Tag Archives: 5S

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

 

 

 

It’s a Small World After All

guestblog[Many thanks to Gerry Cronin and Julieanne Brandolini for passing along the following story about sharing between industry and healthcare.   Gerry manages the Lean Program at the Center for Comparative Medicine (CCM), the Biomedical Research division at the Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the largest programs of its kind in the US.  CCM has been on its Lean journey for 8 years, and has adapted Lean tools and methods in novel ways to service their 5000 customers as efficiently as possible with a staff of 130 employees. As a pioneer in Lean management in Biomedical Research CCM conducts Lean Tours, trainings and seminars to help accelerate the healthcare industry in the development of new therapies against disease. Learn more.]

At GBMP’s recent Northeast Shingo Prize Conference in Hyannis Massachusetts, CCM displayed adaptations of Lean as they have applied it to Biomedical Research  in their Community of Lean Lounge booth.   Conference attendees were drawn in by the wacky display of dangerous animals and props.   But during these times of sharing, CCM staff realized that a majority of the representatives from all different industries shared their frustrations in  getting employees involved with a) active Problem Solving and b) employee engagement. It appeared that everyone – regardless of their work – is faced with the very same challenges when developing a culture of Continuous Improvement. CCM is attempting to address this challenge in novel ways and here is the story that they shared in the Community of Lean Lounge:

Pulling the Cord”

During a Kaizen event that was focused on improving our Gemba Walks, the Team Leads and front-line technicians recognized that many members of our staff were not making the connections of how 5S and problem-solving are integrated into everyday work.  Many still see Lean as “another thing to do”; a “thing” that requires dedicated time for them to find, think, test and implement solutions to problems. The Kaizen Team announced “we are pulling the cord and we need more help to coach our staff to connect the dots”.

“Making it real”

To address this problem, leadership set out to create a realistic life-or-death simulation that would clearly illustrate how 5S, standard work and Problem Solving are part of everyday work.  From this setback was born the “5S Wetlabs”, a portable, 90-minute training session that was designed to reinforce the importance of Standard Work, workplace organization and stakeholder involvement.  During the intense and dramatic simulation, a critical step goes haywire activating an emergency response to save a life.  The “First Responders” encounter a dysfunctional and chaotic situation making the life-saving process totally ineffective, resulting in the tragic death of the victim.  The Responders fail miserably to perform effectively in their role; they articulate feelings of disappointment, of being demoralized, embarrassed and frustrated by their inability to save the victim.

“Shoveling against the tide… or Making Excuses”

The First Responders are asked to list “what went wrong”, which inevitably becomes a shopping list for 5S-related improvements. The Responders are then asked “who killed the victim” and to write an “Obituary” for the victim that will be presented to the family members at the wake.  The Obituary is often comically uncomfortable, forcing the responders to identify “who” and “what” failed, and their contribution to the victim’s death.  The Obituary exercise illustrates how we tend to make excuses, even when we have influence on a process. A short problem-solving session follows which then leads to Responders identifying dozens of improvements that will make the situation fool-proof; especially since every participant now realizes that “they” are the stakeholder.  They are personally relying on the quality and effectiveness of the system for their own survival.  The simulation is then immediately changed and improved, and the students are  challenged to create a system that will save their own lives when the process goes wrong.  5S principals are now demonstrated to the students by transforming a mundane exercise into a realistic life-or-death situation that makes the mistakes painfully personal.

Lean Learning Goes Both Ways

The theme of CCM’s 2013 Lean Lounge booth was “if we can do it, anybody can”.  The 5S Wetlabs display was an instant hit, as it attracted many trainers and managers who were interested in an unconventional approach to teaching the benefits of workplace organization and problem-solving in a short period of time. One such company was a major aerospace manufacturer that had recently experienced system failures that relied on multiple roles. The Continuous Improvement Director instantly saw the value in life-or-death scenario training for engineers and maintenance technicians who develop and maintain machines and processes that can result in death from catastrophic failure.   Other companies that visited the CCM booth expressed interest in the novel approach to personalized training concepts, and many remarked that perhaps the time has come when industry can now learn from healthcare.   While healthcare has been catching up for years, problems encountered in the dynamic healthcare setting can provide useful lessons for all industries when faced with change that threatens the life or death of an organization.  The learning pendulum has shifted, and healthcare may now be the very industry to illuminate the way to rapid improvements in a threatening market or environment.  Can lessons learned from healthcare help your organization?

Notes from O.L.D. :

1)    I think the answer to above question is:  Yes, definitely!  Lean learning is anything but industry specific.  Thanks again to Gerry and Julianne for their story.

2)    It’s not too early to register for our October 1-2, 2014 conference in Springfield, MA. – and maybe sign up for your own  Lean Lounge table. Click here for details.

3)    It’s almost too late to register for my Sign up here for “Tea Time with Toast Dude” – but not quite!  The topic will be “Killer Measures”, traditional measures that can derail your lean implementation.  Hope you can join me on Tuesday, December 10 (tomorrow!) from 3:00 – 3:40 p.m. EST.  Read more & register.

