Idiosyncrasy Credits

Idiosyncrasy Credits –

This is a theory that was recently introduced to me and hindsight tells me I should have learned and studied this years ago.  Basically this concept says that when you belong to something, a family, social circle, team or professional organization you have a clean slate.  One author, Bo Twerdowsky describes it as an empty virtual bag and when you do something positive you get a chip added to your bag.  Conversely when you do something negative and depending on size of infraction and mood of the group you lose chips.  Sounds simple right, do positive things and stay in high regard and do something bad and lose face.  The importance of this concept when it comes to implementing lean improvements is you have to have a high balance or credit.

When I arrived I knew better than to make changes just because I was the new guy and had new ideas.  But I guess I believe in lean so much that I didn’t see my zero balance of credit and thought what I was doing was so beneficial it didn’t seem like I was making abrupt changes hastily.  Fast forward over a year that I’ve been trying to implement lean and I am still no closer than I was on day one.  It is actually worse, I feel cast aside and also like everyone is very apprehensive of my actions and intent.  Couple this with bureaucratic policies prohibiting change and cohesion and this is the bitter cocktail I have to consume on a daily basis.

I’m not exactly sure where to go and what to do going forward but at least I understand a little clearer what I did wrong and why I have a zero balance.  I’m basically bouncing checks every day at work and am also paying the fee for doing so.  Two years to go, let’s see what happens.



What is LEAN – I have “some” idea –

When I started learning about organizational improvement through lean operations I thought it was clear, practice common sense and don’t think that it is common.  While working here and learning the processes I’ve been muddled by daily routine and not my vision of lean.  This week I re-read a book where I began my journey, “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and realized that I’ve been going about my goal in the exact opposite way than what is illustrated in his novel.

I read the book and subsequent others and thought I had a basic knowledge of lean, how efficiencies are bad and the norms for accounting are not accurate.  The novel I reference talks about robots and how the plant manager thinks the robots gave them an increase in production.  No spoiler here but…..

I’ve been thinking about “robots” and now after reading the novel again understand that my approach is simply adding technology to a problem that is dragging the corporation under water.

Technology is NEVER the answer, simply a tool that can benefit or demise your efforts.

I’ve been working to develop an infrastructure that supports an information technology effort where work is automated when it is repetitive.  I have been thinking that the people here do the same thing day after day and the environment is growing, so automation is the key.  Sounds semi-logical but if I introduce automation I will definitely improve efficiencies and then what?  I will create bottle necks and do the exact opposite of lean production.

I believe now what I have to do is understand the steps, the value stream and where progress towards our “goal” is stifled.


Value Stream Mapping through Immersion –

The Army organization to which I belong offers daily complex and dynamic problems, and I cannot lie they lead me to firefighting and heroics more than it does to team building and lean operations.  This is the exact stigma and bureaucratic chasm that I intend to alter and banish.

Let me try to help you visualize my gemba, the steps that will lead me to lean.

I was in an office with six other individuals and we were outside of the operations floor, the place where value is created and delivered.  My predecessor sat in my seat so naturally I put my belongings and self in his habitat to absorb his presence, perspective and duties.  I believe this is human nature when you replace someone or something and immediately fall in-line with the past.  I will spare you the details but fast-forward to present day and let me tell you I’ve never felt so disconnected with what is going on around me than I did sitting in that office.

Brash decisions often reflect your instinct and mine was telling me I needed to be in the middle of the value creation and delivery.  I moved my desk out of the office and created a space where everyone can see me and I can see them.  My first day of sitting on the operations floor was multifaceted awkward, I looked out among everyone doing their part and caught the eye of a few.  We exchanged glances then theirs hurried back to their keyboard with what I’m sure was nothing but confusion.  “Why is he sitting out here, what did we do wrong?”

After the newness wore off people got used to me being in their domain and started to approach me, sometimes more than I expected.  I welcome this exchange with open arms because this is the exact message I want to send, that I am here and you can come talk to me.  I am in a leadership position so this is what makes the move so monumental and significant.

