Lean, the Four-Letter Word: Dan Markovitz on his new book – and his newfound approach to teaching op-ex

The core principles at the heart of Dan Markovitz’ latest book, Building the Fit Organization, are the very essence of lean thinking. Just don’t expect to see the word “lean” past the introduction. Or, for that matter, any references to a certain automaker, its namesake production system, or a litany of Japanese words.

And that’s the point.

D. Markovitz
D. Markovitz

Building the Fit Organization, which the author breaks down in an exclusive half-day workshop as part of COE’s Leading Through Excellence summit on April 12, is Markovitz’ response to a disconnect he sees in how we communicate lean concepts and leadership principles to our people. We recently spoke to Markovitz about what that disconnect is – and how first book since his Shingo Prize-winning A Factory of One tackles it.

COE:  There are a ton of books on lean out there. What inspired you to write this one?

Dan Markovitz: Over the years I’ve seen a lot of really smart people work with companies trying to improve operational performance by driving a lean transformation – and yet the number of companies that actually succeeded is vanishingly small. This book is an exploration, my attempt to explain one of the root causes of this and rectify it.

COE: So what is that root cause?

DM: We’re asking people to think about their work differently, yet we make it unnecessarily difficult for them to accept it. I see a lot of people using the language of Toyota, literally using Japanese, telling people working in a bank or a hospital how Toyota builds cars. Their very first response is to lean back in their chairs, cross their arms, and say, “We don’t make cars.” The leader, consultant, or improvement professional then has a huge uphill battle to explain that they’re not trying to turn them into factory workers. Then, after a week, a month, or six months, people may start to get it. If we could speak to them using analogies and metaphors that make sense to them, all the sudden we don’t have to go uphill.

COE: You’re definitely not letting consultants such as yourself off the hook here.

DM: It’s been a failure of imagination on our part to not be able to say, “Let me put this in a language that makes sense to you.” There’s nothing requiring Japanese to describe these ideas – they happen to have just been described in Japanese first. If we can express these ideas in English that resonates with people now, it makes it easier to get to “That totally makes sense. I get it.”

COE: You went with a physical fitness metaphor for your book. Why?

building fit organization_coverDM: Fitness works for me – I used to be a competitive runner and a running coach. You could just as easily use a metaphor of music or writing, all kinds of things. I believe that if we’re a little more creative about the way we tell the story, the way we present the ideas, it’ll be a whole lot easier for us to sell the ideas and get people to embrace and implement them.

COE: You also made the very conscious decision to leave tools out of your book. What led to that?

DM: Oftentimes, we lead with tools and we end up losing people. The tools that people learn – 5S, for instance – often are designed to solve specific problems. Who knows what your specific problem is? With this book, rather than talking about tools, I wanted to talk about principles. It’s important that people grasp the fundamental concepts and understand how to become better, fitter organizations before messing around with tools.

COE: What do you see as the audience for your book and, by extension, your workshop on April 12?

DM: Certainly both are for people who are relatively new to the idea of continuous improvement but might be intimidated by the all the Toyota, 5S, kanban, water spider talk. The second audience, though, is companies who have started lean or some continuous improvement program and seen it stall out. This is a way for them to reintroduce it in a fashion that would be more accessible. I also think this would be really valuable for leaders in an organization. The principles I talk about really need to be lived and embodied by leadership. If a leader’s not committed to a fit organization, it’s not going to take hold.

Learn more about Dan’s session, and others being offered at Leading Through Excellence, on the official event website.

Going, going … : The latest on COE Summit 2016 registration

The good news? COE’s fourth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit is less than three months away, and you still have more than two weeks to save up to 15% on registration.

The bad news? Seats are selling fast – we’re already half-booked – and some tours and workshops are either full or approaching sell-out.

On the fence? Now’s the time to act to ensure you have access to the most options. Here’s a look at where our popular, limited-capacity options on the first day of the summit stand:

Too Late: The Tuesday, April 12, morning tour of global brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev is completely sold out. Luckily …

Nearly Sold Out: Limited seating remains for the Tuesday afternoon Anheuser-Busch InBev tour. Another tour offered Tuesday afternoon, to Cardinal Health’s Fuse software development operation, has a scant few slots remaining.

Gaining Steam: Planning on taking part in our marquee workshop for this year’s summit, The Pit Crew Experience? A number of seats already are pre-booked, while additional tickets are selling quickly. We expect this option to sell out by late February. Another tour gaining popularity among registrations is the trip to longtime COE member Abbott Nutrition, whose massive Columbus operation employs thousands in the region.

These are only a handful of the day-one options at Leading Through Excellence; capacity remains for a number of morning workshops and afternoon tours.

