LEI Lean Transformation Summit – Day 1

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Wow, this has been a pretty cool conference so far. I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It all started off innocuously enough at breakfast. I grabbed my ration of melon bits and yogurt and proceeded to the nearest table. As I immersed myself in my morning repast (insert gross slurping noises here) I realized that I was sitting at a table with some folks who were old hands at this lean stuff. Everybody knew each other by name, and fortunately they didn’t seem put off by my early morning feeding behavior (which would put a hog off slop for a week).

So there I was, a heathen in polite company at the LEI Lean Transformation Summit. Note to the unwary: no one other than my wife and children should see me trying to feed myself at 7am in the morning. It ain’t pretty…or particularly sociable. Even so, I found the company quite good, and we had a nice conversation about our respective experiences with implementing lean (maybe I should capitalize the same way I do with Agile: Lean). Anyway, with the exception of the coffee, the morning got off to a good start.

We proceeded to the main ballroom where we got the obligatory remarks from the conference organizers (I can’t remember a single word they said). I was sitting next to a fellow from Wells Fargo – one of a couple of banks that was present for the conference (in rather large numbers – this lean thing seems to be catching on in the banking business). Fortunately the opening remarks were relatively brief and we got on to the experience reports/case studies. There was a great presentation by some guys from Cessna. They had obviously bought into Lean – big time – and they had all of the success, scars, and failure stories to prove it. 

The thing that I enjoyed about the Cessna presentation was that they shared a lot of what worked for them. I saw things that were completely new to me like:

1) A Kaizen Newspaper

2) A Scheduling Wheel

3) A Cross training matrix

4) Stand up meetings held at the beginning and end of each day

5) A “no problem is a problem” mentality

They were doing simply amazing things at Cessna. They freely acknowledged that they were just getting started on the journey (but they made it sound so interesting that I wanted to join). It was obviously an enormous effort on their part and I sure hope it pays off. Did I mention they have been at it for 10 years now?

Throughout the day I met some pretty interesting folks. This conference attracts attendees from a broad spectrum of different industries. You get exposure to a lot of different ways of interpreting Lean ideas. As a result, although I don’t know anything about manufacturing and the details of managing the factory floor – I was exposed to scheduling mechanisms that I had never seen before. These were the kinds of things that were unique enough that I want to try them back home and see if I can reinterpret some of them for software.

The afternoon was a presentation on value stream mapping. However it was value stream mapping with a twist: they focused on gathering the unstated assumptions of the group (come on now, I know you have some). This is almost more of a facilitation technique than it is about VSM. The contention was that capturing the assumptions before VSM would allow you to get the “elephant in the middle of the room” exposed  before you wasted a lot of time on value streaming exercises. Having just finished facilitating a VSM exercise with two groups (with somewhat antagonistic viewpoints) I found this to be an important missing piece in my personal facilitation repetiore.

After that, perhaps the jetlag was starting to kick in, because in my notes the rest of the day was reduced to a series of anecdotes:

1) “We see together, we know together, we act together”

2) “Create a burning platform”

3) Deep learning takes longer than change

4) Continuous improvement != operational excellence

And so on. I’m not saying that the time wasn’t well spent, just that my capacity for absorption may have been seriously diminished. There was a final presentation by some folks from Group Health Coop that was very interesting (especially becuase I had a brief opportunity to work with them a while ago, so I had some previous experience). They are, and continue to have an amazing journey. They are a very impressive group of folks.

After the main shindig was over, there was a reception. I met a lot more folks (I actually had to restock my supply of business cards!) and had a good time in the evening. The food was even good (although I refused to try the oysters…). I can’t wait for day two.

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