Finding your company way

I have been thinking about why many lean and six sigma programmes struggle to gain traction. We all know the methods work, you only have to look at people like Toyota and GE to see that. What do they have that others are missing. I have an idea of what causes many of the problems, I would be interested in your views.

Most businesses chase cash investment to grow, sometimes they need cash investment just to survive. At the same time, they deem change to reduce, time, resources and cash used by existing processes too expensive, too difficult or unsustainable! This seems counter productive.

If we now look at how many improvement projects immediately look for reduced workforce overhead for justification we start to see the real problem. Someone recently commented to me that to expect anything else is unrealistic, because there are too many people in most businesses. If a manager has recruited such an excess of people to do the work because they have designed the work ineffectively, perhaps the first headcount reduction should be the manager! I wonder how many managers would enter into a project knowing that at the end one of the management team would be made redundant? I think the answer is none! Yet many of these same people expect their staff to engage in continuous improvement or lean projects, sometimes with a stated aim of headcount reduction, ‘for the good of the business’.

If your business is engaged in a process improvement project that increases capacity, the current perspective of many managers is to say “I can do the same with less resource!”. Is that in the best interests of the business? Wouldn’t the shareholders be more impressed with “I can do more with the same resource!”. This is a more challenging aim, one that places more pressure on sales and management since they are the people who have to find and win the opportunities.

We need to change the mindset of managers from short term ‘protect what we have’ to long term growth and winning new business. Settling for what is there today isn’t what got the business set up and growing. Consider Toyota’s transformation. Ohno Taiichi was not tasked with making better weaving looms, the core business of Toyota, he was tasked with preparing the business for making cars.
The objective of the Toyota Production System was not the product of short term thinking. It was set up to enable the vision of mass car production with limited resources, to allow a weaving loom company to manufacture cars cost effectively. Given that aim, would Ohno Taiichi have been concerned about headcount reduction as he sought process improvement? I can’t see it, I believe he was driven to generate cash and resources for growth by focusing on the customers’ needs, and developing a system of work that involved and engaged all employees in improving the system of work.

So many times I have heard that we have to adopt the TPS and the Toyota Way. Why would you do that if you are not Toyota? The real problem is that we have a consumerist, pick and choose approach to improvement. There are fundamental differences in culture between Japan and the west. It’s not about using this tool or that tool, it’s not even about recruiting the right sort of people. Let’s take a simple example, the attitude to rules. In Japanese society I am told that rules are very important, often more important that principles. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that the Japanese are unprincipled, far from it, this is just about the Japanese attitude to rules. Even if they believe the rule is wrong, they will obey the rule, because they respect authority and the need for order and harmony. Now look at the west, and rules are made for breaking. How could we possibly expect to put in place rules and have them adhered to, no matter what, when our societal attitude is that rules are made for breaking? Principles on the other hand, are adhered to rigidly. So if we agree principles and then try to get someone to act in a way that is not aligned with their principles, they will adhere to the principle, often regardless of the cost.

So how do we compete with companies like Toyota? I don’t believe the answer to is to mimic them, I think the answer is to work out what we want to achieve and the principles we want to operate with along the way. If we treat people as disposable, they will treat the business as disposable. It becomes a marriage of convenience, with commitment until it is no longer fun. Then we move on to the next company. This generates a short term view of employment, success and results that is destructive in the long term. What is the point of a development process that may take 5 years if the people involved at the start will be gone before it delivers? Bear in mind here that Toyota have been developing the Toyota way for 70 years and are still refining their process and thinking. If we implement what Toyota do today without considering how that is supported, initially our organisation won’t be able to cope since the infrastructure and common belief system won’t exist, then we will lose ground on them tomorrow and every day after because improvement won’t be in our ‘business DNA’.

If you want your business to be like Toyota, I believe the first rule is don’t copy them. Copies are often pale imitations of the real thing. They lack authenticity and integrity. Most of all they lack the inherent self belief that what they are doing is right underpinned by a rigorous understanding of why they are doing  it. If you want your business to be like Toyota, first work out what your customers want. Then work out how you can meet that need and make money – what is your business like?. The answer isn’t like Toyota, your business can’t be like Toyota because it isn’t Toyota. Start with understanding what you want to achieve, then move on to the principles of how that will work, then consider if rules are an appropriate way to implement those principles in your society. Don’t demand action from your workforce, first demand that your management understands their role. Then start working through the business processes in a disciplined, scientific way to understand what every part of the business is trying to achieve. Once this is known compare what each department is trying to achieve with what the business objectives are – do they align?

Plan what must be done

Do what has been planned

Check that the activity delivered the expected results

Act on the results, reinforce the practices and activities that yield successful results, change the practices that are not aligned or don’t deliver success.

Then do it again.

Keep doing this until there is nothing that can be improved upon, wither by listening to other thought processes or by applying new knowledge

You see the pattern. If you do this you will develop your own way, tailored to your business and social environment. Then perhaps, if you are very disciplined, one day people will be talking about the {insert your company name here} Way. They may even prefer it to the Toyota Way. Who knows, you might get Toyota coming to learn from you. Toyota had the advantage of learning first hand from Deming, Juran and others. They had the presence of mind to write down much of what they were trying to convey, for which we should be grateful. Their guides are not a buffet of choices, they are hard practical realities, hard to understand and even harder to implement,

I was recently reminded of one of Dr Deming’s favorite quotes:

“American managers are stupid. They think all they have to do is copy from Japan, but they don’t know what to copy”

To be honest I think we can remove American managers and substitute Western managers.

