Sunday, May 29, 2016

My “Lean” Journey 1 – It’s a Mind Game

A few years back (10 years younger and 10 lbs. lighter), I decided to take my two weeks’ vacation and attend the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS):

The intent of the course is of course to teach survival skills in the wilderness, but more importantly to teach life skills. Many of these life skills can be extrapolated to manufacturing companies’ projects, ERP and otherwise. The curriculum follows the same path as many of the Special Forces courses in the military, and the result is the same: better leaders, better teams, and better individuals.

Day 1:  On arrival I realized I was the oldest guy there at age 46, and most of my compatriots were in their twenties and thirties. The school required a 3 mile run in less than 18 minutes to be able to participate in the 2 week survival course. So I had been training for 6 weeks to make the time. The group takes off and I run mid pack thru the 3 miles, but as we cross the finish no times are given, so we really don’t know if we made the time or not. 5 minutes later a medic comes by to take my pulse, but won’t answer any questions. Shortly thereafter, we are split into two groups of 8, stripped of everything but a canteen and a bedroll, and a knife.  We follow our guide into the desert wilderness without a word, or instructions, we simply follow.  We march thru the desert for 12 hours straight, one break for water, no breaks for food. Its roughly midnight when we stop walking, and bed down under scrub brush, no fire, no food, no answers.

Lean Lessons: the entire concept of the BOSS school is to retrain the mind. In a survival situation if you   are truly lost, or in any natural disaster, you may not know when your next meal will come, when help will come, or if it will come at all. So you must put aside the concept of a “goal”, and simply move forward, take the next step, not knowing if help is 100 feet or 100 miles down the path. The exercise of running the 3 miles in under 18 minutes was not about time, it was about how quickly your body would recover from extreme physical exertion. Again the instructors wanted the students to forget about goals (18 minutes) and focus on doing the 3 miles, and then doing another 20 miles. It was a mind game that teaches you that you have to keep going after you think you are finished (continuous improvement). The 20 mile march which we did every day for 2 weeks, without a destination, teaches the mind to keep moving forward without knowing the destination. You go until the instructor says stop, as tired as you are, the mind is you’re only limiting factor.

Lean is a similar journey. It’s not about a specific task, or session, or event or process. It’s a mental philosophy of continuous improvement, only limited by the mental limitations of the teams. Once you overcome the “imaginary limits” of the organization, you can push improvement beyond what was thought possible. 10 years ago a 300 hp. Ford Mustang with 30 MPG was not possible, but here it is today. That was a mental constraint for the design teams. The limits in a Lean Journey are only the mental limits. So is that the 18 minute time limit? Of course not, we still have another 20 miles to go. The tools of Lean include software, but the biggest hurdles on the Lean Journey are the culture of the company, mental constraints. “How can we improve this process if we just finished a year of work improving it?” How can we possibly get better?  Oftentimes, these questions are best answered by a partner services organization or a consulting group like Microsoft Consulting Services, who have industry experience in continuous improvement. Once your sights are set beyond the 3 miles, you can continue on the Lean Journey.


Look for Days 2-5 of my BOSS experience in the next blog, truly funny stuff and I lose 10 lbs…becoming LEANer.

About Gil Garcia

Gil Garcia is the Director of Manufacturing Industries at Microsoft, and an expert in manufacturing issues in customer experience management and enterprise resource planning software

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