Category Archives: Old Lean Dude

Silver Toaster Spirit

silver-toaster-fBob C. was a front-line employee with twenty-five years experience.  His day was spent operating a machine that stripped and terminated leadwire assemblies.  Problem was, there were over one thousand different assemblies and it seemed that, while the machine was always busy, it was always behind schedule.  Because these wire assemblies were needed for virtually every product his company manufactured, stockouts were a highly visible frustration.

Industrial engineers addressed the stockout issue with the purchase of a new high-speed wire machine.  The machine performed several operations in a single pass and cut cycle times in half, but it took much longer to set-up than its predecessor.  And, because the new machine was very noisy, Bob’s department was moved far away from his internal customers and enclosed in soundproofing foam.  As parallel countermeasures to stockouts, production schedulers massaged the sales forecast to bump up planned quantities of popular products, while inventory planners increased safety stock quantities for high-runner wire assemblies.  These steps combined to pyramid inventories to record levels; one entire row of high-bay storage in the automatic storage and retrieval system was now dedicated to wire assemblies; but, no improvement to delivery.

These were pre-Lean times with pre-Lean countermeasures, none of which involved Bob C.  He was just some guy on the front line, as much an object of change as the lead-wires he made.  Then Bob’s company discovered the Toyota Production System, referred to now as Lean.    The technical aspects of Lean resonated with Bob immediately: Why not build what his customer’s needed as opposed to some speculative amount based on forecasts and safety stocks?  Bob reasoned, “If I build only a week’s supply instead of month’s worth, I won’t even need the high-speed noisy machine; I can use the older machine that has short set-ups.”   This was the birth of Kanban at his company, a simple two-bin system.   It was a difficult birth.

“He’s not building to MRP,” declared the inventory planners as though it were heresy.   Production control, already in hot water with the sales department, echoed concerns of inventory Armageddon.  “We’ll go out of business if we do this.”   Bob’s plan was scaled back to a proof of concept pilot.  With one foot in the pull world and another still in push, Bob persevered: small batches triggered by Kanban made on the old machine and gross overproduction for the remainder produced on the new high-speed machine.  Little by little Bob’s concept was borne out; stockouts were nearly eliminated for the pilot parts. After several months, a plan was generated to gradually phase in additional parts.

But Bob wasn’t satisfied. As he reflected on the set-ups steps for his machines, he determined that they could be greatly reduced – almost eliminated.  “If we can make a few simple changes to this process, I can build a day’s worth and still keep up.  I can produce the low-runner wires pretty much as needed.  And, I no longer need the noisy high-speed machine.”  By this time, Bob was no longer “some guy on the front line.” He was a change agent and a thought leader.  “We can use pull for all of our production.”  Bob became our Kanban expert.

Bob C. continued to think about his production.  “Why so many wires?” he asked.  “Some lengths differ by only a thirty-second of an inch.  Who cares?”  It turned out that nobody cared. Wire assemblies had been designed in different time periods, and designers had not had good design tools to identify the insignificant differences.  Bob saw the opportunity, however, because he was on the front line and was looking for improvement opportunities.  I posted a story about variety reduction in 2011 if you’d like to know more about that.  In short, however, far fewer lead-wires part numbers were ultimately needed.

Until his retirement, Bob C. continued to develop mastery of his craft and freely shared his learning with everyone around him.    In that spirit, GBMP established the “Silver Toaster Award” in 2008 to recognize front-line employees that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and spirit for continuous improvement.  The award is presented annually at the Northeast Lean Conference.  All nominees receive free admission to the conference, and one of this distinguished group will receive that Silver Toaster.

Is there a front-line employee in your organization with the Silver Toaster Spirit whom you’d like to nominate?  There’s still time.  Here’s how.

Hope to see on October 10-11 in Providence at the 2018 Northeast LeanConference.

O.L.D.

