Throwback with Nigel Thurlow

Throwback with Nigel Thurlow

by Patrick Adams | Sep 6, 2022

Today is a replay of a conversation I had with Nigel Thurlow,  a leading expert on Lean and Agile approaches. Nigel advises companies on successful transformation strategies and how to achieve effective and lasting change. As the chief agile at Toyota connected, he established the Toyota agile Academy and is also the co-author of The Flow System.

In this episode, Nigel and I talk about Agile, how it relates to Lean and the flow from scientific thinking to Agile into the flow system.

What You’ll Learn This Episode:

  • Nigel’s background in Lean and Agile
  • The challenges with bringing Agile into Toyota
  • The differences between Japan and the western world with executive leadership
  • The scientific method and why it’s so important
  • The challenges when only dealing with deductive reasoning
  • PDCA and Scrum
  • Agile, what it is and how it differs and relates to Lean
  • How Agile and Lean flow into the flow system

About the Guest: 

Nigel Thurlow is the former Chief of Agile at Toyota, creator of the World Agility Forum award-winning ‘Scrum the Toyota Way’ approach, and the co-creator of The Flow System™. He is also a Forbes top 10 noted author for his work as co-author of the book on The Flow System and is a well-known Keynote Speaker. He also co-authors The Flow Guide.

Nigel is an internationally recognized expert in the Toyota Production System and The Toyota Way as well as Lean Thinking, Agile, Scrum, and Complexity concepts. In addition to his work at Toyota in recent years he has also taught and coached at Vodafone, Banco Popular, GE, Bose, 3M, Microsoft, University of North Texas, and to the faculty at MIT.

Nigel also presents regularly for The Lean Institute at their events and is considered a leading expert in bridging the Lean and Agile worlds following his pioneering work at Toyota.

As a Professional Scrum Trainer, the first one ever in Toyota, and the first to have been certified by both the creators of Scrum, he has trained over 8000 people worldwide as of 2021.

Nigel is extensively published online and has co-authored several peer reviewed white papers and journal publications on team science. He acts as an advisor on several boards at the University of North Texas as well as contributing to Chief Executive Magazine.

Nigel currently serves as the CEO of The Flow Consortium, and as an interim executive with several high-profile brands advising executive leadership teams on lean and agile strategies in complex business and organizational design environments.

Important Links:

https://flowguides.org/

https://www.getflowtrained.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Flow-System-Evolution-Thinking-Complexity/dp/1680400584

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nigelthurlow/

The Flow System read online for free via UNT – https://library.unt.edu/aquiline-books/flow-058-8/

The Slack community – https://join.slack.com/t/the-flow-system/shared_invite/zt-o6zfwlwx-HkoqExXlmEWSwDaAFXAejA

 

Full Episode Transcript:

Patrick Adams  

Welcome to the Lean solutions podcast where we discuss business solutions to help listeners develop and implement action plans for true Lean process improvement. I am your host, Patrick Adams. Hello, our guest today is Nigel Thurlow. Nigel is a leading expert on Lean and Agile approaches. He advises companies on successful transformation strategies and how to achieve effective and lasting change. As the chief agile at Toyota connected, he established the Toyota agile Academy. He is also the co author of the flow system. Welcome to the show, Nigel.

Nigel Thurlow

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Patrick Adams  

Absolutely. I’m excited to have you on the show. Nigel, can you just start us out by telling us maybe just a little bit about your background?

Nigel Thurlow  

Yeah, sure for that, and yeah, I do enjoy the exchanges on social media, by the way, I try and control myself now. And, and, but yeah, it’s been some good fun commentary, then we’ll get into that, I’m pretty sure. But look, I started my life out as an engineer way back in the day, and I’m talking to an IT engineer, not not necessarily mechanical or electrical engineering, but I have a background in electronics. So I trained in electronics. In the days when computers were sort of standalone things before networks became popular, I’m a little older than a lot of people. And then I sort of transitioned into the world of management through the project management sort of routes, I spent years as a project manager. And then one day there was a company, I was living in Belgium, and I’d been relocated to Belgium by Comcast of all organizations, and an operation they’re running out in Europe. And during my 10 years in Belgium, when Comcast shut down their operation there, I found a job with this automotive company called Toyota. And, and sort of fell into this new way of working, which I thought was completely mindless and crazy, and, and this whole lean thing, and just so everybody’s very tired to use the word lean, I’m just gonna get that out there right up front, this whole thing that the word Lean is the Toyota vocabulary is completely wrong. It’s not a banned word in Toyota and the concept of Lean thinking, we’ll probably get into this conversation. But I went to work for this automotive company. And I often tell the story for the first six months of my work that I was resigning every day, because I had been this successful guy in management, project management. And now it’s been reprogrammed in this madness that I was discovering. And then one day, I don’t know when or I can’t really pinpoint it. But one day I just clicked an ad for Catholicism. And I suddenly realized I couldn’t go back to working the way I’d always worked for the years prior. And so I was very fortunate to work for the motor manufacturing side of Toyota and learn many, many things about TPS and the world of Toyota. And then I left for America, that was marriage that took me to America. So I left for the USA. And when I arrived in the USA, because I wasn’t working with Toyota, at that time, I found into the sort of world of the Agile, and sort of Scrum community and was lucky enough to work with the creators of Scrum and a lot of others have illuminators in the Agile world. And then Toyota came calling, I was sitting in the office of the company I was working with and tried to pick up the phone one day and said, Hey, we were thinking about this scrum thing. And, and quite amusing to have this company. That’s the sort of bastion of Lean thinking, now calling him saying we think agile might be useful. So long story short, because of time, I ended up taking the call having a conversation with him, and then was the consultant that went to Toyota deliver the first leadership workshop on this sort of agile thing. And then after sort of flying backwards and forwards for about 18 months on planes between Boston and in California, while still in Torrance and then laterally in Plano. In Texas, I sort of went to who became my boss and said I can’t keep doing is actually a drone, a three on his wall, I actually went into a big white wall outside of his main office, okay with a three on it to explain why I couldn’t continue to work in this consulting mode, and he had to hire me or fire me. And thankfully, he hired me. And I came in as a chief of agile, and then helped integrate the thinking of the lean world, the TPS world with this thing of the Agile world. And what emerged from that was something called Scrum, the Toyota way, which is really just to show that, you know, Lean and Agile thinking is symbiotic, it’s not one or the other and actually won. The Lean Thinking sort of stuff that you and I are into helps the agility emerge, or the Agile thinking emerge. And one of the things I criticize a lot is a lot of these people who are in the Agile world who talk about Lean fundamentals, Lean principles, but lack complete understanding or experience of them. And that’s one of the things I’ve tried to bridge with the the concept of this thing called Scrum, the Toyota way, which is really just a play on words, but it’s how we branded the training within Toyota and the Agile Academy you mentioned was something that the Japanese leadership gave my management and myself permissions do, which was to go out and teach this to external organization. So I was very lucky, over a period of a few years to teach about four, four and a half 1000 People external to Toyota, some of those concepts that we taught internally in Toyota, a little bit of a background.

