Category archives: Leadership

Lean, cost cutting and my two laptops

An IT Consultant told me “Lean is about cost cutting and we do need some of the back ups that are mission critical. As such, IT people can’t use LEAN.”

A common misconception is that LEAN is about cost cutting. Cost savings is a result of LEAN processes. LEAN is not about cost cutting without a thought to the processes. LEAN doesn’t advocate cutting costs on essential processes.

LEAN is all about efficiency. LEAN achieves this via engagement of people and a clear process that they can apply to become efficient. As a result of an engaged workforce, a clear process of measurement and business communication, costs will reduce.

LEAN is therefore not about cost cutting until an organization is reduced to ‘skin and bones”. In fact, LEAN advocates adequate backups. In Failure Mode Effect Analysis, the team analyze the following factors:-

1. Severity of a potential breakdown. How bad is the effect of a potential breakdown.

2. Detection – how easy is it to detect a potential breakdown.

3. Frequency of occurrence – how often the breakdown has occurred in the past.

Based on the three factors above, the team will be able to identify mission critical equipment that needs backups. Conducting this analysis led me to keep two laptops. The severity ranked 10, detection 5 and frequency 1. Multiplying the 3 gave a score of 50. We do keep all important data backed up both on a hard drive and also on a cloud.

LEAN is about efficiency and LEAN has backups to ensure that efficiency isn’t affected. When my laptop crashed (although infrequent) without any warning, I was very grateful for the backup laptop and was able to continue work immediately. The concept of LEAN, while predominantly used in manufacturing is applicable to any industry, including IT.


Leadership Lessons from the Front Line – Go to the Gemba

Reading about leadership in the books is very different from going down to the front line and implementing leadership in a factory. For one, it’s hot, dusty and dirty.I’d like to share some of this so perhaps you don’t have to get hot, dusty or dirty (at least not for the moment).

A key lesson in most LEAN textbooks is “go to the gemba” or go to the front line. Implementing this practice has taught me three key lessons:-

  1. People are inherently good. They want to do “the right thing”. No one wakes up with bad intentions and a desire to cheat.
  2. Going to down (“turun padang”) and support the front line ask questions (instead of critiquing) helps achieve business results.
  3. Leaders shouldn’t make assumptions until they spend some time on the front line.

Case Study

One of the plant managers I work with was very frustrated with his lab team. He told me that they weren’t making their targets and their work was late. Over lunch, he mentioned that he would issue a warning letter if they didn’t start working. I asked him to hold on and in line with LEAN, let’s have a look at how they work. We agreed to spend the afternoon at their workplace and observing them and asking questions.

We spent the afternoon at the lab. We asked the team how things were. We asked them to show us their processes and how they worked. Spending the afternoon with them was beneficial as it helped reinforce the following messages:-

  1. The leaders care about you and your team.
  2. The leaders are there to support you and your team.
  3. If you don’t meet your targets, we are there to help make your job easier so we can all meet our targets.

We saw their processes. The testing process involved writing results into 4 logbooks, using a calculator to input the results into another logbook and then logging the final results into a computer that constantly hung.

The process was a case study for waste. The logbooks happened to be all over the lab which meant there was waste of motion. With multiple data entry points, it was no wonder that there were frequent errors. The slow computer caused delay and frustration among the team. It was not surprising that the team didn’t meet their deadlines.

Key lesson No 1.

None of the lab team had the intention of not meeting their deadlines. They all wanted to do good work. They were very frustrated that they couldn’t do good work. People all want work well – you just have to find a way to help them work better.

Key lesson No 2.

Go to the front line. Ask questions. The questions are more powerful than giving the answers.  Our questions included the following:-

  1. Is this process efficient?
  2. What do you need to make it more efficient?
  3. How can we support you to help you meet your deadlines?
  4. What suggestions would you have to help your work?

These coaching style questions helped get the lab team to think. They also helped put the ownership of the processes with the lab team. In a lot of cases, companies will hire productivity consultants who will write new Standard Operating Policies. These thick books will rarely be read and kept in the management library in mint condition. The SOPs will not be implemented as no one reads them nor do they feel ownership of the processes.

Key lesson No 3

Not making any assumptions is essential before you go down to the front line.By withholding judgment of the team, and keeping an open mind, the plant manager was able to delve into the root cause of the issue with the cooperation of the team.

The benefits of making the team re look at their own processes are as follows:-

  1. The team work on this process every day. No one knows the process better – certainly not a consultant and definitely not a manager.
  2. By getting the team to improve the process they take ownership for this. The issue of non-compliance doesn’t arise as they worked on this process. They certainly wouldn’t rewrite a process that they couldn’t follow.
  3. The team also feel greater ownership and sense of engagement within the organization. By implementing ideas from the front line, people feel recognized. This increases employee engagement.

Instead of issuing the warning letters to the team, the plant manager now had a better understanding of the team. By helping the team, he had increased the trust and respect the team had for him. This resulted in :-

1. An engaged team. The lab team are now giving 1 improvement idea per person/month vs 1 improvement idea per team/month. This shows a measurable increase in engagement as well as ownership of the business.