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Excelize Me: 4 Myths & 4 Realities of Racing to Automate

On the eve of our celebration of the American Revolution, here’s a post about another revolution: Industry 4.0.

excelizeITWho remembers VisiCalc, often referred to as the first killer app?  In 1978, this first spreadsheet software ushered in the personal computing boom.  Although it only ran on Apple’s priciest computer (the one with massive 32K RAM), its ability to calculate and recalculate arrays had much to do with the explosion of information automation. By 1985, a next-generation product name Excel conquered the market with significantly more computing capability than its predecessors, eventually adding macros, graphics, nested arrays and easy interface with many other applications.  Today Excel is reportedly in the hands of some 1.3 billion users.  It’s a fascinating tool with more features than almost anyone can use.

But fascination with information automation can be problematical.  In 1996, while TSSC was assisting my company with improvement to machine set-ups, I used Excel to devise an A3 improvement plan complete with graphical VSM current and target states, problems and countermeasures, and milestones and results (documented in a 2012 post, “Value Stream Wrapping.”)   When I proudly showed the document to my teacher, he scoffed “You should spend more time observing, and less time making it pretty.”

I’m reminded of this advice every day during my work with customers.  Why do we feel the need to digitize everything?  From strategic planning to training to project management to idea systems to problem-solving to pull systems, we race to automate, believing that these are improvements.  Here a few myths from Lean implementers, quoted verbatim that I’d like to debunk in honor of my teacher from TSSC:

 

Myth 1:  “We cascade our strategy online to every department creating a line of sight from corporate down to individual department metrics.”
Reality:  Too often this multi-level bill of activities replaces the kind of human discourse needed to effectively communicate and deploy strategy.  An X-type Matrix, for example, nested to multiple levels does not illuminate, it hides connections that would be immediately apparent on a physical strategy deployment wall.

 

Myth 2: “Putting our Idea System online has increased the visibility of ideas.”
Reality:  Online Ideas System software hides ideas.  A factory employee recently referred to her company’s Ideas App as a “black hole.”  Also, when ideas are digitized, the visual nature of a physical idea board is lost to myopia.  We view ideas one at a time rather than components of a system.  And, even though computer literacy of the average employees is improving, the thought of using an app still scares many employees away.

 

Myth 3: “Electronic huddle boards provide real-time standardized information.”
Reality:  Sure, LCD’s are cheap today – maybe even cheaper than a decent whiteboard – but electronic huddle boards suck the life out of creativity and ownership from the front line.   One supervisor complained to me, “It takes me much longer to enter information to the huddle board application than it did to simply write on the whiteboard.  I update it when I can find the time.”   Hardly real-time.

 

Myth 4:  “We are conducting our Lean training online to save time and money.”
Reality:  No doubt, there is an explicit component to Lean learning that may be accomplished sitting a computer screen, and there are slide shares for this, some available through Groupon for peanuts; but real learning only occurs through hands-on practice and coaching.  This is especially true for Lean learning where concepts are counter to conventional thinking.  While the Internet offers an incredible resource for learning, it’s not a substitute for tacit learning — learning by doing.  Organizations that think they are saving time and money by using only online training are actually wasting both.

 

Implicit in all of these myths is the replacement of manual management of information with a machine function – call it the Internet of Things or Industry 4.0, our next industrial revolution.   But what will be the benefits?  Will the killer apps really make industry more flexible and efficient, or will they merely dehumanize the workplace.  What do you think?  Can you cite any other IoT myths?  Please share.

 

Happy 4th.  For iPhone and iPad users only, here’s a fireworks app J

O.L.D.

PS I’m hosting a free “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar and a discussion about Idea Systems, next week after the holiday. Are there gaps that hold you back? Ideas Systems are one of the most powerful and impactful means to engage “everybody everyday” in your improvement process. Yet many fall short of their potential for lack of participation. Join me on Tuesday, July 10 for a “Summer check-up of your idea systems”. What’s working, what can be improved? See you then! Register here.

Who is Accountable?

accountable.jpgLeader Standard Waste Part Two (Did you miss Part One? Read it here.)

