Cartwheels

Most often when we think of a wheel, it’s in the context of transportation, one of the more obvious and ever-present of the 7 wastes.   In fact, the first likely use of a wheel and axle was not for transport but for processing – actual work.  According to the Smithsonian, the potter’s wheel dates to 3500 BC.  The wheel and axle wasn’t used for human transport (chariot) for several hundred more years; and the idea of carting material apparently took several millennia after that!  The wheelbarrow was invented around 100 AD in China, and it took another thousand years more for it to appear in Europe.

cartwheelsFrom a human standpoint these conveyance devices are designed to reduce strain.  In a technical sense, it can be said they multiply our capability to do work; at least the force-times-distance kind of work: W= f x d.   Problem is, that although conveying material on wheels is embedded in our thinking as an improvement over manual transport it’s actually a mechanization of waste.  We may think the wheel has multiplied our ability to do work, but it really has multiplied the amount of waste we can create.  Odd.

Over the centuries additional wheels were added to the basic cart, enabling conveyance of even more material with less work [sic] in a single trip. Then, in 1936, the invention of the shopping cart at Humpty Dumpty supermarkets became the prototype for more recent improvements to conveyance:  A four-wheel, multi-level steel wire cart, this invention replaced a hand-carried basket, enabling shoppers to gather all groceries in a single pass.  The shopping cart, however, also required wider aisles and larger checkout counters.   Then the aisles were widened again, this time to accommodate pallet loading of the larger amounts of material needed to accommodate a new concept: EOQ.   Why buy just a little, when you can have so much more in an economy pack? Carriages became larger still to accommodate bulk quantity shopping.  All of these innovations were intended to make it easier for the customer to buy more – and, of course, to encourage them to buy more.

There are more than a few parallels in industry.  AVG’s, pallet jacks, forklifts, and conveyors are all “improvements” on the basic cart.  These machines typically require wider aisles, deeper and higher shelving, new training, and maintenance and, of course, more space to park the machines – kind of like the tail wagging the dog. Too often, rather than rethinking the cause of the waste, we automate around it.  Shigeo Shingo referred to these as “superficial improvements.”  An automatic guided vehicle (AGV) mechanizes the waste of transportation; or an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) facilitates the waste of storage.  Worker strain may be reduced by a superficial improvement, but the actual waste remains and sometimes even increases.  A stockroom manager, for example, lamented to me recently “I have less people now, but it takes longer to kit a job than when we did it manually.  The machine is a bottleneck and the factory waits for parts.”  Unfortunately, these expensive superficial improvements become sunk costs, hard to undo because they are depreciable assets. Thank you, management accounting.

One more insidious re-invention of the wheel is the stationery or almost-stationery wheel.  To the casual observer, these are the wheels that are on the cart that appears as if it’s for transportation; actually, that cart never moves except to move it out of the way.  Moveable storage becomes an option when material staged in front of a process has overflowed to a point that it must be staged in the aisles; funny that this is called “work in process.”  Of all uses or abuses of the wheel, this one is tops on my personal list: the appearance of conveyance.  We assume that if there is a wheel, then there must be movement.  Mr. Shingo’s comment that the “The worst waste is the one we cannot see” comes to mind.

Here is an improvement exercise for you to try in your own facility:  First take an inventory of carts and answer these questions:

  • What is the total number of carts?
  • What is the total floor space they occupy?
  • How many are actually used for conveyance?
  • How many are really only for storage or are kept on hand in case of storage overflow?
  • How can you reduce each of these numbers by half?

Please let me know how much production space you liberate.

O.L.D.

PS GBMP, a licensed affiliate of the Shingo Insitute, is offering the following workshops in the coming months. The courses introduce the Shingo Model™ and Guiding Principles on which to anchor your current continuous improvement initiatives and to fill the gaps in your efforts towards ideal results and enterprise excellence. Consider joining us at an event near you soon. To read more and register visit http://www.gbmp.org/shingo-institute-courses.html

Here are a few testimonials from happy participants, followed by the schedule.

“Discovering Shingo with such a dedicated instructor helped our team gain a better understanding The Shingo Model. The workshops were engaging and we all came out of the classes with a much better idea of what we need to do as a company to continue to grow.

“The instructor made us feel that we were really learning from each other. When we were broken up into groups, he was always nearby and available to facilitate, but didn’t hover or impose his viewpoints – we came to our own conclusions as a group – and he was generous in his recognition of others’ input and viewpoints. 

