If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on November 7, 2014 · 0 comments

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. Put up a knocker. Add a sign. And put a doorman out to steer opportunity your way.

DoorWhere am I going with this? I see too much victim mentality and it drives me crazy. The worst kind is the jealous kind, seeing other organization’s success as simply a matter of good luck. That company is so lucky because they serve the booming oil and gas industry; or, they are constantly reviewing their market opportunities and just adjusted earlier than others. That other company is so fortunate that they didn’t invest in a Java platform that the iPad is making obsolete; or, they had dynamic development planning and were able to start investing in HTML 5 before you did.

Yes, there is a good amount of luck in the world. And it can work both ways. When people ask me about my career planning, I like to tell the following story. When I was at Lehigh University, I interviewed at Chrysler. I wasn’t really a car guy, and couldn’t imagine living in Michigan, but knew enough not to turn down the opportunity for an interview. There was an ice storm the day I was to fly out for my interview. My friend dropped me off at the airport and even had a fender-bender on the drive back. Flight after flight was cancelled. But I stuck with it, until around 5 PM when I had enough. I called the coordinator to tell her to cancel my interviews. But I had likely just missed her – she had gone for the day. Someone was picking me up at the hotel at 7 AM and its not like we all had cell phones for me to call him and tell him not to come. So feeling bad that I would be leaving this person standing in a hotel lobby not knowing what to do, I decided to stick it out. I got to my hotel at 2 AM, had to iron everything, and get a couple hours sleep before the interviews started. And the rest is history.

LUCK! If the coordinator had answered the phone, I wouldn’t have gone on the interview, wouldn’t have met the people who turned me onto MIT, wouldn’t have been part of the Chrysler transformation, and wouldn’t have met Andy Carlino and Denny Pawley who I co-founded the Lean Learning Center with. Luck!

Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have been successful had the person picked up the phone, but I cannot claim this was all one grand plan. But what turned it into an opportunity for me was that I knew what I was looking for. I was already making most of my major decisions based on the primary factor of how much I would learn. Chrysler had a fantastic structure for that, and I met people who could be tremendous mentors. So when I saw the opportunity, I knew what it meant for me and grabbed ahold of it.

Planning matters. So does luck. But more than anything is having a clear idea of where you want to go (a vision if you want to call it that), keeping your eyes wide open for anything that intersects with that idea, and the courage and conviction to grab it when it happens.

Opportunity doesn’t knock, and doesn’t always announce itself. We have to train ourselves, and prepare our systems of work, to make the most of whatever opportunity we were blessed to experience.



Should price be the primary metric of supplier management?

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on November 5, 2014 · 0 comments

Are you treating your suppliers right?

BarraGeneral Motors, a company historically adversarial with their suppliers, long outlasting their 800-pound gorilla status, is working towards mending and building relationships with its suppliers.

Some of their playbook is the same old GM. They are looking to consolidate their supply base so that they can have better pricing leverage. It’s a playbook shared by many others. So many companies I work with are called into big customer supplier “summits” (because it sounds collaborative) and told “we’re going from 2,000 suppliers to 800, and if you want to make the cut, give us a price decrease.” It’s a threat, but only a threat to those that have nothing to differentiate themselves. Those who come and can demonstrate unique technology, or standout performance in other areas, end up getting a free pass (as long as they keep it secret that the gorilla’s growl isn’t so scary).

But GM has a bigger problem. When supplies don’t trust the company, or trust in their market assumptions and projections, why would they bring them their latest technology and innovation? In a field where innovation is often happening at the feature level, but somewhat “plug and play” components or devices, all of the automakers depend on their suppliers to innovate, and of course, bring those innovations to them so that they can differentiate in the marketplace.

If you’re on the buying end of the supply chain, as GM is, how do you treat your suppliers? If your suppliers have a choice, are you the first ones they would bring new innovations to? Do the innovative companies want to work with you?

And if you’re on the supplying end, are you brining innovations to your customers or waiting for them to ask? Do you worry about price because it is the only way to differentiate yourself? Or can you set your own terms?

In a global economy, price is the easy part. Good supply chains are designed around much longer-term thinking. Are you?



If we’re going to fight fires, do it like the pros

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on November 3, 2014 · 0 comments

This post originally appeared on the Lean Learning Center blog.

Email comes in. React. Issue gets raised at a meeting. React. Customer calls. React. What do we call it when we spend all day reacting to the events around us?


FiremanWe all do it. It’s how most people spend the majority of their day. Sometimes one of the biggest values I can provide as an advisor and coach is to pull people out of the firefight just for a few minutes.

But if we all associate with firefighting so clearly, maybe we should aspire to fight fires like the pros. What does that look like? Firefighters spend very, very little of their time putting water onto flames. Here’s some keys to firefighting like the professional firefighter.

1. Spend most of your time on fire prevention

Firefighters, and fire departments, don’t just sit around waiting for a fire to break out. They spend most of their time preventing fires. They perform inspections. The work with regulators to write better fire code.

What does that look like in your work? It means building systems that are stable and ensure predictable, and desired, outcomes. This means leveraging standard work, building predictive measurement systems, and frequent inspections. Inspection of key risk areas is probably one of the underutilized areas in business, whether it is cybersecurity at banks or whether or not people follow standard work. You must identify key areas or processes that lead to good performance, and ensure that they are operating as desired.

2. Practice, practice, practice

When you do need to fight a fire, you better know what you’re doing. And so fire fighters practice, as do other professions where failure to perform leads to bad consequences, such as pilots and the military (doctors should practice, but their practice is on actual patients where outcomes matter).

