only if there is a correspondence to the real world out there. Everything else is nonsense. This idea puts limits to how we use language. The real use of language is to describe reality. Anthony Quinton, the late British philosopher, explained the main concepts of Tractatus as:

Tractatus is a theory of declarative sentences, a theory of what can be put in a proposition and what cannot. Anything that can be said can be said clearly or not at all.

The world is all that is the case. The state of affairs around us, the simple facts, are the world for us. Wittgenstein is talking about what we can and cannot sensibly  talk about.

The world consists of facts. Facts are arrangement of objects. Objects must be simple. These ideas appear as dogmatic assertions. Language has to have a definite sense and it can have a definite sense only if it is of a certain structure. And therefore the world must be of that certain structure in order to be capable of being represented in the language.

One of the metaphors, Wittgenstein used in the Tractatus is the idea of a ladder. This has come to be known as “Wittgenstein’s Ladder.”

Wittgenstein said:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.   

This is a fascinating idea because Wittgenstein is cautioning against doctrines as the eternal rules to abide by. If the concepts that Wittgenstein explained in the Tractatus are true, then the assertion of his ideas being true would contradict the ideas themselves. Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of a ladder to have the reader climb to a higher level of understanding and then asks the reader to kick the ladder away.

Let’s see how Wittgenstein’s ladder relates to Lean/Toyota Production System. Taiichi Ohno developed TPS as a production system through decades of trial and error methods. The solutions Ohno came up with were specific to the problems Toyota had at that time. We should learn about these different tools and understand the problems they are trying to solve. We should not exactly copy the tools that Toyota uses just because Toyota is using them. Even within Toyota, each plant is unique and doesn’t use a specific set of tools. As one Toyota veteran put it, Toyota Production System and Toyota’s Production System are different. What each plant does is unique and based on the complexity of problems it has.

There are several doctrines that are set forth by the experts. Let’s look at two examples – zero inventories and one-piece flow. Taiichi Ohno himself tried to correct these two misrepresentations/misunderstandings.

Ohno called the Zero Inventory idea nonsense:

To be sure, if we completely eliminate inventories, we will have shortages of goods and other problems. In fact, reducing inventories to zero is nonsense.

The goal of Toyota Production System is to level the flows of production and goods… In every plant and retail outlet, we strive to have the needed goods arrive in the needed quantities in the needed time. In no way is the Toyota Production System a zero-inventory system.

Similarly, Ohno also cautioned about implementing one-piece flow without thinking and looking at your production system.

The essence of Toyota Production System is found in the saying, “Can we realistically reduce one more?” and then after that “one more?”

The removal of parts or operators is about identifying waste and ways to improve human capital through problem solving. The idea is to develop people and not think only about developing parts. Kaizen is a philosophy of personal improvement (improving oneself) through process improvements. Kaizen begets more kaizen.

Final Words:

The problem with doctrines is that we build a religion out of them. 

Ask yourself – What is the problem that I am trying to solve? Toyota’s solutions work for Toyota’s problems. We should climb the TPS/Lean ladder (understand the ideas) and then throw away the ladder of doctrines. We should solve our problems using solutions that match our problems.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Drawing at the Gemba:

Drawing at the Gemba:

IMG_9727

In today’s post, I am writing about Genchi Genbutsu and drawing. “Genchi Genbutsu” is an important concept in Lean/Toyota Production System. It can be translated as going to the actual place (gemba) to see, and grasp the situation. There are different translations to this such as “Boots on the ground” and “Go and See”.

I have been recently researching on how artists “see” things. When an arts teacher trains students, the most important lesson the teacher can teach is to not think of the object when you draw. For example, if you are not a natural artist, when you draw a face, you will draw what “you” think an eye looks like in your mind. The same for the nose, lips etc. You are not drawing what you are seeing, instead you are drawing what you think they look like in your mind, even though the subject is right in front of you. Your brain acts as a blinder and blocks what you see and instead points you towards your preconceived notion of the different features of the face. Thus, the final product looks like a bunch of circles, slanted lines and curves, which does not resemble a real face at all.