“The Discover Excellence workshop was great. It challenged us to think differently. Going to Gemba at the host site was fantastic. I like that our instructor took part in the Gemba walks as a participant. We were all learning together and challenging each other’s assumptions or understandings of model, which in turn led to a much deeper understanding. 

shingotable

Back To The Future

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Here is an article I wrote ten years ago, recently resurrected from the lost letter file.  I can’t remember why I wrote it or for whom. Originally entitled, “What is Kaizen?” the article still resonates with me as I hope it will with you.

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What is Kaizen?

Over the years my study of TPS has been guided by book learning, tacit learning and more good luck than bad.   One stroke of good luck occurred in February 1987 when I picked up a copy of Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success by Masaaki Imai.  At that time, most literature about TPS was focusing on its technical aspects so this book, which focused on harnessing ideas and creativity, was different.   Also around that time, early TPS efforts at my company were foundering.  We had “lowered the water level of inventory to expose the rocks” and to our dismay were discovering more rocks than we’d bargained for.  We needed more problem solvers and Mr. Imai’s book quickly became a blueprint for individual and small group improvements that bailed us out of troubled waters.  It was truly good luck that led me to Imai’s definition of kaizen which I’ll paraphrase as “many small improvements that come from the common sense and experience of the people who do the work.”

Thus, many small improvements chipped away at and eventually dislodged the rocks that threatened to sink our TPS efforts.   As a manager, my tacit learning from this experience was that shop floor employees were brilliant and creative – some more than others, but all of them smart, proud of their work and extremely willing to be problem-solvers.  Of course there are a lot of books that tell managers that, but that’s academic.  To really understand it we have to practice it!  While Mr. Imai explicitly described the nature of kaizen with many tangible examples, he was quick to point out that understanding kaizen requires practice:  learning by doing.  Toyota refers to this as “tacit learning” as opposed to academic or book learning.  Anyone who has learned to ride a bike can understand what tacit learning is.  It’s visceral and emotional as well as intellectual.  It’s not academic.  And I had a serious need for more problem-solvers. So there’s another stroke of luck:  Our self-inflicted crisis (hitting the rocks) created a need – and opportunity — to take a chance.   While I like to think myself egalitarian, if there had not been a crisis, the opportunity to expand the problem-solving role beyond a few support personnel and supervisors might not have occurred.

Never-ending improvement – that’s kaizen. This is what I learned by “riding the bike.”  But the common translation of “continuous improvement” doesn’t do it justice because it doesn’t connote the changes that also occur within the persons who have created the improvement. The act of being creative to solve a problem or make an improvement has not only educated us but also inspired us to go further. Now tacit learning kicks in again: Concerns by supervision that work will not get done are replaced by more time to do work. Unfounded fears that “employees will mess up” give way to positive anticipation.   More ideas from more employees offered more freely and more frequently generates an organizational confidence to do more than what was previously thought possible. Every day is a day for more improvement.  My tacit learning?  That kaizen is for “Everybody, Everyday” (GBMP’s slogan.)  The momentum and pace of improvement is governed by the breadth and depth of learning and participation of every single person in the organization.  True, there are some employees with more ideas than others, but the act of each and every employee offering his or her creativity changes the organization.

All of this learning proceeded from a definition of kaizen offered by Masaaki Imai.  Unfortunately not everyone subscribes to his definition.  The notion of “small changes” it seems was a turn-off to managers looking for faster progress, managers who subscribed to the “big brain” theory:  breakthrough and innovation emanating from the creativity of just a few smart people.  The idea that many small ideas from the shop floor were going to make any difference at all was (and still is) summarily dismissed.  This is indeed unfortunate because even though its success has been documented countless times over the last three decades, only tacit learning can teach managers the real power of kaizen.

To parody an old proverb:

“You can lead the manager to the shop floor,” as they say, “but you can’t make him see.”

And sometimes you can’t even lead him to the shop floor!  The word “small” is really a misnomer, perhaps a bad translation from Japanese, because while the cost of the small changes may be small, the effect may be huge!  I have witnessed many small changes that were worth ten dollars and many that were worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  As one former skeptic reported to me recently, “I can only assume that the dramatic improvements in quality are attributable to the small changes we made, and these summed up to a gain I would not have imagined.”   Tacit learning.  Another manager in the same conversation stated “We’ve made more significant headway in the last six weeks than in the previous six years!  Tacit learning for her:  “Many small changes for the better” add up to improvement much faster than we think.