Patrick Adams  

Now, that’s great. And then one of the things as you were talking, I was just thinking about, you know, agile, which we are going to dive into a little bit for those that are listening, that maybe are hearing that word for the first time. So we will, we will define that shortly. But what I’m wondering is when you went to Toyota and brought in this new, this new word agile and this new way of, you know, or or, you know, had started having discussions about bringing in this this new type of methodology, what challenges did you did you face with Toyota,

Nigel Thurlow  

You know, people say Toyota is the leanest organization or the most efficient organization on the planet. And that is true, if you go into the manufacturing plants, it’s the thing of beauty. I mean, it’s just an array of a cacophony of sounds and movements and things. And it’s a beautifully choreographed synchrony of everything that happens. And there are no, there is nothing better, I mean, it is exceptional. But as you walk away from the production line, it starts to get a little bit less TPSC. And as you get really a long way away from the TPS line, you know, from the production line, and into the traditional office of management companies, I’m talking outside of Japan now, then it becomes much more like traditional corporations. And so they experienced in America, when you get into the larger parts of Toyota, which are the support services, for the manufacturing capabilities in the production of vehicles, etc, it tends to become just like most of the corporation, if you’ve got the same hierarchies, the same silos, the same constraints, the same challenges, the sort of political sort of sides of things, the ones that differences, though, you do have the principles of the Toyota way, which you can always present and always remind people of, you know, the basic principles of respect for people and continuous improvement, but of course, all the other things wrapped around there, which you lack in other organizations. So it was a forcing function. And I mean, that in the most gentle way, we can sort of say, Look, you know, our Toyota way is XYZ therefore, and that helps us use that as a nudge as a guide to be able to, to free things off the reason, the title, we’re looking, in my opinion, again, these are my opinions, my memories and recollections of using some of these agile concepts, or at least exploring them was because things took a long time to happen. The decision making processes the time to market, the innovations, titles are brilliantly innovative companies. But as people are looking at Tesla and say, well, Tesla’s five, six years ahead of Toyota, that’s true. But Tesla take a different approach to doing things, a higher risk approach more of a gamble, they know. And if they did, things don’t work quite right, we’ll fix it. Later on. We’re taking a much more conservative view of things. And people are familiar with the culture in Japan and the way the organization works. And this word Namur, washi, which people from the the civilian world are now which is really the Japanese art of consensus building, which basically means everybody has to talk to everybody, lots and lots until everybody agrees, well, that takes a lot of times, we’re in some of the more avant garde companies, those decisions that are made, how will the consequences and we’ll figure out what to do if something is adverse later on. But to drive a much more conservative view of that, to try and to bring those two worlds together, there’s sort of this bastion of Lean thinking and TPS and this conservative approach and this consensus building, and things like the the way Toyota is organized as a correct Sue, this sort of loose collaboration of organizations consortium of organizations means there’s a lot more conversation and decision making, than you would have in something like a company like Tesla, which is seem to be very agile and fast moving and very responsive. Trying to bring those two worlds together was really the challenge that I faced. And it’s not perfect, nor will it ever be perfect. And you’ve got to come to this potentially for 500,000 people, including consultants and contractors, trying to get them all to sing from the same hymn sheet is never going to be an easy challenge. But that was the idea. We wanted to speed up the decision making, speed up time to market, and create the ability to innovate faster. So the competition wasn’t always so far ahead. But time will tell if that’s, that’s come to fruition. 

Patrick Adams  

That’s right. One of the other things that you mentioned, was that you said in Toyota in the western world or when you get out of Japan, what do you think the differences would be in when as you get away from the production line in Japan, with executive leadership with administration with all of the the supporting structure that you know, outside of the production line? What do you think the differences were or are? You know, in Japan versus in the Western world.