I think there is an important lesson for a lean leader in this. When we go to the gemba, if we come with preconceived notions, we will miss what is right in front of us. If we go to gemba already armed with the wrong answer, we will not ask the right questions. We should go to the gemba with a fresh mind, and with limited preconceived notions. West Churchman, the great American philosopher and Systems Thinker said, “A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.

When we talk about truth and reality in philosophy, there is an important principle called the Correspondence principle. Loosely put, the Correspondence principle indicates that what we construct in our mind should correspond to what is outside in the real world. We cannot do this effectively, if we hinder the process of construction and fill it with our preconceived notions. This is like an amateur artist drawing a face with his version of eyes, nose, lips etc., and not the actual face.

In TPS, we learn that making things is about making (developing) people. I have seen developing people described as “human capital development.” In order to develop people, Toyota created a production system where problems are forced to surface so that the operators get a chance to learn how to solve problems. A good tool that explains this well is Jidoka or autonomation. Jidoka requires the operation to stop when problems occur. Additionally, Jidoka also requires the operator to stop when the work is done. Nampachi Hayashi, a Toyota veteran, describes this as:

What are the necessary conditions for good products?

Stop when problems occur – build good quality in each process, and stop when the work is done – increase operator’s added-value and productivity.

Kaizen does not progress when there is no need for kaizen.

To add to this, Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, said, “When we study the way we work, there is an endless cycle of improvement. We cannot do this, if we do not go to gemba with a fresh mind and eyes. We should train our brain to not interfere with this process. As Churchman said, we should try to see the operation through the eyes of the operator.

Toyota views problem solving as the most important skill for human capital. Then, our job as the lean leaders is to create conditions for identifying problems as they occur, and develop the operators to see them and solve them on their own. In this regard Hayashi says that managers should go and see gemba, and for each emerging problem, they should give specific challenge and make sure to follow up.

Final words:

Inetrestingly, there is another closely sounding phrase in Japanese for “Genchi Genbutsu”. It is “Genchi Kenbutsu”. Genchi Kenbutsu means “Go and Sightsee.”

I will finish with an interesting anecdote from Betty Edwards wonderful book, “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” In the book she talked about getting frustrated with her students. She had given her students the assignment to copy a Pablo Picasso work. The outcomes were not as good as she expected. So, in a flash of genius, she hung the painting upside down, and asked the students to copy. The results were very surprising. The copies of the upside-down painting were far better than the copies of the right-side-up painting. She was quite puzzled by this. She later realized that keeping the painting upside down, changed how the students “saw.” Their brains stopped interfering with how they saw the subject, and they were able to draw much better. Edwards writes:

What prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, “It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it, because I’ve got a ready-made symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business.”

And where do the symbols come from? From the years of childhood drawing during which every person develops a system of symbols. The symbol system becomes embedded in the memory, and the symbols are ready to be called out, just as you called them out to draw your childhood landscape.

The symbols are also ready to be called out when you draw a face, for example. The efficient left brain says, “Oh yes, eyes. Here’s a symbol for eyes, the one you’ve always used. And a nose? Yes, here’s the way to do it.” Mouth? Hair? Eyelashes? There’s a symbol for each. There are also symbols for chairs, tables, and hands.

To sum up, adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes—that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing. They take note of what’s there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object.

What is the solution to this dilemma? Psychologist Robert Ornstein suggests that in order to draw, the artist must “mirror” things or perceive them exactly as they are. Thus, you must set aside your usual verbal categorizing and turn your full visual attention to what you are perceiving—to all of its details and how each detail fits into the whole configuration. In short, you must see the way an artist sees.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

The Illegitimate Sensei:

sensei

In today’s post, I am writing about coaching. My inspiration is Heinz von Foerster, the giant in Cybernetics. Von Foerster was the nephew of another giant in philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Heinz von Foerster defined an illegitimate question to be one for which the answer is known. A legitimate question is one for which the answer is not known.

