Things are looking up: a Friday roundup

Seems to me that “Depression 2.0” never happened, and probably isn’t likely to.

On the Forbes DigitalRules blog, Twenty Reasons for Optimism.

On the Value Acceleration blog, Mitch has noticed busy airports and cities.

And what’s fueling the turn around?  Innovative people like Jeremy Parker, who’s story is told on Mark Cuban’s blog.

I like Tom Peters’ synopsis:

Oracle and Methodist got me thinking about how much is working and moving in the U.S. economy, though you sure as hell wouldn’t know it from the press and its pundits—or the President’s schedule-of-gloom.

We are getting the tar beaten out of us, to be sure, but the "American narrative," circa 2009, does not begin and end on Wall Street and/or Detroit.

Pick up the ball and run with it, small businesses and entrepreneurs!  Yeah, I know Oracle and Houston’s Methodist Hospital aren’t exactly small businesses, but it seems that small businesses and startups fuel growth, and grow themselves.

Anyone else notice things picking up?  I know I’m plenty busy.

(side note: I’m calling this “a” Friday roundup as opposed to “the” Friday roundup, because it would only be “the” Friday roundup if I did it all the time.  But I’ve only done it one other time.)

By |2009-03-20T15:01:28+00:00March 20th, 2009|Business, People|0 Comments

Problem Solving 101

Dan Roam of "The Back of the Napkin Blog" discusses a new book on his blog called Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe.  The book was originally written in Japanese, but after great success in Japan there is now an English version selling in the US.  Here’s a brief snippet from the book’s web site:

Problem Solving 101 started out as a simple guide to teach Japanese schoolchildren critical thinking skills. But it quickly became an adult bestseller, thanks to the powerful effectiveness of Ken Watanabe’s problem solving methods.

I have not read the book yet, but the web site provides some sample videos on basic problem solving techniques which could be applied not only by the Japanese schoolchildren, but certainly any organization looking to improve/establish/teach methods to improve their operations.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live segments from Weekend Update, which featured "financial expert" Oscar Rogers and his analysis on how to correct the economic crisis.  While his process is humorous given the enormity of the problem, there certainly is validity to his process.  Here’s what he had to say, followed by the clip from Hulu.  Enjoy!

"Take it one step at time.  Identify the problem.  FIX IT!  Identify another problem.  FIX IT!  Repeat as necessary until it’s all FIXED!" -Oscar Rogers

By |2009-03-11T08:47:09+00:00March 11th, 2009|Books, Business, Fun, People|0 Comments

Not interested in shoes, how about pizza?

This post was inspired by my wife and "On being nimble versus visionary" over at the Learning About Lean blog.

2950127087_d726f8a527_m Now is certainly a time in the business environment to be flexible.  To be adaptable.  To grab opportunity when others sit back and watch.  And the airport shuttle guy in the airport in Mexico was the ultimate example of this.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Me, looking for flight arrival information because we are waiting for passengers on another flight, approaching a man who is clearly affiliated with a shuttle service to take people to hotels:  "Where could we find flight information?"

Him, determining that my needs don’t directly match his services, but realizing there may be an opportunity for a different business opportunity to occur: "Where would you like to fly to?"

Wow.  In a span of about 2 seconds this man determined that although I wasn’t looking for his driving services I had created a market for him to provide other services and he immediately switched his business model to "I am now a travel agent"!  It would have been interesting to see if I had carried that conversation farther how he would have met that set of needs.

As referenced by the "On being nimble versus visionary" blog entry, a financial manager made this comment in an email:

"We stand resolved that the ability to react is now more important than the ability to predict."

The service provider in Mexico certainly realized this.  Without being able to predict what market needs might be walking off the airplane, he was ready to react and grab opportunity.

And this doesn’t have to be limited to small organizations (i.e. the Mexico shuttle service). has numerous stories of delivery exceptional customer service outside of their "core" competency of providing shoes.  Here’s just one where people called customer service looking for the closest pizza delivery service!

Photo credit, Emery Way

By |2009-03-03T11:58:39+00:00March 3rd, 2009|Business, Customer Service, People|0 Comments

Alright, enough with the jargon already, just tell me where it hurts!