Nigel Thurlow  

So I mean, again, there’s just my thoughts on this. But I think it’s the people talk about culture. And culture is a very strange word because people talk about changing culture and all this, but I believe cultures emergence, it’s a product of our behaviors. And I think in Japan, you have a very disciplined society, anybody who’s visited Japan, and I’ve been lucky enough to do so you’ll find that the site is very disciplined, very polite, follows the rules. And as people see, the streets are very clean, they there’s very, very, almost zero crime in a very, very little crime, you can lose your wallet or your purse, and it’ll still be there when you go back an hour later. And, you know, I know people have experienced exactly that leaving a wallet in a restaurant and going back an hour later, it’s still sitting on the table, nobody’s touched it. So you’ve got this very disciplined, very obedient, very respectful society and everything in all walks of life. Consider them when you’re in the organizational context, you have this discipline, this doctrine, almost a loose religion around Toyota’s production system and the Toyota way, and the people in Japan, just follow it, and embrace it and live that and it becomes their culture. And there’s nothing that would cause them to detract from that. And it’s them because it is a very hierarchical country. It’s a very hierarchical structure within Toyota. It’s very hierarchical within the way the country functions, but it just works because everybody understands it. And there’s that built in discipline there is limited in some areas, psychological safety, it can be limited, because you know, if your boss says John Pugh, say hi, how are you don’t quite new boss, you don’t challenge your boss, when an American boardroom, you might rant and rave a little bit, not in a Toyota American boardroom, I hasten to add, but in a, in a in an often an American corporate, you may beat the table a bit and rant and rave in this, the loudest voice gets their way that would never happen in Japan, much more common discipline and the way of doing things. And unfortunately, that doesn’t transpose into other parts of the world. If you go to India, if you go to China, if you go to go to America, the UK or parts of Europe, and I’ve worked in many of those places, there’s a different way of doing things. So that discipline that’s both, you know, societal and cultural, and within the organization doesn’t translate easily into cultures, like the American working culture, which is a whole different way of running things. Now on the production line, it does, because the discipline is necessary for it to function at the level, it functions that sort of 990 ish, percent, you know, OEE, you know, operational equipment effectiveness sort of equivalents that the the thing is so efficient and producing so well, that that has to be a discipline. And indeed, if you go to any plant, anywhere in the world, you’ll see that level of discipline is ingrained in the people on the production line, standardized, repeatable process almost in humans, so but then when you get into the office cultures, that structural discipline, that sort of discipline that’s in society and in life in Japan isn’t an American because we’re a different country, we’re a different nation, or a different culture. Same as I go back to my home country of the UK, and I’ve lived in different parts, I’ve lived in France, I’ve worked in Spain, I’ve lived and worked in Belgium. So these different countries have a different way of functioning. And you can’t just pick up the Japanese way of life and slap it in France and say, This is how we’re going to behave, because it doesn’t work like that. So we have to find different ways to work in those different environments to achieve the same outcomes. And it is challenging. Very, that’s why we’ve got jobs, Patrick. 

Patrick Adams  

Now it is very challenging, and we’ll dive into maybe some of the differences or flexibility or how to approach you know, those challenges as we as we dive into the agile and the flow system. So before we do that, though, let’s talk about the scientific method in general. So, you know, I first heard about the scientific method, I think I was in middle school or high school, and I don’t know if they still teach it, you know, in high school, middle school, but it’s crazy, because, obviously, it wasn’t until later in life when I’m working as a, you know, a value stream manager, or a lead manager at a company when all of a sudden the scientific method pops back up. And I was like, I remember that from way back. But for those that are listening, maybe they haven’t been taught the scientific method, or maybe they’re remembering it right now, for the first time from middle school. Can you just walk us through what the scientific method is and why is it so important?

Nigel Thurlow  

Wow. Now you put me on the spot now. So the difficulty I have with this, oh, look, I’m going through exactly what you’ve asked me. But one of the things that we hear all the time, a lot of people from the Lean community, Lord and applaud the scientific method, and so they should have Of course, the the familiar refrain for that is PDCA Plan, Do Check Act or if you read Deming discipled Plan, Do Study Act and we can worry about the the slight differences there the nuances, they equate to the same thing, ultimately. But the challenge is that they all describe this as a scientific method, the chart, the problem is this, the heart of the scientific method is empiricism. Empiricism is one form of reasoning, there are three key types of reasoning. One of them is deductive reasoning, which is where you start with some facts or known data. That’s PDCA. So you plan you create a plan, based on something, you know, so that deduction or deductive reasoning, but the truth of the site and, and the people, I’ve got people throwing stones at the the radios on their podcast, of