Von Foerster dreamt of a society where there was an educational system that promoted asking legitimate questions. The idea of an “illegitimate question” is a fascinating one. Von Foerster’s point was that our education system teaches kids to learn answers to questions that they expect to be asked in a test. This is rote learning and does not make them think. Along these lines, I thought about senseis in Lean. Sensei is a Japanese word that literally means “person who came before you” or elder. The word has come to mean “teacher” especially in martial arts. In Toyota Production System, the original Lean, much emphasis is placed on developing people. One of Toyota’s slogan was “Good Thinking, Good Products.” Another slogan used by Toyota is “Monozukuri wa hitozukuri” or “making things is about making (developing) people.” Additionally, one of two pillars of the Toyota Way is “Respect for People.” In this light, one can see that a Lean sensei’s primary focus is on developing his/her disciple.

A sensei should take care to not just impart his wisdom by giving answers to problems. The sensei should probe the disciple’s current knowledge and guide him towards learning. All managers are senseis in many regards. They are tasked with developing his or her team members. Generally, the manager’s first instinct is to tell people what to do. When you think on this further, you can see that here the emphasis is on the manager getting his or her job done. This means that the employee is replaceable. You could bring in another employee and expect the job to be done. This is mechanistic thinking at best. The manager is viewing the employee as a machine that can get the job done. The employee will learn the task to be done this way. However, the employee does not get developed to think. The employee becomes an accessory to the manager to get the job done. This does not improve the quality of life for the employee. Telling an employee what to do is a reductionist approach, while training them to think and come up with ways to solve the problems is a holistic approach.

Suzumura Style and Cho-san Style:

Bob Emiliani [1] talks about the Suzumura style and Cho-san style of coaching for kaizen. Suzumura was one of Taiichi Ohno’s disciples and was famous for being short-tempered, strict, and sometimes demeaning. This is one of the stereotypes of Japanese Lean senseis. In fact, Emiliani called it the “Scary style”. On the other hand, is Fujio Cho, Toyota’s ex-President, who was well known for his gentle, caring nature on the floor. Cho was also a close disciple of Ohno. Cho is famous for his lesson of “Go See, Ask Why, and Show Respect.” Ohno talked about scolding supervisors at the gemba. [2] He said:

When I scold the supervisors on the gemba, the workers see that their boss is getting yelled at and they sympathize with their boss. Then it becomes easier for the supervisor to correct the workers. If you call the supervisor away to a dark corner somewhere to scold them, the message does not get through… When the workers see their boss getting scolded and they think it is because they are not doing something right, then the next time the supervisor corrects them, they will listen.

This is an interesting approach by Ohno! In either case, the employees are not being spoon fed the solution. The sensei is trying to challenge the supervisor to see the waste, and make improvements. The sensei gives the demand and the autonomy to the supervisor to get to the challenge. This way, the supervisor learns what needs to be done and becomes creative. Finally, the more problems that are solved, the better the supervisor gets at finding and solving problems. Additionally, they are now at a position to develop his or her subordinates.

Double Loop Learning:

The idea of Chris Argyris’ [3] Double Loop learning also falls nicely into place here. Telling an employee what to do may train the employee to do that task well. This is similar to single loop learning, where doing a task again and again helps with doing that task better the next time. Coaching the employee to find solutions on their own is similar to double loop learning. The employee gets to understand the “why” behind the problem, and modify his/her mental model and thinking to come up with creative ways to solve the problem. This type of learning improves the employee’s ability to solve a new problem in the future. Solving today’s problem gives the employee the experience and wisdom to solve a completely different and new problem in the future. Argyris wrote:

Organizational learning is a process of detecting and correcting error. Error is for our purposes any feature of knowledge or knowing that inhibits learning. When the process enables the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its objectives, the process may be called single loop learning. Single loop learning can be compared with a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and then turns the heat on or off. The thermostat is able to perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and therefore take corrective action. If the thermostat could question itself about whether it should be set at 68 degrees, it would be capable not only of detecting error but of questioning the underlying policies and goals as well as its own program. That is a second and more comprehensive inquiry; hence it might be called double loop learning.

