Tag Archives: 5S

Celebrity Toast Kaizen

I’m not so sure how I feel about a story I heard this morning of Jim Nantz’s toast visual aid, but it’s so rare that anyone in the public limelight offers a story that touches Lean thinking, particularly one about toast, that I am compelled to share.

actual toast.jpgApparently, Mr. Nantz, who likes his toast burnt (as in #1 on the toast scale), carries a laminated photo of his preference in his wallet.  Whenever he orders breakfast, he passes the photo to the wait staff in order to convey his unusual taste.   I also like burnt toast (around 3 on the toast scale), but somehow could not resort to the use of visual aids when ordering breakfast.  For me, a strong verbal instruction usually does the trick.  My wallet is already stuffed with so many business cards, credit cards and receipts; I’d just be wasting time looking for my toast visual every time I ordered breakfast.   And, truth be told, I’m not quite as particular as Mr. Nantz about these things.

However, in defense of Mr. Nantz,  “The customer determines value.”  No doubt, the toast problem is more consequential for him; he has many more occasions than I to be a customer for breakfast.  (I generally make my own toast.)  He’s even calculated the annual accumulation of wasted time – forty-eight hours – he has suffered by returning his toast for rework; not to mention the added insult of either eating his breakfast out of sequence or alternatively letting it get cold while his waits 10 minutes (his estimate) for the toast to be appropriately burned.  As he notes, “Time is currency.”   He’s apparently on the clock when he’s having breakfast; I generally eat out for fun and see breakfast a time to relax.

Although over 100,000 copies of Toast Kaizen have been sold since its release in 2004, it’s highly unlikely that Mr. Nantz would ever have been a viewer.  Yet, his celebrity story is in many ways an extension of our video.  So this holiday season, GBMP will send him a present: his own copy of the toast video.  (I may also include a discrete warning that burning toast produces acrylamide, a known carcinogen.)

For all our customers of GBMP and readers of Old Lean Dude, we wish you a lighthearted and relaxed Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate.

O.L.D. 

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).

Lean By Doing

Early along, as a student of the Toyota Production System (TPS), now referred to as “Lean,” I struggled with some of the concepts and systems.  For example, Shigeo Shingo’s claim that a four-hour machine setup could be reduced to less than ten minutes made me a skeptic.

“Perhaps,” I thought, “when Mr. Shingo talked about SMED, single minute exchange of dies, he was referring only to machinery in which the changeover involved die changes.  CNC Lathes were different, I rationalized; no chance for single minute changeover there.”

I kept these doubts to myself although I believe the machine operators had similar doubts. We’d made modest setup improvements, but nothing like Shingo was suggesting.  Anything beyond low-hanging fruit took us too far out of our comfort zone.

In 1996 however, when a consultant from TSSC, a division of Toyota, began working with us, it quickly became apparent to me through her questioning that our doubts arose from ‘conceptual blind spots’ developed through old setup practices.  These were preventing us from seeing a multitude of improvement opportunities.  With some priming from our consultant, we found waste in areas where, as Mr. Shingo would say, “it was thought not to exist.”   Under the guidance of our TSSC consultant, our well-ingrained existing frameworks for analyzing problems were gradually un-learned as part of our Lean learning.

leanbydoingimageOur consultant, who had no special technical expertise with CNC equipment, nevertheless brought a conceptual framework to the table that turned our skepticism into science.  She used a method I refer to as “directed discovery” constantly challenging us with questions about our beliefs and expectations.  For example, we were asked, “Why are four bolts needed for the tool holders?  After we got over the because-we’ve-always-done-it-that-way answers, one of the operators had a brainstorm: “Can we replace two of the bolts with guide pins?” he asked.  We experimented with the idea and, notwithstanding the concerns of the CNC lathe manufacturer, the guide pin idea worked!

Over a four-month period, focusing on sixty-six parts that ran on one CNC lathe, setups were reduced first from an hour to thirty minutes, then twenty and finally to eight minutes for any changeover between any two parts.  At that point the operators began measuring the setups in seconds.

The impact this had on our operation was truly revolutionary.  An abstract understanding that we had gained from reading Shingo’s book was now replaced by a tacit learning that could only have come through guided discovery and continual practice: Learning by doing or, in this case, “Lean By Doing.”

