As a leader, you grow to either welcome or loath two specific words – NOW and WHY. The boss wants it now and and ‘why’ is the question you ask your team when they cannot deliver. All to often delivery under a tight deadline entails the leader attempting to quickly and often inaccurately asses the ‘situation’. Generally the results are added cost and lower productivity. 

How many times has the easy answer revolved around scalability? Just add another shift, bring in more temps, turn up the air pressure, add more chemical, cut corners….

When the boss screams ‘NOW’ – Good leaders can become very poor leaders very quickly. Hence the crucial importance of Root Cause Analysis. Great leaders know that their core role is to focus the team. Root Cause Analysis and the data that supports it – drives clear focus. 

Shooting from the hip has a place in business but generally not repetitive operations. In fact, multiple guess and supposition can very quickly become quite costly. Additionally, more times than not – bringing in an expert is often slower that simply using a disciplined approach to query your teams. 


It’s not magic. It’s a method. The most simple of which is just asking why 5 times. Try it sometime when the machine doesn’t produce the numbers it should. Make sure to ask the team, not the leaders. 


When you find out why – TRACK THE FREQUENCY. Simple tic sheets are a great way to visualize just how great the opportunity is. 


Do not discuss solutions with the teams of the staff until they provide concrete data. Teach your teams to provide data illustrating the problem and teach them to use the same data to prove the problem is resolved. 



Increase production Output

Nothing is more stressful than the challenge of finding ways to increase production on short notice. Where to begin? Like most organizations, downtime is a usually a first focus. It seems rational. The problem with this approach is that downtime is generally not regularly repeatable. Essentially plant resources end up chasing a moving target thus reducing the ability to deliver results quickly. 

focus resources for fast gains

Shift the focus to ensuring the machine is running at rate “when it is running”. On a continuous process operation the machine should hit a rate when the operator hits “cycle start”. Most times, however, due to added inefficiencies – mechanical equipment may have been slowed down. Other causes may also be in effect. Consider the following: if a machine is running 20% below the stated rate – for every minute the machine is running productivity will be down 20%. This is an easy area to look for fast gains. 

ensure machine rates before focusing on downtime

When all of the key resources focus on machine output – the central focus is simplified. “What is causing the machine not to hit rate – when it is running”. Incremental improvement on output rate pays a greater dividend in output quickly. A simple output tweak on a motor could increase output dramatically. 


Implementing effective Work Instructions

Have you ever bought a bicycle for a child? Comes in a box and the kid stands impatiently waiting for assembly. Inside the box are parts and 50 page manual written in 50 languages. Looks simple enough. Maybe you can assemble it without reading the instructions. Execute and find that you forgot the sprocket tie downs or now you have to take the back wheel of to install the chain. 

Or maybe you’re the other type of person who, in fact, reads the work instructions only to find that a step was missed or that the illustrations are so confusing – no one could understand. 

One of the most important characteristics of great leadership is the ability to communicate. Thus, organization that communicate well have serious strategic advantage over the competition. 


Implementing effective Work Instructions

By Eric Roberts

Written work instructions

You should be proud. Your team did a great job doing a value stream map. Not a single step was missed. The result, a 30 page document that no one will ever take the time to read. 

Reality is, that written work instructions are more of an instrument for disciplinary action than actually making a process easier to understand. 

Telling a new employee to read thirty pages, have them sign off on a sheet indicating they did – then expecting them to effectively run an operation is LUNACY. Regrettably, this is a standard practice every day. 



It’s time to start making work instructions that align with today’s culture. Today, your next generation work force goes to YOUTUBE and other forms of media to watch a video on topics of interest. 

Now is the time to capitalize on that very media to make effective work instructions. Lose the paper and build the video library. Leaders will find immeasurable productive benefits. 




Regrettably,  Lean Implementation is not a cut and paste operation. The entire purpose of Lean Manufacturing is nothing more that creating a common focal point (The 7 Wastes) and providing navigation tools to control team focus. Simple as that. Where things get really rocky is history and performance. You bet, there are plenty of success stories out there regarding the merits of Lean. Unfortunately, it is not a cut and past solution. 