Final Words:

Heinz von Foerster had a way with words and was a very wise man. I will finish with his lesson on legitimate questions. [4]

Tests are devices to establish a measure of trivialization. A perfect score in a test is indicative of perfect trivialization: the student is completely predictable and thus can be admitted into society. He will cause neither any surprises nor any trouble. I shall call a question to which the answer is known an “illegitimate question.” Wouldn’t it be fascinating to contemplate an educational system that would ask of its students to answer “legitimate questions” that is questions to which the answers are unknown. (H. Br ̈un in a personal communication) Would it not be even more fascinating to conceive of a society that would establish such an educational system?

The necessary condition for such an utopia is that its members perceive one another as autonomous, non-trivial beings. Such a society shall make, I predict, some of the most astounding discoveries. Just for the record, I shall list the following three:

  1. “Education is neither a right nor a privilege: it is a necessity.”
  2. “Education is learning to ask legitimate questions.”

A society who has made these two discoveries will ultimately be able to discover the third and most utopian one:

  1. “A is better off when B is better off.”

Von Foerster called the third idea a moral imperative.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Book Review – Seeing To Understand:

[1] Better Thinking, Better Results – Bob Emiliani

[2] Workplace Management – Taiichi Ohno

[3] Double Loop Learning in Organizations – Chris Argyris, September 1977 Harvard Business Review Issue

[4] Perception of the Future and the Future of Perception – Heinz von Foerster

Book Review – Seeing To Understand:

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In today’s post, I am reviewing Panos Efsta’s book, “Seeing to Understand”. Efsta kindly provided me a copy of his book. Efsta has written the book as a scientific thinking lifestyle coach. The book goes in depth on ways to coach yourself to developing intentional practice of scientific thinking using mainly Toyota Kata concepts. He also introduces concepts from Training Within Industry and process behavior charts. Efsta identifies it as a lifestyle regardless of what field you are working in. I have only introductory experience with Toyota Kata. So, reading this book was very helpful for me.

Toyota Kata is Mike Rother’s brainchild. Toyota Kata is based on the research that Rother and his team did from 2004 to 2009. Toyota Kata encapsulates the practice of scientific thinking as part of the management system at Toyota. Please note that this is what Rother and his team captured based on their research and not what Toyota has documented. As Rother puts it:

No one knows what the world will look like in the future, so one of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to adapt. Scientific thinking is exactly that. It involves a running comparison between what you predict will happen next, seeing what actually happens, and adjusting based on what you learn from the difference. Scientific thinking may be the best way we have of navigating through unpredictable territory to achieve challenging goals. Practiced deliberately for even just 20 minutes a day, scientific thinking can make anyone more adaptive, creative, and successful in the face of uncertainty.

Rother’s research was based on two questions:

1.What are the unseen managerial routines and thinking that lie behind Toyota’s success with continuous improvement and adaption?

2.How can other companies develop similar routines and thinking in their organizations?

Efsta’s book is a great resource to have while learning about Toyota Kata. An example is the chapter on the Storyboard. The storyboard is a tool in Toyota Kata to document the improvement journey. It captures the four steps:

  1. Get the direction – Understand the sense of direction
  2. Grasp the current situation – Understand where we are with facts and data
  3. Establish the next target condition – Target condition focuses our attention and provides guidance. Target condition stretches you beyond your current limited knowledge and aspires you towards a new performance standard.
  4. Conduct experiments – Understand what obstacles are preventing you and experiment to remove the obstacle(s). Document what happened and what we learned along the way. Iterate.

