Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Storytelling, facilitating teams and the White Albatross game


A poorly run meeting can be a complete waste of time, but a team can accomplish a lot in a well-run meeting. Since we spend a lot of time in meetings, how come there's no training simulation for how to run a meeting?

Well, actually there is! The White Albatross game is an exercise in facilitation. i.e. leading a team!

To be clear, this isn't another team building game, but a storytelling exercise for training kaizen event leaders. I suppose it can be used for general leadership training, as well. The site's a little slim on details, so I pieced together how I think it works from the two documents I found.



The White Albatross exercise can be found on the government of Minnesota lean site. Currently the material is located here, but occasionally the site is updated and you may need to google to find it.

In order to teach people how to lead a team, each person is supposed to take turns facilitating the group as they complete a mini-project. The project is to answer questions about a story.

The story is a variation of the poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, about a scientist and a white albatross. This old sea superstition claims that killing a white albatross will bring bad luck. In the short story, the scientist kills an albatross and bad things happen.

According to the team facilitation slide presentation, you must first complete the questions individually, then stand up and facilitate. This means leading the group through the questions and answers. Since there are only 4 sets of questions (4 rounds), I assume only 4 people can be "trained" at a time. And once the questions are completed, you can't do them again, so this is for small groups only.

It's a simple story, followed by some simple true / false answers. Besides true or false, you can also answer that "the story does not contain sufficient information to respond true or false." And here is where it becomes a little interesting for the facilitator. True or false is easy, until the question becomes a little vague.

One statement says, "The sailors were not disturbed when the scientist violated the old sea superstition."

The story explains that the sailors protested, but the captain granted permission for the scientist to kill the albatross. Were the sailors "disturbed?" It doesn't really say, but their actions would lead you to believe so.

I'm sure we're all been in meetings where the focus has been on the wrong thing, or a side conversation has diverted the whole meeting off track. Some groups could talk for hours about semantics, but a good facilitator will shut down tangential discussion.

That's where this game will shine, by letting the facilitator practice sticking to the questions and key points. Especially in lean kaizen events, we want to focus on the facts and not waste time speculating on what we think something means.

The game also comes with a Powerpoint presentation to help you out with your training. Here's the slide that mentions the White Albatross exercise.

leader training game



In pop culture, the term "white albatross" refers to a curse, or psychological barrier to overcome. This theme is fitting, because many people find public speaking and facilitation very stressful. The only way to get over this barrier is to just do it. The white albatross game is an excellent way to practice.

I've added the White Albatross game to my list of lean games and simulations.








Monday, January 5, 2015

When should we stop improving? A video lesson from Formula 1


Performing a changeover is hard. Improving a changeover is even harder!

It's a huge accomplishment to reduce changeovers on an injection molding machine or stamping press from 2 hours to 1 hour. This 50% improvement will make a direct impact to the bottom line! But going from 1 hour to half an hour is harder. And what about the next 50% improvement to 15 minutes? All the low hanging fruit is gone and the impact isn't as noticeable.

The law of diminishing returns is a harsh mistress!

Shigeo Shingo coined the term SMED, or Single Minute Exchange of Dies. Changing a mold in one minute seems ludicrously unattainable for someone doing it in an hour, but Toyota changes dies in less than a minute, and so do many other manufacturers. And they keep trying to get even faster!

Toyota understands that changeovers are key to reducing inventories when using general purpose equipment. The more you can change, the less inventory you have to hold.

But, more importantly, Toyota understands that continuous improvement never stops! Goals that seem unbelievable to some are embraced by Toyota. These aren't just your average stretch goal. They choose sensible business goals that are backed by a solid plan. The plan may not be achieved in one day, but by focusing on true north, all activities are directed to the same goal.

Formula 1 pit stops are a frequent example to talk about when planning changeover reduction activities. Using team work, specialized equipment and preparation, crews have reduced Formula 1 pit stops to mere seconds.

The racing teams know that, in this sport with virtually no passing, the team with the fastest pit stop has a huge advantage! That's why they continue to strive for each second!

The video below shows the evolution of Formula 1 pit stops over the last 60 years. Not only is the video a good way to motivate SMED teams, but it's a great example for showing continuous improvement in general!

It's almost painful to watch them change tires in the 1950's!





