Book Review – Seeing To Understand:


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:

Book Review – Measures of Success:


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 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:

Practicing Lean, a review:


Today I am writing a review on the book “Practicing Lean”, edited by Mark Graban( Mark kindly gave me an early preview of this book. This book is a collection of personal experiences of sixteen authors on practicing lean. The first two chapters by Mark detail what it means to practice lean. This was quite enlightening. As Mark points out, people talk about lean thinking, doing lean, implementing lean etc., but all of these phrases miss the point. Lean thinking does not contain any action; doing lean does not contain any thinking, implementing lean could mean that there is end in sight. Practicing lean means that it is something that is done to improve oneself. There is no end and there is both action and thinking.

The personal experiences in the book make it an easy read. They are all something you can easily relate to. It is also humbling to learn from the “failures” and “successes”. From a philosophical standpoint, this is about epistemology – how each of the authors came to attain their knowledge about lean. Their personal journeys make the book quite enjoyable to read. Some of these authors were familiar to me from LinkedIn and from the Gemba Academy podcasts. This is quite a diverse group of authors.

The sixteen authors are;

Mark Graban, Author of the books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, blogger at
Nick Ruhmann, Director of Operational Excellence for Aon National Flood Services, Inc.
Michael Lombard, Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone Critical Care Specialty Hospital of Southwest Louisiana
Paul Akers, President of FastCap, author of 2-Second Lean and Lean Health
Jamie Parker, 15 years’ experience in operations management / leadership in retail, service, and manufacturing
Harry Kenworthy, Expert in Lean government after a long career in manufacturing
Bob Rush, Lean Manufacturing Group Leader for Tesla Motors
Samuel Selay, Continuous Improvement Manager for the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton
David Haigh, David works at Johnson & Johnson Canada, the largest consumer healthcare company in Canada
Joe Swartz, Administrative Director, Business Transformation, Franciscan Alliance, co-author of Healthcare Kaizen
Cameron Stark, Physician and Lean improvement leader in Scotland
Harvey Leach, Principal Consultant with The Consultancy Company based near Oxford, England
Andy Sheppard, Author, The Incredible Transformation of Gregory Todd: a Novel about Leadership and Managing Change
Mike Leigh, President and Founder of OpX Solutions, LLC and former Lean leader at General Electric
Jamie Flinchbaugh, Lean advisor, speaker, and author, who has advised over 300 companies on their Lean journey
Lesa Nichols, Founder, Lesa Nichols Consulting and former Toyota leader

One of quotes attributed to Napoleon Hill is;

“One of the most valuable things any person can learn is the art of using the knowledge and experience of others.”

This quote captures the essence of the book.

Practicing Lean is available here. All the proceeds from this book go to the non-profit Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation.

This book has made such an impression on me that I have bought my own copy. Thank you Mark for being the force behind this book!