There are two morals to this story:

  1. Book study or classroom activities alone cannot create deep learning and may, in fact cause persons to privately harbor doubts. Only with constant hands-on practice can we remove the conceptual blind spots that obscure the full benefit of Lean tools.
  2. The perspective gained through the mentoring from our consultant was necessary to help us see beyond our conceptual blind spots.  Experienced eyes can guide inexperienced.

GBMP has chosen the “Lean-by-doing” theme for its 12th annual Northeast Lean Conference and in doing so we have invited some the most hands-on practitioners and experts to share their tacit learning with every participant.  Over half of our sessions will be hands-on learning.  The event gets under way in 26 days and registration is still open at www.northeastLEANconference.org.    Hope to see you there.

O.L.D.

 

Space Junk

spacejunkLast weekend in the Nantucket ferry terminal, I passed a defunct phone booth, the ornate wooden kiosk kind that was used twenty years ago to frame a payphone, provide a modicum of privacy, and hold a phone book.   It appeared that this particular phone booth had been re-purposed to hold a suggestion box; or maybe the suggestion box was also defunct.   Who knows?  I picked it up and shook it; it was empty.  And there were no blank suggestion forms in the side slot.  These thoughts crossed my mind as I viewed the payphone/suggestion box combo:

  • In this bustling terminal where customers crowded to catch the last boat to the mainland, someone might have written a suggestion if there had been pencil and paper. Notwithstanding my jaundiced view of the effectiveness of locked suggestion boxes, this particular one might as well have read: “We don’t really care.”
  • When the phone company removed the payphone, probably a decade ago, all that remained was an empty kiosk. The functional part of the phone booth had been stripped leaving a useless shell.

These are two different kinds of space junk, a term I’ve borrowed from NASA that describes the half-million pieces of accumulated debris left behind by decades of astronautical experiments; except in this case, the stuff is floating around in our offices and factories and labs and  ORs and warehouses.

The first kind of space junk, epitomized by the suggestion box, represents a system that is apparently in place, but is not purposeful and probably even counterproductive since it does not demonstrate understanding or commitment.   In fact, I frequently see suggestion boxes in this condition.  Other common examples include:

  • Taped lines left on the floor or signage left hanging from the rafters after a department re-layout
  • Huddle boards with “to do” dates more than a year old
  • Standardized work charts that bear no resemblance to the current condition
  • Kanban racks overflowing with over-production – or conversely, empty
  • ‘Employee of the Year’ postings last updated three years ago

At one point any of these experiments may have been purposeful, but now they’ve become monuments to stagnation and backsliding.

The second kind of space junk, represented in this case by the payphone-less kiosk, is debris that is left behind from old systems.  Like the kiosk, this stuff appears to be re-purposed, but after a time it accumulates into a hodgepodge of hand-me downs.  I’d wager, for example, that more than half of the seven-foot shop cabinets I see are leftovers from an earlier use.  They are almost always too deep for the current use, creating FIFO problems and inviting storage of excess supplies, tools and materials. Other examples of this type of space junk include:

  • Old desks turned into tables, perhaps to hold a printer plus “stuff” or maybe used as a lab bench
  • A wall that once divided two different departments, now just blocks the line of site between two team members from the same department
  • File cabinets and book cases re-purposed as fixture holders or walls
  • Electrical and plumbing drops left from an earlier time; like the payphone kiosks it was just easier to leave them behind.

To be sure there are times when old stuff can be effectively re-purposed, but more often than not these attempts save a few pennies up front, only to add cost and strain later on:  Many years ago, walking a convoluted conveyance route with a material handler, we came upon a floor scale that jutted into the route causing the employee to muscle the cart to the side of the aisle.  I asked, “Who uses the scale?”  The material handler didn’t know.  In fact nobody knew or could remember when the floor scale was last used.   Space junk.

I invite you to look around at the fixtures in your workplace and ask if they are really there to facilitate flow and make the job easier, or if they are just space junk.  How many can you find and how do they impact your work?  Please share a couple examples.

O.L.D. NELeanEsig2016_v2

PS I can’t believe it’s only 40 days until the start of GBMP’s 12th Annual Lean Conference. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to check out the website, take a look at the agenda and consider joining us. I personally am looking very much forward to spending time with our community of hundreds of passionate Lean practitioners from manufacturing, health care, insurance and other industries and to our four exceptional keynote presenters – Art Byrne, John Shook, Dr. Eric Dickson and Steven Spear – not to mention the dozens of presentations, interactive sessions and The Community of Lean Lounge. What a line up! I sincerely hope to see you there.