Be sure to check out the full summit site for details on our featured keynote speakers, our still-growing roster of breakout session hosts, and discount pricing.

Ready to register? Click here.

Summit pit crew workshop a race to master lean concepts

At least one workshop at this April’s Leading Through Excellence summit is a must-have on your wish list.

pit crew
PIT was founded in 2000 and has since hosted hundreds of companies for training.

The Center for Operational Excellence this spring is partnering with Mooresville, N.C.-based Performance Instruction & Training (PIT), a hotbed for training pit crew athletes worldwide. Not only will PIT leader Ben Cook be kicking off the second day of the summit on Wednesday, April 13, but PIT will be running a limited-capacity hands-on workshop on Tuesday, April 12.

Available as a workshop Tuesday afternoon is “The Pit Crew Experience,” which draws on the high-stakes world of pro-racing pit crews to explore the lean concepts we can apply at our organizations. Much in the spirit of the pit crew changeover itself, though, this workshop is hands-on and fast-paced: After a brief presentation on the “think inside the box” concepts PIT uses to teach its athletes, participants will be plunged into a multi-round tire-changing competition that puts those concepts immediately to work.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to experience the best-in-class lean training offered by PIT, which began operations in 2000 and has trained more than 500 athletes along with more than 200 businesses. In Mooresville, also known as Race City, USA, its campus encompasses 5.5 acres and 32,000 square feet.

Though a highlight of the upcoming summit, “The Pit Crew Experience” is one of 11 workshops and tours being offered on the first day of the summit, which runs April 12-14. Head to our official site for more details.

Authors, visionary leaders make keynote lineup for 2016 summit

With registration for the Center for Operational Excellence’s fourth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit set to open next month, we’ve unveiled the featured keynote line-up for the April 2016 event.

Leading Through Excellence will take place April 12-14 in Columbus, Ohio, and feature its signature mix of plant tours, industry and researcher-led breakout sessions, and dynamic keynote speakers. Registration opens Monday, Dec. 7, with a 15% discount in effect until Jan. 1, 2016.

Joining the summit next year as keynotes are:

ben cook pitBen Cook, program director, Performance Instruction and Training (PIT) – Cook, who kicks off Leading Through Excellence on Wednesday, April 13, is a leader at PIT, the award-winning corporate and pit crew training operation in North Carolina that draws pit athletes from around the world. A veteran of the racing world, Cook works with organizations to absorb and strengthen the team-building concepts crucial to the high-octane realm of the pro-racing pit crew: Communication, handoffs, and a culture of accountability.

Cook’s organization will be at Leading Through Excellence next year on the summit’s first day, April 12, to host an exclusive, half-day pit-crew experience workshop that allows attendees to hone those skills in an actual pit-stop setting!

francesca ginoFrancesca Gino, professor of business administration, Harvard Business School; author, Sidetracked – Gino is a researcher and author whose work has been featured in The Economist, the New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and others. Her research focuses on on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. Her book, Sidetracked, looks at how decisions in work and life get derailed and how we can stick to the plan.

Gino has received research awards from the National Science Foundation and the Academy of Management. In addition to teaching, she advises firms and not-for-profit organizations in the areas of negotiation, decision-making, and organizational behavior.

todd henryTodd Henry, author, The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words Henry, whose keynote closes the summit April 14, regularly works with companies on how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks internationally on creativity, productivity, leadership, and passion for work.

At next year’s summit, Henry will be drawing on his two latest books. In 2013’s Die Empty, he identifies the forces that cause even the brightest, most skilled people to become stagnant in their life and career, and introduces practices that help them build a body of work they can be proud of. In this year’s Louder Than Words, he teaches how to build a body of work that creates value and resonates inside and outside your organization.

billy taylor goodyearBilly Taylor, director, Commercial, Off-Highway, and Support Manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. – Taylor is a respected, motivating and natural visionary leader with over 20 years of diverse experience in all phases of operations management. He took on the role of Director of Commercial, Off-Highway, and Support Manufacturing, North America, at Goodyear this year, after serving as Director of North American Commercial Manufacturing. Past roles at Goodyear include plant director and plant manager.

Taylor is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt business leader with a proven track record of accelerating revenue growth through strategic and tactical development and implementation of operational excellence systems and people engagement processes. He has his MBA from Baker University and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Prairie View A&M University.

For more details on the summit, click here

Navy captain, bestselling author set as 2015 COE summit keynotes

A retired U.S. Navy captain with a fascinating turnaround story and a leading researcher in organizational change are set to headline the Center for Operational Excellence’s third-annual Leading Through Excellence summit in April 2015.

COE Executive Director Peg Pennington announced on Sept. 26 that the following speakers are booked to present at the three-day event, set for April 8-10:

david marquet
D. Marquet

David Marquet, Captain of Human Capital Engineering, Next Jump Inc.; author, Turn the Ship Around!

