by Gary Kapanowski

You know it seems the more we talk about it

It only makes it worse to live without it

But lets talk about it

Wouldn't it be nice” 1

In the previous article, I discussed using the positive engagement system of introduction, hope, summarize, creativity, and diversity for improving team productivity though connection, respect, and synergy to provide lean sustainment in organizations. Using exercises such as introducing music like the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t it be nice” or story spine communications provides a platform for everyone to participate and allow for inclusion to occur organically and holistically. With the root of participation generated internally, natural views and discussions will generate impactful solutions with improved success over imposed participation which limits problem solving achievement.

After publication, many readers participated in a positive engagement exercise to submit their favorite positive songs they enjoy for personal or team motivation. theleanmag created a Spotify play list in a LinkedIn post with theleanmag contributing author Gemma Jones winning the grand prize in a random wheel generation. Each participate received themed “Be Kind” and their positive song bookmarks created by my nephew for his school community give back project. Thank you to theleanmag for allowing a real time exercise to introduce “learning by doing” and contributing the grand prize. Congratulations to Gemma and all the participates for engaging to show how easy it can be to introduce positive engagement to everyone, everywhere, and every day.

Wouldn’t it be nice.

After introducing the positive engagement system or any continuous improvement process, a common question asked by everyone in the organization or team is “how do we know it’s working?”. In many cases, organizations neglect on assessing their lean development, culture, or develop a program for measurement, either simple or complex. In most cases, assessments become misaligned to the organization’s goals, objectives and values. A preferred approach for sustaining continuous improvement is a quality audit. Most organizations don’t have the resources or fail to dedicate their audit resources with a focus on continuous improvement. The alternative processes include lean assessments with waning results. For improvement in these instances, a fundamental approach such as a quality rating or a lean fundamental checklist can provide the appropriate focus for the desired outcome. The paper will review the problems with assessments, learn by doing, the importance of organizational goals and objectives, the collection of data, how to implement foundational process such as a quality rating and a lean fundamental process checklist to assist your organizations transformation into a lean enterprise.


Assessments have been around for many years especially in the area of quality as in quality assurance and control (audits). For lean, the assessments typically consist of a metric score cumulated from several segments of review or radial graphs using multidimensional scoring to provide a visual composite against a goal or baseline. Each aspect indicates a call to action when the metric score become unfavorable. These types of assessments seem lacking in the foundations of lean, quality, and best business processes and practices.

Reviewing the foundations of quality, Juran describes quality assurance as the “activity of providing, to all concerned, the evidence needed to establish that the quality function is being adequately performed” 2 . Quality is a common term derived from the term “fitness for use” describing a universal concept as the product or service successfully serves the purpose of the user 3. Most of the lean assessments provide a “grade”, a nontechnical term, to define a certain level of quality by the user. A technical term called “quality of design” has a composite of three steps: identification of what constitutes fitness for use to the user, choice of a concept of product or service to be a responsive to the identified needs of the user, and translation of the chosen product concept into a detailed set of specifications which, if faithfully executed, will then meet the users’ needs 4. The combined vision for fitness of use and design is referred to as quality of conformance. As we understand the concept of quality by Juran, the issue of assessments become clear as a quality control and audit function. Quality control is the regulatory process through which we measure actual quality performance, compare it with standards, and act on the difference 5. The quality function becomes the entire collection of activities to achieve fitness for use no matter where the activities were performed 6.

Using the quality fundamentals as our focus, the difference in the lean assessments and fundamental quality become clear as described by Juran for quality assurance and audit. To prove the fitness for use, a formal plan will indicate how fitness for use will be achieved from the beginning to end of the process, system of reviews to verify the plan will result in fitness for use, and a system of audits to validate the plans are actually being performed. Audits are a systematic process to compare actual practice against a standard practice and not an exercise to find problems or issues, sometimes called a “fishing expedition”. Using this fundamental approach to make real adjustments and action requires the identification of the process, what is the fitness for use, and verification that the process is actually being performed.