Many years ago, TSSC introduced to my factory a visual measurement device referred to as a production activity log (PAL), also known to some as an hour-by-hour chart.   Posted at the last operation of a particular process, the PAL provided an up-to-the-minute accounting and hourly summary of actual production quantity versus plan.  The far right column of this report contained the most important information regarding the process health.  If the actual rate in any hour deviated either high or low from the plan, the cell lead was accountable to report the problem and either remediate the cause or flag for additional assistance.  Causes for deviations, either high or low, were innumerable: missing parts, missing operations, defective parts, broken fixtures, incorrect drawings to name just a few.  As V.P. of manufacturing, I was accountable to review the PAL documents daily to assure overall process health.   My job was to confirm that the area supervisors were able to address problems as they occurred. We didn’t call it Daily Management and we didn’t use the word “accountability,  but it bore strong resemblances to both of these.

Shortly after implementing the PAL, I was chastised by TSSC’s consultant: “If you looked at the PAL,” he said, “you’d see that problems are not being fixed. If you don’t care, no one will waste their time reporting.”   At the consultant’s insistence I began to visit and initial PAL’s every hour, an activity that was stressful for me, but also incredibly informative.  As I paid closer attention, a few previously unnoticed accountabilities quickly became apparent:

  • Design engineering was accountable to provide a basic work standard and drawings detailing the specifications, dimensions, and features of the part or product. When these were wrong or incomplete, production became guesswork and rework. Too often, this particular problem did not get fixed for a long time, or ever.  Not until I visited that actual place where the problem occurred did I grasp the significance of “incorrect bill of material” messages.
  • No one seemed to be accountable to provide fundamental skills training to team members that were needed to do the work. Skills like welding or soldering, for example, were not always adequately provided, creating safety and quality problems.  Ultimately, this observation led to greater care in qualifying special skills – no more OJT.   What might have been listed on the PAL problem column as “scrapped part” took on a much deeper significance when I was able to ask “Why?”
  • Industrial engineers were accountable to develop and improve standardized work to balance the production rate to customer need and to confirm new standards with team members. What I learned, when I looked more closely was that the various artifacts of standardized work were not always aligned with actual production and were not kept up to date.  So-called “standard WIP” was not standard; sometimes there was a pile in front of an operation, other times nothing.  In particular, the standardized work chart, which supposedly provided a visual image of the standard, was frequently out of date.
  • Area supervisors were accountable to visit at least hourly to provide support for problems that occurred in the previous hour. (Now I was doing this also in order to show commitment to the process.)  Supervisors bristled at the idea that they were supposed to fix problems.  “Every hour we have problems,” an angry supervisor told me, “and most of them I can’t fix.”

So what does this have to do with the visual controls on huddle boards; the red and green dots that enable managers to assess the process health “at a glance”?  Several things:

  • First, if I, as a senior manager, had not gone to the actual Gemba, I would have remained woefully misinformed about process health. All of the missed accountabilities noted above would have been summarized into red dots.
  • Secondly, if I had not followed the process health on an hourly basis, I would have failed to grasp the importance of fixing problems instantly. They would have been batched for a daily huddle – and many likely would have been forgotten.
  • Third, if I had not shown a commitment to understand the problems, as my TSSC consultant said, the front line would not have wasted time reporting them. They would have just muddled along — SOS.

In 1995, we referred to the huddle board as a “production board,” and it provided a valuable periodic summary of quality, cost, and delivery, often capturing trends that would not have been apparent on daily charts; for example, delays occurring at the start of a shift or the start of week, or part shortages occurring at end of month.  But, for breaking news, we went to the Gemba – the real place.  And this is my concern about visual accountability as I often see it practiced today:  It’s all about the huddle boards.  When they are the only visual devices used by management, then the workplace becomes essentially invisible.   (Incidentally, a quick read of David Mann’s book, will indicate that he intends huddle boards to be one of many visual devices, all of which must be functioning properly for the huddle boards to have any meaning.)

As part of your leader standard work, do you get out to the real place frequently to “sustain new behavior” or do you simply visit the huddle board and risk sustaining the old behavior?

Please send me your thoughts.

O.L.D.
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By the way:  The TSSC consultant who took me to the woodshed in 1995 has just been added to the agenda and will be speaking at our October 10-11  Northeast Lean Conference in Providence, Rhode Island.   Bryant Sander’s topic will be… Daily Management : )  I can’t wait and I really hope to see you there.

