lean basic controls - the moment of truth

Lean Basic Controls – Moments of Truth


Lean Basic Controls 0, moments of truth

Simple things going wrong seems to increase in my work experience. Negative consequences cancel out the results of the continuous improvement efforts. Lack of craftmanship? Lack of alertness and focus? That is too simply judged by the management and an insult towards the employees. My examples have a pattern in common. And large organizations seem more vulnerable for this effect …

Each time it is a challenge to grasp root causes, and each time something is happening in the forcefield between craftsmanship and organizational performance pressure. The latter is increasingly felt on the shop floor, could it be an underlying cause? Agile, Management By Objectives and other tools seem to coincide with symptoms like burnout and excessive staff turnover … And when we organize with advanced team methods, does it actually improve? Or will the process become more vulnerable by work pressure and groupthink? We can design processes in such a way, that vulnerable moments of truth become detached from this pressure! By applying Lean Basic Controls. I give examples:


When climbing in the Alps with a group of students, we almost reached the summit when one of us thinks to hear thunder. “Impossible, the sky is blue, no sign of any clouds”. We continue but a few minutes later we recognize a dark cloud rising over the mountain ridge. We turn at once, but still I remember the gutfeel of “just continue a few minutes”. When we reach the main trail on the way back, the rain starts pouring down. Another five minutes would have brought us in danger.


A sales-director for a big company is negotiating with a government representative in the South America. A gained project would bring his company through a dark period. The representative suggests an unusual financial transaction. But the director is aware that competitors will receive the same proposition. He is judged on his results, and even more, without this assignment jobs will be lost. Some rumors rise, but this time it does not get worse.


A notorious criminal receives a request for a visitor. It is very busy and refusing a request must be motivated carefully. When his lawyer would make an objection, it will even be more time consuming. So this time permission is given at once. During the visit, it proves to be a far relative, and not a journalist of a tabloid. A few weeks later a sex offender is visited by a journalist, in another prison, and a massive media hype is targeting the prisons organization. The employee understands now the risks he ran by taking the easy way.

Process industry

A chemical plant uses a parallel filter, which has to be repeatedly switched. During production this is forbidden for safety reasons. The procedure is manual because the operation of the filter change is manual as well. Experienced operators develop an informal workaround, starting the change earlier, when the reactor is started. This gives sufficient time to switch the filters safely. First this is practiced during nightshifts and in weekends. But eventually all shifts adopt this new practice, resulting in a 10% capacity increase. A young operator forgets to initiate the switching when the reactor starts. The supervisor decides to start anyway in order not to loose capacity. Although this time the switching is under time pressure and nothing may deviate. The situation is not reported, and the shifts take pride in their approach.

Agile project

A strength calculation must always be performed with the final data set. The design process suffers an increasing time pressure and minor changes are increasingly implemented during the last stages. This imposes upon the engineer of the team recalculating the strength as a final step, knowing that the changes are minor and thus will not impact the results. This weekend is his wife’s birthday, and again Friday last changes are accepted. He is expected to do overwork. The updated calculations must be available by 9.00 AM Monday morning. The engineer just enters his previous calculations as a new version. Nobody notices; what would he do next time? And his colleagues?


Do you recognize the pattern in your own experiences? Lean Basic Controls can visualize the forcefield and can eliminate the risks of conflicting top-down influences. Each situation is different, but for the mountaineers it was easy. The group agreed beforehand that each can order a return without explanation. The students were frightened by stories, told in the mountain cabins about near accidents. And in each of the stories feelings of “unease” were suppressed by the team members.

Leo Monhemius
    Vitalizing struggling Lean Six Sigma programmes is what I do. Or starting from scratch! My challenge is simplifying methods to the minimum, thus only keeping the essential. Many projects require a simple tweak to bring success. Apart from academic knowledge and balanced approach, many programs just need raw energy as well. The new training facility in Zuilichem provides an inspiring accommodation for training or reflection sessions. Specialties: The handouts and course material is all full written text (not powerpoint!) and Dutch text. A specialty are the many hands on training tricks, of which the "paper factory" is the most extended one. This factory enables the training of the organisational development of a group, using sequential simulation runs of table top process industry. http://www.dutchsixsigma.nl

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