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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.”

Does Lean have the potential to do harm?

We are all students, the final element of lean is to achieve perfection.  As my middle child always says, “there is no such thing as perfect.”  The point of perfection is to continually practice kaizen and always improve the way we deliver whatever it is we deliver to our customer.  This has been the premise of my journey, map the value stream and eliminate muda and chase perfection.

When you encounter a place with local optima so prevalent that everything is unraveling and falling apart but nobody wants to do anything about it you know there is plenty of room for lean.  I’ve been observing through my gemba and discussions with everyone that works here.  There are many different areas to focus lean and I’ve been focusing on many areas at once.  Delivering the product to our customer is my main priority.  In doing this I’ve revealed a devastating effect we caused ourselves, allowing a strict silo of work to keep others from contributing their expertise to the value production.

I’ve been pushing, and will continue to push to break down the silo and allow everyone to participate in the value creation (see last week’s post about demolition).  This effort is becoming more formalized with leadership getting involved and giving their input and buy-in.  A large discussion occurred this week to get a smart way ahead to break down the silos and integrate everyone in doing the jobs that create the products our customers need.  This is a good news bad news story because this meeting was very fruitful and gave us a clear way ahead, one that will phase in the personnel and ultimately get us to our goal.  The bad news…

The personnel currently in the silo have a metric applied to their work to quantify what they do, how much work they do and how well they do it.  The big concern right now is if we break their silo and allow others to do what they do then their quantity of what they do decreases because more people are doing the work and therefore scrutiny will ensue as to why they actually are required.  Basically, everyone is scared I’m trying to eliminate their jobs.

Of course I don’t want any job to go away, I never would be ok with taking away someone’s livelihood and capability to support their family.  I want everyone contributing to the value that we provide and make our organization a smooth operating machine that can function when work is predictable and variable.  But this got me thinking about my journey, in the world in which I live there are certain functions outside my influence and control.  If we hire people based on metrics that say “how much work you do depends on if we keep you” and I lower the amount of work they do, they could ultimately be let go.

Now I have so many areas to focus lean and process improvement which leads to value creation, but I have to do this all with the real measure of what is important – OUR PEOPLE.  I think my true goal is improving the organization to create better value to customers while never letting anyone go from the staff.


A major undertaking is occurring in my organization to enable lean principles to be leveraged by everyone.  This week we broke down vertical walls of authoritative control, or should I accurately say illusion of control.  We have only been in business for eight years, and through the tenure a deep local optima has become prevalent.

The way I have learned through gemba and also have been told is there are certain groups of individuals that do certain portions (the majority) of our work.  Nobody else has challenged this practice nor questioned the effectiveness of such vertical process.  It “works” but I know it doesn’t work the most optimal way, which is including everyone that can contribute to the value creation and products we deliver.  But as we all learn through our lean journey is not everyone understands that we need to look at value from our customer perspective.  In doing this we have no choice but to walk the gemba and actually see what we are doing, how we are doing it and how can we do it better.  Human nature is to continue doing what is comfortable, what we know how to do and the path of least resistance.  This is contrary to lean development, as lean managers we need to be conducting experiments and continually refining them to find perfection.  Plan, do, check, act; repeat.

My role that I feel I officially assumed this week is operations manager.  Like many our characters we read in lean books I have inherited an organization that is forced to do better.  In our readings nobody tells someone how to do better, just get it done or else you’ll go out of business.  My circumstance is a little different, nobody told me anything because we don’t make money but we still deliver products.  And nobody told me to do better because the way it has always been is the way it will always be.  Let me highlight some clues that were revealed that blatantly told me to improve the way we perform our value creation.

Nobody could clearly show me in any form of writing how we perform our work.  In the military we have something called Standard Operating Procedures or SOP for short.  In my organization we have an SOP but it doesn’t mention anything about our largest portion of what we do for our customer.  So what is in the SOP, clearly tons of muda.

No two people could tell me what each other do to create value.  If I asked Jim what Travis did he could vaguely tell me but not clearly and vice versa.  This was in the group of individuals that were performing the majority of our work.  When I sought the same information from the other groups they were even blinder by the lack of knowledge about how people perform their functions.

I couldn’t get a clear answer from anyone about anything.  Too often I would get an answer to my interrogation level “why” questions with an answer similar to this, “we have that but it really isn’t what you think.”  Or, “we do it this way but that isn’t truly the way it should be.”

Clearly I was on a gemba reminiscent of the wall of mirrors we apprehensively navigated as children because we were afraid what we were looking at wasn’t real and we would get lost.  Well I was getting completely lost in my house of mirrors because nothing was real and I kept bumping into the mirror.

