By Jon Tudor

Mark Donnelly, Global Head of Operational Excellence, Lonza Biologics: Of all the companies you have visited and researched, what’s the biggest contributing factor to lean implementation and sustainability?

John Shook: The most important factor for success in business is agreement or alignment in regards to what the organisation is doing and why, simple as that, the biggest failure is lack of that. Many people would say that the answer to the question is something about leadership, I am saying that agreement and alignment throughout are the contributing factors to lean implementation and sustainability, without these, success is going to be problematic and, in fact, lead ultimately to failure.

It begins with understanding purpose: what are we here for and what problem are we trying to solve? If you think about Toyota, where a lot of these principles manifested themselves successfully, at least for a period of time, this is evidence that there was alignment and agreement on its purpose.

Toyota was never as perfect as people made it out to be, but there was a pretty strong sense of how to work together and why, and that is what we are trying to accomplish.

Graham Patterson, Group Head of Manufacturing Excellence, Premier Foods: When presenting a business case at board level, what are the key elements or language you believe would be successful?

JS: The language I use is always dependent on the situation, so I never use any jargon, until the person I am meeting with uses it first. Until they use some jargon, I use the most mundane language, “how are things going? How is today going? How is this month? How is this week? What’s keeping you awake? How’s the business and how do you know?” I will only ask those kinds of questions.

The language I use depends on the language they use, so I am not going to walk into a bank or a bakers and use factory floor language. I’m also not going to walk in and use lean terminology. Other people use lean language, I don’t, I’m going to meet them where they are in terms of their understanding and the language they use. You need to find out what is on their mind, what they see as problems, it’s got to be situational. You need to identify what language is going to resonate. For the CEO, what is their background? What are the things on their mind? I like to determine this then use language appropriate to them. I might gain an understanding of them directly from how they verbally present themselves or from documents they have written, if they are already doing a pretty good job of articulating what they think their problem is, then that’s the language I’ll use.

Gwendolyn Galsworth, PhD l President l Visual Thinking & The Visual-Lean Institute: What’s on your night table?

JS: I have a confession. I don’t read much fiction anymore, it is pretty rare for me to read fiction, I mostly read factual books – I read a lot of it and it all fits into this line of work. Resting on my coffee table as I walked out of my apartment to fly here was Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, you have to read that book three times, and the first time you will say “oh my goodness”. I am sorry to say that in my bag to read on the plane was Fast Company magazine, in particular, an article discussing Apple’s approach to innovation – as boring as it sounds.

Jacob Austad, Lean Denmark: Is there a difference between starting a lean journey in a service sector compared to a manufacturing environment?

JS: People talk a lot about where you start. I’m a basic believer in this: it doesn’t matter where you start, it matters how you start, and regardless of whether it is in service or manufacturing, it’s roughly the same. You start by looking for a place of pain, a problem, a challenge, that it feels right to address, that’s where you start, where ever it may be. Then you deeply assess the current situation and ask where things need to be, you look at that gap, and then you ask what things need to happen to make it happen? Invariably there’s going to be all kinds of lean thinking and practices that can help you close that gap. Ordinarily, I like to start something that’s close to value creating work, the real work of the business, that’s not an absolute mandatory, basically when you assess the organisation and grasp the current conditions, one of the most important things to grasp is the ability of the organisation to accept change, and that’s going to dictate to you whether the first thing you are going to tackle is a high level of difficulty or a lower level of difficulty.

Gwendolyn Galsworth, PhD l President l Visual Thinking & The Visual-Lean Institute: How do you resolve your love of, loyalty to, and knowledge in the Toyota Production System, with the popularity of Six Sigma in the USA and Europe?

JS: I wouldn’t agree with her assessment that six sigma is popular anymore. I see it as being completely on the wane. There are only vestiges left because it takes a long time for these things to clear out, whether it’s mental cobwebs or organisation cobwebs, or literature. However, to the degree it has been successful, and was successful, and is still around, is because people like easy answers, easy black and white answers, six sigma gives you those.

It’s easy for people to understand. It’s been around, it can be articulated, it’s something you can bring and train people on. However, if people work with that for a few years, they will see the limitations, a Six Sigma master black belt who has been doing it for a while, they will know the limitations, the black belt doesn’t yet know the limitations but the master black belt does. I have met a lot of companies that are trying to get off of six sigma, it’s hard, it’s a challenge, but I think the tides have turned, and will continue to do so and run its natural course.

Graham Paterson, Group Operations Director, Premier Foods: In this arena we constantly look back in terms of data and tools, using the same models in different applications. Looking into the future, what do you see as the key tools for business success?

JS:I think being quick, flexible and agile is becoming a valuable tool in present lean climate and will continue to be in the future. A lot of the lean start up language and tools that are coming along are also great.

Traditional lean folks such as myself have been sceptical of technology including IT. Will that stuff finally fulfill its promise? I don’t know. I am still in the camp of “let’s listen and keep things visible where we can see it, let’s get things down in a dirty way with white boards and paper rather, than IT systems”. Despite this, we have to have an open mind and recognise there may be smarter ways in the future, but even if there are, the basic principles still apply. Taiichi Ohno emphasised judoka, harmony between human and machine. How humans and technology continue to make incredible advances will determine the answer to that question, but it will be harmony between people and how they support one another rather than automate them out and cause additional problems.

Richard Lloyd, Global Manufacturing Director, Accolade Wines: If you are running a manufacturing site what would be the top three measures you would ensure were visible, understood and owned by all employees?

JS: Number one would be the problem I am trying to solve. Number two would be the measures needed to resolve the problem. Before I ascertain the measures I would need to determine the key success factors, the things that have to be done to achieve those, then measures would follow. They will no doubt have something to do with quality, cost and delivery.

Ken Collet, Managing Director, CranePayment Solutions: What was the book you wished you had written?

JS: The only lean book that comes to mind is Profit Beyond Measure by Johnson & Broms. However, Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production is the best book of all, it’s one man’s lifetime of work, so if you are going to read one book about lean this is where I would start.