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Michael Ballé’s @TheGembaCoach Column: respect and sensei

Interesting question asked to Michael Ballé, to which I added my comments at the end (with lots of typos, sorry :-/)

Dear Gemba Coach,If lean is based on respect for people, why are sensei gemba visits reputed to be so tough?

Source: Michael Ballé’s Gemba Coach Column

Can #Lean be #positive? Answer from @thegembacoach

Here’s an interesting one from Michael Ballé’s Gemba Coach Column.

Readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of Michael’s thinking. He’s one of the best sensei one can imagine.

Yet, he’s not strength-based in his approach (apart for the “respect for people” which very few seem to understand from him). This latestest column is no different: in trying to make Lean appear positive (as did some other senseis before), Michael stayed in the deficit-based thinking. He’s sticking to the Toyota approach of Lean (which makes wonder wherever it is applied properly, no argument on this) and he explains how looking for, and solving problems can be a positive thing, because it can help people improve their work and achieve a shared purpose to a level that few organizational development initiatives might bring.

Yet, I’m not entirely convinced. Lean can be so much more when viewed from a strength-based perspective.

First of all, problems can be seen as an opportunity of asking oneself when has the problem been less present (if not just totally absent). This is true positive thinking without the need for reframing the situation. In a true positive deviance, one can meditate on the saying that “in any malfunctioning system, something does work properly”. We just have to ask to start searching for, and finding it.

Second, one can put more emphasis on what people would like their system, organisation or process to be. Sure enough, problems happen, meaning, things won’t turn out like we would like them to be. Yet, by accepting this (just like what Michael advocates for), we can just let go of perfection and “make lemonade when life brings us lemons”. If it can be done with problems (solving them when they appear), then why can’t we cease positive opportunities when they happen?

Indeed, I’m still convinced that the PDCA, continuous improvement way to efficiency is the right one to advance. But just like other systems, you can use the loops and feedbacks to run negative or positive paradigms through it (ok, it goes a bit more complicated than this, but I hope you get the point).

So, continue your PDCA and A3 problem solving, but why not next time try to ask about what’s working and what you’re trying to achieve? Why not ask about a time when things worked, at least partially, and what you did that helped make it better? I’m sure you’ll re-discover interesting stuff that you’ll be proud to share with your colleagues, and standardize and teach to others.

But, by building on successes to confirm and reinforce your positive first steps (instead of possibly demotivating problems to solve), you might get more energy to go down the Lean path and more rapidly. Isn’t this an attractive vision to strive for?

Keep us posted on your experiments!


@thegembacoach Column: #LEAN = #TPS {#KAIZEN + #RESPECT} and I infer from that…

August 26th, 2014 Posted in Lean, Strength Tags: , , ,

Ballé did it again: an excellent blogpost on what Lean is all about: Michael Ballé’s Gemba Coach Column.

Making people think by themselves. Man is this terrifyingly difficult!!!

Yet, on other aspects, people do think by themselves when they really are interested in the thing they want thought through.

That they just don’t think about their work should trigger an alarm in management’s heads about what it to to be a leader and having their people be interested in the work they do.

You obviously can’t force interest. And the more we advance in time, the more the new generations of workers seek interesting, meaning making jobs.

And you can’t exactly know what someone will find meaning in, so my conclusion is:

Let people organize themselves and define meaning as what works best for them.

Strength-based Lean, eh? 😉


Michael Ballé’s @thegembacoach #Lean column: “what is a root cause?” Excellent!

May 30th, 2014 Posted in Lean Tags: , , ,

Michael Ballé’s Gemba Coach Column is about trying to define 1) what is a root cause and 2) how to do 5-Why’s analysis properly.

Very good article and this is a topic barely tackled clearly. I have yet to find root cause analysis being done right (well, apart from those in Lean books of course).



Reblog: #Kanban and #Lean – a challenging association (from @djaa_dja)

October 28th, 2013 Posted in Lean Tags: , , , , , ,

David J Anderson posted a very nice piece some months ago about the relation current “Lean Kanban” and Lean initiatives have in common (or lack thereof for some part of it).

Indeed, the reasons advanced by David are the same that launched me on a journey to find some new ways to make Lean sticks once the coach turns away from a team (as if often requested from an internal Lean Coach, which is my situation). More precisely, this might be why the best approach to Lean teaching might be to work with a Lean sensei (as advocated by, for instance, Michael Ballé [web]).