Enter Demolition

My gemba has begun and will continue until after I depart the organization in the years to come, as all us military are forced to do.  But I have learned enough to know now is the time, I need to take a wrecking ball attached to my crane and smash the walls down.  Today I arrived at work in my crane.  In the previous weeks I’ve eluded to lean principles with my white board / dry erase marker board with cue words for interested and curious people to research.  I’ve talked to some people on the side to explain what is going through my mind and what I am studying.  Today was the time to pull the curtain back and that is exactly what I did.  I enforced a new way of doing business by merging the two groups of value creating personnel together.  I told the group that does the majority of our work (group A) that they will have the other group (group B) shadowing them starting today to learn exactly what they do.  I told group B that they will absorb and take copious notes on what group A does so they too will soon be able to create the same value.  Group B is essentially mapping the value stream for our product delivery.

Went off without a hitch right, completely wrong.  Everyone was taken aback and some were vocal in their displeasure and rock solid protest.  However, in my position I have the authority and ability to influence change regardless of popularity or agreement.  This is what leadership comes down to, making the best decision you feel will create the best result.  I know lean principles, team building and cohesion, horizontal standardization and continual value stream mapping and muda removal will give our customers the world class service they seek and deserve.

Initial constraint of vertical silos are officially removed.

Help Wanted – Inquire Within (before you get drafted)

I didn’t make my timely post for this discussion, I suppose I’ll blame it on the tumultuous events of Florence wreaking havoc in the East and continuing to leave her wrath in the form of floods and washed out roads.

What has been weighing heavy on my mind is my last post where I talked about lean thinkers needing to be innovators and strategic thinkers.  I honestly believe that in my organization we lack the experience around to see the need for the boundary to be pushed.  No blame, if given a job to perform most will do so to the utmost of their capability and capacity.  Here is the dilemma, not everyone in the position to lead at the time has the capacity to desire progression and leverage lean thinking to assist.  In a chaotic and unsteady environment it is easy to become a hero and dawn your cape to save the day.  Why wouldn’t you?  Nobody wants people in their organization to struggle so if you can provide continuous immediate resolution you will, and perhaps should.  I’ve done it numerous times, when I was gaining experience and knowledge in my profession.  The cost of promptly stopping the bleeding is we don’t take the opportunity to assess the cause of the impalement.  If you are always giving immediate answers and alleviating the pressures of those around, you fail to grasp the genesis of the accelerator.

Change is something we unconsciously and consciously resist, especially when it appears that we either may reveal a weakness or risk irrelevance.  Luckily for the lean community this is the exact opposite outcome, sort of.  We want to expose weakness or better ways of doing business but not to the peril and irrelevance of anyone.  Defining value from a customer perspective has been my main goal, then mapping the value stream.  I believe I have accomplished both, the latter needs more refinement and quantitative analysis to help others see where we are and where we can go.  However I unquestionably know what our main value to the customer is and how we should be providing it better.  Trends are showing that our customer demand is increasing at a dramatic, yet predictable rate.  The mass production answer that we immediately see rise to the top is “hire more people and make them do more.”

What lean teaches us is that the knee jerk reactionary answer to large batch solutions is definitely the wrong approach.  Work needs to be standardized, work needs to be formalized.  Lead times and takt time need to be calculated, we need to know what our nominal WIP needs to be.  All of these outcome will help in formulating a scientific response.  As we have read, doing everything right doesn’t mean we are doing the right thing.  But don’t forget about people.  Local optima is the change we are consciously rejecting, if it is working for you and this is how it is done why question it, right?  WRONG!

I’ve looked around my organization and find that our staff is mighty, in numbers and aptitude.  I find disappointment in value providers because they aren’t leveraging their potential and I find bitterness and anger in others who are over utilized and restricted.  The answer has been looking at us for years, break down the vertical silos and let others see and participate in the way we as an organization create value for our customer.

Nobody cares about Superman, we don’t need a superhero.  We need a team of teams.  My ultimate goal and one in which I believe I am close to starting is having everyone work together to learn the entire value stream and be able to provide value where needed, not where told.

I have proposed a dramatic and life changing way of seeing how we provide value to our customer.  It goes against everything that our organization has done since inception but I ultimately know it is the path we need to choose.  There are some discussions to be had about my direction and I will surely post to the progress.  If you don’t try you will never know and always question yourself.

Being inquisitive is the fuel to grow.

Never questioning is the shackle and all you need to know.