Still many managers remain immune to this evidence.  The big brain theorists have morphed kaizen into events.  Not something done by “Everybody, Everyday”, but some thing done apart from the work, largely organized and directed by people other than those who do the work.  I first witnessed this practice in 1989 as a visitor in another New England manufacturer at a week long “kaizen event” billed as “5 days and one night”.  I was invited as a participant even though I did not work at the company and knew nothing about its factory. Coming from a situation where improvements were mostly grassroots generated and implemented, I found the whole situation stunning.   Employees from the work center where I was participating were tangentially involved at best.  Most stood sullenly on the sidelines.  One employee confided to me that they would change everything back after we left.  He referred to the process as the BOHICA method, an acronym that I will not expand (but you can guess.)  In this situation employees had become objects rather agents of change, a situation all too comfortable for many managers.  For these employees “kaizen” meant “messes created by managers that produced fabricated gains.”   Implicit in their understanding of kaizen was that management had no regard for employee initiative or creativity, that all of the ideas were coming from the big brains.

Subsequent to that experience I’ve heard the term kaizen used as a euphemism for job cutting and outsourcing, and as a task force method to “get workers to work harder.”  Several years ago I had to even sign a contract before I started to work with a company stating that I would never use the word kaizen in the presence of employees, lest they become enraged; so distasteful was their previous experience.  Less damaging, but still confusing, is a growing tendency to break kaizen into “minor” and major”, a token gesture most often to allow a certain number of non-mandated improvements and differentiate them from the “real” events.  Others shoehorn every capital investment into the kaizen court.  Some might be kaizen, some innovation; but even a warehouse expansion has qualified with one company as a “major kaizen.”  (I thought that was waste of storage.)   Companies who can afford it are establishing mezzanine departments to foster kaizen, but too often only those in the new department are focused on improvement.  Management and supervision distance themselves, and the whole process becomes an extracurricular activity.   In these environments no real change is occurring to the organization.  It’s status quo, business as usual.

A respected friend in the TPS business remarked to me recently that maybe the term “kaizen” is itself becoming a point of confusion, that maybe it has been carved up too many times and now, like “continuous improvement”, is devoid of meaning or emotive power; this, the word that Mr. Imai explained thirty years ago is the “Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.”  Sadly, my friend may be right; maybe we need a new name.  We’re good at renaming Toyota words after all.  If such a move could enlighten us and direct our thinking to Mr. Imai’s definition, I’d support it.  But for me, it’s still, and will always be, kaizen:  many small (but organization transforming) improvements that come from the common sense and experience of the people who do the work.  “Everybody, Everyday”.

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Thanks to all of my readers for subscribing, reading and occasionally commenting on my blog. The very best wishes to you all for 2017.

O. L. D.

How to Rework a Charlie Brown Tree

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Last weekend, as I forked over $70 for a “live” Christmas tree, I had a flashback to a very different experience when I was still a kid.  My family had a tradition of waiting until Christmas Eve to trim our tree.  Late in the afternoon of the big night, I’d accompany my Dad to the local holiday tree sale to pick out our balsam fir.  Alas, by the time we shopped, the yard was totally picked over.  It never dawned on me then that my Dad’s timing was tactical.  He negotiated a price that was pretty close to free for a haggard specimen that, unbeknownst to the seller, was soon to be transformed.  My job was to walk around the now empty lot and pick up scrap branches that had been cut from earlier sales.  What commenced shortly thereafter was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.  We performed tree surgery, not in this case to remove branches, but to add them.   Using clippers and a hand drill, the rework process took about ten minutes.  I held the patient in place while my Dad cut and transplanted limbs in holes predrilled to fill gaps in the greenery.  He took special care to match the size and pitch with surrounding branches, yielding a particularly authentic appearance.   When the cosmetic restoration was complete, the tree was delivered inside to await the trimming ritual.  Complete with lights and tinsel and ornaments, this work of art was virtually indistinguishable from its high-priced cousins.

Now, today it seems laughable that anyone would go to these lengths to save money on a Christmas tree.  In fact, my family wasn’t poor.  We could have afforded a fully intact tree.  For my Dad however, a product of the Great Depression, the values of frugality and resourcefulness were ingrained.  He was preeminently generous to everyone around him, but never spent a penny when it was not absolutely necessary.   Long before Charlie Brown’s tree and long before I learned about the Toyota Production System, I witnessed a basic Lean principle in practice:  “Don’t spend money, use your creativity first.”

Arguably, with the recent purchase of our pricey 2016 tree, I’ve not done right by that principle.  So, as penance and also as a tribute to my Dad, I’ve recreated the magical tree rework process from sixty years ago and videoed it for your holiday viewing enjoyment.   Yesterday, I visited a local Christmas tree stand and bargained my way down to $7.00 for a  tree.   Granted, the tree needed a little rework, but I also picked up scrap branches. Here is a short video of that process:  Reworking a Charlie Brown Tree.   Enjoy!

Paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling’s poem, Trees,

“Blogs are writ by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

My Dad, however, came pretty damned close!   From me and everyone at GBMP, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza or whatever you choose to celebrate.

O.L.D

P.S. Give yourself the gift of education in 2017. GBMP is offering twenty two Shingo Institute Courses – between January and November from New Hampshire to South Carolina and lots of places in between. Find a course near you and join us in 2017.

A few of my favorite….books

During a recent Tea Time with The Toast Dude webinar, I shared a few of my favorite books. These are the books that I recommend to students of Lean to ground their Lean learning…to understand the philosophies, what is sometimes called  “the Know Why” right alongside “the Know How.”  Too often the countermeasures and tools are attempted without a conceptual understanding or holistic context. These texts provide both, how and why, an integration of the tools and culture required for a successful Lean Transformation.

I hope you find the list useful and discover a few of your future favorite books. Happy Holidays!

O.L.D.

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Caramel Corn Kaizen

caramelHoliday shopping last week at one of my favorite food places, Johnson’s Popcorn, I came upon a scene reminiscent of our Lean training video Toast Kaizen. After I placed my order for eighteen one-gallon buckets of caramel corn for friends and family, the Johnson’s  kitchen shifted gears from mail order sales to my take-out order.   I couldn’t resist capturing the teamwork on camera.  Here it is, or at least one minute of it: The process that produces the world’s best caramel corn.

No doubt, this process like any other can be improved, but I wasn’t watching it for that reason.  What struck me was that seeing the “process as a whole” is quite different than seeing the “whole process.”

For example, if we walk a typical functionally organized floor we see the process as a sequence of work, material and information flow – the “value stream” –  but we lose the spontaneity of relationships as we view each component separately at a different point in time.    Division of labor along functional lines really does create a division in understanding between those functions.  Functional organization may develop focused skills and capabilities, but it also blinds workers to system efficiency opportunities.

Thinking back to my own factory, for example, welders welded, machinists machined, assemblers assembled, inspectors inspected and packers packed.

In the words of a skilled welder who worked in my factory, “Hey Bruce.  You know I’ve been working here for almost twenty years, but I’ve never actually seen where my parts go once they’re completed.”

While each function attempted internal improvements, none had a line of sight up or down stream to inform them about the whole.  Value Stream Mapping at least created a means to share process understanding, but only on a batch basis, delaying problem solving and improvement.  Subtle moment-to-moment opportunities were invisible to workers isolated by function.

On the Johnson’s line, however, sharing was instantaneous as every employee could see the process as a whole.   Perhaps we would refer to the caramel corn line as continuous flow or a pull system or some other Lean tool referring to the flow of material, but more important was the breadth of information available instantly to everyone in the process.  Imagine how much more effective our problem solving could be if every function had continuous visibility to every other function in the process.   I think we call this teamwork.

While the rest of the Ocean City New Jersey boardwalk hibernates for the winter, Johnson’s ramps up to ship its delicious products around the world.   My stash of eighteen buckets of caramel corn is boxed and awaiting holiday deliveries.   Best wishes to you and your team for whichever holiday you celebrate.

O.L.D.

lfxBTW: If you are looking for the perfect Lean gift, I highly recommend a subscription to Leanflix: On-demand streaming of GBMP’s entire library of award-winning Lean training videos plus additional educational and inspirational content for Lean Practitioners including podcasts of more than two years of my monthly “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinars, 6 years of Northeast Lean Conference keynote presentations and much more, with three ways to buy/subscribe.  I highly recommend viewing them with a bucket of Johnson’s world-famous Caramel Corn : )

Lean Wizards

wizardOctober was Lean conference month for me: First our own Northeast Lean Conference in Worcester (pronounced “Wustah”), then the international AME conference in Dallas and finally, the mid-Atlantic Lean Conference in Timonium, Maryland.   These annual assemblages of Lean wizards are themed to inspire, inform and reinvigorate true believers and newbie wannabees;  maybe not wizards, but at least committed to continuous improvement at some level.  I’m always flattered when someone sees me at conference and wants a selfie with the “toast guy.”   But really, if we were wizards, there would be a lot more Lean magic out there in the workplace.   After forty-five years in the workforce, almost thirty of them spent personally pursuing TPS understanding, I worry sometimes that the major product of TPS so far has been more wizards, not more excellent organizations.   When I began my Lean odyssey, for example, there were precious few persons or functions in any organization dedicated to continuous improvement: no kaizen program offices, no value stream managers, no lean accountants, no lean trainers, no belts, and no lean consultants.  Today there is an entire industry dedicated to training, developing and placing these folks.