Although I totally agree with David’s reasons for being wary of the way most consulting companies introduce Lean, I would not throw the baby with the bath water. There are some people who try to promote a respectful deployment of Lean (as if “respect for people” should have gone away from Lean!). The original “Boston Lean” authors as mentioned by David are just the first of them, despite the fac that their work has too often been misunderstood and the focus on tools be the norm. Granted, at the time the initial Lean books were written, Toyota Production System knowledge outside Toyota was mostly focused on the visible parts, namely the tools. Yet the respect part of it was already there. Michael Ballé’s two (Shingo) prized books (“The Gold Mine” and “The Lean Manager“) also feature the people aspects intertwined with the tools.

Lastly, Michael’s latest book in french have a whole part dedicated to that respect for people and how Lean is supposed to turn the gemba into a thrivable environment (“Le Management Lean” with Godefroy Beauvallet).

So, should we be wary of “Boston Lean“? Definitely when it means focusing on “toolbox Lean”! But I’m not sure that creating a side track with Lean Kanban is also the thing to do, despite helping in the short-term.

A reinforcement of the respect for people part of Lean, what it can bring in the short, middle and long-term to the organization’s betterment is, to me, the definitive path to look after. It’s the duty of Lean coaches to prove that we can achieve safety, quality, delays and cost improvements all the while making employees thrive at work. Indeed, this is the only thing that works on the long-term.


#Bravo pour le #livre “Le #management #Lean” de @thegembacoach et @godefroy_b!

Je viens de finir “Le Management Lean” de Michaël Ballé et Godefroy Beauvallet ( #reader_2744065528)

Michaël Ballé est un coach Lean (français) reconnu internationalement, auteur de 2 autres livres primés par le Shingo Prize (“The Gold Mine” et “The Lean Manager”).

Ce livre est tout simplement exceptionnel. C’est un “manuel de Lean management” simple et surtout, il explique très très clairement dans sa dernière partie l’importance du respect des gens et notamment des employés.


Selon cet idéal [de l’entreprise Lean], l’entreprise est créée par des êtres humains pour satisfaire des besoins humains et est composée d’être humains. […]

Le “respect pour l’humanité” est au coeur de la performance et la clé du juste-à-temps. […]

Respecter ses employés est lié à la conviction que chacun est capable de progresser et à l’effort du management de tenir compte des aspirations du personnel qu’il emploie.[…]

Cette réalité humaine est une richesse pour l’entreprise, et non une complexité inutile.[…]

Le respect des employés n’est pas un supplément d’âme pour pays nantis, c’est la voie de nouvelles relations sociales, dans une certaine mesure plus tolérantes et apaisées, assurant que chacun puisse donner le meilleur de lui-même.[…]

Les clients, employés et partenaires sont des personnes et non des ressources, des rôles ou des fonctions.[…]

Une performance intrinsèquement collective dépasse de loin les résultats obtenus avec une logique mécaniste de l’action, qui sépare “les têtes qui pensent et les bras qui font” et invente des règles à n’en plus finir et des incitations en tranches de plus en plus fines.

Je m’arrête là, ce livre regorge de pépites du même genre dans sa 3e partie (et les 2 premières sont limpides sur la manière de réaliser l’idéal du Lean Management, en tout respect des collaborateurs, afin de libérer leur engagement (cf. rapport Gallup sur les résultats catastrophiques de l’engagement au travail, notamment en France)

Une dernière pour la route:

Dans les termes employés par des managers d’entreprises dirigées dans un esprit véritablement lean, ils ont l’occasion de “s’éclater au travail”. Le travail ne devrait pas être un lieu de souffrance, mais un espace de réalisation.

Ma conclusion : fuyons le déploiement tayloriste des outils du Lean, et revenons à ce qu’il devrait être réellement : un outil de libération de la motivation intrinsèque et de l’engagement des collaborateurs et des managers. Alors la performance client et financière suivra.

Pas l’inverse.

My @leanpub book “The Colors of #Change” has started its publication!

Details are available on the page over there: or from here (a bit more complete).

Subtitle is “Respectful Change Management explained by Cybernetics”.

Check it out!

How are #SystemsThinking and #Lean related?

March 12th, 2013 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , , , ,

This is a post I just saw on LinkedIn: how Systems Thinking and Lean are related?

Here’s my answer:

ST and Lean are not related on first sight. Yet, I’m one of the few being convinced that all the Lean paraphernalia (management practices, coaching Katas, Tools, etc.) helps collaborators of an organization build a better systemic view of that organization and its links with suppliers and clients.

Most if not everything done in Lean is multidimensional.

For instance, pulling processes is:

  • first and foremost in order to make problems visible
  • improves efficiency

Making problems visible helps:

  • seeing them in order to solve them
  • develop people

Developing people will:

  • make them happier at work
  • which makes them more efficient
  • which will further improve the processes (go back to first list above)

Other tools are more dedicated (IMHO) to knitting the systemic view of the company into people’s head and therefore raise their motivation by clarifying the big picture for them, forces everybody to clarify and participate in what this big picture is, and challenge all that may be deviant to it.