I would add my own favourite Deming quote:

“You don’t have to change. Survival is not compulsory.”

Finding your own way is hard, but it is the only way to get to somewhere new and exciting.

One final point, if you ever do get to the point where you think nothing can be improved, get out there and start talking to people. You have missed something and if you don’t find it and use it your competitors will


Lean Management, Lean Manufacturing or Lean Leadership?

Wherever you look in the world of Lean, people are talking about Lean Manufacturing. Lean manufacturing is going to revolutionise your business, even if you don’t manufacture anything, all you must do is apply the tools and you will see improvement. Is it really that simple? Did Toyota just wake up one day and say we will apply these tools and everything will be brilliant, or is there a little more to it?

Anyone who thinks it is just about the tools really hasn’t heard the lean message. You see, Lean is not a set of tools or just about the application of certain techniques, it is an approach to business and way of thinking that is very different to the normal thought processes present in modern business. Given that so many businesses are trying to replicate the work done by Toyota, it is worth taking a few minutes to consider how Toyota apply the concepts that are known as Lean in western manufacturing.

The original work on manufacturing as a process was done by Henry Ford when he moved the product through the production steps instead of moving the process steps to the product, and became the blueprint for automotive manufacturing. At the end of the second world war Ohno Taiichi was tasked by the head of the Toyoda family with changing the manufacturing basis of Toyota from weaving looms to car manufacturing. It was recognised that the existing automotive model of high stock would not work for Toyota, hence Taiichi was tasked with developing a manufacturing process that could deliver the variety of features required without holding massive stock levels. One aspect of this that is often missed is that Ohno Taiichi was tasked with creating a uniquely Japanese model of manufacturing.

This is entirely consistent with the aims of the Meiji restoration, where the Japanese industrial revolution sought to adopt modern thinking, technology and methods that were aligned with Japanese values. In the author’s opinion, this is a vital consideration when trying to understand the Toyota phenomenon. At the end of the second world war, the Japanese had to rebuild their manufacturing base and industrial experts including Deming, Juran and Fiegenbaum went to Japan to help restore their economy, all at the time that Toyota were looking to develop their manufacturing process. This amounts to a powerful opportunity with unprecedented drive for change.

In 2001 Fujio Cho was president of Toyota and he launched ‘The Toyota Way’, which built on the previous work and created a clear structure to explain the concepts and provide a framework for success.

The five core values employed by The Toyota Way are as follows

1. Challenge : to maintain a long term vision and strive to meet all challenges with the courage and creativity needed to realise that vision

2. Kaizen : to strive for continuous improvement. As no process can ever be declared perfect, there is always room for improvement.

3. Genchi Genbutsu : to go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus and achieve goals

4. Respect : to make every effort to understand others, accepts responsibility and does its best to build mutual trust

5. Teamwork : to share opportunities for development and maximise individual and team performance

Is this lean manufacturing? It doesn’t sound like it to me, it sounds more like a management philosophy than a set of process tools, so perhaps we should be thinking more about management than simply manufacturing. The Toyota Way seeks to deploy the thinking well beyond manufacturing, applying the thinking to the whole organisation.

Taking a moment to consider the implications of these values we find that there are certain elements that must be recognised for Toyota’s success to be replicated.

Toyota are looking at a long-term goal with long-term planning. That doesn’t mean that short term needs are ignored, just that there is a difference between short-term or tactical activities and the long-term strategic changes that must be made. Throughout the organisation there is a recognition that long-term improvements are of higher value than short term benefits.

Similarly, there is a focus on continuous improvement of all processes, however the prioritisation of projects is based on a rational assessment of the business needs. The focus of Kaizen is to recognise the opportunity for improvement at both the tactical and strategic level, embracing new ways of thinking and working to achieve long-term benefit for the business.

going to see the problem at source, to find the facts to enable correct decisions to be made. It has been suggested that lean does not encompass systems thinking, however I believe it is clear from the first three values that systems thinking must be at work to enable the values to blend effectively.

Respect is an interesting topic. To whom should we show respect? It seems that often respect is confused with ill-discipline. I disagree with that view, lean teaches respect for the individual, for the supply chain including both customers and suppliers, governmental bodies, and the communities within which we work and live. If someone’s performance is unacceptable, you show them respect by telling them of the fact, not by ignoring their behaviour.

Teamwork does not mean silo behaviour. Teamwork means all aspects of the organisation collaborating to deliver the customer’s needs. I use the word collaborating deliberately. Co-operation results in each party yielding the minimum it can to gain agreement from another party to enable its needs to be delivered. In co-operation, I win you lose. Collaboration on the other hand requires all parties to be open with their needs and then for the team to work together to deliver as many of those requirements as possible.

Spear and Bowen proposed the 4 rules of the Toyota Production System in their Harvard Business Review Article.

Rule 1 : All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.

Rule 2 : Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses

Rule 3 : The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct

Rule 4 : Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level of the organisation.

Now we are starting to see the errors in western implementation. Too often organisations seek to implement so called lean to achieve a reduction in costs and headcount, without a long-term vision of what the organisation wants to achieve.

Organisations then seek to implement lean exactly as the Japanese have done, without recognising the cultural differences, much less addressing them in line with long-term objectives.