 

Leader Standard Waste: Part One

leader standard wasteThree years ago I wrote a post entitled “The Emperor’s New Huddle Boards,” in which I expressed concern about the trappings of improvement without actual improvement.  Since then, my concern about the application of Leader Standard Work and Gemba Walks has deepened as these potentially valuable practices have too often degenerated into obligatory scripted play acting.

Ten years ago, when I first heard David Mann presenting these concepts, I thought to myself, “Hmm, it’s about time that someone gives thought to the best use of manager’s time in support of kaizen.”

Most managers, in my opinion, needed some guidelines in this regard.  A hesitancy to go to the floor for direct observation was a pervasive manager shortfall.  Many persons who have viewed GBMP’s video, Toast Kaizen, may not know that in fact, its genesis was in trying to persuade senior managers to get out of their offices and go to the floor to observe.  So the idea of establishing a standard that included visits to the Gemba was appealing to me.

Unfortunately, good ideas are sometimes unintentionally abstracted to the point that they become pointless.   For each of the three parts of David Mann’s model, I have observed a proliferation of shortcomings that invalidate the intended Lean management system.   For the next three weeks, I’ll cover these one-by-one.

Today it’s Visual Controls:

Call me old school, but I grew up in a factory where visual controls mainly meant building visual information directly into the work.  For example:

  • A standardized work chart posted at the workstation so an observer could compare the actual process with the standard.
  • A production-activity log in the production cell, updated on each work cycle with particular emphasis on problems that occurred so that problems could be fixed instantly.
  • A visualization of standard work in process, for example, a chute that held only four pieces – no more or less – to clarify the balance of operations.
  • An Andon that, if flashing, signaled an immediate need for production support.

When I was a kid, the opportunities like these to build information directly into the process in a low-tech way seemed endless.  They provided excellent opportunities for workers to share information about their work, and a manager who understood these visual devices could understand the health of the process at glance.

Today I see far less visual information at the point of use.   It’s been replaced by ubiquitous huddle boards and kiosks and video displays, often situated on a wall far from the actual work.  The ideal of “frequent focus on the process” has been become an infrequent focus on visual displays updated once per day just before the huddle meeting.  The ability to visually compare actual to standard has been lost.  Recently, in fact, I visited an organization that proudly announced they were replacing all manual huddle boards with digital displays that could be viewed remotely.  I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but when these types of standalone visual devices become the sole standard for visual controls, managers learn little or nothing about the Gemba.  “Grasping the current condition” is replaced by counting the red and green dots.  One manager announced to me that he could tell the condition of the factory merely by glancing at the huddle board for several seconds.  “No,” I responded, “you can only tell the condition of the huddle board.”

One final rhetorical question regarding the red and green dots:  In an environment where reviewing a huddle board is understood to be going to the Gemba, how many red dots would you expect to see?   A colleague related to me a comment he received from a shop floor employee.  “Have you heard of the color watermelon?” the employee asked, and then answered.  “We have watermelon dots on our huddle board.  They’re green on the outside, but red on the inside.”

In fact, I do think huddle boards and kiosk displays can be an impactful part of a visual factory or office; but they are only a piece, and probably not the most important piece.  And as stand-alones, they create an additive activity that makes management’s visits to the floor a standardized waste of time and an insult to the front line.

O.L.D. 

PS Did this get you hot under the collar?  Then please add a comment.  And watch for the continuation of this post next week when I’ll be sharing some concerns about the second part of the Lean Management System: Accountability.

BTW For a terrific story from one senior leader who understands management’s role to create a transparent workplace that incorporates visualization of the work, I recommend Jim Lancaster’s The Work of Management.  Or better still, sign up for our 14th Annual Northeast Lean Conference to be held in Providence on October 10-11, 2018 and hear Jim Lancaster’s Lantech story directly from him at his October 11 conference keynote.

 

First Lady of Adult Literacy

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At the Gemba: Avelino Coehlo and Ines Chiodo show the First Lady a cause and effect problem solving method.

In 1987, my company, United Electric (UE) initiated an ESL training program to support our continuous improvement efforts.  The idea came from a factory supervisor who noted,  “If we really want to create a continuous improvement culture we need to give our employees an opportunity to read and speak English.”  Over nine languages were spoken in the plant and while many employees understood enough English to get by, few spoke or read English well enough to get ahead.  In order to discuss problems and share ideas, it was essential for UE to invest in ESL learning for its employees.