A 1981 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Capt. Marquet served in the U.S. submarine force for 28 years. After being assigned to command the nuclear-powered submarine USS Santa Fe, then last-ranked in retention and operational standing, he “turned his ship around” by devising an entirely new approach to leadership that took the sub from “worst to first.” The turnaround is featured in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People follow-up The 8th Habit.

Marquet will speak on Thursday, April 9, 2015. Check out a preview of his presentation here.

huggy rao
H. Rao

Huggy Rao, professor, Stanford University; co-author, Scaling Up Excellence

Prof. Rao is a widely published researcher in the fields of management and sociology, where he examines the causes of organizational change. In 2009, he published Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovation, and just this year co-authored the Wall Street Journal bestseller Scaling Up Excellence with colleague Robert Sutton. Daniel Pink, renowned keynote and author of bestseller Drive, called Scaling Up Excellence “one of the finest business books you’ll ever read.”

Rao will speak on Friday, April 10, 2015. Check out a preview of his presentation here.

Marquet and Rao are part of a wide range of keynote and breakout presenter offerings that will be announced in the coming months. Early registration for the 2015 summit is set to open Monday, Nov. 10, with an early bird discount effective through Dec. 31. All registrants will receive complimentary copies of each book.

This year’s Leading Through Excellence summit attracted more than 200 process improvement professionals and featured Decisive co-author Chip Heath and restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, among others.

COE seeking student volunteers for April 9-11 summit

Looking for a great volunteer opportunity that gives you face-time with leaders from a wide range of industries?

See how much fun they're having?!
See how much fun they’re having?!

The Center for Operational Excellence’s second-annual three-day Leading Through Excellence summit will bring together Fisher College of Business faculty, dynamic leaders, and process improvement experts with acute insights into today’s business challenges. We expect this event to draw more than 250 mid-level and higher-ranking operations professionals – and we’re seeking Fisher undergraduate and graduate students to volunteer.

You can help out by:

  • Staffing the check-in / registration desk
  • Riding along during Wednesday, April 9, plant tours
  • Introducing professors / visiting professionals during breakout sessions
  • Assisting with audiovisual needs during presentations
  • Helping attendees as a greeter / way-finder
  • …among many other opportunities.

Some important details on this opportunity: The summit takes place at the Fawcett Center, 2400 Olentangy River Road. COE is running shuttles between Gerlach Hall and Fawcett every 30 minutes during the summit for the 5-minute trip. Volunteer shifts begin at 7:30 a.m. each day and are available until 7 p.m. Weds./Thurs. and 3 p.m. Fri., and you can select one or multiple 2-hour slots.

If you’re interested, please contact Sreekanth Kolan at kolan.1@osu.edu. All you have to do aside from staffing your volunteer slot is attend a one-hour volunteer info session on Wednesday, April 2, in 355 Gerlach, from noon to 1. Pizza will be served, naturally.

Summit keynote Chip Heath talks ‘Decisive’ lessons, misleading gut instincts

Less than a month from now, bestselling author Chip Heath is heading to Ohio State University to deliver the featured keynote address as part of the Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit April 9-11. To shed some light on Decisive, the latest book he wrote with his brother, Dan, here’s a recent Q&A the Heath brothers participated in, posted here with the permission of BrightSight Group. Here, the Heath brothers explain why we still make decisions like teenagers, why the “gut instinct” isn’t always to be trusted, and why your ‘Devil’s Advocate’ is probably entirely too angelic.

Chip Heath

Why did you think the arena of decision-making was worth another look beyond the current literature?

People have been studying decisions for a very long time. But most of the emphasis, traditionally, has been on the problems with people’s decision-making: the biases and irrationalities that we’re all prone to. So our approach was to flip that and ask: What are the solutions here? We know people tend to fall into certain traps, so how can they avoid them? How can they make better decisions?

Why aren’t we, as leaders, specifically taught good decision-making habits?

In corporate America, we’ve got this mythology of “the gut.” Great leaders should trust their gut! Rely on their instincts! We all seem to like this kind of swashbuckling image of an executive who can make a multimillion-dollar bet just because it feels right.

Unfortunately, there is very little reason to believe that we should be trusting our guts. We need to put our trust in a good process, not a smart “gut.” I’d draw an analogy to health care – great surgeons have phenomenal instincts, but they are also surrounded by systems and processes that bring out the best in them and minimize the chance of error. Those guardrails are what we need in decision-making, too.

Does time taken to reach a decision add to its quality?