The approach is reduced to the application of a series of disconnected tools without a coherent strategy for learning and developing knowledge.

The consequence is a confused piecemeal implementation with no coherent strategy. When this fails, the organisation will often blame the employees who have been diligently trying to implement a series of tools without a recognisable framework or set of common goals. Competition and conflict are commonplace in this environment and everyone strives to deliver disparate objectives and sometimes conflicting requirements all with short-term goals and often under immense pressure to succeed.

There is also intolerance of failure, and no recognition that lean aims to fail better next time rather than to be perfect next time. Implementations are often required in under two years to achieve that which Toyota have taken 50 years to achieve and are still working on.

Six sigma is treated as a different discipline to lean, with its origins in Motorola. It is worth noting Spear and Bowen’s rule 4 above. You cannot implement lean without embracing the scientific method. Scientific method requires data and evidence, to demonstrate improvement there must be clear evidence of a change, to clearly evidence a change one must employ statistical methods to demonstrate a significant change. Why then is there so much animosity between lean and six sigma? They are different approaches to the same objective. Scientific method also requires recognition of the system within which the process operates.

Lean manufacturing then, would seem to be a recipe for disaster, lean management is a vast improvement, however to achieve the most significant benefits from a lean deployment it is necessary to use lean leadership to succeed. Lean leadership also needs to recognise that the culture of both the organisation and the wider society within which it operates is relevant to how lean is developed, implemented and managed. Are you developing a lean implementation which is based on uniquely Japanese cultural values, or are you developing a lean implementation based on the relevant social values for your organisation and location?

In summary, the message for lean leadership seems to be don’t try to copy. Instead, understand the principles upon which Toyota succeeded and adapt them to your social, cultural and business situation. Understand your long-term vision for your organisation, then develop the strategies and make choices that are rigorously aligned with your strategy. Then you have a chance of succeeding if you stay true to your principles and work very hard at adapting the principles to your application.

As Deming has said, you don’t have to change, survival is not compulsory.


Ten behaviours of great leaders

Leadership. There are so many blog posts and articles about it, everyone has an opinion. It is a vital part of any organisation or endeavour, some say you are born with it, others that you can develop it, but what is it?

This is my view of leadership, it is taken from personal experience and from a lot of reading around the subject. The meaning of leadership seems to depend who you listen to. some people believe in charismatic leaders, others want to follow popular leaders, the problems seems to be that leadership means different things to different people. This is where I believe the heart of the problem lies in defining leadership. Often the most charismatic leaders are the ones that companies appoint, particularly when they are in trouble. These are the leaders who tell the best story and show the future in brilliant illustration, however all too often their first step is to uncover a whole range of “problems” left by the previous incumbent. this creates a hole in the business as it becomes necessary to repair the damage done by the previous leader before they can drive forward with their vision. They then work diligently to implement their vision for the business and often succeed in rebuilding the business and setting off in the direction they believe is appropriate for the business.

Leaders come in many shapes and sizes and with many different skill sets, and it is undoubtedly a difficult job to find the best leader for the business. One of the problems I perceive in businesses is the search for a “magic bullet” solution. Nowhere is this more evident than in football management. The team underperforms, the manager comes under pressure and eventually is sacked. A new manager comes in and changes the players, changes the tactics which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. If the new manager does not show some signs of success fairly quickly then the board concludes they obviously have the wrong manager and the cycle starts again.

So how does this compare to business?

Well, let’s consider why a business changes leadership. Businesses recruit a new leader because they are dissatisfied with the current leaders performance or because the incumbent leaves for a bigger/better paid/less stressful role. Another reason is through retirement. Sometimes a business is making a conscious departure from their previous strategy.

I was once told that every time someone leaves a business it is an opportunity to recruit someone better. If only it was clear what better means! Too often businesses change leaders for reasons other than wishing to change direction and recruit a leader with their own view of what the business needs and the freedom to change the business how they see fit. Anyone who does not go with the new direction is a problem and cabals are introduced to facilitate the change the leader desires. To be clear, I am not saying the leaders are trying to do anything other than a great job, but it is all too easy to see anyone who disagrees as an obstacle or a hindrance to change. Do you recognise this behaviour,  more to the point is this how you behave as a leader?

The easiest way to make an impression is to highlight all of the things that the previous leadership has done which do not conform to your world view. I am not talking here about genuine failings in the business, ethical, legal or otherwise, these must be highlighted and corrected, I am talking about all the other decisions that are combined with genuine problems to promote the story of how poor the previous leader was and how good their replacement will be. Let’s be honest, everyone who has taken a leadership role has found things they think are inappropriate and taken steps to change those behaviours. Sometimes these changes are justifiable and unavoidable, but sometimes the changes we make as leaders reflect our personalities and priorities rather than the business needs. If the only way to demonstrate your leadership capability is to dimish your predecessor and create a dip in profits to highlight what a good job you did in saving the business, maybe you are not such a great leader. Surely the stakeholders want someone who will maintain profits and develop an improvement in performance. There is a fine balance here, leaders must be able to identify the things they wish to change and give reasoned logic for making the change, but surely there must be something the previous leader was doing well?

So what makes a great leader?

The most effective leadership does not regularly change direction. The disadvantages of changing direction are well documented, for example, in Good To Great by Jim Collins, he demonstrates based on academic study the risks of changing direction and it’s effect on the momentum of the business. Collins also discusses ‘level five managers’, what I want to focus on here are the leadership behaviours that I have observed making a real difference to the performance of a business.