The use of Job Methods from Training Within Industry is a great way to grasp the current condition. As Efsta puts it, during the process of grasping the current condition, we are looking for the specific work patterns that currently represents the focus process and all the behaviors and attributes which lead the process to perform the way it does.

Efsta has detailed an obstacle-hunting map that I found quite useful. The obstacles are identified when we ask the question – what is preventing us from performing at the target condition? There are several tips that Efsta provides that assists in understanding the process better. For example, in Manufacturing, an obstacle should be structured as Fact + Data + “Negative Impact”.

After each chapter, Efsta has a Reflection section where the reader can document their reflections upon reading each chapter. One sentence that Efsta uses across the book is – There is nothing arbitrary or unintentional about scientific thinking. Scientific thinking as detailed by Toyota Kata is a structured framework which helps in tackling the ordered and complicated problems. Efsta provides several examples that helps cement the framework. Efsta also goes into detail on creating IMR Process Behavior Charts in MS Excel that will be useful for the reader.

One of the key concepts I realized while reading Efsta’s book is that solving today’s problem helps you with solving tomorrow’s problem. The more you do it, the thinking sets in and you get better at the thinking itself. This is the basis of kata.

Efsta’s book is available here and here. Mike Rother’s website for Toyota Kata is here. I encourage the reader to check both of them out.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Real Lean:

Ohno and VUT:

Ohno and Kingsman

One of my favorite “Factory Physics [1] equations” is Kingman’s equation, usually represented as “VUT”. The VUT equation is named after Sir John Kingman, a British mathematician.

The equation is as follows:

VUT

The first factor represents variability and is a combination of variability factors representing arrival and service times (flow variability and process variability). The second factor represents utilization of the work station or the assembly line. The third factor represents the average processing time in the work station or the assembly line. The VUT equation shows that the average cycle time or wait time is proportional to the product of variability, utilization and process time.

The most important lesson from VUT is:

If a station increase utilization without making any other change, average WIP (work in process) and cycle time will increase in a highly nonlinear fashion.

The influence of variability on cycle time is shown below. The red line shows that with high variability, any increase in utilization will results in an exponentially higher cycle time. If the variability is low (indicated by the green line), then the increase in the cycle time happens at a slower rate. If there was no variability, then the cycle time will be a constant. In other words, an increase in variability always degrades the performance of a production system.

VUT chart

Some of the lessons that we can learn from VUT equation are:

  1. To maintain a steady cycle time, reduce utilization if variability cannot be reduced. Reducing utilization means increasing capacity. As demand goes up, do not try to run the line at 100% utilization.
  2. The VUT equation can be used in conjunction with Little’s Law. Little’s Law states that WIP is proportional to the product of Throughput rate and Cycle Time. In other words, WIP is proportional to the product of Throughput and VUT. If you try to reduce WIP without trying to reduce variability, the throughput will go down. Thus, implementing one-piece flow without trying to reduce variability will result in a reduction in throughput.
  3. Reducing process variability will reduce cycle time variability.
  4. Adding buffer space at bottlenecks will improve throughput. Adding buffers at non-bottlenecks will not have a positive impact on throughput.
  5. Variability shall always be buffered either in the form of inventory, capacity or time. If variability is not reduced, you pay in terms of high WIP, underutilized capacity and reduced customer service. This is further explained here.
  6. Utilization effects are not linear but are highly nonlinear. Thus, the effect of variability at 40% utilization is not half of the effect of variability at 80% utilization.
  7. Reducing variability reduces uncertainty regarding cycle time or project lead times.
  8. First reduce variability and then go for increasing throughput.
  9. The rule of thumb is to run a line at or near 80% utilization. You should experiment yourself to learn more about your production system.
  10. In Lean, the variability factor can viewed as Mura (unevenness) and the burden from pushing for 100% utilization can be viewed as Muri (overburdening). Both result in Muda (waste).

