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Views of Excellence: Drew Locher

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Keep it simple – we don’t have time for all this Lean stuff!

Drew Locher

Drew Locher is an expert in Lean and Kata

By far the biggest obstacle to the deployment of visual management systems is trust.

During a recent VMS workshop, I talked participants through a methodology to design a visual management system for a value stream.

There are two main components: visual process adherence and visual process performance.

I was amazed to find that several of the delegates struggled with the process adherence part of the system. They found it very easy to identify the process performance components. After all, these are the things we’re most familiar with – attractive looking charts updated regularly to show performance over time.

Which do you think is more useful?

  1. A graph displaying data of what has happened.
  2. A visual indication of current conditions that you can use to make decisions and take action continuously throughout the day.

“VMS should be used to manage rather than for management. It’s an active not a passive system.” – Drew Locher


Visual control can trigger action

People often say to me ‘we don’t have time for this lean stuff’. I tell them that visual control is actually easier to maintain over time. There’s no need to collect and input data, then create, print and post charts.

A classic example comes from a VSM workshop where a group wanted to monitor lead times through an area. They planned to create a data collection system that would allow them to calculate the average lead time in the area. The results would be displayed in the relevant area of the plant.

I challenged them: surely understanding why an order didn’t get processed in a timely manner and how to correct it is more valuable than knowing the ‘average’ lead time. Their plan had very limited value in managing the flow through the area.

By following the ‘keep it simple’ rule the group came up with a visual colour coding system to immediately identify orders that were in the area longer than they should have been on any day of the week.

Electronic versus manual

Simple and visual is better than complex and elegant. But it’s about more than aesthetics. When people manually maintain charts or some other visual indicator of performance this comes with a sense of ownership. They believe in the figures because they put them there. Discussion can move directly to how we can change those numbers in a positive way.

I would encourage you to take a look at your own Visual Management Systems and answer these two questions:

  1. Are they just reporting on what has already happened, or are they used to facilitate continuous improvement on a daily basis?
  2. Have they become ‘wallpaper’ that people walk past and occasionally glance at, or are they an active part of your visual management system?

Your answers might lead you towards a more comprehensive system that has more tangible and timely benefits to your organisation.


Kata Coaching Improvement

Setting up the Kata coaching simulation with Kata expert Drew Locher.

About Drew Locher

Drew Locher is a Lean Specialist & Kata Instructor. He first became involved in the development and delivery of innovative business improvement programs while working for General Electric in the 1980s. Since 2001, he has been a faculty member of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) the not-for-profit organization of Jim Womack, the co-author of Lean Thinking. Drew is currently an instructor in ISD’s Improvement Kata & Coaching Kata course and developer of the new Lean Leadership program at the University of Michigan.

Drew regularly facilitates learning experiences on behalf of True North Excellence and we are delighted to welcome him again to our Kata Coaching and Improvement workshop in Coventry on 12-13th November 2018.


A summer of planning and learning experiences

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By Jon Tudor, Managing Director, True North Excellence

Learning providers such as True North Excellence aren’t much different to manufacturers during the summer period.

Many of the large plants I visit during July and August have their annual shut down. It’s a strange time to visit plants, but one I particularly enjoy as the people I meet appear more relaxed, more reflective on the year and how their journey is progressing (or not in many cases).

Shut down gives many managers and leaders a chance to rest and re-energise. It also presents leaders with an opportunity to take stock of their journey to excellence, make honest assessments of their progress and adjustments to their plans, both personal and operationally.

True North Excellence is very similar to manufacturers in this respect as we don’t run courses and learning experiences over summer, a virtual shutdown. What we do is:

  • Increase the number of plant sharing visits – always good if located in a nice part of the country. 😊
  • Identify trends in Operational Excellence and understand what kind of learning and development clients are looking for.
  • Make adjustments to our operational plan based on customer feedback during those visits.
  • Overall, we secretly enjoy the reduction in phone calls and emails and use the time to think, plan and work up concepts for future learning experiences.

With under a year to go, planning is well underway for our annual conference Journey to Excellence 2019, which will be held in Manchester on 19-20th June. We already have some inspirational keynotes from the USA, UK and Europe who have agreed to share.


On the trail of best practice

Personally, I aim to make at least five site visits over the summer. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see continuous improvement in action and witness what goes on behind the scenes in facilities with a strong reputation for Operational Excellence.

I’ve got plenty of visits arranged including:

  • A satellite manufacturer
  • A biscuit manufacturer
  • A globally recognised Lean organisation in the south west of England
  • A packaging plant and my favourite brewery in Germany

This last one is nothing to do with beer, I promise!

Mini learning experience

Meeting Adrian McGhee at Mini Oxford

In late July, I spent a day at the Mini plant in Oxford where they’re preparing for production of their first fully electric Mini.My visit focused on finding more about their approach to coaching and the Valued-Add Production System (VPS), which is a key element of the BMW Production System.