2. Better business results. The lab was now able to meet their on time goal for a whole month.

3. This has translated into better business performance and better results for the organization.

As a leader, keeping the three key lessons at the top of mind when working with your teams will help you drive sustainable performance with your teams. It will also lead to a better culture which in turn leads to greater profits. For further details on how your company can develop a culture of ownership, please call us on 03 6201 4355.

LEAN Lessons from Ramadan

The recent month of Ramadan was an example of how people from all walks of life are able to perform at a world class level. When we talked to the front line workers at a factory, all 100 had ensured that they and their family of 3-5 children and a spouse broke fast on time. This was nothing short of a military operation executed with German/Japanese precision. We found they had applied the following

1. Clear responsibilities and a shared meaningful goal. In most cases, the wife knew it was her responsibility to prepare the evening meal. If she was unable to do it, she would inform the husband earlier and he would buy back food. For the whole month, the shared goal was that the family would break fast together on time

2.  Simplifying processes, increasing speed and clear communication. To ensure that the family broke fast on time, they used the television and had it switched on at 725pm (break fast time was 733pm). Everything that could be done earlier was prepared earlier – e.g. laying of table, cleaning of children, cooking/purchasing of food at the market. Responsibilities for the various tasks were delegated out as everyone knew their role in achieving the shared meaningful goal.

3. Waste elimination. All waste was eliminated at the time of break fast. Food was ready, people were seated. As such, the meal and Maghrib prayer was normally completed by 8pm.

The family break fast during Ramadan is an incredible example of application of LEAN principles in action. It shows what people are capable of when working towards a shared and meaningful purpose.

Our team has worked to help many organisations develop meaningful purpose, implement clear processes and this has resulted in profit increase. Our clients who include F&N, Malayan Flour Mills, Dindings Poultry Processing, Continental Tires and Nestle will be showcasing this at our related company’s CDI LEAN summit on 16th October 2014 at the F&N Dairies Plant in Pulau Indah, Klang. Do email admin at for further details.Microsoft Word – CDI Lean Summit2.docx


Fixed vs Growth Mindset

A friend of mine introduced this to me over a cup of coffee.

Carol Dweck  in her book Mindset talked about the Fixed and Growth mindsets.

Fixed Mindset – people here tend to blame external factors for the lack of success.

Growth Mindset – people acknowledge responsibility for things that happen to them and believe the success isn’t pre determined.

There is a simple online quiz which helps determine which mindset you currently have.

It also talks about the importance of the correct form of praise. Praising children for being smart can cause them to fear failure and shrink away from risk. Praising children for applying the correct processes, e.g. studying and purposeful practice will help them do better.

In many ways this seems similar to the key leadership belief that we take ownership over everything that happens in our life.

Simplifying Work

A lot of our work involves making complex concepts simple. Yet, during my time in the corporate world, many corporate structures became increasingly complex. On the journey to LEAN/World Class, we look at simplifying processes and ensuring teams have a process of business communication (and problem resolution).

This TED talk by Yves Morieux is very relevant and refreshing. His principles make sense and aligned with LEAN management.

Yves Morieux – Simplifying Work

CRM and Market Segmentation Implementation – Key factors for success

We have just completed a change program for a major bank to help their managers understand how market segmentation worked and implement it. This was a country wide implementation and we went to the regions to share this knowledge and change mindsets towards CRM. Many of the managers had negative ideas about CRM and this was shared by their staff.

The team used the Pareto principle to work on their own customer database (20% of their customers represented 80% of their profits). They worked out which customers to focus on for growth and how to use the customer product life cycle to target the correct products. We used financial and non financial examples for this.

Non financial example – Facebook ads – market segmentation in practice.

1. Facebook status – engaged,  ads were for marriage courses.

2. Facebook status – married,  ads were for “toys to pleasure the wife”. Other ads which followed included supplements to enhance my married life.

3. Facebook About – Updating profile as business owner. Ad on hiring top talent easily.

When utilizing, CRM, a clear understanding of who your target market is essential. The more detailed, the better, e.g. customers tend to range between 30-45, degree holders, living in these postcodes, married, with children. Facebook marketing allows a marketer to drill down to hit just a select group of people.

The program worked as we had the in house team who were able to demonstrate how to use the system. This involved hand on expertise on the process of utilizing the CRM database as well as how to segment in the financial world.

In any transformation, the what and the why are the easiest to implement. The key issue is now the “how” of implementation. This was not only addressed in how to use the processes but also how to change the mindset of the branch towards CRM. It involved people and mindsets. Understanding how people worked and what motivated them (beyond pay) was essential. We also needed to share the importance of world best practices in terms of the morning huddle. As many of the managers were Gen Xers or Boomers, a short introduction to the coaching style of management was essential.

The program was conducted for 300 managers. We were able to achieve the following results:-

1. Measured increase in the lead utilisation rate.

2. Increase in the number of customized campaigns coming from the managers.

The key factors for our success were as follows:-

1. Contribution from the client side. All departments, from CRM, Sales, and Learning worked together to ensure the success of this project. There was no politics but instead total collaboration to meet our goals.