Labor Dazed

Image

A century after the first Labor Day celebration, during a factory re-organization, I discovered firsthand the meaning of “territorial imperative.” Removing organizational boundaries within the shop is one thing, but when you venture into the ‘professional’ parts of the company that’s challenging the natural order!  One office manager, call him Tom, adamantly opposed the idea of moving his department to the floor, next to his internal customer.  Tom had been a good manager and dependable ally during early improvements to the factory floor, but now that his department was directly impacted, he acted as though they were being sucked into a vortex of lesser status.   In a move to provide better internal communication and customer service, factory overhead departments had all been relocated the factory floor. The privacy and seclusion of offices was replaced by open spaces, desks with no cubicles, departments with no walls, and a company receptionist positioned on a raised platform, high enough that she could tell at a glance if someone what at his desk or bench to take an incoming call.  We told our customers “When you call our factory, you’re really calling the factory!”    

While both the internal customer (the factory) and our external customers appreciated the improved service derived from this open concept, Tom had a nagging concern:  “Both my parents worked in a factory their entire lives in order to send me to college and get my masters degree so I wouldn’t have to work in a factory.  This just feels wrong to me.”  I recall getting a bit defensive and suggesting to Tom, “Well I’m sure there are still plenty of companies around who’ll be looking for a persons in three-piece suits.”  I should have been more respectful.  Problem was (and still is) that somewhere along the way from 1894 to 1994, making things had become unimportant – trivialized by visionaries who predicted three-day workweeks.     

So much has changed since the first official Labor Day in 1894 when nearly everybody in the work force would have been classified direct labor.  Today the ratio between direct and indirect labor is somewhere in the 1:4 range.  To be sure, technological changes have effected a good deal of this change if not all for the better.  Still, the trivialization of the frontline worker – the one for whom this holiday was established – continues unabated, increasingly isolating them from those indirect, supposed support services.  In many cases the Gemba is no longer even onshore.   

I have a lighthearted modest proposal for future Labor Days: Let’s make them only for non-exempt employees.  They can have the barbeques; the rest of us professionals can go to work.  

Happy Labor Day! 

O.L.D.

 

A couple reminders: 
My next free webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, entitled Managing Up (click to sign up) is coming up Tuesday, September 10 at 3:00 p.m.  I’ve had many requests to weigh in on this subject.  And one lucky participant will win a free registration to our Northeast Region Shingo Conference in Hyannis, MA, September 24-25.  Time is drawing near for our conference.  Don’t miss it!  

 

WYSIWYG

Computer geeks over the age over 40 will recall that once upon a time, the images of text and graphics that appeared on computer screens bore little relation to the product outputted from the printer. There was a bit of an art involved using special ‘markup tags’ to control the printing font and format.  Prior to 1980 we could not see our work in advance of printing.  Then in the early ‘80’s came a miraculous software advance referred to as WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get.   This may seem trivial today, as everything we see on computer screens, including moving 3-D simulation models, is a faithful and accurate representation of the actual.   But for those struggling on early PC’s or Macs, the ability to see was a breakthrough.

The idea of “seeing what you get” pre-dates the emergence of IT.  The revolution began with Flip Wilson’s Geraldine in the 1960’s and entered our musical vernacular in 1970’s as a laidback Motown classic.    The message in both instances was “Here I am with no guile or pretense and no hidden agenda.”  What you see is what you get.    So by 1980, when the phrase was usurped by techno geeks, we understood what it meant.   [BTW: For a bit of nostalgia, take a couple minutes to click on the links above.]

In the 1990’s with the popularization of the Toyota Production System we were once again Learning to See, except this time, the process ran in reverse as we struggled to correlate our mental image of the workplace with Gemba – the “real place.”  Using a new method referred to a Value Stream Mapping, we toured our factories and offices, our OR’s and ED’s intending to understand and separate the real value provided to the customer from a sea of waste.   With post-its and pencils in hand we walked the process flow to “see” the real place.

But what did we see?  The traditional supposition, that the workplace was dirty, unimaginative, unmotivated, cut-and-dry often tainted our observation.  A general manager of a large consumer goods manufacturer commented to me in a loud voice as we stood on a load dock watching a worker unload a truck, “Wow you can tell we’re paying him by the hour.  How much time is he going to take to unload this truck?”  The worker shot around and glared at the manager, responding, “Last week I got my butt reamed for making a mistake on the count.  The way shipments arrive here it’s a miracle anyone ever gets the count right!  So now, I’m taking my time and triple-checking everything, BOSS.”

It seems that what this general manager saw was exactly what he got.   Respect is a two-way street, something with which many managers still have difficulty.   Thirty years (and 14 million copies) after Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson advised managers to “catch someone doing something right,”  this continues to be a challenging concept.   The VSM symbols describe material and information, but they don’t provide a WYSIWG of the people who do the work.

How about in your workplace?  Are employees your most valuable resource or a necessary evil?  Geraldine was right:  What you see is what you get.    Share some thoughts.

O.L.D.