About to go on a rant…a rant about marketing speak.  I guess this isn’t the first time I’ve done this.  I guess what is probably frustrating for me is that seemingly a lot of people swoon and end up in a trance at the horse and pony show a lot of companies produce.  "Yes, oh great company [read, marketing organization], I do need a real-time collaborative knowledge management portal…I’ve never used those phrase in my life until now, but I’m sure I need that."  You know what?  What people really need are easy-to-use tools that provide information that people can take action on and make improvements to their organizations.  Maybe I’m just too pragmatic in my approach.

Unfortunately, I think too many people pour money into things that don’t actually solve the problems that they have in the first place, or that will really deliver the business results that they need.  [Side bar: I guess I’m guilty sometimes, too…I almost made the plunge into a time-share that we could not realistically taken advantage of…but they key is: almost.]  Scott Whitlock has an example (if his blog hasn’t moved yet) about pouring good money after bad.

The VP at one of my clients tells a great story every time I bring other potential clients in to see there company.  "Give me the $2 million you were to spend on the ERP package you were going to buy, I’ll kick you in the shins because that’s how implementation would have felt, and then go buy Thrive instead."   (for obvious reasons I’m a little biased in why I like this quote).  While blunt, his point is of course that unfortunately many organizations do fall for the lure the dressed-up sales speak thrown around big systems.  Of course, we all know how Kevin Meyer feels about this as well.

I have a lot of feelings about ERPs, but here’s my current favorite visual about enterprise applications (from Go Big Always):


So what do people need?  Well let’s start with why in the world would you collect data to begin with?  People want to know where the problems are.  We need to know that something went wrong (or that things are going well).  We need feedback.  We need to know where the opportunities lie.  And then people want to be able to manage the process of improvement and see results later that they did indeed reach the desired target.

I guess if you do this through integrated and browser-based portal rationalization systems that non-intrusively collect data from disparate sources and provide real-time, resource multiplying, supply chain enhancing solutions, then more power to you.

By |2009-02-06T12:21:50+00:00February 6th, 2009|Business, Information Management, People, Technology|0 Comments

Lean learning, JIT education, or trial by fire

Was reading Jim Womack’s latest newsletter yesterday from LEI (linked newsletter content is blank right now, there was a snafu sending out email newsletter also, will probably be fixed later).  In it he discusses the challenge of developing lean leaders, both in the “real world” and through the education system.

Where do the lean managers (the Sandersons in John’s book) come from who can teach the rest of us traditional managers (the Porters) to manage in a new way? In sum, how do we all learn (or relearn) to manage so we can manage to learn? Books are a great start, but how do we learn through practice (the only real way to internalize new methods), particularly when our boss is stuck in outmoded ways of managing?

teacherIt really got me thinking about how I learn, and when I have done my best learning.  When have I gotten the most VALUE in my learning process?  In some respects, I think of my best learning as the “trial by fire” method of learning.  I learn best when pressure demands that I learn something new.  I consider myself to be a lifelong student–I love learning and I’m always doing it.  But no longer in a classroom.  Enter…

Just-In-Time Education

Today, I don’t learn something unless I need it.  As soon as I need new information (customer demand), I find a way to get it (through suppliers, like the Internet, books, friends, etc.).  This provides me with the highest value possible out of what I’m learning.  What does this eliminate?

  • Overproduction/obsolescence: I no longer learn things that “expire” or I never use.  I would guess that probably 99% of what I learned in college I no longer use (or have never used, for that matter).  This isn’t necessarily a problem with the education system as much as it is a statement on: I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up!  Now I learn things relevant to the task or situation at hand.
  • Rework: ever learned something, only to have to learn it again when you actually needed it?
  • Inventories: having a ton of information just sitting around in your head taking up space.
  • Extraneous “motion”: spending a whole lot of time learning things that are providing value to me as the “end product”.  I was a great test-taker.  I’m not saying this to brag, the reality is I could apply formulas to situations on a piece of paper and get a correct result.  But I didn’t understand squat about how this formula had any bearing on reality.

Womack discusses the shift in lean education from “batching education”, which I’m sure causes the afore-mentioned problems for other people also, to developing lean leaders:

Peter has converted a classroom-based program teaching abstract operations knowledge in big batches into a gemba-based learning process in an organizational context.