Of course, as we always do, okay, they thought of the scientific method as empiricism, which was a British guy. So Francis Bacon 1620. So you’re all welcome. But the thing is that he came up with inductive reasoning, which is where you start with an observation. So you may watch things that are happening. And we do this all the time, when we’re in manufacturing plants, or offices or work environments, or any other environment, even sports coaches doing this, you observe things that are happening, and you deduce a high point, or you create a hypothesis, don’t you do is you create a hypothesis from your observation? And then you have to ask some questions that need to be answered, and you create experiments to answer those, but the outcome is unknown. That’s empiricism. And that’s the scientific method. But everybody walks around saying, Well, okay, we’re using the scientific method when they use it in deductive reasoning, and whilst deduction is part of, you know, experimentation and, and finding your outcomes and results, the truth of it is, if you want to be truly empirical, it starts with an observation. But now, there’s another form of reasoning, which has been around for a long time that we talk about a lot more now, which is called abductive reasoning, or abduction, which has nothing to do with you know, kidnapping people. It’s another form of reasoning, often known as the logic of the hunches or gut feel. So you’ve not got any real observations, you’ve got no facts, but you just have that, that hunch that gut feel, which you, which then becomes a hypothesis that you need to test. So you’re constantly being informed in different ways. You’ve just got that sixth sense, that gut feel, or you observe something, you watch a process, and you think, you know, I think if they did that, instead of this, that would improve the process. That’s an inductive hypothesis. That’s an observational based hypothesis. And other times, you may read a report, you may look at some statistics or metrics, or you may read a display on a machine or a computer and go, based upon this data, which I believe to be true. I am forming the following hypothesis. That’s an inductive hypothesis. So I once postulated catholicon. Actually, I did speak for my brother, catholicon last year, and I said, I wonder whether you know, PDCA, should really be PDCA. And whether it should or whether it should be haich D CA, hypothesis, do check it out. Because you’ve got different ways to form a hypothesis. Or if you really want to do a plan, form a hypothesis, then plan. So ah, PDCA. But the other thing is, I always self challenge the entry and exit points, because most practitioners who were familiar with this would start a plan, and all the way around and finish your act. But what if it’s just an observation you started with, there is no plan. So you start with do and I know there’s lots of people who have changed the sequence of this before. But instead of seeing it as just this linear sequence, the single entry and exit point, we should really be thinking about this from a point of view, how do we form a hypothesis? Where do we stop? Where do we travel from there? Sit back to your original question, whether I’ve explained the scientific method effectively, others will, will comment later. But the importance of it is that without that, we form hypotheses in various different ways of explaining, and then we need to test those hypotheses. The difficulty sometimes is that these people tell everybody what they’re doing is empirical, when in fact, it’s not. They’re starting with known data, and then just doing something with some form of reasonably predictable outcome. And if that’s reasonably predictable, it’s just a good plan based upon data. It’s not really the scientific method, the news now I can just hear Jeff lycra in my head now, telling me all the reasons I’m wrong. And my coauthor and partner in crime Professor John Turner, who’s these people are really close people telling me that you should have said it like this. But from my point of view, you know, if you’re going to say something’s empirical, you’ve got to know that it’s an observation about observational based hypotheses using inductive reasoning and not just throw out just because you’re getting feedback from somebody which tends to be more reactive, it’s not necessarily empirical. And that’s some of the stuff I’ve been writing more recently. But I hope that sort of makes sense, Patrick?

Patrick Adams  

Absolutely. And there’s definitely value in the empirical, you know, the observations and the testing and the hypothesis. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on, you know, an organization or someone who only uses deductive reasoning, and they’re only waiting for facts in order to, to test or to check to act. What are the problems that an organization or a person can come into if they’re only dealing with deductive reasoning.

Nigel Thurlow  

You know, the first three words, I’ve told the story millions of times that the first three words I ever learned in biota, we get the facts, the second three words, I learned to draw a picture, because you know, when you’re working with the Japanese, they tend to be much more visual thinkers. And if you’re trying to explain a complex problem, or something that’s challenging to understand, then drawing it the visualization is something we all learn in, in Lean circles, you know, visual control, and so on and so forth. But those first three words, get the facts because there’s, you know, there’s an anecdote the owner used to say, I love data, but I prefer facts because data can be manufactured. You know, there’s an old phrase, the old adage, which is lies, damned lies and statistics. So ask three people their opinion, and I’ve extrapolated that for the population of the world. Therefore, it is a fact. And no, it’s not. It’s a statistic derived from some data, which may already be anecdotal itself and not a fake base. So a fact tends to be something that’s indisputable, and there’ll be people out there I’ll argue how you do even define the word fact. But the challenge with using just a deductive only approach, then you’re missing lots of other what Dave Snowden, my colleague in the complexity world, we’re talking about the adjacent possible, which are all the things in your periphery that you’re missing, and you suffer from something called inattentional blindness, which is you don’t see what you’re not looking for. So you’re only getting presented with what you believe are facts. But are they facts or are the data because if you’re getting data presented to you, you’re getting a V, a representation of what somebody else views for your edification for your review. And therefore you’re looking at data, not the facts. The observational side of it, if you think about the organic notes of the Ono circle, where Ono sand was reputed to meet people standing on a two foot circle, but the notepad observes something, stand there for an hour and tell me what you see. Now we’re in observational mode. So and most of what happens in TPS is based on observation, in my estimation, people on the line who are creating those improvements that continuous Kaizen on the line, they’re doing that through their experiences, their observations, they got feel their observations, and hey, yes, some data got some real facts, you know, I do every time I do this thing, I bump my head. That’s a fact, it’s actually happening. I’ve got evidence of that. And therefore, I think, based on my observations, if I make some changes that will prevent that from happening. So now we just combined all three types of reasoning. So just relying on somebody presenting you reports and you know, the whole Okay, now I can hear the people in the listening to this screaming, go to gemba. So, you know, I was taught at Toyota, if you need answers, never send an email. And in fact, my boss was quite stern about this at the time. And he would tell me in no uncertain terms, if I was sending emails rather than actually going to see the people, I wasn’t acting appropriately. And so go to the source and the you know, with the whole sort of concept of Ganesha gumboots, in which people think is go and see, but he’s actually better translated and more correctly translated as go on, observe, get the facts and take appropriate action, this is really what we should be doing. So we need to have we know we cannot trust things that are just popping in our inbox in PowerPoint presentations, we need to actually become engaged, and that’s engaged participatory management, which of course, is what we will teach in the Lean world.