I have found that the following ten behaviours are common in great leaders

1. Honesty

It sounds easy, but in the modern world it is becoming harder to stay honest. Many leaders pressure their subordinates to suppress bad news or just deal with the problems. Any failure to resolve the issues is viewed as a failure of the leader at that level, for example there may be an expectation that the leader should be on site supervising every activity if there is a crisis. It is unacceptable for a leader to say “I trust my team to resolve this issue” and allow competent staff to do their jobs. If the leader admits they don’t know something, this is a shocking lack of capability. Leaders have to ensure during the good times that their staff and processes are effective in times of crisis. if a leader takes every decision, what happens if that leader leaves? Have they developed at least one leader to potentially replace them? Leaders must also be allowed to identify failings without fear of retribution. Truly honest leaders confront the real issues in their area of responsibility, admit their weaknesses and build a team with diverse skills that complement their own skill set. They also give both responsibility and authority to their teams to ensure that decisions are taken by those closest to the issue.

2. Integrity

Integrity seems an obvious quality, however it is not always easy to detect a lack of integrity. The easiest way for a leader to demonstrate a lack of integrity is for their actions to be at odds with their statements, although it can take time for the discrepancy to become clear. Clever leaders who lack integrity gradually shift their position so that it seems that they are consistent, indeed they are always consistent with their current priorities. However keeping up with their shifting priorities can be a significant challenge. The best leaders set out their principles at the outset, rarely change their position, and never change position without applying sound, reasoned logic and keeping the customer at the heart of their priorities.

3. Vision

A leader must always have a clear vision of where they are leading their team. If a leader cannot articulate what the result of their teams efforts will look like, they may not know. Equally, leaders must be looking at the horizon rather than at the floor. Leaders are the navigators of the business world, they need to have a clear vision of what they are trying to build and a clear roadmap of how to get there. Sometimes there is a view that just telling people what you want and leaving them to work out the details is good leadership. I don’t agree, when a leader passes on a so called BHAG – Big Hairy A***d Goal – without a plan what they are really doing is abdicating responsibility for achieving the objective they have set. Objectives without a plan for how to achieve them is not a vision, it is an aspiration. If a leader is not taking responsibility for achieving difficult goals, why should you be expected to deliver an aspiration without a plan to achieve it? This is an area where good leaders earn their reputation because a good leader not only has a roadmap to their destination, they also know what resources are required and the timescale over which the plan can be implemented.

4. Communication

Communication is a necessary skill for a leader. Communication doesn’t mean telling people clearly what you want to achieve, although that is an element of it. Communication also involves active listening, collecting views before setting the objectives so that the objective is a shared vision of what could be. the best leader canvass opinion before setting goals, discussing the opportunities and challenges involved in achieving the objective and assessing the risks with the people who will ultimately be responsible for delivering the objective BEFORE setting the objective, This must be a two-way communication, just imposing the vision and dismissing the concerns will result in poor engagement and commitment of the team to achieve the objective. Good leaders agree with their teams what must be achieved, then agree a plan with the people who must deliver the plan of how to achieve it.

5. Climate Free From Fear

Why would anyone tell the truth if they fear the consequences of honesty? The best leaders welcome bad news, that is not to say they want it, but by removing the fear associated with delivering bad news they are more likely to hear the truth. Hearing the truth early always helps leaders resolve issues and adjust plans to minimise the impact of bad news and failures. Calm and thorough problem solving can only happen when there is no fear of the problem or discussion of the problem. It must always be more important for a leader to know the facts than to hear what they want to hear.

A great leader never punishes the messenger, they always listen to the messenger and calmly work out what to do next. The key is remaining calm, this is far more of a strength than bashing the table, shouting and asserting your authority.

6. Humility

Great leaders recognise the skills in the team around them and use them to good effect. the best leaders have a knack of making the decisions of the team owned by their subordinates, even when they have coached them to the decision.

In particular, great leaders look in the mirror to find who is responsible when something goes unexpectedly wrong and out of the window to find who is responsible when something goes unexpectedly right. A leader who recognises the strength of their team before recognising their own input will be held in higher esteem than a leader who always claims credit for good results.

the best leaders are never absolutely certain their idea is best. They are not indecisive, but they are always open to the idea that someone may have a better idea and never too proud to admit someone else’s idea has more merit.

6. Data-Driven Decision Making

Leaders who base decisions on facts, not opinion will always find it easier to win their teams over. This requires the leader to understand the problem, investigate the issues and go see the problem. The data-driven leader will listen to those closest to the problem and ask them to provide data to substantiate their views. Forcing a particular interpretation of a data set onto a team is not the same as data-driven leadership. If the boss is going to do his own thing regardless of what your data says, there is no point in being rigorous about gathering the data. It is more efficient to spend as little time as possible in data gathering and do as you are told, no matter how misguided you believe that course of action to be.

A great leader values the data and works with those closest to the data and the process to understand what is happening and provide the required support and resources to unlock the best resolution

7. Discussion not coercion

Great leaders are open to discussion of anything. As soon as employees agree with the leader because they are the leader, you have coercion and are on the way to a climate driven by fear. Discussion allows other thought processes and require humility to accept that someone else might have a better idea, active listening to hear other people’s ideas and a true team ethos. That is not to say that ideas should not be challenged, of course they should be rigorously examined to ensure they are based on data and facts, tested for logical reasoning and understanding of cause and effect. The key is to seek evidence to support the idea rather than seek evidence to defeat the idea. Similarly, it is vital that leaders do not coerce their teams into supporting their ideas, convincing them is fine, but coercion is not acceptable.

8. Autopsies Without Blame

When there is a problem it is vital that the investigation reaches the true root cause of the problem. If the investigation is seen as a witch-hunt or if there is a perceived predetermined outcome this will always be an obstacle to finding the true root cause. If people are defensive, they are focused on proving it was not them, rather than focused on finding out what was the cause. If leaders maintain a rigorous focus on determining the facts then the true root cause is more likely to be found. Leaders who display the characteristics identified will more often find the real root cause and if they adhere to honesty as a key behaviour it is highly likely that their staff will also exhibit honesty. There is no need to blame someone, there is a far more powerful and positive way; people will take responsibility for their mistakes because it is the right thing to do and facilitates learning.

9. Focus on Processes not People

If leaders ask first “Who got it wrong?”, everyone will always make sure they have a good defence before they get into a discussion about what happened. There will be significant amounts of effort put into proving that ‘it wasn’t my fault’ instead of trying to identify what really went wrong. There are some great tools for examining what can and did go wrong, such as cause and effect analysis, Is-Is Not analysis, PM analysis and FMEA to name a few. Leaders use these tools to focus on what happened and if the leader has the right ethos in their team, people take personal responsibility and acknowledge their errors to ensure they can do better next time. Good leaders ask what can we do the prevent this happening again, great leaders ask what can we do to prevent this happening.

10. Red Flag Process

Having invested the time and effort to be a great leader, the next step is to start developing the next generation of leaders. To do this we have to give our staff responsibility and there can be no greater responsibility than understanding when to say ‘No’. It is too easy to say I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t stop it. A good red flag mechanism tolerates stopping a process incorrectly since this highlights a need for education. Mistakes mean the process is not clearly understood, and the leadership has work to do ensuring that the process is not only reliable but is also clearly communicated and understood. Which is worse, stopping a production line briefly because the product was believed to be poor quality when it was, in fact fine, or failing to stop a production line and sending defective material to the customer. Remember that processes only add value when producing material the customer will pay for. My experience is that most customers won’t pay for defective material.

If you can display most of these behaviours most of the time you are likely to be a good leader, but be honest with yourself, could you give evidence of demonstrating the behaviour? This list is not exhaustive, there are many other fine characteristics that leaders must demonstrate, however I believe that if you start with these behaviours and build the relevant technical skills around them you can become a great leader.

Tamarind Tree Consulting

Why is my business called Tamarind Tree Consulting?

I am sometimes asked where the name ‘Tamarind Tree Consulting’ comes from.

When I first decided to set up my own business, I was going through a redundancy process. I had considered working for myself before and had thought about what I could do, but I never had the courage to do it. So here we were, with the perfect opportunity for me to start my own business, my wife agreed and I had decided to be brave and set up on my own, but what should I call it?

My wife had arranged for us to go away for a weekend break in Spain and one evening after a few beers we were trying to find a name for my new business, we kept coming up with names, checking if the names were taken at companies house, and finding other businesses already had the name we had thought of. As I was looking for inspiration on the internet I came across an article about the Tamarind Tree, and it was perfect.

For those who don’t know there is is only one species of Tamarind tree. It is a single species and genus, otherwise called a monotypic taxon (thanks Wikipedia!) with no variants, and as I thought about that it occurred to me that despite the many different views of continuous improvement, the aim and objective of continuous improvement is always the same; to improve product or service quality, reduce the time taken to provide the product or service and to achieve this at the lowest cost possible. In short, just as there is only one Tamarind tree, continuous improvement always has the same objective.

I read more, the seeds of the Tamarind tree are used all around the world in cuisines from many different countries. Continuous improvement is applied in many different businesses and cultures, always tailored to the requirements of the business, but using the tools of continuous improvement to give just the right flavour to the business. As I explained this to my wife she was nodding, which is always a great sign!

I then thought about what you might use the wood of the Tamarind tree for, so I looked it up. Tamarind wood is a very hard and strong wood, often used for making furniture. Using Tamarind wood to make a strong framework, the alignment with continuous improvement becomes obvious. The tools and techniques of CI are used to create a strong framework within a business, making a strong platform for growth and development.

Add in the management tools and framework present in ISO9001 and the CQI competence framework and you have a structure that works. The only remaining question is this: can I use the name? We searched the companies house website and the name was clear. Fantastic, I had my business name and a sound logic behind choosing the name, there was only one thing left to do, have another beer to celebrate 🙂


Are you ready for ISO9001:2015?

By now everyone who is certified to ISO9001:2008 knows they have to transition to ISO9001:2015. But it’s all OK, it’s the quality manager who has to make it happen right? And we have time too, there is a long time to changeover.

Actually no, there isn’t that much time and the quality manager can’t do it alone. ISO9001:2008 will cease to be a viable standard in September 2018, that is less than two years. If your company has a lot of cultural adjustment that is not much time at all.

The new standard places much greater emphasis on top management involvement, placing greater responsibility for the quality management system on top management. this means that although top management can delegate authority for certain tasks, responsibility for making those things happen can’t be delegated.

One example is responsibility for the QMS, the standard says top management is responsible for demonstrating leadership and commitment by ensuring the integration of the quality management system requirements into the business processes. This means that authority for ensuring that the business processes meet the needs of the QMS rest with the individual process owners, not simply the quality manager. If your production manager isn’t committed to the QMS and has a habit of regarding the QMS as the quality managers job there will be a problem during audit. Also, the previous quick tidy up just before an audit will be unacceptable. There must be a consistent approach to the QMS evidenced all year round. The requirement is for integration of QMS requirements into the business processes – if the business processes operate every day, but the QMS activity all happens in the month prior to an audit, there is a clear dysfunction.

The new standard also does not require any mandatory procedures. I hear you cheering, but before you make a bonfire out of your manuals there is a catch (isn’t there always!). If there is no documentation the auditor has to interview top management and the staff operating the process to check that there is a common view of what is to be done, roles and responsibilities and a consistent methodology to carry out the process. Interviews take time and it has been reported that some certification bodies are adding between half a day and a day to the audit requirements where documentation is minimal. Consider as well how easy it will be to ensure that all of your staff from managers to shopfloor not only operate the process in the same way, but describe it similarly enough to be recognisable as the same process.

Bear in mind these are only two aspects of twenty-two specific responsibilities placed on top management in clause 5 – Leadership.

Another new clause is 7.1.6 Organisational Knowledge. This mandates that an organisation will determine the knowledge necessary for operation of its processes not only now, but also in the future. This includes identifying what new knowledge and skills will be required to address the changing needs and trends of its business environment. Further changes addressing the need to consider products and services and ensure that key performance indicators are identified and where deemed appropriate, monitored and measured mean that this version of the standard really does have to integrate into the business operation.

Another addition is included in the way businesses think about their processes. In addition to arranging the processes in order and linking them logically, it is also necessary to identify the process inputs and outputs. In order to do this the process owners have to understand how the processes link together. If it isn’t done, don’t blame the quality manager; the responsibility for making it happens lies with top management, which means that the process owners have to be involved.

This is not a thorough review of the implications of ISO9001:2015, it is only intended to give a flavour of the challenges ahead. If this sounds like a task you would appreciate some help with, contact me at Tamarind Tree Consulting – I can help. Head over to my website where you can see my experience and contact me through the website, or message me on LinkedIn to discuss how I can help you meet the September 2018 deadline for transition.


Lead Auditor Certification

I have just found out that, as expected, I passed the Lead Auditor training course with MfQ. The training should not be underestimated, the case studies and challenges in the course require careful thought from experienced heads as well as newcomers. That said, I have enough experience it would have been embarrassing had I not passed.

It does raise an interesting point, although my training is certified, and the training is accredited by IRCA, I am not a certified IRCA lead auditor. There is a separate, detailed programme of audit evidence to provide before I can be certified by IRCA as a lead auditor. I am certified as having passed a training course that complies with the requirements of IRCA as lead auditor training.

The next step on this journey is to look for opportunities to practice audit skills with the aim of achieving IRCA lead auditor status. This is the continuous improvement life. Learning is not an activity that you do for a time then stop, learning is a lifelong obsession when you are totally committed to continuous improvement.

Baldwin Francis

Case Study for ISO9001:2015 Transition

Baldwin and Francis manufacture flameproof and intrinsically safe electrical switchgear for hazardous environments. Their primary markets are oil and gas, marine, rail and industrial sectors

The existing system meets the needs of ISO9001:2008, however with ISO9001:2008 expiring in 2018 B&F must plan a transition to ISO9001:2015. As a result, Baldwin and Francis Ltd  asked Tamarind Tree Consulting to modify their quality management system in preparation for the ISO9001:2015 transition.

The transition task is more complex for Baldwin and Francis Ltd since they have to also consider the additional requirements of ISO/IEC80079-34:2011 It was essential that the consultant used could ensure that the requirements of both standards were integrated. A vital aspect of the business is disciplined application of both standards to ensure that the equipment provided ensures the safety of electrical distribution in explosive atmospheres.

With only six weeks to the next transition audit it was vital to ensure that any alterations were practical and closely managed. It was also essential to ensure that all progress was sustainable to ensure that it provided a platform for future system development.

Installation support

Tamarind tree conducted a gap analysis of the system to identify both the required changes and the necessary care points. This was designed to ensure that the changes would not compromise system integrity or product performance.

Working in collaboration with the team at Baldwin and Francis Ltd, the first step was to train auditors to assess the system against both ISO9001:2015 and ISO/IEC80079-34. Auditors were selected from a range of functions across the entire business. The document control system was modified to include risk assessment of processes and a systematic review of the business processes was initiated.

The system modifications identified by Tamarind Tree Consulting assisted in a positive external audit result. Ongoing certification was maintained and the external auditor confirmed that the system complied with the needs of both ISO9001:2015 and ISO/IEC80079-34:2011.

Feedback from Baldwin and Francis was very positive, with particular recognition of the timely, expert and engaging  service they were provided

Stephen Clarke, CEO and Managing Director of Baldwin and Francis stated,

“ This has been a very successful project. Tamarind Tree Consulting led my team throughout the task in a practical, knowledgeable way. Tim Akerman quickly engaged with all employees, fully understood our needs and delivered the actions required to meet the audit deadline as well as re-aligning our plans for the transition to the new standards. All on time and to the agreed costs. I am sure that we will be using their services again”


Risk in the quality process

Under the revised ISO quality systems standard ISO9001:2015 there is a requirement for risk assessment, but what does that really mean?

It is relatively easy to understand risk in the context of safety or environmental contamination, but how does risk apply to quality? The best way to start looking at this is to think about what a complaint is; complaints happen when the business has failed to deliver the customer’s expectations against an order. A specification was agreed, the customer had a clear vision of the benefit they would experience from purchasing your product, but it failed to deliver.

Sometimes the product attracts complaints even though it meets the specification. Why?

Part of the revised standard requires businesses to understand the context of their business, in other words do you understand your business strategy and the market segments you are targeting? Also who will buy from you and who are your competitors?

From start to finish of delivering a product or service there are risks. Did we understand what the customer asked for, does the customer understand what they need, did we produce what we expected to produce, was it delivered on time? There is a tendency to assume that the customer knows what they want , understands how my product will achieve their aims and knows how to use my product. Sometimes this is true, but often there are assumptions and misunderstandings in the buying process that make this a false view.

There are several points at which the risk of providing the wrong product or service can be controlled. The first is ensuring we understand what the customer wants, which involves not only understanding the stated requirements of the customer, but also the unstated requirements such as obvious or  industry standards in the customers business that they would just expect us to know. One example would be renting a room in a hotel – do you need to specify the the room has a bed in it? If our standard products don’t satisfy the customer needs or their stated requirements, what else do they need that we don’t know about. the risk of failing to address this is the customer choosing another supplier.

These considerations were implicit in ISO9001:2008, but have been made explicit in ISO9001:2015. There are many ways to manage risk, but we can only manage risks when we assess what the risks are.

One of the most significant changes in ISO9001:2015 is bringing the requirement to understand the legislation that is relevant to your business. This was always a requireemtn, but with the harmonisation of standard structure from Annex SL, the legislative requirement has been made more obvious.

Another area that has been strengthened with more rigorous risk analysis is handling of non-conformance. Whilst consideration of the risks associated with releasing the product have always been considered, an FMEA approach requires us to consider both performance and commercial risks, which may not have been clear before. What are the potential costs of failure compared to the cost of rejecting or scrapping the product? This is not a licence to release anything, far from it. An effective FMEA on a non-conforming product should involve all stakeholders, which must include the customer. Can we afford to involve the customer in a decision about defective stock? Surely it is healthier for the supply chain if we do, it also gives the customer a chance to consider the real impact of a defect, not only on their process, but also on their total supply chain costs.

Rejecting something that is out of specification seems an easy choice, but it creates costs which will come back later in the form of price increases.

Auditing is an area where risk has become an explicit consideration. It is no longer acceptable to simply audit on the basis of auditing all procedures every year, now we must consider the risk to the business of a failure in a particular area. When you consider the risk it becomes obvious that just auditing every process every year is not the right thing to do. For example if there is a manufacturing process that is absolutely critical to customer quality, would it make sense to audit that process at the same frequency as a process that causes a minor inconvenience if there is a defect?

In conclusion, applying risk analysis techniques as part of the QMS encourages the business to consider its strategy, objective and environment in a structured and rational way. Using risk analysis in this way helps a business integrate its quality functions into the daily business operations and makes it almost impossible for a business to run a QMS in parallel to standard business  operations. Integration at this level results in safer products, more accountability and better customer satisfaction.


Lean and Six Sigma; Is it a choice or collaboration?

I regularly see posts and discussion points asking what are the differences between Lean and Six Sigma, should Lean or Six Sigma be used first, and if Lean is better than Six Sigma. I find it really puzzling that people involved in continuous improvement still have this debate, especially since the two techniques are not alternative approaches, but are complementary techniques.

Let’s take a quick look at these three questions

  1. What are the differences between Lean and Six Sigma?

    Lean is the practical application of the Toyota Production System. Lean started out as a simple way to ensure that business were focused on the things that customers value and ensuring the activities in the business are as efficient as possible at delivering customer value. Lean focuses on process velocity, reducing waste in all forms and eliminating non value added activities. There is a bias to immediate action Lean, to ensure that waste is removed in the shortest possible time.
    Six Sigma was developed by Motorola to enable effective competition against high quality imports from Japan. Six Sigma is a highly structured process aimed at understanding and reducing variation to ensure that the process always delivers the product or service required by the customer. Six Sigma requires statistical evidence and proof of performance, with a mantra of show me the evidence, the ultimate aim of which is to ensure the product delivered is absolutely consistent and within specification. Six Sigma has a bias to understanding the customer and only acting on statistically valid evidence.

    The aim of both Lean and Six Sigma is to reduce waste, particularly defects, improve process performance and thereby increase customer satisfaction. Lean aims to achieve this by identifying and removing waste and non-value added activities. Six Sigma aims to achieve this by ensuring the customer needs are fully understood and the process is capable of delivering the required product consistently.