How do other people do their best learning?

By |2009-01-23T12:27:57+00:00January 23rd, 2009|Life, People|0 Comments

2009 will be the year of lean

John Shook at Lean Enterprise Institute says lean is “just what the doctor ordered” for 2009 and is hoping for a better year.

Brian Buck expects creativity and innovation to arrive on the scene.

Jon Miller talks about how Tom Vilsack might bring lean to the federal level (hooray!).

Kevin Meyer suggests Toyota could use some of its lean knowledge to energize the rest of the automotive industry.

In the lean software arena, “Mastering the Recession with Lean, Agile, and Scrum.”

And have you seen all the lean people that are now on Twitter?  Brian Buck and I surmised it must be some kind of New Year’s resolution.  Regardless the cause, there’s any obvious effort to get the word out about the value of lean, and Twitter is another tool to spread the word.  Here are the lean tweeps I’m currently following (I’m sure there are more): @brianbuck, @evanjmiller, @GembaPantaRei, @gerrykirk, @giladl, @GotBoondoggle, @leanblog, @lssacademy, @matthewemay, @mglombard, @Paulflevy, @RalfLippold, @Rwilliard, @shmula, @superfactory, UPDATE: @lizguthridge

If you aren’t creating value for customers…if you aren’t eliminating waste…if you aren’t respecting your people, this won’t be your year.  This is true now more than ever, as consumers and business get more picky about where they’re going to put their resources, and as the personal savings rate has actually gone up (this is a good thing since it had gone negative, but indicates spending will be tighter!).

Don’t think lean is drawing attention?  Check out the search terms people are using lately.  This is drawn from the Google Keyword Search Tool.  I just checked out “lean manufacturing” as an example.  In the month of December, there was an 18% increase in the interest in the term “lean manufacturing” over the average of the previous 12 months (the totals of the entire result set were 109,459 for December versus 92,808 for the average).


And this is just the term “lean manufacturing”.  What about all of the other arenas like healthcare, software, and others?  Even just the term “lean” has a WHOPPING 50% increase (2,740,000 for December versus 1,830,000 prior 12-month average).  Granted, “lean” in this case might include people looking to improve their physical fitness, but regardless this is a huge jump.

Where are people conducting these searches?  For that info, check out this cool tool.  It gives you a “heat map” of where these searches are being conducted (US data only).


Principles that started in manufacturing have spread to so many different arenas.  And why not?  Look at how Tom and Mary Poppendieck describe the principles within software development:

The seven principles of Lean Software development are:

  • Respect people
  • Eliminate waste
  • Defer commitment
  • Create knowledge
  • Deliver fast
  • Build quality in
  • Optimize the whole

Sound familiar?  Manufacturing, healthcare, education, services, construction, government, and software development have all found how valuable these principles are.  Granted the tools and practices probably look different from one to the next, but the principles are constant.

(side note…I’m now going to use the phrase “deferring commitment” instead of “procrastinating”…it sounds a lot better! 🙂 )

Maybe we should organize a big “lean-fest” or lean tweetup to exchange ideas across industries and share best (or better, as some are now saying) practices (maybe the Lean Global Network is already doing this?).  A nice, central-US location might be nice.  Say…Pella, Iowa (street view from Google Maps)?

Lean people on Twitter, anyone up for FriendFeed?

Hopefully making for some more useful conversation, I’m starting to find some more lean people on Twitter.  I’m starting to connect with people around the world that I otherwise would never meet.  Here they are in no particular order:

Are there more?  I’m sure they’re out there.  We could get some groups going…would really like to do this on FriendFeed though (see below).

I can be found here:  I try to stay on the manufacturing side of things, but am generally interested in all things lean.  I, of course, develop software (primarily for manufacturing, but even that scope has crept a bit) and am interested in what’s happening in that arena as well.