Patrick Adams  

Absolutely. There’s so much power in learning by doing and, and, you know, what you talk about are really, you know, like PDCA cycles or, you know, more frequent cycles of learning. And I just think about when we teach PDCA or problem solving, we use the marshmallow challenge, which is always fun. And I remember one time we had two different groups that were working next to each other, and one of the groups pulled out a piece of paper and they started to put their plan together you know, once we hit start on the on the 18 minute timer, and for those that are listening in that haven’t don’t understand the marshmallow challenge, you have to build the tallest tower with 20 Spaghetti sticks, one yard of string, one yard of tape, and the marshmallow has to be on top. So just a quick quick Overview but anyways, the two teams started going one team pulled out a piece of paper. And I heard one of the gentlemen saying, you know, I’ve read somewhere that you have to have a strong base, and they, you know, they so they start talking facts and they’re drawing it drying it out, the other team immediately started building and you know, they had some quick discussion about what they wanted to do. But they started building and they found very quickly that the small skinny bass was not going to work. And so they, you know, took it down, and they rebuilt with a wider base. And that team through quick PDCA cycles, observation and learning by doing was able to, to build the strongest structure very quickly, while the other team struggled to even get started, you know, and the learnings that the second team had just by doing, you know, these quick PDCA cycles happen much quicker than the team that was, you know, thinking through, you know, what are the facts, what’s the plan, and never actually taking a step. Now, not that facts are bad, obviously, you know, it’s deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, they’re all important, right. But in that particular instance, it was the team that took action quickly, and, you know, learned by experimenting, you know, based on their,

Nigel Thurlow  

What you’ve just done, Patrick, you’ve just defined agile. So you’ve just sort of, because we’ll get into this, but I describe, you know, the practice of Scrum, which is the predominant approach to, you know, becoming a more agile working group. And we can talk about what that is in more detail. But basically, Scrum is PDCA with discipline. And, and so what you describe is a team that went straight into rapid experiments, which is what it’s supposed to be to form a quick hypothesis at the beginning of group failure. So the former quick hypothesis, that’s an abductive hypothesis, the hypothesis from a gut feel, now run an experiment, see what happens now based upon that, you got observations. So now you’re in inductive reasoning, and you may have some facts. So you’ve got a deduction there. So you combine these and you rapidly repeat these cycles, creating these hypotheses and experimentation. And as I say, your entry and exit points in PDCA may change as you carry out these various different experiments to learn. But you learn rapidly and you progress rapidly. Otherwise, you can go into the traditional sort of project management approach where you procrastinate and pontificate for months writing, these are endless, great documents that are completely out to date, by the time they’re finished, and then go and do this sort of linear progression to build something and find at the end, what you build doesn’t represent what you thought it was gonna build. And then away you go. Now in the manufacturing world, we have a word for a couple of words. It’s called rapid prototyping. And we do this because at some point, we have to commit to scale up production, and you can’t keep changing the design of a car or something else is going down the line, as much as we’d want to do. There’s some options now with over the air updates for the electronics, but even the electronics are constrained by the limitations of the design decisions that were made about memory, processing speed, etc, etc. But ultimately, we did the same thing. We’re doing this rapid prototyping to learn quickly. And that’s, you know, back at Toyota connected, that’s exactly what they did in designing what is now the flagship, sort of in car entertainment and infotainment systems that are rolling out in the tundra and some other vehicles. And a lot of the people that I knew worked on that and they’ve done a fantastic job. It’s a massive shift to the right, based upon the legacy equipment that we’re all used to in our Toyotas. And of course, everybody drives till you have just because they know that they have the best cars in the world, but moving. So this is really important. So you weren’t even I know you mentioned going to talk about agile, but you sort of drifted in there. Yeah, let’s do that. Start to see the connections. Yeah, synergy between this?

Patrick Adams  

Yes, Nigel. Let’s do that. Let’s dive into agile now. So for those that are hearing about agile for the first time, can you help with just a simple definition or a quick definition of Agile? And then, you know, maybe talk about how it differs from it? We’ve already hit on this a little bit, but how does it differ and have similarities to lean? What’s the connection to lean? Could you just do that for us? 