The criteria for lean assessments rely on non-user specification or measurements such as a review of a work area for lean initiatives receives a judgmental score from 1 to 5. The lack of clarity causes a focus for problem solving namely identifying the problem correctly. The lack of clarity prevents long term continuous improvement by having difficulty in comparing the agreed criteria against the plans or standard. Lastly, the lack of clarity to identify discrepancies or defects prevents the proper use of signaling alarms to avoiding additional defect and quality issues. Lean assessments as described lack the level of detail and discipline required by Juran to institute systematic change management and use of a fundamental approach.

Lean assessments fall under the fundament view of a quality survey which is a quality audit without limitation in scope such as a surveillance. Without limitations of criteria, the survey is a broader view to discover opportunities and unexpected threats 7. The survey focus is on the discovery of alarming situations for which there are no present alarm signals, analysis of the users’ situation using the product or service, challenge to design system, or question top management with respects to goals, policy, and procedures. Surveys are considered as non-routine and specific to an issue for understanding and implemented by subject matter experts while an audit is part of a recurring systematic effort to verify the established processes are performing as expected. Thus, a fundamental disparity is created when using surveys as in lean assessments instead of audits for recurring validation efforts creating misaligned results and additional waste when surveys are performed routinely without focus to a specific issue, without assistance from outside perspective, without using subject matter experts, and without top management review.


My advice to each practitioner regarding lean, culture, or any process under review is to experiment and learn by doing for understanding. We gain insight from our successes and failures. Especially at the beginning of any implementation, the struggles can be difficult and demotivational. Growing with each step, day to day, week to week, month to month will eventually indicate improvement and understanding to create insight and eventually value. Let’s learn to lean by doing.

To assist us with focusing on the goal to improve the process includes using a lean lens to visualize the process from different viewpoints. I like to use the model of Lean 3D, identifying different dimensions such as the customer, time, and financial impact (See Figure 1: Lean 3D). With anything lean, we start with the customer, the most important dimension. How will the customer view value and the process? For the next dimension of time, we review the elements of flow, capability, capacity, and takt. The last dimension of financial impact includes the value added to the process, identification of waste, and gap analysis of the current state to the goal or future state. With understanding of Lean 3D, we can begin to construct the necessary ingredients for lean transformation in our organization.

1D. customer - 2D. Time - 3D. Financial impact

Figure 1: Lean 3D 8


As explained by Juran, we need to understand the organization’s overall goals and objectives to provide direction and standards for comparison. As described by Taiichi Ohno and many leaders in lean, there is no Kazan or improvement without standards 9. The lack of standards mitigates the urgency for directive action to improve, devalues the work performed, implies a lack of respect for others and the process, and diminishes sustainment or buy-in from everyone in the organization’s lean transformation.

As with Hoshin planning, the goals and objectives are developed with targets for segments of the organization. If there isn’t a solidified planning process, replacing with individual process goals, objectives, and standards will provide focus and direction. Most business plans will have standards identified and can be of use to implement quality assurance. Without any established goals or targets, Juran suggests developing a standard or target using past practice or previous completed projects to extrapolate a starting measurement 10. A holistic mindset can provide guidance for not over analyzing the information when a lack of planning is evident. Before you start any process for improvement, incorporate the appropriate goals, objectives, and standards to provide the foundational aspects for improvement.


Once the goals and objectives are established, the collection of data is needed to verify your current state. Your understanding of your current and future state will improve as you develop systematic thinking around collecting and analyzing data. Insights will be gained to holistically improve the organization by identifying business growth opportunities, enhancing current processes, and sustaining improvement activities to led the organization’s lean journey toward a lean enterprise.

Users of information need to account for the data’s source and how the information is collected to validate the analysis and process. It’s important to understand the origin of the data such as automated or manual generation along with the processing and analysis. Each has a risk for bias by the data creator or user. Understanding the entire process will bring transparency to any issue such as measurement or waste (variance). After clarity of data collection is approved and verified, implementing a foundational review of a process will allow for continuous improvement, process thinking, and organizational lean transformation toward a lean enterprise.