VUT and TPS(Lean):

Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System (TPS), learned by trial and error and by actively learning from the gemba. Ohno realized early on that the first step in increasing throughput is by achieving stability. The idea of variability is closely tied to the idea of Mura (unevenness) in TPS. Ohno pushed for the idea of standard work for kaizen. He taught that kaizen is not possible without standard work. Standard work is aimed at reduction of variability in the process. In addition, Ohno came up with kanban to minimize variability in the process flow. He further pushed for reduction in WIP once process stability was achieved. Ohno constantly pushed to remove “waste” from the production system through kaizen. This continuous improvement cycle helped to maintain process stability. As Art Smalley puts it, What Toyota (Ohno) learned the hard way is that in the beginning of a transformation you need lots of basic stability before you can succeed with the more sophisticated elements of lean… Veterans of Toyota comment that certain pre-conditions are needed for a lean implementation to proceed smoothly.  These include relatively few problems in equipment uptime, available materials with few defects, and strong supervision at the production line level.[2]

Art Smalley further gives four questions to evaluate stability:

  1. Do you have enough machine uptime to produce customer demand?
  2. Do you have enough material on hand every day to meet your production needs?
  3. Do you have enough trained employees available to handle the current processes?
  4. Do you have work methods, such as basic work instructions, defined or standards in place?

If the answer is emphatically “no” to any of these questions, stop and fix the problem before proceeding. Attempting to flow product exactly to customer demand with untrained employees, poor supervision, or little inventory in place is a recipe for disaster.

It is said that Ohno first go-to method to train the production team to start thinking in terms of improvement is to ask the line to maintain current throughput with one less operator. In many regards, this can be viewed as reducing capacity or increasing utilization. As we learned from VUT, increasing utilization is a bad thing. Why would Ohno do that?

Ohno firmly believed that doing is the main way to learn something. Ohno advises that – “Knowledge is something you buy with the money. Wisdom is something you acquire by doing it.” Ohno was able to “see” wastes in the process that hindered the flow. Ohno had to train others to see the wastes like he did. It is likely that Ohno was able to the see the wastes in the current process that the leads or the operators are not able to see. This could be because they are able to meet the demand with their current process. The only way that Ohno could make them improve further was by asking them to do the same with one less operator. The removal of one operator challenged the team to look at their standard work, and the process to see where excess waste was. This idea of challenge is part of the “respect for people” pillar of the Toyota Way. It is said that TPS also stands for “Thinking Production System”, a system that makes people think! Toyota develops their people to think and be autonomous to see problems and fix them. Fujio Cho, ex-President of Toyota Motor Corporation and a student of Ohno, has said that the Toyota Production System pioneered by Ohno is not just a method of production; it is a different way of looking and thinking about things. Ohno developed the management team by giving genchi genbutsu-based practical tasks through which the team members were matched in a “competition of wits” against him [3]. Cho called it the hands-on human resources “nurturing” that Ohno promoted. Ohno believed that if he was in a position to give orders, he could not do that unless he has had a lot of confidence about what he was asking. Ohno saw that the current condition can be improved, and he challenged the team to do that by knowingly pushing the utilization up.

I welcome to reader to learn more about VUT here and here.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Cybernetic View of Quality Control:

[1] Factory Physics by Wallace Hopp and Mark Spearman

[2] Basic Stability is Basic to Lean Manufacturing Success by Art Smalley

[3] Workplace Management by Taiichi Ohno

Book Review – Measures of Success:

Measures-of-Success-Cover-Dark-Green-Final-copy-1

In today’s post, I am reviewing the book, “Measures of Success”, written by Mark Graban. Graban is a Lean thinker and practitioner. Graban has written several books on Lean including Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen. Graban was kind enough to send me a preview copy of his latest book, Measures of Success. As Graban writes in the Preface, his goal is to help managers, executives, business owners, and improvement specialists in any industry use limited time available more effectively.