What has transpired is what I believe is more trust, of course transparency, support and possibly hope?  As I sit in the middle of what makes our organization exist I believe heroics will settle and I can focus on how to eliminate muda and deliver the expeditious, exceptional and predictable service our customers ultimately deserve.

Put yourself out there and see what happens.

Continuing to build the team –

This week was focused on delivering the message of lean and improving our processes at work.  I had the opportunity to talk to two different groups.  The first was our internal staff and senior personnel.  I brought everyone into the conference room and discussed what lean meant to me and how I need their support in order to improve our organization.  I made sure to stress that this is only a team effort, it is an all or nothing scenario.  We can’t sort of improve, we have to have buy in and go head first.  With lean and improving how we improve our value delivery I was able to incorporate DevOps a little more.  I talked about focusing on our individual processes, finding the constraints and removing the waste.  This lead into talking about automation.  We have begun experimenting with automation software to see how we can leverage our already virtualized infrastructure.  (More on this later).

The second group was actually our Commanding General and more of our internal staff.  The General spent two hours with our group and literally sat at our conference table and said, “What do you want to talk about?”  I had his undivided attention for about 30 minutes while I highlighted the one major constraint we have which is the divide in our workforce.  I ask for his assistance in removing that barrier because until it is gone we will never have a true team.  We need everyone participating in our lean effort.  I also had the chance to talk about our DevOps and how we can shorten lead time to product delivery to accommodate the direction the United States Army says they want to go.  Being a Commander I know he understands our message and supports our effort to deliver the best capability to the Soldiers that rely on the service we provide.  At the end of the discussion I feel he was very receptive and supportive, I am grateful we had the chance to talk lean and DevOps with our Senior Officer in the organization.

Now from the most junior to the most senior have heard our message.  The momentum is exhilarating!

Defining DevOps –

I’m going to start this long overdue post by saying I lost my way for a while.  I came upon some hurdles at work that derailed (in my mind only) the effort I was pursuing to learn, teach and practice lean.  There are still hurdles in place but as much as I despise status quo I’ve decided to buckle down once again and hopefully influence a movement and change the things I can.

So what am I talking about exactly?  In my organization there is a very clear divide in how processes are completed in order to provide value to our customers.  I tried to dissolve this divide to no avail but recently found my spark and motivation.  I have a team at work that is as desperate, eager and willing to learn and implement lean as I so I will focus my energy with them.  We collectively decided to re-map our value stream and implement kaizen in order to identify our muda and constraints.

The beginning of me finding my motivation again came through an implementation of a training program that is geared for new people and ones that want additional training.  This program is a six week plan with as much hands on practice as we can apply, and of course some theoretical discussions and didactic.  During this course I taught for two weeks, during the whole time I discussed lean and connected the dots on how lean can improve their environment and how it will help them do their job better, thus increasing our capability to provide value to customers.  The entire time I maintained the lean theme so this will become an involuntary thought while they are working.  I started with the new people, I instilled a sense of pride that what we do as an organization is just as reliant on each and every one of them and their individual duties as it is to the leadership and their duties.  I made sure they know that they are responsible for removing waste and helping strive for perfection.  I believe they understand and are willing to join the lean team.  I emphasized that lean is only achievable if everyone is on board, that there is no lean department or lean leader.

I believe this is how we collectively define DevOps, being diligent students of lean principles and delivering the best value to our customer through kaizen.  Our operations are going to become lean and always chase the constraints, while our development will lean the processes required to deliver.

This is a long journey but we cannot get there without taking the steps.  There is no moving sidewalk where I work.

Azimuth Check – Am I still going the right direction?

Change has taken hold in the form of responsibility and recognizing roles that are necessary for forward progression, ultimately lean principles.  I came into my organization as we all do, the new guy or gal.  The outside person that doesn’t know how things are done here.  But if you are the new person with lean vision it is a blessing in disguise for those opposed to your unproven acceptance.  This was a little more than I anticipated, bringing emotions and attitudes to a boil perhaps at the necessary time, but also should it have been necessary at all?