One foundational approach to use when you do not have a full audit process proposed by Juran is the use of a quality rating as a continuous score of quality for the routine executive reports on quality 11. The rating is a developed internal system for classifying the defects into levels of seriousness usually into four levels based on acceptability by the customer: critical, major, minor, incidental. The quality team then establishes a weighting system for each level with critical level at 100, the lowest level from 1 to 10, the middle levels ranging from 10 to 75 to bring separation for focus and guidance on defect. After the review of the process based on volume or time duration, the collected data on defects are listed into each level and multiplied to generate a total segment score. A metric score is then generated based on the segment score divided by the volume and utilized to make comparisons with past history. Although not scientific, the quality rating is used to generate conversation on interpreting results based on actual data. The process for quality rating can be modified for anything you want to measure as directed from your Hoshin or planning process to provide auditable data and can be turned into action for corrective measures.

To learn by doing, an example is provided to allow for easy implementation. To understand culture within an organization, we can review the off-boarding process to understand why people leave the organization. The example goal for organization culture is to retain employees for knowledge sharing and synergy to indicate respect for employees. The result will generate added customer value through a low employee turnover without reasons for leaving due to an unsupportive work environment. The low turnover ratio can be best in class from industry and location. Implementing an employee off-boarding process survey will generate answers to populate the quality rating which could range from such examples as retiring early to more money to dislike my job to no personal or professional growth. Understanding these reasons will imply if the organizational goal of retain & respect employees is achieved. Human resource personnel are the subject matter experts to identify the seriousness classification and related weight scale based on the answers (See Figure 2: Quality Rating Summary). The yearly total demerit score can then be used as a guide with the Yearly Employee Turnover % to see how the organization is performing against the Goal. It is important to have a Goal or standard established for the metrics to be meaningful actionable. Since the Quality Rating Summary is based on specific data, an analysis can provide actionable direction for improvement. In our example, the total demerit score of 825 unfavorably exceed the Goal of 100. The total yearly employee turnover of 250 also unfavorably exceed the Goal of 125 based on the 2.5% Goal of Yearly Employee Turnover and the Average Yearly Employee Roster. Equating into a single metric can assist with summarizing the metric into a trend that can be compared over time. By dividing the total demerit score of 825 by the Total Yearly Employee Turnover of 250, a Total Demerits per Total Yearly Employee Turnover unfavorable metric of 3.3 is observed when compared to the Goal of 0.8 using the same calculation but with Goal data. Actionable measures can be implemented to understand the Critical and Major Defect Class found in the off-boarding process. Also, monthly review and by occurrence of Critical and Major defects found can provide insight and signal (as in an Andon cord or light, Jidoka) to avoid additional quality issues since the information is shared as an executive report. Over time, the metric can assist with how well the organization is performing against the specific Goal and the overall organizational Goal, in this case culture as a trend analysis. Reviewing over a period of time will allow for better perspective against internal bias or not recognizing an issue exists.

Figure 2: Quality Rating Summary


If implementing a Juran quality rating is too difficult due to organizational buy-in, incorporating organization goals and objectives, or data collection, a simplified model can assist as an intermediatory step toward understanding lean and culture for one process at a time. A lean fundamental process checklist combines elements of the 14 principles of the Toyota Production System, the balance scorecard, and quality rating to provide insight and understanding for any process.

Using the 14 principles of the Toyota Production System identified by Dr. Liker as our starting point al-lows for the process review to remain connected to lean fundamentals. For any process review, we ask continued questions within each principle regarding identifying the 8 wastes. The development of the 5 Whys is incorporated to assist with root cause analysis and understanding of the process in more detail as needed. By allowing for the process to undergo a fundamental lean analysis will not only identify the root cause for the process but also identify any systematic issues that go beyond the individual process. Recording and reporting each process re-view provides the team the ability to view both micro and macro visions of the process and identify patterns or elements that are occurring throughout the organization or whole. The review will also provide a development environment for employees to learn lean and strengthen the organization’s lean thinking.

The checklist for the process review can be straightforward as a listing of the 14 lean principles with an identification of the 8 wastes within each lean fundamental, or more detailed as a balanced score-card. In either approach, the visualization of the process is communicated. In a simple checklist, we can quickly identify the 14 lean principles