With funding from the Massachusetts Workplace Education Initiative and under the guidance of a gifted ESL teacher, UE’s HR department established an ESL curriculum that was astounding in its impact.  Employees attended classes during the workday and curriculum was thoughtfully constructed to support their particular jobs.  Ironically, as UE adopted concepts from TPS over the next several years, Japanese words were added to ESL student’s lessons. Employees were learning English, but also Japanese words like Kanban and Poka-Yoke, concepts that now were part of their second language.  The difference in the work environment was notable almost immediately.  Persons who might have previously been considered “difficult” were actually just frustrated at being unable to describe the problems they faced in their work.  ESL had opened the lines of communication, changed attitudes and unlocked creativity. What had been a virtual Tower of Babel was developing as a rich multi-cultural team.  The proof of the transformation showed in UE’s 1990 award of the Shingo Prize, heralding its excellence in quality, productivity and customer service.  While this was truly an honor, perhaps a more meaningful recognition was yet to be bestowed.

On January 28, 1991 in midst of the first Gulf War, another war was being waged by then First Lady Barbara Bush.  At the invitation of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Literacy Campaign, Mrs. Bush visited UE to celebrate with ESL students from our 1991 class and promote the critical importance of adult literacy.  The day was extraordinary on many levels.  First, due to the Gulf war, security was extremely tight.  Parking was cordoned off for two blocks around building and bomb-sniffing dogs scanned the factory and offices. Because we were advised only a few days earlier that our site would receive a visit from Mrs. Bush, cleanup activity in the plant was frenetic.  Workplace organization, which was normally very good, achieved new heights.   Halls were given a fresh coat of paint and floors were buffed.  Even the elevator, which was normally used only for freight, was painted red, white and blue.  We were honored that the First Lady and number one advocate of adult literacy would visit our site.

bush2Shortly before 2:00 p.m., as an armada of state and local police cars could be seen in the distance escorting the First Lady’s party, the excitement was palpable.  After formal greetings in the lobby with management, Mrs. Bush proceeded to our ESL classroom to attend a class and meet with students.  In preparation, each student had written a short story or letter to Mrs. Bush, and ESL compiled these into a booklet entitled “Short Stories and Letters,” a tangible memento and testimony to the power of ESL.  A letter from one of the students, a gentleman who emigrated from Aleppo, Syria summed up the sentiments of the class:

“When I first came to America, I felt stupid because someone talked and I looked at their faces and never did I understand. It is important to have ESL in the workplace because now I can understand the blueprints and the order papers.  I understand what my supervisor says.  I am starting to read the newspapers and write my own checks.  I can take care of my family shopping and my home. This month, for the first time, I wrote down two valued ideas to save the company money.”

Following the ESL class, Mrs. Bush accompanied students to the Gemba where students proudly demonstrated some of the many improvements they had made to their work.  I am absolutely sure that none of these stories would ever have been told without the investment made in our employees to learn English as a second language.   Having the opportunity to offer this testimony directly to the First Lady of Adult Literacy was a powerful moment.

After Gemba, Mrs. Bush and an entourage of secret service, political dignitaries and labor leaders boarded the red-white-and-blue elevator to attend a meeting in the cafeteria for speeches and photo ops.  I was asked to provide a short speech of no more than five minutes about the value of ESL and its impact on our company and our employees.  I recall that this was the one and only time in my career that I wrote a speech down, memorized it and presented it verbatim – exactly five minutes in length.  Several other five-minute speeches followed including one from our Governor Bill Weld.

Finally, the great lady spoke, culminating the eventful day.  She spoke first of the importance of literacy to our country and our families, relating the goals of her literacy foundation.   Mrs. Bush then addressed the ESL students, thanking them for their diligence and applauding their efforts.  She then turned to Mr. Weld, quipping  “perhaps the State of Massachusetts could learn something about continuous improvement and problem solving from these students.”  The room erupted with laughter as the Governor nodded in agreement.  After a short reception, the magic day was over and we all got back to work, grateful to have had the First Lady of Literacy in our midst.

Thank you, Barbara Bush.

O.L.D.