A great example is the Gemba walk. The purpose of the Gemba walk to to get the meetings out of the office and on the the floor where the money is made. Without a doubt, this is one of the most effective team concepts out there and results can materialize very quickly by coercing the team to see issues first hand. However, implementing this process as a phased approach can be disastrous!

In order for any Lean implementation to be effective the culture has to change. The first of those changes has to start with trust and then delivery. The fact is, Lean will require a cultural shift from reactive to proactive and more importantly – a broader change in “what is perceived” to be value added. 

Asking a leader to start trending data manually on a Gemba board will almost always be viewed as “more work”. Great leaders ensure that the wins (positive graphical improvement trends) are 1) celebrated 2) have performance reviewed linked and 3) ensure accountability. 

Only then will the tool become a “benefit” instead of a night more. Remember, there is no point in implementing anything Lean if the culture is not set up to accept it. 

Lean implementation requires a strategy. 


While you may be the smarted Lean person in the company, you will fail if the rest of the team is not conceptually aligned. Long before implementation – require common reading, take the time to give presentations, and mentor your team on core concepts. 

Go in easy – start with teaching them to see the Seven Wastes. 

Revise Accountability

Tie lean objectives and training objectives to performance reviews. Great leaders are constantly learning. Asking your team to read a lean book once a quarter and quizzing them on the concept is completely acceptable. Then start using a Hoshin diagram to build their accountability. 


Push it down then support bottom up

Remember, as leaders, the objective is to teach a “new” language. At the end of the day – everyone in the building should speak Lean. Encourage teams to utilize standard Lean formats to present to Sr. Leaders from the bottom up. 



ASSESSMENT – Process Stabilization, Maximize Productivity

 Chaos breeds inefficiency and opportunity. Imagine the worst case scenario: late shipments, equipment broke down, no available skilled labor, specialized workforce (non-cross function, absorbsion off target, excess budget spend, inflated inventory, no raw material – The perfect storm from years of poor leadership and neglect.



 Leaders know they cannot attack all problems at the same time and create any “real” change. While “firefighting” must continue to run a business during transition, the strategic group must focus on top opportunities. To begin this process efficiently, it is best to isolate the chaos into manageable pieces that have be best chance of success aligned to priority (defined by customer or value stream) and fast execution – with the least capital and resources.


Grid the story

 A simple way to look at the organization is to put it in a scoring grid. Assume the scoring metrics as (10 being most important/higher cost etc.) : [Customer Priority 1-10] , [Capital 1-10], [Resources 1-10]

Now, let’s take a look at a mock setup:




 Utilizing this technique can provide an easy to follow initial direction when diving into a culture of chaos. The key is to ensure that resources do not walk away until the process is “fully stabilized”. After process stabilization, then begin process optimization.


(Process Stabilization, Maximize Productivity)



Empathy in the workplace – Building Trust – Workplace empathy

Great leaders know that building trust and empathy are keys to creating an aligned culture built to perform in any situation. That said, reward, recognition, and respect are key building blocks in building a high performance culture.


Empathy by definition is –

“The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

As a leader it is important to recognize that every person is different. While it may be very convenient to believe everyone ‘feels’ the same, common sense tells us that is not the case. Taking to time to connect at an individual level – defines the difference between good and great leadership.


An organization pulled together to meet customer orders. The task at hand required everyone to give more than normal to accomplish the goal. In recognition, of the successful task – it was suggested that an employee breakfast was in order. McDonald’s became the restaurant of choice – especially with their low cost breakfast items. For a mere $40 the whole plant could fed breakfast burritos. It was great idea and certainly a way share appreciation for a job well done.


Proud to recognize the team, the supervisor went to the floor to take orders and found that only about half of the people on the floor had any interest in breakfast burritos. Executing this recognition strategy meant that 50% of the shop floor would receive nothing at all but likely appreciated the offer.


