Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Franck George Woolard: forgotten pioneer of flow production (#Lean history)

January 4th, 2011 Posted in Lean Tags: , , ,

Bob Emiliani, famous Lean expert, seemed to have uncovered the work of a certain Franck George Woolard who lived from 1883 to 1957 and created some Flow production in car manufacturing, long before Taiichi Ohno did the same in Japan at Toyota.

The abstract of Emiliani’s paper is as follow:

The purpose of this paper is to introduce management historians to the long-forgotten work of Frank George Woollard (1883-1957), who in the mid-1920s established flow production in the British motor industry, and its remarkable similarity to current-day production principles and practices used by Toyota Motor Corporation, also known as lean production.

Later on, the paper states the important findings:

One of Woollard’s distinctive contributions was to prove that achieving flow for engineered goods in low volume production (compared to Ford in the USA) resulted in costs that were as low or lower than that which could be achieved by large-scale mass production. Thus, a small- or medium-sized automaker producing a few thousand or tens of thousands of automobiles annually could compete against large foreign auto companies that produced much greater volumes of automobiles and who relied on economies of scale to reduce costs (Maxcy and Silberston, 1959). Woollard’s work reversed the commonly held view that flow was only useful as a production method when the volume of goods was very large, such as in the production of Ford Model T cars.

And finally (for this blog article – you’ll need to read the paper yourself is you want the whole story!), what’s really important in these findings:

The founder of Toyota Motor Corporation, Kiichiro Toyoda would have these same insights about flow in 1937, some 12 years after Woollard reduced it to practice, but it would be 1955 before Toyota was able to achieve flow in its engine shop. In addition, it took the legendary Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990), the principal architect of Toyota Motor Corporation’s production system, six years to do what Woollard did in less than two years, and at half the engine volume of Morris – 22,786 engines at Toyota in 1955  compared to 55,582 engines at Morris in 1925. Woollard’s contribution to progressive manufacturing management practices is substantial and comparable to Mr Ohno’s work.

(Emphasis mine)

There is the paper (PDF) that explains eveything. Enjoy!

RB: 20 Reasons Your Company Won’t #Change

December 20th, 2010 Posted in Change Tags: ,

Here’s a great article from Matthew E. May: 20 Reasons Your Company Won’t Change : The World :: American Express OPEN Forum.

So, what’s the solution? Just do it?

My answer: probably 🙂 But it may be a bit more difficult.

I have a nice change methodology I’ve read about somewhere on the web. 3 steps.

There’s a perfect way to prepare and drink tea, according to ancient canons:

  1. heat water
  2. pour on tea
  3. drink

Only it has to be the exact kind of water, precise temperature and mindful attention to drinking.

I have the same recipe for change:

  1. Establish Vision
  2. Foster Dialogue
  3. Praise Quick Results

What questions do we need to ask to raise awareness of #SystemsThinking?

I recently asked this question on the LinkedIn group Systems Thinking World.

My objective was to try to conduct an Appreciative Inquiry into what works for successfully explaining and making people use Systems Thinking. Few people connected to that initial inquiry, so I went for the question above (blog post title).

I got some interesting answers that I grouped by topic and assembled into a SurveyMonkey survey.

You’re invited to participate in the survey by clicking here.

I plan to publish the results by the beginning of 2011.

Meanwhile, I wish you some happy Christmas and end of year holidays!

#Change, #Lean or #SystemsThinking avoidance, a response to double-bind situations?

December 20th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

I wanted to give you a few words on an interesting paper I’ve read some time ago (in french only) that postulates that change resistance and avoidance behaviors with regard to change may be the emergent result of a double bind situation. I then below elaborate on the possibility that it’s a reason for resistance to the use of Systems Thinking in favor of the more traditional Analytical Thinking (AT).

The paper was available on (titled: “Les comportements d’évitement : opportunité ou fléau pour l’apprentissage organisationnel”), a site dedicated to systemic approach as devised by the Palo Alto school (Mental Research Institute, works from D. Johnson, G. Bateson, P. Watzlawick mainly) applied to organizations. It has disappeared, that’s why I’m republishing it here.