Nigel Thurlow  

Yeah, so my one sentence definition of this now is about making faster numbers and making faster decisions. So the whole agile movement was born in software. I won’t bore the audience waffling on about software and writing programming code, but it was born with a bunch of software folks, they’ve worked in different disciplines. Scrum, which is the one of the preeminent methods or techniques or frameworks predates what’s known as the Agile Manifesto, which, ironically, coincidentally, but in no way connected. In 2001. When Toyota published the Toyota way, a bunch of software professionals published the Agile Manifesto. So as Toyota is defining their principles and values for executing in TPS, which is what the Toyota way is described as in the original doc. When they add the software, he was creating a manifesto, his values and principles of how they thought that they should work in a different way to develop software. Now, there was people from the what’s called the Extreme Programming industry, which were people had already been using some of these techniques to build software more rapidly more effectively. And then the folks that have come up with the idea of Scrum as this sort of, as I described as a discipline, PDCA cycle, and they got together and the Agile Manifesto was born. But what’s happened beyond that I stopped talking about Agile is a thing, which is more of this values and principles. Agile is actually a philosophy. That’s all it really is. Now, and I’ll tell you the Toyota ways of philosophy, I mean, it’s just the principles and values by which we carry out our work within the Toyota context, agility. Agility is an emergent property of the way we approach our work, the way we do things, the way we collaborate, and really becoming more agile, we can throw in some of the words flexible, adaptable, lots of words that end in all, but essentially, it’s about being able to work in a more effective way, a more efficient way and ensure that what we’re delivering as a value proposition is more appropriate for the people who consume the value that hopefully is something we call a customer. So the concept of agility is really just working in better ways to make better decisions and still have a better value. Time. So if you take Toyotas three key things of cost, quality and delivery, we want to deliver the best quality product at the lowest possible cost in the shortest lead time. And that’s where we gain and by doing different things in a different way, we achieve a better level of agility, which is better decisions to deliver better products. Now, this is where I started to get into the way the synergies are here, because if you know the Lean fundamentals, if you’ve been through Lean training, Toyota training, if you’ve been fortunate, like me to work for the organization, you start to learn things about eliminating waste waste, we mean non value added activity. So don’t do things that don’t make sense bureaucracy, red tape, stupid decisions, and other things that cause us to excerpt, money and energy in producing the thing we want to produce. So if you reduce that, that waste, you create capacity, you create the ability to be more creative, be more innovative. And that’s what the Agile practitioners are driving for. Let’s focus like in your marshmallow challenge explanation, let’s focus on rapid experiments to build a product or a service that the customer desires more. And the key thing is, let’s involve the customer. Whereas in the traditional world, we deal with all in the isolation of the company. And we pre determine what we think the market wants the customer wants, by getting those reports that deducted stuff off. But we don’t do anything else. We don’t do the observational, and even the abductive, sort of, you know, built field by talking to people. So we predetermined up front, we spend 234 years to build something we find at the end of it, it’s not ideal for the customer, we’re in this more agile ways we involve the customer. And so we start to communicate with the customer or the voice of the customer, or somebody represents the recipient of that value on a continuous and regular basis. And we change the requirements as we build the product. Whereas in traditional, not just in manufacturing, traditional project management, you define everything up front, typically in those acres of documentation, which nobody’s tested, and then you go build it. And then after you’ve built it, you test it, then after you’ve tested it, you give it the customer, the customer says yeah, we’re in this sort of agile working where we do these rapid experiments get continuous feedback, we agree to certain point, if it’s the type, if it’s not software, we have to scale the production and build at scale. And then this becomes a fixed set of you no parameters for this particular model year or this particular product. Same as the iPhone or anything else, you have to at some point freeze the spec and build the thing because you can’t constantly iterate way shipping millions of versions of it. And then we provide something to the market which is better suited to the market. And it’s delivered more rapidly, because we’re constantly making trade offs and privatization against the things we deliver. So when talking about the experience of trade connected when they were building the new infotainment system, and these are the things we did try to connect it but try to connect starts off as a big data company and that was the original concept and then they move into this very rapid agile organization. very lean very Toyota, all the principles and values of Toyota all the usual things you’d expect out of the Toyota production system for doing things high quality products, building in quality concepts of Judoka concepts of just in time, so eliminating all that non value added activity, but iterating the product design as they build the product so as the design it The changing the specs and the requirements as the designer. And they literally did involve real customers, real members of the public on a weekly basis for many, many months to give continuous feedback. So every week, they do a rapid prototype for want of a better description. And every week, they’d ask real people to test it and try it out. And at one point that we’re using eye tracking software, recording voices videoing them with all the appropriate permissions in place and due diligence. And that helped them to change the user interface to change the way the people interacted with the product to improve the speed, the functionality, the capability. So by the time the product was frozen at the point where it had to be scaled, it was now a product that was better suited for the customer. So that’s the agility, but you don’t lose the Lean aspects. And actually learning those basic fundamentals first, enables you to have greater agility. And I define this agility in four levels, you’ve got organizational agility, which is nothing to do with software and products and bomb and other words out there that people use to describe agile, agile methods and techniques. Organizational agility is how fast can you change direction? How quickly can you make a decision and pivot and go in a different direction? You know, hey, the markets now going towards electric vehicles? Can we do that this year? Is it gonna take us three years to make that decision? And of course, you’re seeing those types of things played out in the real world today. It takes you two years to come up with a new new smartphone. You’re not in the smartphone market. Yeah. So that’s this organizational agility? Right, then is your product agility? How fast can you bring the new services features, functions capabilities to the product. So over the air update means you can push these new digital features to the product instantaneously, like we’re communicating at a distance apart from each other, just as if we’re in the same room. So product agility is how much you can iterate the features, functions, capabilities of your products or services to meet the customer’s needs within a reasonable timeframe. And again, there’s certain limitations in hardware in large scale manufacturing, which have to be catered in this is not all software, then you’ve got the team agility, which is where you bring in the methods and techniques like Scrum, can ban type methods not combat, as you and I know, it’s in the Toyota world, but a board full of post it notes for most people. But when you bring in those sort of techniques, that’s more about how the team use their methods and techniques to become more flexible, adaptable, and deliver the right thing in the right sequence much more accurately, with a higher quality. And finally, at an individual level is how flexible and unwillingly willing unwilling to change how you do what you do to better support the team, which is where we get into conversations about team effectiveness and how we work together as as individuals as a long answer, but I hope it was,

Patrick Adams  

That was perfect. And now a very great answer, definitely, I think, clarifies a lot of questions, you know, about Agile and Lean. And so I really appreciate that. So Nigel, how does all of this then, for lack of better words flow into the flow system?