What struck me at October’s Lean conferences was how nomadic this community of wizards has become.   Rarely do I find a consultant, internal or external, who has remained with the same organization for more than a couple years.   Some have moved on for higher pay, but most it seems it seems are refugees from organizations whose commitment to improvement has waned.  Gallows humor regarding shifting sands beneath Lean foundations abounded in private networking discussions, and more than a few business cards changed hands.  While building a Lean culture has emerged as singularly important to Lean transformation, it seems that the wizards do not find enough stability within their organizations to stay in one place long enough to help to create that culture.

Many years ago I was asked to present at a Lean conference at University of Dayton.  They requested specifically that I speak on “Survival of the Change Agent.”  When I suggested that I felt uncomfortable with the topic, they pleaded, “But we can’t find another change agent who has survived.”  No doubt, that was an exaggeration, but even in 1992,  Lean transformers  were careful not to push the Lean envelope too far.   So perhaps nothing has changed in twenty-five years. Last week I received a request for help from a talented and insightful Lean change agent whom I will have known now through four different companies.  She continues to grow and develop her skills while the organizations from which she has moved on have plateaued in their Lean journeys.   Maybe there are just more wizards in flux today.   At the recent AME Dallas conference, a Lean colleague and vice president of opex for a large corporation mentioned to me  “I have never seen so many resumes from continuous improvement persons in transition.”

To my readers:  Do you also see this phenomenon?   What are the implications? I’m not sure what to think about this, but it’s a little spooky.   Happy Halloween.  : )

O.L.D. 

PS A reminder that the onsite discounted registration price for our 13th (another spooky coincidence?) annual Northeast Lean Conference was extended to November 8th. Don’t miss out on saving 30% per seat, simply by registering online in the next week.  Only $665 per person (normally $950).

Doormats

One of Shigeo Shingo’s popular status quo targets was engineers, whom he placed in three categories:

  • Table engineers—those who just sit around a table and talk about problems
  • Catalog engineers—those who think the solution to every problem can be found in a catalog
  • Nyet engineers—those who say no to every request. (Nyet is Russian for “no.”)

On one rare occasion, I heard Shingo retell his engineer category story in the presence of my company’s CEO, Bob R., who was himself an engineer. Bob bristled in response, “I’m a can-do engineer!”  While I’m not a big fan of stereotypes, I smiled at Bob’s retort.   I think Shingo made jibes to shock people, in this case our CEO, into consciousness.

doormatsSimilarly, another teacher, Ryuji Fukuda, once commented, “Engineers should polish their brains, not their shoes.” Dr. Fukuda offered the comment as light humor, but I recall a couple engineers in our group did not see the humor. “I feel like a doormat,” one engineer said to me.  When things go wrong, production just blames us”.

Full disclosure: I am not an engineer and I might on occasion have been one of those production folks who walked all over engineering. While the same barbs slung by Shingo and Fukuda could just as easily be directed at other occupations, in TPS lore the role of engineers seems to be more critical.   Engineers play such pivotal roles in a company’s success that the need for them to be involved in continuous improvement is that much greater than other occupations.   If their work is not done ‘right the first time,’ internal as well as external customers are adversely impacted.   DFA proponents, Boothroyd and Dewhurst for example, point out that every assembly fixture is essentially a workaround for a design that did not adequately consider the folks who do the assembly.  And Shingo noted that the best way to avoid production mistakes is to design them out before the product is released to production.

So why aren’t these things considered before product launch and why do problems take so long to be fixed after launch?  Perhaps the answer to these questions is that engineers are subject to the same cockamamie rules as production.  Here is a short list:

  • Engineers typically have far too much work in process. Studies have demonstrated that two projects at once is an ideal number for a design engineer, yet most designers have many more.
  • Engineers are not typically rewarded for OPD (other people’s designs), which creates pointless complexity: redesigning the wheel.
  • Fixing problems with existing designs is seen to be far less important than creating new designs. Engineers are not encouraged to get into ‘old plumbing.’
  • Design tools make seemingly simple changes arduous.
  • Cost accounting provides no encouragement for engineers to design for assembly or maintenance or test-ability or ease of changeover. Only functional cost is considered important.
  • Most engineering departments are function cloisters of cubicles that limit information flow between engineers in the same way that is often seen in production. Preston Smith, author of The Principles of Product Development Flow, quips, “Communication between engineers is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”

Can you think of any other “rules” that impede engineers?  Please share them.

When Edward’s Deming commented that 95% of an organization’s performance problems are caused by systems, he clearly was not referring only to production.   On the positive side, engineering departments that are able to break through status quo rules are creating huge competitive advantage for their organizations.  Those who cannot break through however will regrettably continue to be doormats. 

 

O.L.D.