The paper elaborates on the idea that avoidance behaviors may be the emergent “qualities” of a double bind context. That avoidance behavior may result from a situation in which some people (the person(s) resisting change) are trapped in a double bind as a result of a context of search for efficiency and permanent, accelerated calling into question of work conditions. This context may be generating anxiety for impacted people that it binds. When meta-communication is not possible in this context, then appears the double bind situation.

Read more »

#Lean stalled? Back to #TWI basics!

December 15th, 2010 Posted in Lean Tags:

Looking around for some Training Within Industry material, I stumbled upon this article which clearly addresses the problem of Lean turnovers that fail: TWI: Training Within Industry.

The article addresses the lack of follow-through actions after an improvement have been done. Of the four-steps methods devised by Charles Allen (Preparation, Presentation, Application and Testing; this method is at the origin of Job Instruction, Methods and Relations Training), only the second step (Presentation) is usually done in companies.

People are told what to do and expected to comply. No wonder there’s “change resistance”!

  • No preparation: management does not inquire into what employees know about the job and the reasons for change or improvement. The underlying assumption is that they’re not working properly without being explained why!
  • No application: no assurance is secured of the way the job or new method is going to be applied (or whether is fit the job anyway!) or whether it’s been understood.
  • and No testing: which means that people can almost safely go back to work as usual since nobody is going to check on them (not in a spirit of control but just to be sure that no other problem occurred and that the method is indeed well suited for the job).

Of this article, I’d add another mandatory step, that goes way before improvements are done: before everything starts, actually. Which brings me back to my previous article about coaching. You need to secure top management involvement in deploying Lean for it to succeed. And that securing includes Checking that improvements are indeed coming in (among other things)!

Sheesh. The Lean deployment problems we’re experiencing today were already known (at least!) in 1913 (date of Charles Allen book on his four-step instruction method).

Didn’t we learn anything since then? In a spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, should we ask about “what worked” in deploying Lean, I guess TWI would come top of the list with a huge list of successes. Of course, Toyota really improved on TWI, especially regarding Job Methods (the improvement part). But should you only do JMT properly, you’d outwin your competitors, for sure.

#Lean may need real coaches at the beginning

December 14th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean Tags: , , ,

There are things that we just do more easily when someone is doing them with us or accompanying us in order for us to do them. These are generally the not-so-sexy-things-to-do: fat-loosing-sports, medical appointment, and on a more general scale, anything that is not bringing us satisfaction on the short term. Like continuous improvement.

If it doesn’t hurt enough, you won’t change.

So you really need to be in a catastrophic situation to ponder the possibility to change (and even then… but that’s for another article).

What’s the problem?

I think we have some very experienced Lean senseïs or Lean consultants. A whole bunch of them can be seen on The Lean Edge. I know some of them and I wouldn’t call them… gentle. Experienced? Efficient? Right to the point? Definitely! But not that pushy for clients not ready to commit deeply to what Lean requires from them. These consultants are more on the style of “either you badly want it or I leave”. Which is somewhat fine since there are quite a number of people wanting to embark on the Lean journey and there are indeed very few of these consultants. Which is a way for them to filter their clients, I guess (or a form of Lean efficiency: don’t accept bad products from the preceding step in the process – the defects there being a lack of motivation to do Lean).

What we have here is a self reinforcing loop whose limit is the maximum number of clients the consultant can handle:

Lean consultant fame system dynamics diagram

Lean consultant fame system dynamics diagram

Like all growing loop, this one exhibit an exponential growth behavior:

Lean consultants fame graphic

Lean consultants fame graphic

Of course, there’s an increasing stock outside of frustrated clients that can’t be served by the famous consultants.

We also know that there are a whole lot of clients that tried Lean and failed to continue with it. We can blame the clients for not doing what Lean required of them (deep commitment). And this is in some way true and the underlying assumtion done by the famous consultants I spoke of just above (or the easy way for them to select clients). And, by coming to this conclusion, this is also the underlying assumtions of the (not as famous but still skillful) other consultants. Indeed, by accepting unmotivated clients, you get fewer results, which confirms you that your clients were unmotivated. This is indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But what would happen if we’d take the assumption that the clients are willing to do Lean but need some motivation to do it before doing the real stuff?