Nigel Thurlow  

So the first thing to tell you about the flow system, it is not a framework, it is not a methodology, it is not a prescription. So it’s both its strength, and its Achilles heel, because everybody wants easy answers. They want a recipe to follow, and they just want to point them in the direction tell me what to do. But we can’t do that. Because guess what it does work. There’s some fancy words that I’ve learned over the years or two of them are called bounded applicability. real fancy words that mean tools have a limitation to their utility or their usefulness, and they are bound by a context. So as I use in some of my keynotes, presentations, a hammer or a toothbrush are both very useful tools, great utility, but have context and bounded applicability, please don’t mix them up. Because you know, you can imagine the consequences will be quite severe using the hammer in place of the toothbrush. And if you tried to hammer a nail in with a toothbrush, it’s gonna hurt probably a lot. So this is bounded applicability. So the first thing is, there isn’t a single way to solve any problem and indeed, some problems are not solvable. They these unknown unknowns and unknowables but we want to have a way of understanding these tools understanding these techniques, understanding how within different contexts that may or may apply and when I was working at Toyota over the years and started to Muse this and I started to create you know, a new visual and the flow system looks like a house not a temple because Toyota house of lien and Toyota’s Toyota way house. So as I was waking up I first started to amuse with the same thing. And then I started to work closely with the University of North Texas and my friend now Professor John Turner, and my other colleague Brian Rivera, we call Ponch because he’s got a US Naval background as an aviator. So he bought in his high performance teaming experience, which was incredibly invaluable. And what we started to realize there was no single thread here, you can buy all these books on leadership, you’ve got some behind you. And they are great books. You can buy all these books on process, which are fantastic. And you combine books on agile and other things which are process driven. And you’ve got this subject of complexity thinking which sort of goes into the realms of things that are unpredictable, unknowable, on order, we’re in our Lean world, we want things that are nicely level production, these high Junker and everything is predictable, ordered and linear. But there’s this world that isn’t like the pandemic, like global warming or climate change, or whatever words you want to use them like world hunger and all these Geopolitical Problems. These are unpredictable and ordered nonlinear, you can’t just go apply lean to them. And everything’s wonderful, a quick five, why analysis, and we’re good to go doesn’t work. So we hadn’t known there was these topics, but they’re all in isolation. And people have said to me that at the magical bid event, there was a magical bit that showed that these things are interconnected and interrelated. And so when you look at the flow system, it’s actually three strands of DNA, which form a triple helix. And it’s this DNA of organizations when these things are interconnected and intertwine, which is you have to understand the context you’re in. And then look at the things that may help in your context. And there’s different tools and approaches proposed. Plus, you need to understand that a successful organization is understanding the unordered elements of the world, as well as the ordered elements. That’s the complexity of thinking, there are new styles of leadership, which we talk about distributed leadership is more about empowering people not delegation, because delegation is different to empowerment. And in Toyota, you see a lot of empowerment, especially on the line, because it’s the people who are doing the work, make the decisions more than the people who are managing the people doing the work. And the people managing them tend to be the people empowering them, and mentoring them and supporting them. And that’s more of this servant leadership sort of idea. And then of course, the team science piece comes in, which is the science of how people work together, interact, collaborate, communicate, and that was the end. But in isolation, these things are not very useful, because you bring them together and combine them. And as you’re seeing the flow system, I still build it on a foundation of Lean thinking with the Toyota Production System and the values and principles of the Toyota way. And I’d we describe it as a sort of an evolution of agile and rethinking in the age of complexity, which was just a bit of word soup to sort of show that we were going from this foundation and bringing in these other concepts and combining them. So we describe the flow system as a system of learning and understanding. And flow is a construct, it’s not something we invented, it’s not an flow has to be seen as something beyond what we see as one piece flow in the Lean world, which is just the movement of products efficiently down a production line. Because movement isn’t flow flow is continuous value added activity in that context. Just because things are moving doesn’t mean we have flow, even though physically it’s flowing doesn’t mean we’ve got a flow of value, which is a different concept. But then we talk about float, a psychological construct, which came from the Hungarian American professor, who passed away last year called me Hi, Chick send me high, which took me a long time to learn how to say. And he talks, things like sports teams. We’ve talked about sports teams that have been in the zone, Yeah, everybody’s just in the zone, and everything’s just moving as he wanted, that’s fun, at a psychological level. And if you overstress people and don’t, and you pressure them and fry them, and they don’t have psychological safety, you push them out of that zone, into the fear areas. So the Notkin slow anymore, so you get some optimization in the organization. But if you also have them bored and apathetic, and then they’re not really interested or inspired in the work, they also drop out of that zone. So we’re trying to keep them in this flow. So flow has a number of different explanations, we define it in the book, the flow guides free of charge online, so people can look at the the sort of the guide online look at how we define those constructs. But essentially, what I’m focusing on with organizations is how to optimize the flow of value to those that perceive the value that they’re receiving. And value is only valuable if your value is value. And the value is perceptual by the people receiving the value and probably a lot of organizations have, they believe they know what’s valuable, and they never talk to the customers to understand it. So that’s where this concept of agility comes in. And these different types of hypothesis we talked about earlier, and trying to bring all this together for you the nice conclusion, Patrick,