Eye of the Beholder

kanbaMany moons ago when I was just getting started on my lean journey, I visited a large automotive supplier to benchmark pull systems.  My own factory had started a pilot kanban between two work centers and I was hoping to gain some insight from a more experienced source.  To my disappointment, when I was escorted to the factory, the aisles were crowded with pallets of kitted orders.  “What is this inventory?” I asked my tour guide.  “That’s Kanban,” he said.  “How so?” I asked. “Every day the stockroom pulls stock for the floor,” he explained, emphasizing the word “pull.” I thought to myself that this particular material looked just like traditional factory orders, launched before they were needed.  The floor of this benchmark facility was more crowded with inventory than my own.   Not wishing to be rude, I tactfully inquired, “Isn’t the kanban supposed to stay near to the supplying work center?”   The factory manager confidently responded, “Oh yes, we have a central Kanban area.  I’ll show you.”  With that, he led me to large storage area that looked just like my stockroom only larger. “We pull from here,” he reiterated, once again emphasizing the operative word, “pull.”

“Amazing,” I thought to myself, “the factory has just swapped its STOCKROOM sign with one that reads “KANBAN.”  (Thirty years later, by the way, that factory has been closed.)  The point here is not to focus specifically on the tool, in this case kanban, but rather to highlight the difficulty that arises when the concept behind any tool is misunderstood.  If we don’t understand “what good looks like,” we could be doing exactly the wrong thing.

Two days ago, for example, I heard a machinist jokingly describe his factory’s use of Andons:  “When there’s a problem with my machine, I set the Andon to red and that signals everyone that I’m away from the machine hunting for the maintenance department.”    Unfortunately, while the front line employee knows this not how Andons are supposed to function, the details are less well understood elsewhere.  There is not a single Lean tool I can think of which is not burdened by misconceptions.  Here are six common ones.  Perhaps you can add to the list in the comments section below and we’ll keep a running tally (think we can get to 50?):

  1. Ganging up shop orders with similar set-ups regardless of due date in order to amortize set-up time, and then calling it “set-up reduction.” This is set-up avoidance. The whole idea of reducing set-ups to “build the customer’s exact order immediately” is lost when orders wait their turn for the right set-up.
  2. Creating dedicated “cells” which sit idle 80% of the time. People tell me, “We don’t have room for cells.”  No wonder.
  3. Moving the stockroom to the factory and then referring to months of stock on hand as “point of use inventory.”
  4. Referring to work instructions as “standard work.” In fact, having a clear work standard and job instructions build an important foundation for standardized work but too few sites understand standardized work as a dynamic choreography matching supplier capability to customer rate.
  5. A subset of the above, confusing Takt time with cycle time.
  6. One of my favorite misconceptions came from an engineering manager who let me know that he appreciated the “8th waste” (loss of creativity) because he was tired of his engineers wasting their creativity on production problems.

Confronted by these kinds of mis-perceptions, I’m reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode, Eye of the Beholder.   Watch the two-minute clip to see how ugly things can get when we don’t have a good understanding of the concepts behind Lean tools.  In the last several years, a great deal of attention has been given to creating a Lean culture rather than just implementing the tools.  This is an ideal I subscribe to wholeheartedly so long as we define culture as an environment favorable to continuous improvement, and recognize that a proper understanding of the tools by both workers and managers is a key part of the culture.

O.L.D.

PS I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind folks that the Early Bird price for The 12th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference  – “Lean-By-Doing: Accelerating Continuous Improvement”– ends May 31. It’s a great event and all the better if you can save your company some dough when you register your group. (It’s still a really affordable event even if you wait until the summer to register, no worries.) I am really looking forward to it and hope you are making plans to join us. There will be keynote presentations by John Shook, Steven Spear, Art Byrne & Dr. Eric Dickson, plus more than 30 interactive, educational, inspirational and fun breakout sessions rounded out with networking socials, yokoten in the Lean Lounge and much more. Here’s the agenda. See you in October, I hope!

As an added incentive to add to my kanban misconceptions list, one commenter will receive a free registration for the whole event! Good luck! BEH