The book is about Process Behavior Charts or PBC (Statistical Process Control or SPC). Graban teaches in an easy way how to use Process Behavior Charts to understand a process, and truly see and listen to the process. The use of PBC is a strategy of prevention, and not a strategy of detection alone. PBCs help us see when a process is in control and whether what we see is indicative of normal noise present in a process in control or not. Walter Shewhart, who created and pioneered SPC, defined control as:

A phenomenon is said to be controlled when, through the use of past experience, we can predict at least within limits, how the phenomenon may be expected to vary in the future. Here it is understood that prediction within limits means that we can state, at least approximately, the probability that the observed phenomenon will fall within the given limits.

 Shewhart proceeded to state that a necessary and sufficient condition for statistical control is to have a constant system of chance causes… It is necessary that differences in the qualities of a number of pieces of a product appear to be consistent with the assumption that they arose from a constant system of chance causes… If a cause system is not constant, we shall say that an assignable cause is present.

Graban has written a great book to help us decide what is noise and what is meaningful data. By understanding how the process is speaking to us, we can stop overreacting and use the saved time to actually make meaningful improvements to the process. Graban has a great style of writing which makes a somewhat hard statistical subject easy to read. I enjoyed the narrative he gave of the CEO looking at the Bowling Chart and reacting to it in the third chapter. The CEO was following the red and green datapoints, and reacting by either pontificating as a means of encouragement or yelling “just do things right” at her team. And worse of all, she thinks that she is making a difference by doing it. Just try harder and get to the green datapoint! Graban also goes into detail on Deming’s Red Bean experiment that is a fun way of demonstrating the minimal impact a worker has on normal variation of the process through a fun exercise.

Similar to Deming’s line of questions regarding process improvementHow are you going to improve? By what method? And How will you know?, Graban also provides three insightful core questions:

  1. Are we achieving our target or goal?
  2. Are we improving?
  3. How do we improve?

We should be asking these questions when we are looking at a Process Behavior Chart. These questions will guide in our continual improvement initiatives. Graban has identified 10 key points that help us reflect on our learning of PBCs. They are available at his website. They help us focus on truly understanding what the process is saying – where are we and should we make a change?

Graban provides numerous examples of current events depicted as PBCs. Some of the examples include San Antonio homicide rates and Oscar Ratings. Did the homicide rate significantly go down recently? Did the Oscar ratings significantly go down in the recent years? These are refreshing because they help solidify our understanding. This also provides a framework for us to do our own analysis of current events we see in the news. Graban also provides an in-depth analysis of his blog data. In addition, there are several workplace cases and examples included.

The list of Chapters are as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Improving the Way We Improve
  • Chapter 2: Using Process Behavior Charts for Metrics
  • Chapter 3: Action Metrics, not Overreaction Metrics
  • Chapter 4: Linking Charts to Improvement
  • Chapter 5: Learning From “The Red Bead Game”
  • Chapter 6: Looking Beyond the Headlines
  • Chapter 7: Linear Trend Lines and Other Cautionary Tales
  • Chapter 8: Workplace Cases and Examples
  • Chapter 9: Getting Started With Process Behavior Charts

The process of improvement can be summarized by the following points identified in the book:

  • If we have an unpredictable system, then we work to eliminate the causes of signals, with the aim of creating a predictable system.
  • If we have a predictable system that is not always capable of meeting the target, then we work to improve the system in a systematic way, aiming to create a new a system whose results now fluctuate around a better average.
  • When the range of predictable performance is always better than the target, then there’s less of a need for improvement. We could, however, choose to change the target and then continue improving in a systematic way.

It is clear that Graban has written this book with the reader in mind. There are lots of examples and additional resources provided by Graban to start digging into PBCs and make it interesting. The book is not at all dry and has managed to retain the main technical concepts in SPC.

The next time you see a Metric dashboard either at the Gemba or in the news, you will definitely know to ask the right questions. Graban also provides a list of resources to further improve our learning of PBCs. I encourage the readers to check out Mark Graban’s Blog at LeanBlog.org and also buy the book, Measures of Success.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Ubuntu At the Gemba: