Archive for December, 2009

Well done LEI

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Following the message included in my post of yesterday, Jean of LEI came back to me straightaway, this morning US time.

Hello Peter,

We are very appreciative of your taking the time to write about your experience and added expenses with FedEx.  This is an important issue to be raised, and we are exploring what can be done.

Asking the five Whys  is where we will start.

I hope you enjoy and gain from your books.

Thank you for your interest in LEI.

Best regards,


I appreciate above all the urgency of the response. “Every letter written deserves a (rapid) reply“.

Categories: Respect for People Tags:

Unhappy with FedEx and want the world to know it

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Every now and then we all get a need to gripe and complain. If done in a positive way with the aim of improvement, I see nothing wrong with it. Last week I order two books from, books which I couldn’t find either on French or UK equivalent sites, or on Amazon in Europe. Therefore I was obliged to import them.

They arrived yesterday. The rest is a copy/paste from a message I’ve just sent off to .

I’m sure that as one of the leading voices in Lean thinking, you’re always delighted to get customer feedback.
Well, the good news is that the goods arrived safe and sound and in good condition yesterday, so less than a week to get here.
However, the nasty surprise was the extra charge to the shipment, which I considered was already exhorbitant (33 dollars, about 23 euros at the exchange rate used).
There was a customs and excise duty of 7 euros (10 dollars) applied, which is normal, we all have to pay taxes. However, what made me extremely unhappy is that FedEx, having dug deep into their pockets to advance this amount, then charged me 12 euros (17 dollars) for ‘administrative charges’. So in the end I paid 50 dollars (not counting the excise duty) for FedEx’s service, 50% above what was published.
I think at least that you place a bright red warning statement on your web site, as this must happen every time.
And although the service is good, I will no longer be purchasing products where FedEx is quoted as the ‘preferred’ transporter.
Thanks anyway,
I wonder if Jim W. will be replying to me in person?
Categories: It's Happening Worldwide Tags:

The Capacity to Listen

December 16th, 2009 admin No comments

I can remember it clearly as if it was yesterday. Walking down that long corridor, behind a colleague of mine who, as usual, was talking. Talking. Talking.

And still talking as he pushed the swing doors. And let them fly back towards what could have been unsuspecting victims. However, I knew this man. Technically extremely competent. Very sure of himself. But with very little sensitivity to others. Some of us look back and make sure a) that we are being followed and b) by who. Other just barge straight on. Regardless of the surroundings. Incapable of listening.

For listening had evolved over the course of my relatively long career as the number one characteristic of the competent manager. This is especially important for the Lean manager, who has to keep his ear wide open :

- listening to his customers : are the goods or services that he is contributing to the supply and delivery of meeting the customers expectations. And if not, why not, and what are we going to do about it?

- listening to the members of the team : every hour of every day, out on the shop floor or in the office, encouraging, guiding, reacting to feedback, dealing with issues, building confidence and teamwork

- listening to his colleagues within the value stream : what are their difficulties, what can I be doing to help them, what events do we need to anticipate?

- listening to the processes : are they improving, what do the measures say, where are the issues, what can we do about it?

- listening to the external value stream contributors : what do our suppliers or service providers think of us, how can we make their job easier?

- listening to the boss, and making sure that he is fully aligned, motivated and committed to the Lean efforts, and doing something about it if he is not,

- and finally, back home, listening to the wife and kids. Lean Management can be a highly pressurised environment with the listening and then doing that takes place, but the work/life balance is an important aspect of the Lean Management System, and work pressures are no excuse for plugging our ears at home.

The capacity to listen is a telltale sign for many other management competencies. We should all do our utmost to improve it?

Categories: Respect for People Tags:

The France Telecom report

December 15th, 2009 admin No comments

It’s all over. 88,088 questionnaires (out of 102000 sent out) and 20798 anonymous emails later, research into working conditions at France Telecom, which have generated 34 suicides over the last two years, has come up with its conclusions.

Guess what? People don’t like working there!

The working conditions are stressful, even violent”. “Management has failed, the employees have been orphaned of all sense, of leadership”. “Pride in belonging to the company has been lost”.

Well, this sounds a pleasant place to work, doesn’t it?

It gets worse. “There has been a fragilisation of physical and mental health, problems of recognition in face of managerial pressure”. And even worse – the most dissatisfied employees are to be found in the jobs where there is customer contact : city centre shops, help lines, and maintenance and repair teams, due to “demands of the work coupled with the complexity of the product range, the working environment and insufficient resources“. According to the trade unions, these are the areas where there have been the most delocalisations, subcontracting and temporary staff.

One other major areas of ‘waste’ reported : the number of layers of senior management and their inability to agree on anything.

Particularly targetted, the current Chief Executive, Didier Lombard, who has been doing quite well in business terms and especially in the area of international expansion. But if ever there was an example to be noted of the consequences of not getting out on the ‘Gemba’, this is it. Disconnected from reality, he’s taking the blame for everything. As one employee pointed out, “business for the sake of business is no good if there is no social cohesion in the company“.

This is a case study for all students of management to read up on. Unfortunately, over the past two years, the results of this transformation which has been anything but ‘Lean’ have been far too dramatic for 34 families and their close ones.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Elizabeth Queen of France

December 12th, 2009 admin No comments

French-English relations have never been that warm. There’s something about the different cultures and temperaments that makes getting on really well together a little more difficult than say between the French and the Spanish or the English and the Scots (no, that’s not a good example),  Germans (even worse) or maybe even Americans (although not that Tony Blair is out of the picture…).

It requires an event of gigantesque proportions to get everyone totally aligned, and not even the invasion of France in 1941 was able to do it totally.