How do you practice in business? By using the skills you need for critical situations in situations that don’t call for the same standard. I encourage leaders to do a LOT more structured problem solving than they ever felt they needed to, whether they use A3 Problem Solving or some other means. Use structure problem solving for the every day problems. It may not yield a different answer than if you did it more casually, but it builds skill and muscle memory. Then, when problem solving is super-critical, the skills are in place and ready to go.

3. Enroll others in the fight

Who does the most work on fire prevention? Not firefighters. There aren’t enough of them. They can’t be everywhere, all the time. And they know it.

So instead of telling someone how to handle a kerosene lantern after they put out the fire it just caused, or drive around looking for people burning an open flame under fire conditions, they educate the masses. They go to schools and teach kids how to prevent fires. They do awareness campaigns. They enroll the masses in their fight to prevent the fire in the first place.

Too many organizations have only a few key people involved in the critical work of both preventing and solving the problems. It’s not enough. There are too many problems. There are too many areas that can spark a fire or fan the flame. We need to enroll others in the fight. That means one of the most critical skills of leaders is to be able to teach. Your most important priority year over year is building the capability of the people in the organization.

If you do those 3 things, you’ll start to be a firefighter like the pros.



The Lean Starting Line [Lessons from the Road]

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on October 2, 2014 · 0 comments

Starting line promoIt’s time for another installment of Lessons from the Road, my column for IndustryWeek. In the next few installments, I will talk about the lean roadmap, or how to handle the change management of the lean journey.

This month, I am talking about the beginning of the journey, The Lean Starting Line. Here is an excerpt:

3. “Quick wins” doesn’t mean the easy stuff. It is beneficial to focus on quick wins for three reasons. First, the money or time you gain in savings can be reinvested in continuous improvement. Second, it keeps people interested and engaged. And third, it starts generating learning cycles to build capability and culture.

But quick wins is often confused with doing easy stuff. Organizations do 5S because they think it’s easy. It’s not easy to do right. I saw one organization put kanban into place in the office supply closet and call it a success. Work on something meaningful, even hard, because that’s where the benefits are found. And that’s where the learning is generated.

Just doing lean is not worth it. But doing lean in a meaningful way is worth every ounce of effort.

You can read the entire column here.

As always, I appreciate your comments and questions, which you can post here or send me by email.



Saving childhoods one at a time

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on September 9, 2014 · 0 comments

DSC 0006Please help!

For most kids, a childhood is defined by play, running, jumping, riding bikes, and all sorts of activities. There are several ways in which this can be lost. My daughter experienced Perthes, and spent an awful lot of time visiting doctors, in surgery, wearing a brace, and physical therapy. Many kids have had a portion of their childhood stolen by Perthes, and for some, all of it.

Perthes attacks the femur inside of the hip. It is often hard to detect and even harder to treat. Not only may it steal a year, or several, of childhood experiences, but can lead to very early arthritis and hip replacements. There is little research on why it happens, on treatments, and on educating doctors on the most effective treatments.

DSC 0009Given the possible outcomes, we couldn’t be more grateful how Emma’s situation has evolved. She had a more severe condition but went from the surgery and the brace you see in the photo to being able to run and play soccer. She still has to manage her body differently because of it, but she is able to do whatever she decides. We attribute this outcome to a few things. First, we caught it very early. Second, after several failed attempts, we found the right doctor who was able to prescribe the right path forward. And third, her focus to following the path to recovery with unbelievable commitment, matched only by her mother’s commitment to support her every step of the way.

DSC 0002But not every kid is so fortunate. This is why Emma raises money every year for the Save-a-Limb Foundation. She is so committed to this event, that she misses a soccer game (one of the passions that helped her stay motivated) to attend the event. Please consider helping her raise money to help battle Perthes. Everyone bit helps, and we appreciate everyone who has supported her in this endeavor. You can donate through her personal page here.



Welcoming Andy Carlino’s new blog

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on August 27, 2014 · 0 comments

AndycarlinoPlease help me welcome my longtime partner and friend Andy Carlino to the community of lean bloggers. You can find his blog at AndyCarlino.com.

Andy is my co-founder of the Lean Learning Center and co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean. It is the “co” that is most valuable to me. Most partnerships don’t last that long. You will find co-authors collaborate on a book, or two, and then go their separate ways. Our partnership has only strengthened through support and collaboration, along with a passion for helping our clients be successful.

Please visit the blog, make a comment or two, and share it with your friends.



Want to learn more about KaiNexus?


KaiNexus, that cloud-based tool to help the flow of communication in continuous improvement efforts, has produced a new video explaining what it does. For those not familiar, capturing continuous improvement activity in a traditional manufacturing facility is relatively easy. White boards and small pieces of paper can go a long way. But if your team […]

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Using Observation Systematically [Lessons from the Road]


I’ve written about observation many times before, but in my latest IndustryWeek Lessons from the Road column, I address how to use the different levels of observation and make better decisions about observation. Here is an excerpt from Using Observation Systematically: There are four distinct levels of observation, each with a degree of abstraction from […]

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Gemba Academy interviews me


Our friend from Gemba Academy, Ron Pereira, recently interviewed me for his Gemba Academy podcasts. Here’s a brief synopsis of what is covered. Jamie’s lean career history (2:42) The quote that has inspired Jamie for over 15 years (4:08) Jamie’s definition of a Lean Leader, and why it’s a verb, not a noun (6:07) Why […]

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Does innovation belong in the scope of a board of directors?


Boards of directors are usually associated with governance issues such as risk management and financial controls. They of course have a major role in strategic direction, either in establishing it, approving, or hiring the right executives who will establish the strategic vision. But does that extend all the way into such amorphous topics such as […]

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