Patrick Adams  

No, I love it. It’s perfect. It’s perfect. Obviously there’s a you know, a lot of different details that you know, we just don’t have time to dive into today. But who knows, maybe we could have you back on, and we could dive into one of the strands in one of the DNA strands and go deep into that. But I think you’ve given us a great overview. And I think just the, you know, the the flow from, from scientific thinking to Agile into the flow system really helped me to better understand, you know, the the flow system and the importance of it, Nigel, if there if anyone wants to reach out to you, or get more information you mentioned, there’s a document online, I’d like to link in the show notes link to some of this, so that people can get access to that. And I’ll also drop a link to the float the book, the flow system as well in the show notes. But are there any other links that are places people can go to get more information?

Nigel Thurlow  

Yeah, I mean, I’ll give you the the link to the free flow guide is really simple. It’s flow guides.org. But it will give you that link for that. If they’re interested in much more about the information in the flow system, they can go to get flow trained.com. And I’ll give you that as well, that gives them a lot of information, we have a number of options for people to learn, as well as self based process as well. We have a Slack community that’s over 600 people strong, which is very active. We’ve got some great people like Dave Snowden, who are active in that as well. So and that’s a nondenominational area to discuss all the sort of things that we think he useful. So I’ll provide you with links to that, that’s all free of charge for people to join. There’s a lot of extremely good information in there. And of course, there’s the book. And there’s two more books coming this year, there’ll be the playbook, which is much more aimed at the practitioners rather than the theorists, which will help explain how to apply some of these things. We have a new book on decision making with we’re co authoring with Dave Snowden, and we’re talking about decision making and complexity. That will be a hard book to read. But that will be out later in the late summer. Perfect. So there’s a few things coming to support some of these learning. And of course, they can always find me on LinkedIn, and ping me on LinkedIn, perfect night, I have a lot of discussions with people offline, where they’re seeking a bit of support or help. And some of that sometimes turns into professional support. Most of the time it is just nice conversations. So there’s a variety of ways I’ll make sure they get all those links for you.

Patrick Adams  

And I appreciate that. And I hope that you and I can continue to have more discussions on LinkedIn as well. Always fun. You know, sometimes we disagree on things. But the conversations are always value add, you know, it’s always good.

Nigel Thurlow  

I think your postings are excellent. I think the wrap party is great fun, sometimes a challenge, sometimes just the vocabulary of a language or I try and challenge disabled people to look a little bit deeper should be on the superficial level. I think that when on the lean committees, we have a very certain vocabulary. As I’ve started to learn more over the years, I’ve started to push back on that vocabulary. It’s not the word transformation. We don’t actually do transformations, we do evolution, we modernize our equipment, our processes, our services, we are constantly evolving what we do, which is the Kaizen sort of mentality, which is continuous improvement. But you know, this whole idea of transformation, we’re not really turning caterpillars into butterflies. We’re not turning a bank into a hospital or an auto manufacturer into an ice cream parlor, which would be the true definition of the word transformation. And if we’re transforming things so successfully, why are we? Why do we keep doing a transformation every three or four years, then we need to change the way we describe things. So we understand. And you know, Dave Snowden will tell you, the minute you tell people, you’re going through a change initiative, you’ve already failed, because the first thing they do is all resist because we all change. So we need different ways to finesse the language. And when I train people and I’m working with some organizations, I don’t actually tell them, we’re learning new methods and techniques, we just start working together and we try things out, we experiment. And what happens is we gradually transition, there’s another word for your transition into new ways of working. But it wasn’t this big, scary thing, we’re all going to go on training courses. And tomorrow, we’re all going to become super lean or super agile, we’re actually going to find what works in your context by choosing the techniques that may be valuable, because all methods, tools, approaches and techniques have value in utility, but not all in the same context. Right. And so you know, if you’re working in auto manufacturing versus working in a hospital, those things may have utility, but the way you apply them and the way you use them, and how you describe them will change apps and we’re doing Scrum in the operating room will often result in a lot of dead people. So we don’t go and apply agile techniques in the operating room at that point. It’s very deductive and very inductive, as we’re doing the work. But we don’t want to be doing these rapid experiments in the operating room. Because we’ve actually got sound fun out of foundational knowledge to save lives. So things like that, that I changed the vocabulary on now.

Patrick Adams  

That’s a great, great way to conclude today. I love the way that you put that in as far as the operating room goes that that’s very helpful. So thank you, Nigel. It’s been great to have you on today. Love, love having you on as a guest. We’d love to have you back again. Just appreciate everything that you do for the Lean community and just appreciate you being on today for the interview.

Nigel Thurlow

Patrick’s it’s a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Patrick Adams  

Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the lean solutions podcast. If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to subscribe. This way you’ll get updates as new episodes become available. If you feel so inclined. Please give us a review. Thank you so much.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Meet Patrick

Patrick is an internationally recognized leadership coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for his unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He founded his consulting practice in 2018 to work with leaders at all levels and organizations of all sizes to achieve higher levels of performance. He motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes.

Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profit, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion-dollar corporations.

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