Not necessarily. Often the best advice is the simplest, for instance, the suggestion to “sleep on it.” That’s great advice—it helps to quiet short-term emotion that can disrupt our choices. But it still takes 8 hours, and it doesn’t always resolve our dilemmas. Many other powerful decision aids require only a simple shift in attention.  Doctors leaning toward a diagnosis are taught to check themselves by asking, “What else could this be?” And colleagues making a difficult group decision can ask, “What would convince us, six months down the road, to change our minds about this?” Those are great tools, and they take minutes rather than months.

You write that “organizations often make decisions like teenagers.” How so?

A defining trait of teenagers is that they tend to make decisions without a thorough weighing of the consequences. That’s what makes them teenagers. But organizations often do the same thing. In our experience, leaders often spend a lot of time assessing a decision but very little time preparing for the possible outcomes of that decision. One smart technique we cite was created by the psychologist Gary Klein. He created a process called the premortem, where you say, “OK, team. We just made a decision. Let’s imagine that it’s a year from now, and it was a disaster. What went wrong?” Everyone assembles lists of fiasco scenarios and compares notes. Then you say, “Given what we’ve foreseen, how can we forestall as many of those outcomes as possible?” A premortem makes you humble enough to think, If I’m wrong, what then?

The ‘Devil’s Advocate’ approach seems too often delivered with a smile – not with the authenticity, relish and depth needed to ensure a profound consideration. What should this genuinely look like?

Here’s a real tough dilemma: We know that decisions are better when multiple points of view are aired out. Sometimes that means surfacing new perspectives, and sometimes that means disagreement. But of course there is an array of factors that tend to suppress those alternate points of view: politics, politeness, timidity, and so on. So one of the most important duties of a leader is to build a culture that allows people to raise objections or concerns or to flat-out disagree. There’s a great quote from Alfred Sloan, who was CEO of General Motors decades ago. He interrupted a committee meeting with a question: “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here?” All the committee members nodded. “Then,” Sloan said, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what this decision is about.” That’s the right spirit.

You recommend a “playlist” in the chapter “Find someone Who’s Solved Your Problem.” Do we struggle with this one because it’s hard for leaders to publicly acknowledge we have a problem that can’t be solved right away?

We came up with this term “playlist” to describe a concept that’s so simple that we can’t believe it’s not used by every organization in the world. The idea is no more profound than this: Leaders repeatedly make the same types of decisions, so shouldn’t they learn from the strategies used by previous leaders who faced those same situations? For instance, every manager will struggle at some point with an underperforming employee. How do you handle it? Wouldn’t it be great to have a “playlist” with a dozen reliable strategies for handling that situation? That way, as you build up the playlist over time, you’ve got concrete proof that your organization is getting more diligent about decision-making.

Where there any surprises in your research?

One of our biggest surprises was the research on narrow framing. Some Carnegie Mellon researchers published a study showing that when teens make decisions, only 30% of the time do they consider more than one alternative. They’re making “whether or not” decisions. I.e., I’m deciding whether or not to go to the party tonight. And that’s a real trap—it makes them overlook other options that are available to them. But here’s the twist: Organizations do the same thing! In a study of decisions authored by Paul Nutt, he discovered that only 29% of organizations considered more than one alternative. They were making decisions like teenagers! And of course all of us do the same thing in our personal lives. We get stuck thinking “whether or not” and ignoring the spectrum of options that are available to us.

Want to hear more from Chip Heath? Join us for our April 9-11 summit!

This article appears in the March 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at burns.701@osu.edu.

Originally conducted for the American Society of Association Executives

Ohio State president, Momentive CEO to speak at COE’s April summit

E. Gordon Gee

Case studies. Plant tours. Simulations. Bestselling The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg.

The list of reasons you should sign up for COE’s first-ever Leading Through Excellence summit is already long. We’re going to add a few more reasons, and one of them is none other than the bow tie-clad leader of our esteemed institution.

COE has booked Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee for an appearance on Thursday, April 11, at our summit. He’ll be speaking in the afternoon amid our triple threat of breakout sessions. Before that, however, you’ll also get to hear a special address from the chief of one of the 50 largest private companies in the nation: Momentive Performance Materials Holdings CEO Craig Morrison.

Craig Morrison

These are great additions to an already stellar lineup. Gee oversees six campuses, 65,000 students and 48,000 faculty and staff and is one of the most highly respected leaders in American higher education. Morrison led the 2002 effort to combine the former Borden Chemical with three other companies into Hexion, one of the nation’s largest specialty chemical makers. After merging with its sister company in 2010, Momentive as it’s known today emerged and has grown to a nearly $8 billion organization, dwarfing its size a decade ago.

Both of these men will be at our summit to talk about the crucial role leadership and problem-solving play in the success of your organization.

You can read more about the summit here, but trust me on this – just register.