Read more »

Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization

December 10th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

This is an interesting blog entry of John Hunter (Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization).

It might well be studied as a way to go to increase Systems Thinking into management (and employees) heads.

Yet, I’m more wary of the focus on tools because of the risk of commoditization of what is being introduced (Lean or else). I’ve written about this already.

It also relates to The Chasm and the gap between early adopters and the early majority. Hard work is required to cross the chasm.

Change resistance bell curve

Change resistance bell curve featuring The Chasm

Could it be that Innovators and Early Adopters are quickly and easily building a vision of where they might end with the new, that get them moving into that direction? Wouldn’t trying to work on a better mental image of the future help in trying to make resistant people adopt the change?

Regarding Lean, we have now quite some company that went for a Lean management system. Some were highly successful, other less, but it seems hat failure is generally associated with either not believing in Lean (self-fulfilling prophecy) or not doing “real Lean” (which generally means that Lean activities have been focused on tools and not on the management that should go with them – that’s L.AM.E. (Lean As Mistakenly Executed))

Change This – Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation

I’ve posted yesterday about a book I’ve heard of: Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation.

Now, in my mailbox today, I can see the lastest ChangeThis newsletter with a presentation of Steve Denning’s ideas which he details in his book. The manifesto is here: Change This – Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation.

I’m happy that I’ve read this manifesto, because it allows me to understand more about what that style of management is all about. And I must say that I like it even more!

Being an idea-connector as I am, I can’t help but connect the principles that Mr Denning proposes to the ones I’m more used to. Here they are.

What are the 7 principles?

First, a quick reminder of the seven principles Mr Denning proposes:

  1. The purpose of work is to delight clients through value innovation
  2. Work should be carried out in self-organizing teams
  3. Work should be done in client-driven iterations
  4. Each iteration should deliver value to clients
  5. Total openness: everyone levels with everyone
  6. The workplace is a context in which teams themselves want to improve
  7. Management communicates through interactive conversations

I shall now link these very interesting propositions with the main topics of this blog and show how I feel they relate to one another.


Lean is a total management system encompassing the whole organization. Or it should be. One of the fundamental principle of Lean is that you must give customers what they want, at the moment they want it, in the quantity they want, all by reducing their burden to buy it from you. As Lean is rather radical in its force to move toward this direction, it means that to reduce your costs, you also need to reduce your turnover and the best way to do that is to give back some power to your employees and take care of them. You need to let them use their mind as to what and how the company can be improved and how they can best work to best serve your customers.

As the driving obsession of Lean is to achieve all that through the mean of reducing the delay between the moment a customer makes a request and the moment you’ve collected the money he gave you in purchase of your product or service, this means that you should try to deliver any products to any customer requesting it (that’s one-piece-flow behind it, for sure).

I relate this to Mr Denning’s points #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5.

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking is a way of thinking of systems (as defined as a collection of parts related to each others) that allows to see the forest despite the trees. Indeed, the whole has some (emergent) properties worth studying that you can’t see when only studying the parts. There’s a lot more behind this sole sentence and diverse methods to help you achieve that.

One method that I find especially visible through Mr Denning presentation of Radical Management is that of the Viable System Model by Stafford Beer. I’ve uploaded a diagram presenting what the VSM is (same letters, but different than the Lean “Value Stream Map”) behind this link.

Mr Denning’s Radical Management points #2 especially relates to the system law of requisite variety. According to this law, which is a building principle of the Viable System Model, small teams have a better chance of matching the environment’s variety than some top management up the hierarchical ladder. Hence, autonomous teams, all working under the same vision or in the same direction (as set by point #1) are a must. In this view, point #7 might be seen as a new way of interacting with teams corresponding to System 2 in charge of interactions and conflicts between autonomous systems 1 (teams).

Besides, when you have the autonomy to work the way you want, you’re more willing to improve your own work conditions than if they’re imposed on you by some management far away. That’s point #6.