If you can't see the embedded video above, you can click here to watch it on youtube.

I've added this video to my list of helpful lean videos.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Humble Inquiry - The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

You can promote all the lean tools you want, but 5S and kaizen events will only get you so far. It's hard to change a culture without changing the way you deal with people. Just like sometimes the soft dollar savings of a change have a much bigger impact than the hard dollar savings. The intangible side of lean is the hardest  to describe, but the most important.

Edgar H. Schein's book, "Humble Inquiry," doesn't mention "lean" anywhere, But after reading it, I feel like I've had a glimpse of that elusive secret sauce.


Humble Inquiry is a book about changing culture. Unlike Toyota Kata, which also talks about asking the right questions, Humble Inquiry doesn't describe a specific method. Schein's focus is on the soft skills of management and how you can engage people by building relationships. 

"Checklists and other formal processes of coordination are not enough because they cannot deal with unanticipated situations."

As hard as it is for me as a trained engineer and lean proselytizer to eschew a standard method, I recognize the value of relationship building. As companies get larger, they need standardized methods to ensure quality. But so many times, the amount of red tape created by setting up standard systems becomes a hindrance to making improvements.

Schein tells us that as our work becomes more complex, we need to refocus on our relationships:

"The world is becoming more technologically complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse, which makes the building of relationships more and more necessary to get things accomplished and, at the same time, more difficult. Relationships are the key to good communication; good communication is the key to successful task accomplishment; and Humble Inquiry, based on Here-and-now Humility, is the key to good relationships."

So how do we get there?

"Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person."


What I like about this book is that Schein presents many actual situations where a simple question can be asked. While there can never be a clear road map with rules for exactly what to say and when, these case studies are like little quizzes.  He gives three options to choose from with varying results of success.

In Western society, most job descriptions state that teamwork and collaboration is essential, yet rewards and promotions are consistently based on individual performance. Humble Inquiry attempts to bridge that gap by helping us to show respect by asking the right questions.

Click here to buy Humble Inquiry from Amazon right now!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shining is to Make Problems Obvious!

This is a guest post by Julien D├ępelteau from Flexpipe, a modular system to build material handling solutions.

With clutter gone and the storage area organized, the next step is to properly and thoroughly clean and paint equipment and work areas. This step is critical as a way of sustaining the improvements begun in the Sort and Set phases.

Initial painting and cleaning requires a blitz task outside regular working hours, but after that a daily routine should be established. The entire team should participate in cleaning - but make sure that every team has adequate cleaning supplies and equipment; this is not a task for a special janitorial crew.

Lean 5S shine


Now that my present work is in an assembly plant, it is much easier to keep the work areas clean compared to my previous job, a welding plant where cutting, welding and painting resulted in dust, grease and sometimes paint powder coating on equipment. In 2010, they were getting very involved in lean manufacturing/5S culture.

Each employee had 10 minutes at every shift (used with a signal) to clean their work area, including sweeping and washing equipment used. Lights were bright and often cleaned from dust; floors were marked with tape and polished and the air system was in proper condition (very important in this industry!). Back then and still to this day, people (suppliers, employees, and clients) talk about how clean the factory is.

When I started working for my previous employer in 2006, we would do everything in our power to avoid a client's visit. Even if our finished products were good quality, a quick visit could wind up going bad.

Four years later, we would do the exact opposite!

A tour would help convince clients that we built good quality products and on time. Clean welding machines and shiny painting equipment gave a good impression. (It was not just an impression.) This was also a selling point when we would attract new welders... and good welders were hard to find! They would tour the plant and leave the interview thinking it was a pleasant, safe and well-run environment. (Again, it was not just perception!)


  • Shining will provide a more comfortable and pleasant environment.
  • Shining will keep a workplace safe and easy to work in.
  • Shining will encourage good quality production.
  • Shining will increase ownership of the organization's goals and vision.
  • Shining will prevent machinery and equipment deterioration.
  • Shining will be used as inspection (leaks, vibrations, breakages, and misalignments).
  • Shining is to make problems obvious!


Flexpipe can build shadow boards and other 5S tools such as custom workstations, roller racks or carts. A modular material handling system made of pipes and joints; Flexpipe helps companies move forward in a lean journey.

http://www.flexpipeinc.com
855-406-0253