In this edition of our occasional "5 Questions" series we meet fellow lean blogger Tim McMahon.
1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
I am the Founder and Contributor of A Lean Journey Blog. This site is dedicated to sharing lessons and experiences along the Lean Journey in the Quest for True North. The blog also serves as the source for learning and reflection which are critical elements in Lean Thinking.
Since I believe you should practice what you preach, my day job is a Lean practitioner with more than 10 years of Lean manufacturing experience. I currently lead continuous improvement efforts for OFS, a high tech manufacturer fiber optic cables and assemblies for several plants in the Northeast. Currently a major focus is teaching problem solving skills, lean countermeasures, and how to see opportunities for improvement by actively learning, thinking and engaging our workforce.
I have also been supporting the AME Northeast Region Board of Directors as the Social Media Lead. This role is to identify how to best leverage social media tools for increasing networking within AME's Northeast Region. Social media tools include LinkedIn, Twitter, Slideshare, YouTube, Facebook, etc. I contribute with others on AME's Social Media Council to build AMEConnect, a members-only online networking site, and build presence and content on Facebook and Twitter channels.
You can learn more about me on LinkedIn – Tim McMahon, follow me on Twitter – @TimALeanJourney, or be a fan on A Lean Journey Page.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
My introduction to lean manufacturing is probably somewhat typical. After coming from a research and development role to an operations role I discovered Lean. In 1999 I started learning what Lean manufacturing was all about and I have been learning about it ever since. In the beginning Lean was a way for me to meet operational objectives. Now I have found it is a profound way of thinking that encompasses all I do. Lean is the best business performance system I have seen. My passion is fueled by those wonderful “a-ha” moments. Those times when after hours of study and thought the pieces fall into place. I also enjoy the opportunities I have had to meet some really great people going down a similar journey of their own. Everyone you meet is another opportunity to learn more.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
Within Lean I think there a number of powerful aspects but I would have to say that the scientific model of problem solving is one of the top. Murphy’s law states “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” There isn’t an organization that does not face problems. Shigeo Shingo famously said “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” Therefore for me the most powerful aspect of lean is being able to solve problems in a scientific method. That method is the four step PDCA cycle popularized by Dr. Deming. My engineering background has built a foundation of hypothesis, experiment, and evaluation so this seems natural to me. You will find all of Lean’s thinking processes are based on this four step problem solving process.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
Most people who try to do Lean in their organization fail to fully understand the people aspect of a Lean Organization. As is often said by Bruce Hamilton, President of GBMP, “Lean is 90% people and 10% tools.”
Lean which is commonly referred as TPS (from it's originators) is the "Thinking People System" for me. It is about learning to see waste and solve problems through the development of people. This is a frequently missed and even understated purpose in lean. Lean is truly about people because tools don't solve problems, people solve problems.
As in the namesake of my blog "A Lean Journey – The Quest for True North” Lean is not about the destination but the direction or path you take toward this idealistic place. Lean is not something you check off your "To Do List". It is about the constant, persistent, even relentless pursuit of improving your current situation. And this improvement brings you to the next current state and so on.
In my opinion leaning out the waste is not necessarily the difficult part but rather the identification of the wastes. Waste is all around us yet many can not recognize it. I like to say that "activity does not equal productivity". The real challenge is to break status quo, get out of your comfort zone, and learn to "see". This means observing the actual condition at the actual place at the actual time.
If you can educate and engage your workforce to relentlessly identify and eliminate waste by solving problems you will be well on your way to embracing the full power of Lean.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
I would have to say that the biggest opportunity for lean is in our service industries. Lean has a proven track record in many manufacturing operations. I think we all see things everyday in our lives as we interact with businesses that bug us. These are things that cause poor service, higher costs, less value and more waiting. It would nice to live in place where continuous improvement is common place. Maybe that sounds utopian but this is happening in many service industries already. Lean Healthcare has been a dominant theme for many years with a number of great examples. Lean Government is slowly moving forward with a start from the EPA several years ago. Connecticut is currently working to pass legislation to use lean techniques in state government.
There are many more opportunities for Lean to be successful. Lean actually focuses on processes; has a measurable impact on time, capacity and customer satisfaction; and involves all employees. This formula will help many organizations to be more successful.