Strength-based approaches to management

I’ve already covered the 7 points. Yet, although it’s not explicitely stated in the manifesto which I link at the beginning of the article, I have the feeling that the whole radical management system is somewhat more strength-based than traditional management approaches. Indeed, when you’re talking of “delighting clients” (#1), “delivering value” (#4), “openness” (#5) and “interactive conversations” (#7), you’re more likely to deal with what works and motivates people than seeking to assign blame for problems.


All in all, Radical Management seems to be a very good approach to management, with a nicely put combination of Lean, Systems Thinking and Strength-based approaches to management. Being from a Lean background mainly, I can only regret that of all the fantastic Lean books available, people only remember the tools part and not the management part. That’s similar to trying to use some powerful tool without reading the accompanying instructions: no wonder you end up hurting people.

So, if some management book can focus readers on improving their management skills, so far so good! We’re in desperate need of some new style of management and Radical Management, in my opinion, greatly fills the gaps.

#SystemsThinking for Contemporary Challenges

December 9th, 2010 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: ,

Here is a nice blog entry at Pegasus Communication: Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges.

I quote one of the end paragraph which seems to echo very well some discussions going on LinkedIn group “Systems Thinking World” about how to increase awareness of systems thinking in the general public…

The zero-impact building session was a great segue to John Sterman from MIT, who spoke about climate change. He was critical of systems thinking practitioners who have failed to develop tools and a language that governments, leaders, and everyday citizens can use to understand the long-term consequences of their actions. He cited the example of the “bathtub”and the C-ROADS simulator as examples of systems tools that help people change their mental models, especially around issues as complex as climate change. According to Sterman, if the systems thinking community is not willing to build a new set of tools to address these large-scale challenges, then very little will change.

I started to think about doing an Appreciative Inquiry into what works for raising systems thinking awareness and then devising a plan to do more of it. Contributions are starting to come smoothly. As soon as I have synthesized them, I’ll post them on the blog.

Meanwhile, you might be interested in some great work that is available to freely raise your skills in Systems Thinking. I’ve see the following (free) resources really helpful. Feel fre to comment to add your preferred ones:

As for the “not free” resources, I’m a recent subscriber of “The Systems Thinker” PDF magazine, which I must admit is a gold mine (pun intended: Michaël Ballé, author of the Lean turnaround novel “The Gold Mine” sometimes write for this newsletter – hint, hint! :-).

Leader’s Guide to Radical Management & #Lean transformation

December 9th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , ,

Here is a nice blog article about a book I have not read (isn’t it great? I’m talking about someone’s talk about something I have not read! Internet’s so fantastic…)

Guru Review: Leader’s Guide to Radical Management | Matthew E. May.

I relate what is said about the book to whole systems change and Donella Meadows 12 leverage points of Systems.

What it seems is said in this book is that because the goal (and even the Paradigm) of the Prisons changed, the whole system changed as a result. Of the 12 leverage point, goal changing is number #3 most efficient in changing a system and Paradigm change is even #2.

And yes, this is radical (hence the title).

Of course, when you decide to go for Lean, you enter, knowingly or not, that same kind of change.

By “doing Lean”, you can go for:

  • reducing stocks (=buffers), which is leverage point #11
  • changing the structure of stocks, leverage point #10
  • reducing delays of processes, hence feedback between beginning and end, in order to change the way the process works according to its output, leverage point #9
  • putting visual management all other the place and ensure that everybody looks at them at least once a day, to share information, leverage point #6
  • promoting problem sharing rather than fingerpointing, leverage point #5
  • empowering employees to change what needs to be changed to achieve what is expected, leverage point #4
  • changing the goal of the organization: delighting customers rather than producing widgets, leverage point #3
  • changing the paradigm of the organization: simultaneously develop employees, delight customers and reduce costs, leverage point #2

Of course, when you do Lean, you do all of the preceding points, and then more.

All parts that make Lean what it is are related to oneanother. Remove any one of them (a fortiori more than one), and the whole thing start to work less efficiently. Then, one could say the Lean is a system by and in itself. But I won’t claim it high and loud, for fear of starting a flamewar on this blog 😉

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