For instance: A3 Thinking is about having a description of a problem circulated around that:

  • have the whole of the problem (description, cause hypotheses, solutions ideas, action plans, results) under the eyes: a sort of systemic rich picture in itself
  • the circulation helps everybody build that systemic understanding in his own mind
  • help break down the barriers between organizational silos, which further reinforce the connectivity/relationships among employees, thereby facilitating further improvement initiatives

Nemawashi is the name of that process of circulating A3s during preparation, testing of hypotheses, standardisation of results, and later, Yokoten is the process of proposing the solutions for everybody in the organization to apply and further improve it.

As renown twice Shingo Prized author Michael Ballé said : Lean is systems thinking applied and working.

To make the connection with what @David said: you start by pulling the main production processes, then you pull other supplying processes whose TAKT is that of production. Then you pull administrative processes (HR, finance, etc.)

In the end (10 years from the beginning!), all really is connected and not in silo anymore and the whole organization is really functioning in a systemic, dense network [a system!], as opposed to loosely singly connected silos at the start of the Lean turnover.

Don’t teach #Lean

genchi genbutsu

Now, thinking about it, how long have companies been trying to replicate Toyota? That’s easy fact to find: get the publication date of “The machine that changed the world” from Womack, Jones & Roos: 1991.


It’s been 21 years that people try to teach Lean. And few succeed. Yet the teaching and education business is longer than that. Should we have known a bullet-proof way of teaching, we’d know by then, don’t you think?

So, instead of trying to find the root cause of why Lean teaching fails (besides, it doesn’t really fail: it’s just that knowledge learned that way cannot be put into motion), let’s turn to what works instead. What do successful Lean coaches tell us about turning a company Lean? It simple, and I guess anyone in the Lean business knows it:

現地現物 !

Or, as I read elsewhere:

Go to the real place, look at the process, talk to the people.

Why does teaching Lean doesn’t work?

Trying to teach as systemic a thing as Lean is very difficult. Every single tool or practice is connected to every other one: Just in Time helps with flow, but also raises problems (that the purpose, by the way!), so you can see them, but you’d need visual performance management board as well, which means you need to learn and practice Five Why’s root cause analyses, Pareto, and Ishikawa. So, you’d discover that your training is lame (Job Instruction!), your batches are too big and because your die changeovers are too long, so you must SMED them, and so on.

So, when someone’s trying to teach Lean, they’re mainly trying to have some square pegs forced into round holes. The peg being the Lean material, and the hole being the people’s brain they’re trying to indoctrinate. People will have a hard time making sense of their knowledge with what they have in production. Teaching them is also mostly diverting their mind from where the true work needs to be done: the floor (gemba).

So between using new and non-practical knowledge or continuing to do what they’ve already done (and that they perfectly know how to do from their perspective), what do you think they will do? They will continue to do business as usual of course!

So, what to do about Lean knowledge?

Should we stop teaching Lean? No, of course, otherwise we’d be short of Lean experts someday. But what’s important is that the ones having Lean knowledge don’t try to push it onto people (besides, pushing isn’t the best Lean practice, by the way), but they must try to have people pull knowledge. And not pulling knowledge from the mind of their Lean consultant, but from their own! Which means the Lean consultant must change job and become a Lean coach. The role of a coach being that of a guide that doesn’t give solutions, but helps and encourages on the path to understanding. Of course, the Lean knowledge of the coach is useful: it helps him/her to ask the good questions at the most efficient moment so that the people can discover and learn Leanin the context of their own work.

Here’s one example of what I meant by the diatribe above: Michael Ballé’s one of the most respected Lean coach on the planet, but it took me quite some years to fully understand what he meant by repeatedly and bluntly telling people (like myself!) to go back to the gemba and work there. But for people like me that are more interested in learning than in producing, that wasn’t pleasant a discourse as I wanted it to be.

Now I know how I can have learning AND teaching at the same time: by going to the gemba and patiently and relentlessly showing the direction of Lean to people, but by coaching them to discover what would work best for them, in their own context. Hopefully, I have different tools in my toolbox to help me along the way, like Appreciative Inquiry to work out with people why do they do what they do, Solution Focus to help them remember what do they do that already works for them from a Lean perspective or Systems Thinking to nudge them into considering the whole system rather than just their silo and have them get out of their own way to truly build that systemic way of the company by 1) going to the real place, 2) looking at the process and 3) talkig to the (other) people.


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