We’ll be visiting the Mini plant again in November, this time for a Sales & Operational Planning workshop. Full details here.


Mini plant learning experience

Exploring the Quality Maze at Mini Oxford

New products coming soon

When I return from a visit, I’m always brimming with ideas, which often leads to the development of new learning experiences. I am working on a new learning series that I look forward to sharing with you in due course. Keep an eye on our monthly newsletter for more information.

Enjoy your summer break. If you feel you have something you want to show and share with me, then please drop me a line – always very happy to visit, particularly if there is a mountain or country pub nearby! 😊

Views of Excellence: Bill Tiplady

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In this new series, we’ll be asking experts in Lean, Continuous Improvement, and Operational Excellence what they wish they’d known when they started out in industry. Every month, we’ll share knowledge and insight to support you on your own successful journey to Operational Excellence.

Lean practitioner Bill Tiplady

Bill has dedicated his career to the pursuit of excellence.

Our first expert is our Lean Practitioner, Bill Tiplady.

Bill has dedicated his career to developing the skills and behaviours required for people in the manufacturing and service sector to transform and sustain Lean management within their organisation. He has extensive experience in the aerospace, automotive, engineering, textiles, chemical, FMCG, food and drink, electronics, and photonics industries, across the UK, Europe, China and North America.


Where did your personal Lean journey begin?

My first manufacturing role and Lean journey began at Rolls Royce, where I first started as an Apprentice Engineer.

My first Kaizen event in 1996, a completely new concept to us all, led to a very successful but emotional improvement journey. It was particularly emotional for our leaders as they realised during the Kaizen that they’d never truly listened to their employees before. They asked for our opinions and it was exciting to be given authority to make changes in our pilot area.

Following the pilot, I was given the opportunity to become Process Improvement Facilitator and take on responsibility for the Rolls Royce production system model and integrated management systems within our facility.


What do you focus on first when supporting an organisation on a Lean transformation?

Meeting the McCloskey International leadership team

Bill and True North Excellence Managing Director, Jon Tudor, visit McCloskey International in Northern Ireland.

I always recommend we start with the ‘Why’. I ask the leadership team ‘why’ they want to embark on a transformation? Does it align with their vision and values? How will the change benefit their customers? This is how they understand their True North – the purpose, goals and objectives that engage the business wide team.

At the outset, it’s common to find a difference of opinion across the leadership team in terms of what they believe their True North is. That’s why using an external facilitator, someone who will challenge the status quo, can be very beneficial. I ask questions, I challenge their current operating model, and start conversations. Sometimes it’s quite an encounter, but often a rewarding experience. When everyone works together to see things from an associate, manager, leader and a customer perspective, it’s great to see. Understanding what the customer sees as value is the first principle of Lean.

If you want to understand more about the ‘Start with Why’, take a look at this 5-minute Simon Sinek video all about Apple’s Why.


What do you think are the key factors in making transformation sustainable?

  • Having a leadership or senior management team that supports the transformation
  • Identifying key people to facilitate the change and empowering them to do it.
  • Speaking in a language that everyone understands.
  • Placing a strong focus on people engagement.


From your experience, what are the good, the bad and the ugly faces of Lean transformation?


When transformation is good, anyone at any level of the business can explain what he or she is there to do. Everyone shares the same vision, values and principles. Employees feel empowered, are supported by management and Leaders ‘coach’.


Lean done badly is when there’s a disconnect between the people and the vision and values of the business. Employees are unable to explain their Why. Managers send people away on courses and expect them to become experts overnight. Or they think Lean principles are just for production teams. That’s starting with ‘what and how’ not ‘why’.


Businesses that use Lean as a means to reduce costs for short term gains. Lean aims to free up capacity so the plant can take on more sales, it’s not there to demotivate people and reduce head count.


Have you ever walked away from supporting an organisation?

Visiting Glenmorangie

Visiting Glenmorangie: Bill and Jon with Glenmorangie Continuous Improvement Leader, Paul McCafferty.

I’ve supported more than 300 organisations at various stages of their Lean journey. Those journeys are not always straightforward and can sometimes be stop-start. Perhaps best described as a roller coaster ride, the journey and can be affected by external factors such as changes in the marketplace, social or political legislation. I have never walked away from an organisation without giving at the very least feedback and an action list. At True North Excellence we never abandon clients, and we don’t sell courses for courses sake. We aim to partner with an organisation through learning and development experiences with follow on practitioner support.


What do you see as future trends in Operational Excellence?

Businesses are developing their own models of operational excellence based on existing models such as Shingo and EFQM. Pretty much all the models I have seen recently identify the importance of people engagement and leadership behaviours, which is really pleasing to see.


If you knew then what you know now… What advice would you have given to a young Bill Tiplady at the start of his career?

  1. When facilitating workshops, always start with the Why to make sure everyone is aligned to the same goals and objectives.
  2. There’s no place for jargon. Speak in a language that everyone understands.
  3. It’s a never-ending journey, not a project with an end goal, enjoy it!