What I’d really like to get going, though, is some more active participation on  I think it’s a much better place to share information and have conversations.  Maybe there’s already some lean stuff happening there, and I’m just not aware of it?  Please let me know if that’s the case.  I’m here:

By |2009-01-02T12:50:20+00:00January 2nd, 2009|Healthcare, Manufacturing, People, Technology|2 Comments

Friday Lean and Manufacturing Rundown

Lean Enterprise Institute has a blog now.  I was waiting for them to start one up.  John Shook is the primary author (maybe only?).  You can find it at

Just before Thanksgiving, Kevin Meyer shared this great post (and I’ve been passing along to others) on how American Apparel continues to succeed.  On a related note, I mentor high school students and for some odd reason we were talking about favorite T-shirts earlier this week and one student commented, “I love American Apparel shirts.”  So, wow, not only do they run a good company, but they’re also hip (“hip” is really probably a very outdated term…I think we’re way past “dope”, “the bomb”, and “fly” too so I’m not sure what to call it)!

A few perspectives on the Big 3: one from Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei: “With Competitors Like These, Who Needs a Winning Business Strategy?” and another from Tom Peters entitled “Service?  Sacrifice?  Equity?  Honor?” and one final one expressed in the cartoon below:


I guess this one isn’t necessarily directly manufacturing related, but I’ve been enjoying Mark J Perry’s economic analysis from his blog.  He’s a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan.  He also shares some amusing items, including this road map to “success” (shown below) and this bailout application.


Incidentally, I share a lot of this stuff on which is a great place to have a discussion about these items, and I would be glad to follow you on Twitter…you can find me at  Hopefully see you there!

UPDATE: John Shook weighs in on the LEI blog on the Big 3 and provides this interesting insight: “GM wants to survive, all right, it wants to survive so it can continue to make money. Toyota on the other hand, wants to make money to survive.”

Also, I’ve often thought I’ve used my lean background in meeting customer needs with software, but beginning next week, we’ll see what I really know about lean methodology as applied to software as I start attending their Lean On-line Learning for Lean Software Development.

By |2008-12-05T15:53:21+00:00December 5th, 2008|Manufacturing, People|Comments Off on Friday Lean and Manufacturing Rundown

Health care: Little House on the Prairie style

Remember when Dr. Baker on Little House on the Prairie went to the homes of the people who were ill?  That would never work today, would it?

Well don’t tell Jay Parkinson that.  When he finished residency, he was determined to revolutionize health care by personalizing it.  Here’s some of what he has to say:

My goal was to just provide a super easy visit for people.

I designed my own web site, people would go to my site, visit my site, see my Google calendar, choose their own time, tell me their symptoms, my iPhone alerts me, I do a house call, and they pay me via PayPal.

Talk about wow (first learned of this “Dr. Wow” video from Jeff Jarvis).

Jay Parkinson at Pop!Tech from Jay Parkinson on Vimeo.

So why is it relevant here?  Jay recognizes the simplicity of his solution and its similarity to another effective, CUSTOMER CENTRIC solution:

Really, it was the Toyota Way.  It was lean.  It enabled me to practice medicine and solve 90% of the problems.

Jay has gotten a lot of buzz, and that’s because he’s delivering a very important value: personalized, easy-to-do-business-with healthcare.

By |2008-12-01T09:43:02+00:00December 1st, 2008|Customer Service, Healthcare, Innovation, People|0 Comments

The importance of customer empathy

An importance emphasis in lean is a focus on the customer.  Dev Patnaik has released a book called "Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy" (web site, book).  I’ve just read one of the sample chapters online (introduction), and in that section highlights how the bigger an organization gets, the more difficult it becomes to maintain the focus on customer empathy:

Simply put, we’re wired to care. We rely on those instincts to help us make better decisions in situations that affect the folks around us. Unfortunately, that instinct seems to get short circuited when we get together in large groups. We lose our intuition, our gut sense for what’s going on outside of that group. Corporations become more insular. Colleges start to feel like ivory towers. Political campaigns take on a “bunker mentality.” That sort of isolation can have disastrous effects because these same institutions depend on the outside world for revenues and reputation and votes.

So what’s the solution?  How do you keep your organization to maintain its focus on why you’re even in business?  I don’t know yet, but you can check out some more excerpts or buy the book!

By |2008-11-24T15:33:00+00:00November 24th, 2008|Books, Customer Service, People|0 Comments
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