Empathy is not a one size fits all approach. It is about individual connection. Realizing that only half of the shop floor would participate, the supervisor changed the strategy and created an opportunity to connect to the shop floor. Sincere in objective, the supervisor took individual orders and got 99% participation. (The other 1% were on a low carb diet). The total bill was just under $90.


This example epitomizes the reality of the work environment. Everyone has individualized desires and needs. Failing to recognize that will cost critical participation in future business objectives. By simply asking and taking the time to connect, the recognition for a job well done – became far more meaningful with negligible added expense. With business strategies, take whatever time is need to connect with employees to understand individual thoughts and concerns. Learn to actively listen and create an environment for creative dialog. Work with your teams to build solutions together.



Culture – What’s the Big Deal

As a new leader taking on a new role we go through so many phases. Leaders think about a vision, often put pen to paper to define that vision, communicate that vision to the leadership team, build measurements, and expect a smooth execution. It sounds simple enough. So why doesn’t it work? In a word, culture. It is often easy to forget that the building blocks of an organization are the people doing the ‘real’ work. The employees who come to work everyday making the product or providing the service that generate the organization’s income are indeed the end users of the vision leadership provides. They look for leaders to break down barriers, provide direction, ensure accountability, and most importantly – provide the promise of workplace stability. That said, it is crucial to understand the pitfalls of the existing culture before providing a roadmap for the new vision.

Assess the root cause of the failure in the existing culture

Leaders know that assessment of past failures provide invaluable insight into developing effective plans for future states. Before launching that ‘great’ business changing plan look for signs of a past life in the organization and start asking questions. One of the organizations I visited int he past was poorly organized. It was clear that the leadership team had little interest in basic organization tools such as 5S and visual workplace. During the tour, I noticed a shadow board and 5S audit sheet tucked behind some excess inventory in the building. I caught an operator’s attention and simply asked – What is this?

The answers were shockingly revealing. The conversation covered a plethora of useful information:

  • Flavor of the month
  • Another dumb idea
  • Nobody held accountable
  • Just made things harder
  • Not focusing on numbers
  • More work
  • No time

Clearly, the opinion was formed and any entry of a ‘new’ top down vision would be doomed to follow the same path, at least from this person’s perspective.


Analyzing the details

How invaluable was a simple question? Very. In the example provided, we now knew that the culture believed that management is disingenuous, self serving, and focused on meeting short term goals.

A deeper dive suggests that this particular employee and likely others, were never INVOLVED in the execution and development phase of any strategic culture change.

In this example, the leadership wants a ‘clean and presentable environment’. Why wouldn’t anyone want that? How could the perception of the shop floor be so misaligned? I suspect you already know the answers.

Likely every program implemented, regardless of intent, was a forced implementation without taking the time to ‘teach the value’, ‘involve the people’, and ‘build accountability from the bottom up’.

Being a great leader means that you can ‘sell’ a vision. People will buy into value. As a leader, ask yourself if you are really providing value or simply trying to liquidate a flavor of the month.


Additionally, reconsider your role. The best leaders coach and break down barriers so that the best ideas come from the bottom up. I wonder what kind of response our friend on the shop floor would have share if asked – what do you think we need to do to keep the area orderly?



Link 2



Great leaders are able to adapt their style to effectively communicate with their staff. DISC assessment are a great tool to determine how best to communicate with your team, but that is not enough. A great leader must determine where the weaknesses are in the skill sets of the team to achieve objectives.

Create an assessment specific to your objectives

A great starting point for building a great team is to build an assessment specific to the metrics and guiding principles employed. There is no ‘ONE’ assessment to determine if your team has the tools necessary to succeed in the venture.

As a leader, you have a fantastic opportunity to customize the assessment. Let us say for example that your organization is interested in improving OEE, Inventory Carrying Cost, and ROCE (Return on Capital Employed). As a leader you completed the groundwork: visual metrics are in placed and discussed regularly, you’re assigning goals and objectives around those metrics, and you have been transparent about the challenges.