My last post was about the covert operations taking place and the isolated silos of effort that were leading us to nowhere, definitely not success.  I personally started to withdraw from rejection and ignorance and just a lack of persistence in the face of oblivion.  But one senior leader faced me and challenged me to draw on these perceptions and emotions and provide candid feedback.  This opportunity proved to be more rewarding than I could have imagined.  The one drawing me in to this match showed immense maturity and foresight in building solid teams.  We discussed the problems that were both real and one-sided and came out a much better team, one with mutual understanding and acceptance.

During this tumultuous event I reached out to my friend and mentor, Nick.  He always has great advice and insight and had me read a short story about toxic culture and reality by Russ White.  The theme in this article is about recognizing what you can truly influence, in spite of the influence you think you command.  Mr. White also talks about looking at small incremental influences, if you can talk to even one person and make positive change then it is a success.  Basically some things will always be out of your control and others you can chip away at if you have the persistence to continue in the advancement of lean and positive change.

What both of these events did for me was help me realize that I need to be forthright and candid with those around, and also accept what I can and cannot change.  Exactly what the Serenity Prayer outlines.

I feel like I’m on the right path and have the right level of support in my challenge and endeavor to learn lean and practice in my organization.  There will surely be more challenges that appear to derail any lean principle but also revelation that there are those willing to listen and also lean right next to you. 



White, R. (2017). Toxic Cultures and Reality. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from:

Swimming with cinder blocks around your legs.

A few posts back I hastily wrote about demolishing the silo walls that prohibited others from adding their value and seeing what everyone is doing.  I took steps to start this progress but it has quickly been pulled back and built even higher than before.  This blog is about lean and trying to learn and implement in the United States Army.  However I am learning that all the reading I’ve been doing doesn’t discuss the organizational norms and challenges that can derail lean progress.  Most lean books talk about challenges in defining VSM, getting buy-in, creating flow, removing muda and striving for perfection.  One thing sorely lacking is the story of the change agent trying desperately to implement lean for the betterment of the organization, team and customer while constantly being backstabbed, derailed, left-out, hijacked and simply ignored.  This is my story

Walking the gemba is the prime tool for defining value and identifying muda, and it also shows the lean thinker the personalities and roles that they will encounter along their journey.  So far I’ve encountered mostly highly skilled professionals, thus the reasoning for breaking silos and establishing collaboration to involve everyone in defining and creating value.  With this comes the personalities, I’ve withheld these observations from my writing because I didn’t want to portray my subjective view.  In the organization (definitely not a team) we have a lot of silos with some of the following characteristics.  We have superman, the wicked witch, characters from the Mean Girls (lots of gossip and whispers when you walk by), Hulk and without popular culture identity we have people that have no vision, local optima superstars, legacy minded anti-change saboteurs and an overall theme of self-gratification and personal highlights.

What a mouth full, isn’t it?  I put that there because daily I learn lean and work to implement but equally I am pushed to the side like a lunatic that doesn’t understand the way things are here.  Secret meetings, blatant lying, cloaked discussions to pollute and plain avoidance are all I’ve learned from everyone that could help in making positive change.  In a room full of leaders I proposed these changes about two months ago, with some grumbling but I did have the senior leaders in the local organization to at least publicly agree it is a necessary change and offer their support.  Fast forward two months, no progress and I publicly bring the idea to the spotlight in front of the same audience and they acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about and we need to begin these discussions.  Absolute lip service

Then secret meetings are held to discuss their agenda and their vision of change without any awareness on my part.  To be honest this is some serious gut check right now.  Learning lean and trying to implement is difficult but being stifled by those that should support you is even more demoralizing.  I obviously can’t resign or change jobs so I am stuck in this position.  A chance that could be exciting and very rewarding but there are serious challenges that make me feel like I’m scaling Mt. Everest with no Sherpas.  Or like I’m doing laps in a pool with 25 pound cinder blocks tied to each leg.  Nonetheless there is no support to change the incredible toxic and broken environment that I unfortunately find myself a part.

I leave you with a story from Eddie Obeng that he delivered with his TED talk “Smart failure for a fast-changing world.”  Enjoy

“An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.

The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.”