Therefore, this week’s events, albeit overshadowed by Tiger Woods’ drop in popularity (apart from within the realms of the bar waitress population), have to be termed as downright historical. For our respective and respected leaders, Sarkozy and Brown, have finally agreed on something. And 99,99% of the population of both countries is totally behind them. This has indeed brought the two countries together, and Elizabeth can probably look forward to becoming Queen of France (as long as the English agree to drive on the right, that is).

The 0,01% who probably feel hard done by are the bankers. For Nicolas and Gordon have only gone and agreed to tax 50% of all bankers bonuses beyond a certain threshold. And the thousands of bankers who thought that they were all going to get over a million pounds (some a lot more) in bonuses are probably at this moment sinking  their fourth pint of Guinness or glass of Burgundy reflecting on how mistreated they are, as the takehome will actually only be around 51-53% of what they were actually counting on.

The threshold in the UK is going to be around 25000 pounds. Above that they are texed 50%. At least 5000 are concerned in the UK…

Hold on, a minute. Can someone explain to me just where customer value comes into this? One of the principles of the Respect for People aspects of Lean Management is that benefits are shared between all levels of the organisation as well as the shareholders. Can we assume therefore that the 5000+ each taking 1m+ do so because they have generated an even bigger benefit for their customers? If this is the case, I want to be a customer of those banks.

Unfortunately, I doubt whether this is the case. The benefits will undoubtedly have been generated, but to serve principally the shareholders and the other fat cats in the banking hierarchy. Mr.Customer has probably not seen any payback above the token interest rates he signed up to in the first place.

The world of banking is obviously a long way away from claiming to have implemented Lean Management (although I’m sure that the bonus payment processes do not have a lot of waste in them). However, if Nicolas and Gordon carry on in the current vein, we could still see further improvements.

Although it’s a lot more likely that we’ll see Elizabeth on the French throne before that.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Van Gogh and Sunflower Lean

December 7th, 2009 admin No comments

There was a fascinating report last night on what looked to be a very original application of Lean Manufacturing.

I didn’t know this, but there seems to be a major industry in China producing copies of the major works of painters and sculptors. There are these hangers full of Roman-like sculptures which look very much like the originals would have (not that I’ve an expert eye) which manufactured in around three days compared with months or years in the ‘good old days’. And it is not as if these are necessarily skilled craftsmen. According to the journalist (I am always a little sceptical about what I see or hear on the television), many of these sculptors are labourers who could no longer make a living in the rice fields and, after what must have been a fairly intensive training programmes, turned to sculpting (using circular saws for some of them). It’s wonderful what standard work can produce if done properly!

The bit that intrigued me most however was on how a team worked together on copies of paintings of the Masters. The example we saw was the reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

There was a team of six, with six canvas pinned to the wall in front of them. I’m inventing the precise detail, but the organisation was something like :

Worker 1 paints the outlines

Worker 2 colours the vases

Worker 3 paints the stalks

Worker 4 colours the petals

Worker 5 paints the low-level background

Worker 6 paints the high-level background

Each part of the painting is timed to take exactly the same amount of time.

And then workers 1 moves onto worker 2’s canvas, 2 onto 3n 6 back to 1, etc. Each specialising in their own specific task – vase, stalks and petals. In a few minutes, an identical copy of Van Gogh’s painting is produce for sale at a sizeable markup either locally (there’s a big market) or internationally. And we can probably be sure that the order has already been received, and that this is not ‘push’ production.

Well, that’s where all similarity with Lean ends. Workers sleeping on site with dormatories six to a room and canvasses pinned to the wall just in case the 12-hour day was not long enough and they felt like doing a bit of overtime during the night.

However, as a Lean application, it was fascinating.

Van Gogh, however, probably wouldn’t want to hear about it!

Categories: It's Happening Worldwide Tags:

Swine flu Lean

December 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

Have any other countries gone through such a humerous reaction to swine flu as France has?

When the initial outbreaks took place out somewhere else but a long way from here, there was a feeling that, no, it could never happen here.

Then a French citizen went and contracted the virus out in New Zealand and unfortunately didn’t survive. Oh, we thought, this thing could be dangerous.

We have a fabulous Health Minister. Roselyne, by name, a comical cartoon character if ever you saw one. Must be pretty good though – she’s done a number of ministerial jobs, committed some major gaffes, and is still going from strength to strength.

Anyway, Roselyne, upon hearing of the New Zealand incident, and taking advice from the French medical experts who are all tied in to the vaccine manufacturers who, surprise surprise, are principally to be found in France and Belgium, decided to show all of her powers of anticipation by ordering 94 million of these vaccines.

Now, France is holding around 65m at the moment, give or take a few illegals, and even my maths can’t get around how, whether it be one dose or two, 65m translates into 94m doses when the youngest and eldest are the most exposed.

Anyway, it was decided that a dual vaccination was required, priority lists were set, emergency tents erected all around France (but in the main towns, hard luck if you live in the country, as local general practitioners are not allowed to participate in all of this), medical staff and volunteers mobilised… and they waited.. and waited… and waited.

Television reports were a little sarcastic outset. One pack of vaccines supplies ten vaccinations, and there was a little scandal on how many were being thrown away because people didn’t turn up in multiples of ten. Or didn’t turn up at all.

This is where Roselyne came into her element, describing on national TV exactly what major risks we were running through not getting vaccinated. She didn’t exactly come out with boils, verrouckas (could never spell it) and pus-filled scabs, but we were almost there. Well, she did have 93,5m to get rid of.

And, as much as I love the French, it did work. We now have ration-kitchen-like queues, people fighting to get vaccinated, and Roselyne running around shit-scared that she’s not going to have enough to go around.

So we’ve decided that, in fact, it’s not two injections we need, but one.

Does anyone anywhere know anything about Lean Government?

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:
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