  2. Which Should be used first, Lean or Six Sigma

    My perception is that if a practitioner is more comfortable with Lean they will use the lean tools first and if they are more comfortable with Six Sigma they will apply Six Sigma first. Let’s phrase that question differently and see if it still makes sense.
    Do you want to reduce waste, defects, and lead time for your process through Lean, or do you want to reduce waste, defects and lead time for your process through Six Sigma? I believe almost every production manager and senior executive would ask one more question; why do I have to choose?
    Lean and Six Sigma processes are valuable and there is a strong crossover in the skills. For example if final checking of a process is unnecessarily complicated and yielding too many defects, would you want to be certain that the test method was correctly identifying defects? Of course, therefore we should use Six Sigma first right, because that is where we find Gauge reproducibility and repeatability tools? However, would you want to eat until that was done before simplifying the process? If we give in to the tyranny of “or” we have to choose. What if we choose and instead, and use different groups in the team for both exercises. We need to make sure they communicate effectively, but if the tasks are perceived as of equal importance and we promote a collaborative approach, we can get both done in parallel. That way we eliminate the non-value added steps and ensure that we can separate good parts from bad parts.
    If we start with Lean we end up with a simple process (good) without knowing if our output performance is due to the test method, operator or parts (bad). If we start with Six Sigma, we know where the variation finished part performance comes from (good), but the process is still very complicated and we still can’t clearly see what needs to change (bad). If we apply both techniques in parallel we get a simplified process (good) with clarity of process performance (good). Applying both in parallel gives the best results.

  3. Is Lean better than Six Sigma?

    Is your car engine more important than the steering? Neither works well without the other, having a car that can go fast, but is hard to direct is not going to work, equally having an excellent capability to direct the car, but nothing to make it move is also going to fail.
    Lean and Six Sigma are complementary and whilst each is an excellent tool in it’s own right, when used together these two tools yield results far in excess of what each can give alone. Neither is better than the other, they are different and they are complimentary. Lean or six sigma is not a binary choice, it is a comprehensive toolkit for solving problems.
    Just as an engineer uses different tools and techniques for different structures, so Lean and Six Sigma should be applied when the tools and techniques are appropriate to the task in hand.


So my final message on this would be don’t worry about whether the improvement process should be lean or six sigma, instead worry about whether the tool selected to improve the process will yield the most effective solution. In other words don’t get trapped by the tyranny of “or” instead be empowered by the freedom of “and”.


Lean out for low hanging fruit?

What is lean?

So many times when people start implementing lean they focus on so called ‘ low hanging fruit’ but is that all there is to it?

The approach of some practitioners would suggest it is, however there is so much more than just taking ‘low hanging fruit’. Also let us not forget that low hanging fruit is often overripe and may not be the best quality!

So where does this focus on ‘low hanging fruit’ come from?

My perception is the reason for such immediate focus on ‘low hanging fruit’ comes from two things. Firstly, there is an unrealistic expectation of the rate of improvement from process improvement activities. Many senior executives seem to have a very short horizon for improvement, and if money is to be spent on process improvement there must be a return within six months, sometimes within three months. This forces a focus on short term improvements, the so called ‘low hanging fruit’. There is nothing wrong with making these improvements, they are free cash, necessary and failing to address them can be damaging to profitability and performance, but this approach should not be confused with a structured lean implementation.

‘Low hanging fruit’ approaches will deliver short term improvement in both process and financial performance, however this will be unsustainable and will not drive the business to be a time based competitor. It is implicit in the description that these rewards are easy to access and obvious things to do, so what is the difference in lean manufacturing? We are making improvements, reducing costs, its all the same thing isn’t it? Actually, no it isn’t. Making obvious improvements should just be done and requires little or no effort and little skill to achieve. Lean manufacturing should focus the business on time based competition, that is making things faster, more reliably and ultimately this will reduce costs. Notice that lowering costs is one result of lean manufacturing. The real focus in lean manufacturing is superior customer satisfaction through time based competition.

Why is time based competition so important?

Time based competitors have distinct advantages over other competitors since for every quartering of total completion time, they experience a doubling of productivity and reduce costs by 20% At the same time they enjoy three times the growth rate of competitors and double the profit margin. This is achieved through a relentless focus on what is of value to the customer

For a process operator access these benefits, they have to implement a sustained and structured lean manufacturing initiative which addresses the following key features of lean;

  1. Value
    What does the customer value? Without knowing this, how can you ensure that value is added and delivered to the customer? The lean journey is always from the customer perspective, since focusing on this the customer values is the best way to ensure business activities generate a profitable return
  2. Value Stream
    Mapping how and when value is added to the product enables the business to focus all efforts on doing things the customer values. Mapping the value stream is about more than just the physical activities, it encompasses all of the information flows, all work in progress, everything required to create and deliver the product and / or service the customer needs
  3. Flow
    What is the most efficient way to join two points? A straight line, in the same way it is important that materials flow in one direction through the process. The flow should always be from raw materials to delivery of finished product, with minimal work in progress.
  4. Pull
    In an ideal manufacturing environment, materials are pulled through the process by demand from the ‘customer’ rather than having materials pushed into the next process regardless of whether to not they are needed.
  5. Perfection
    A continuous improvement approach should be adopted, always looking to create additional  value in the process,. this should be done either through incremental changes or through a major step change.

Most ‘low hanging fruit’ is of value from the perspective of the supplier’s costs, not from the perspective of customer value, so whilst it is valuable and important to address these losses, it does not replace a lean manufacturing implementation.

Start with understanding value from the perspective of the customer, map the process as it is (current state VSM), then map the process how you would like it to be (future state VSM). Construct a plan to modify the process from current state to future state, taking into account the financial and personnel resources needed to when declaring a timescale. This is then used as a blueprint for the lean transformation.

Lean is a structured, rigorous, disciplined process requiring dedication, focus and hard work to deliver profound and sustainable improvement in the time based competitiveness of the process, leading to improvements in

  • Process cycle time
  • Waste
  • Lead times
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Turnover
  • Margin.