Tag Archives: Lean Methods

Going to Gemba and Its Limits

It is important to go to where the action is taking place. I was taught this as a young officer in the Navy, where, as in other areas of the military, we emphasized “leading from the front.” In warfare the reason is obvious: it is difficult to assess a complex situation from a distance. The further you are from the action, the more your view is obscured by what the great military writer Clausewitz called, “the fog of war.” Continue reading

The Cult of the Root Cause

“Why?” is my favorite question because it illuminates relationships between cause and effect. And when we ask this question more than once we expose even deeper causal relationships. Unfortunately, my favorite question has been hijacked by the Cult of the Root Cause and been transformed into the ritual of “The Five Whys”. The concept behind this ritual is simple: when trying to solve a problem, ask “Why” at least five times. Each “Why” will bring you closer to the ultimate cause of the problem. Finally, you will arrive at the root cause, and once there, you can fix the real problem instead merely treating symptoms. Continue reading

The Lean Approach to Context Switching

A great insight of lean manufacturing was recognizing the pivotal importance of reducing changeover costs. American manufacturers would run the same parts on their stamping machines for two weeks because it took 24 hours to changeover the machine. Along came the Japanese, who reduced the changeover time by 100x, and suddenly short run lengths became cost-effective. With shorter run lengths, batch sizes became smaller, and this improved quality, efficiency, and flow-through time. The great blindness of the American manufacturers was accepting the cost of changeovers as immutable. This condemned them to use large batch sizes. Continue reading

Why Do Iterations Work?

In product development we often use iterations to increase the quality and robustness of our products. Why does this work?

To begin, let me clarify my terminology. By “iteration” I mean covering the same ground twice. I do not use the term iteration to mean breaking a larger task into several smaller pieces; I call that batch size reduction. I must mention this because many people in the agile software community to use the term iteration to refer to breaking a project into a number of smaller pieces. It is a superb technique, but I consider it confusing to label it iteration. Continue reading