Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Dealing with CAVE people

October 24, 2014
By Dr. Timothy

Oct. 24, 2014 – I laughed out loud when I first heard about CAVE people. They are the “Citizens Against Virtually Everything,” and they are the group of people resistant to lean changes. Some of the people involved in your lean initiative will be on board with the change; others will be sitting on the fence until they see proof that lean works; and the remaining group will be the CAVE people.

One of my senseis, Masaaki Imai, was once asked by Taiichi Ohno (the father of TPS) how the terms kaizen and kairyo (reform) were differentiated in the West. Imai told him that while kaizen means to make improvement by using brains, kairyo means to make improvement by using money and, in the West, most managers only think of improvement in terms of money. Imai told me that Ohno liked this definition and quoted it on several occasions during his public speeches.

What does that have to do with CAVE people? Simple. In the West, if the managers think the continuous improvement idea will not be accepted (read: make or save money almost instantly), they won’t approve it. It gets worse if the workplace has a group of vocal CAVE people. You know the type. They will tell you they’ve tried lean (or whatever else) before and it didn’t work. They’ll tell you it’s not the way they do things. They’ll tell you what they’ve been doing has worked well enough for a long time.

What you need to do is convince these CAVE people that lean works. You want to get to the sources of organizational savings that come from getting the job done right the first time, by getting everyone to stop and ask “Why?” five times. In short, you really want to transform your workplace by creating a lean organizational culture.

Here’s how to convince the CAVE people that lean is worth their commitment:


One: Treat them with respect. Respect for all people is a central tenet of the Toyota Production System. You’ll want to announce your continuous improvement efforts to everyone and invite them to participate. At the same time, you’ll have an understanding of the people who will comprise the first group of people. You’ll direct everyone’s attention to this first group’s outcomes and successes.

Two: Integrate them slowly. Once you’ve got your preliminary successes under your belt, go ahead and ask the CAVE people if they’d like to participate in the next continuous improvement (CI) efforts. Connect a few of them to the next round of CI exercises.

Three: Convince them with data, not your say so. You can talk about the glorious results of your lean initiatives until you’re blue in the face, but people want to see something they can “take to the bank.” Let your successes do the talking. Chat about them right after you meet a major milestone, note what worked and what didn’t and record them. Present the results each month to everyone, and be sure to include senior management in this group. This will reinforce the “lean is for everyone” mentality.

Four: Ask them what they’d like to change. If they don’t want to participate in early lean efforts, ask them about what they’d like to change about their work. This isn’t a free for all, so there are some ground rules: Don’t throw money at a problem. All that shows is you’ve got a lot of money. Don’t rely on IT or automation. That might come later, but for now, exercise your wits, not your wallets!

Remember, they will be CAVE people until they’re not! You can bring everyone along the lean journey by sharing the facts of your success, making that success shared and being inclusive. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have heard from clients that “Person X” used to be the biggest CAVE person — nothing was done right; they complained about everything; and they did nothing to bring about improvement. Then they tell me about the change! They tell me that “Person X”, who used to be the biggest CAVE person, is now the most pro-lean person they’ve got — this person contributes suggestions, sees them through, and prompts others to contribute to the lean board or make suggestions. I really love hearing these stories because it means that the lean culture is catching on. It means that those closest to production are becoming the change that we all want to see!

Question from the floor

Question: What are the most common mistakes when implementing lean?

Answer: Lean must never be a tool for simple cost reduction. This fundamentally misses the purpose of lean, which is to empower those closest to production to create value through eliminating waste. The thinking is that as companies improve their processes, they should be able to save time, prevent errors and generally reallocate their resources to new value-creating work.

Another important attitude to avoid from the beginning is the tendency to rush into using the tools. When this is done without giving any background or support to lean, you’ll wind up with a new “flavour of the month.” This can be hard to avoid, since many tools, like 5S, deliver immediate payoffs. You want to provide enough background so people can see that their efforts lead to positive change. The best way to achieve this is to make sure everyone is involved in lean.

Lean beginners should also be careful of biting off more than they can chew. Make initial continuous improvements in small steps. Communicate their successes. Make sure everyone hears about them. And ensure they have a lean leader with deep knowledge and a gemba attitude. Indeed, one of the hardest challenges is the degree to which individual lean successes will invariably uncover new problems and greater challenges. Simply be aware of how difficult this work will be.

From the bookshelf

Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice
by Michael Ballé and Freddy Ballé

This book tells the story of CEO Jane Delaney of Southcape Software. She is forced to review everything that she’s been doing and, in the process, discovers from her sensei, Andy Ward, that learning to lead with respect enables her to help people improve every day.

“For us, lean is all about challenging yourself and each other to find the right problems, and working hard every day to engage people in solving them,” said Ward.

One of the true powers of lean is the ability to develop people while building a culture of continuous improvement. Some people believe that lean is successfully implemented by following a rigorous application of proven tools and methods. In fact, lean’s successful implementation comes from changing the culture to one of continuous improvement. And that means asking the right questions when faced with an anomaly, getting down to the correct root causes and approaching everything with a “Why?” attitude.

Lead With Respect has a timely message. While lean has become essential for companies to compete in today’s global economy, most practitioners see it as a rigorous focus on process to produce higher quality goods and services. This really is a limited understanding and it’s one that fails to realize the true power of lean. It’s no wonder people ask whether they should mention Toyota when doing their lean training. They’ve forgotten the basics, which is what this book delivers.

The authors have also written The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager, but this work shares huge amounts of practical information on the most important yet least understood aspect of lean management: how to develop people through a rigorous application of lean tools.

The Checklist Manifesto – How to Get Things Right
by Atul Gawande

This book is one that I’ve discussed before in my column, but I think it’s worth revisiting. It makes the case for making something complicated simpler. Although Gawande uses many medical examples of where simplicity is needed, it is truly required in areas as diverse as software engineering, financial management, fire fighting, policing, the law and, of course, clinicians.

Readers will appreciate the B-17 story from chapter two. The B-17 crashed on its test flight on October 30, 1935. The “Flying Fortress” went on to help gain a decisive air advantage in World War II. Right after the accident, the test pilots created a pilot’s checklist because the new airplane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any one person.

Gawande is really interested in a problem that afflicts virtually every aspect of the modern world — how professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. He makes a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know). Most of the time, the mistakes that we make are about the second of these errors. He introduces the origins of the checklist (the B-17 story) and then takes us through a series of examples from medicine, showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes are virtually inevitable.

As our manufacturing systems get more complex, it gets easier to make “errors of ineptitude.” Having a checklist overcomes these errors because we’re now making proper use of what we know.

Think about what happens in your manufacturing operation and where mistakes have become almost inevitable. I once had a manufacturing client that had an 80 per cent failure rate for their most important product. A simple checklist eliminated this error!

This column originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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