2. Flexibility in terms of managing the content of each intervention. With a large number of managers with different levels of understanding, the key was a flexible program that managed to address the needs of the managers.

3. Focus on the how. Most interventions focus on the what and why and not the how. Here almost 75% of the time was spent on the how.


We don’t “train”. We help shape the company culture to drive business results. Continuously.

When we started this business 8 years ago, we called the organization a training company. We sold training solutions. We went through the HR team. Now we don’t want to call what we do training.

It doesn’t happen in 1,2 or even 5 days. It’s more than that. It’s an integrated approach. It’s engaging the hearts of the people to make them want to come to work. It’s also engaging them to use processes for continuous improvement. It’s about driving the front line that add value. It’s looking beyond the balance sheet/profit and loss to the organization’s psychological capital.It’s about coaching people to help drive performance because they want to NOT because they are told to.

We now work with Competitive Dynamics International to help make organizations world class and great places to work – where the employees wake up and want to go to work.

Some of the questions to assess your organization include the following:-
1. Do you have a 98% on time attendance for your team?
2. Does every one of your employees contribute one innovation per person per month?
3. Does everyone in the organization clearly know their role and why it is important to the organisation/society as a whole or do they just come to work for the pay check?
4. Does everyone measure and manage their team’s performance in terms of Quality, Speed and Cost?

Most of our clients start off answering no to most of the above. We work to engage the whole organization to help everyone say yes to these questions. The time take ranges from 3 months to 12 months.

So we don’t call it training. It’s changing culture. It’s making organisations world class and great places to work. It’s our reason to go to work.

Marketing Strategy – The Dollar Shave Club

The Dollar Shave Club is a really innovative concept. It is a great example of how to hit at a monopoly and get around a distribution channel.

The ad has over 4 million hits on and counting.

Key lessons from the DSC (Dollar Shave Club).

1. New channel to consumer. It is able to break in to a market long dominated by the big boys, e.g Gillette and Schick. It achieves this via distribution online – direct to the consumer.

2. Innovative marketing. The use of a youtube video and social media has increased awareness of the DSC very rapidly at a relatively low cost. The advantage of social media sharing is that it normally comes from a trusted source which we are likelier to listen to.

3. Understand the consumer. The DSC ad shows that it really understands the consumer. Shaving is a daily affair. It is also something that people rarely see – as such a expensive or designer razor is unlikely to excite the consumer. It has shaped its business model on the average lazy guy by offering convenience and a decent product.

4. Segment your customer. While it’s called the Dollar Shave Club, the price goes up to USD9/month. With 3 types of razors, it is able to hit the various types of consumer and hopefully retain them.

These lessons are applicable for any new business trying to enter a business dominated by a monopoly.




Bounce – How Champions are made – by Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed was a former British No.1 table tennis champion. Educated at Oxford, he writes and produces films on sports. His book, Bounce, dispels the McKinsey-ish beliefs on champions with natural talent. He systematically dispels the myth of talent by dissecting sports from table tennis in England to Kenyan runners.

Key takeaways include :-
1. 10,000 hours of practice. He applies the Gladwell formula of 10,000 hours of practice to achieve a world class standard. He cites the example of 90% of Kenyan runners coming from a village where they had to run 21km to school and back every day from the age of 4. By the time the Kenyan hit 21, he/she would have achieved 10,000 hours of practice. In applying this to the business world, people can be successful after their 10,000 hours of practice. Examples cited include table tennis champions with “slow” natural reflexes. Their skills come from being able to read the other player to know where the ball will be. In applying this to a business setting, an accountant after 10,000 hours of practice may be able to take a quick look at the books and “know” where the issues lie. Even Anthony Robbins talks about the importance of gaining as much experience as you can to be good at something.

2. The practice must be purposeful. There must be feedback – the person has to learn from his/her mistakes and ensure that they don’t repeat them. The practice is repetitive and it is mentally taxing.

3. Skills for success include passion and motivation for the chosen field. Without this, one cannot succeed.

Overall, it’s a well written insightful read. Syed’s book is applicable to new parents as well as leaders who want to improve the competency of their organization.


Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity – David Allen

When we have things to get done, we always write out a long list and cross things off. David Allen takes a remarkably different approach. He believes that our mind is filled with tasks and this adversely effects us during our downtime. His methodology is a systematic approach to log in all the things that we must do and process them.

Stage 1 – Gather all the things and stuff that you have and organize them according to a system. Put them all in a physical place. When you process them, finish what can be done in a few minutes or less. Other matters are then:-

1. Filed/archived for reference.

2. Delegated, or

3. Scheduled into your calendar for an appropriate time.

Repeat the above process weekly at a scheduled time. Here you will be able to catch up and be organized. Some executives schedule every Friday afternoon to clean up all the tasks in the calendar and new tasks that have arisen. By capturing the tasks we no longer “keep” the task in our memory and can relax better.

As with most management theories, it’s easier to understand than to implement – hence the wide array of GTD software and coaching available as a follow up. It does make a simple, easy to understand read.  As always though, implementing it is another matter.