But does your team comprehend the message?

STart by BUILDING an assessment around the metrics

This is fairly straight forward. Create a test that asks the most basic questions: What is ROCE, OEE, and inventory carrying cost? Then move into the technical portion: How is it calculated? Then the culture piece: What has to change in your department to obtain support for these metrics?

Even a simple assessment such as this, provides a fantastic baseline to establish educational objectives with your team. Find the gaps, educate, and test again.

Taking the time to evaluate the team is a crucial step of success.



Supervisors play a key role in the organization. They are also the emerging leaders for future advancement. Leaders see developing supervisors as a key role in the success of the organization.


Leaders recognize that a line supervisor is one of the toughest jobs out there. Emerging leaders deal with everything from personnel issues to operational requirements. It is a thankless never ending battle in some organizations.


Leading supervisors requires several crucial skills


Start here. To lead a supervisor it is critical to understand the challenges a supervisor must endure. Mirror your supervisors frequently to understand the daily challenges. Document those challenges and work with your management teams to break the walls.


Supervisors should not be making minute to minute daily decisions for the workforce. This is a recipe for disaster. Build systems that allow the workforce to think on it’s own.


Supervisors should be developed into the next level of leadership. The best way to accelerate that development is to incorporate them into all levels of the business. Work to shift supervisor responsibilities into ‘an auditing role’. Help to build a standard work model for the supervisor to create a daily pace. Allow your staff to assign non-traditional roles to the supervisors; not only help with development for future leadership but create outside the box thinking. Frequently remind supervisors that their most important role is to SERVE the workforce not command it.

Offer Resources


We will be doing a blog on DISC soon. The assessment offers valuable insight into workforce relationships and interaction. This is a great tool for supervisors to use to get the most out of direct reports.


Create an environment where frequent evaluations are the norm. Not only should supervisors get allotted time to evaluate their staff, but open communication should be the norm between the supervisor and the leader.


Each organization has cultural goals and production expectations. It is critical to ensure that the organization builds effective supervisor training that illustrates expectations and the ‘how to accomplish’ those goals. Create interactive workshops as part of your training and have them frequently.


Leaders should spend time on the floor and act quickly to determine if supervisors are adding value to the shop floor. If not, do not wait to consult developing leaders.


In order to grow, supervisors will make bad decisions. Coach through those decisions and let the supervisor CORRECT the mistakes. Undermining the inherent authority of the position will weaken the role and create opportunities for disrespect to the supervisor role. Encourage humility from the supervisory staff.




Line Balance

Leaders know that looking for hidden waste is a daily and never ending objective. See the Time Chart and review the content. Assume that this operation is staffed with 4 people. (Molding and Cooling Times are automated). What are the opportunities for cost reduction here?

The Time Chart


The pacemaker process (longest cycle time) is the molding operation. This means that any subsequent operation could theoretically take as long as the pacemaker and still be complete before the next part comes out. The problem with this mindset is that we accept that each subsequent process is 100% labor absorbed. In the charted example, it should be fairly obvious that if label and pack could be combined that 1 unit of labor could be saved. (Thus reducing the need to hire additional labor for other processes in the organization).

By getting in the mindset that the process was quoted for 4 (and it is making money) these opportunities are frequently missed.


Leaders know that line balancing should be part of an organizations regular review. One great way to ensure that labor stays in check is to FORCE a line balance exercise each time additional labor is requested. If the data does not support additional labor, then it should not be provided.


Leaders know that excess labor is a recipe for future layoffs. Keeping labor tight keeps the workforce challenged to find improvements, ensures layoffs are minimized, and reduces communication chain loss. It is almost always better to invest in the process and cross train the workforce as opposed to specializing the labor base.


Leaders care about the future of the organization. Layoffs and frequent onboarding can destroy organizational culture. Line balancing is a stabilizing process that can secure culture.