Tag Archives: 5S

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

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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.

Signs

Do you remember a post-hippie era song called SignsThe song’s refrain came to mind recently during a workplace walkthrough:

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

Both office and factory were heavily invested in workplace organization, striving to create a workplace free of confusion.  Employees told me, when asked, that they never had to search for anything – ever.  The manager who walked with me proudly spoke of their team effort to create order from chaos by sorting out unneeded items – information, material and equipment.  “The employees in each department were the change agents,” he said.  “They decided first what should go and then where to place the things they need.”

To be sure, there were clearly marked, set locations for almost everything. Floors, bench tops, shelving, cabinets and bookcases all were taped and addressed. But one thing bothered me.  Lots of signs.  Little reminders were posted everywhere (“do this, don’t do that”) intended to usher the flow of production and information sans delays or defects:

  • A decal on an assembly fixture warned:  Caution. Do not operate without material.  An operator explained to me that fixture would be damaged if run empty. “Has that ever happened? I asked.  “Why do you think the sign is there?” she replied.
  • Above a packing bench in the shipping department a cute sign inquired, Got manuals? to remind packers to include operating instructions with products.
  • In the test lab, a sign over a test bath read, Turn on at shift start, off at shift end.  “Do you ever forget?” I asked.  “Yes, occasionally,” was the reply.
  • In a production control department, signs on computers read, Please log off at night.
  • Signs for the order desk were everywhere, some formal and some just hand-written notes.  “How do you keep track of all of these exceptions and special conditions?” I asked the order-entry person.  “I just know,” replied the employee, “and many of these notes are out of date anyway.”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign ,” I began humming to myself.

“Why all of the signs?” I asked my host as I pointed a couple do-this-don’t-do that’s.  “They’re work standards,” he replied.

“But aren’t most of these signs just warning employees about problems that haven’t been fixed?” I asked.

My host looked at me incredulously and said, “It’s just part of their jobs.”

“Is it really?” I persisted.  “Are these things they were hired to do, or are these signs just mental clutter?”

What do you think?  How many signs can you find in your department?  Chime in.

O.L.D.

Cost Subtraction

Last week, a drive-by a 99 Cent Store (see photo) reminded me of my first real job in an industrial marketing department.  In the 1970’s, one function of this department was to set prices, a task simplified in the early going by the market’s acceptance of whatever surcharges we added each year.   In some years prices were increased twice!  My job was to gather cost data on each product family, and multiply costs times our expected profit to determine a new price.

The basic formula was:          Price = Cost + Profit

There were no reviews of costs – didn’t need to be.  Nobody blinked when prices went up.   In fact, each price increase created an opportunity for distributors to stock up just before the increase at a lower price: more sales for us, at least in the short term, and more profit for distributors.  This was sales’ perpetual motion machine.

Sometime in the early ‘80’s the winds changed; customers in our market no longer accepted price increases.  On the contrary, they began asking for price decreases.  Our first instinct was to object.  We were in denial for about five years thereafter, our salespeople forced to haggle with customers just to avoid an increase.  In the process, we lost customers.   A principle referred to by the creators of TPS as “cost subtractionhad put the customer in the driver’s seat:

Profit = Price – Cost

The phrase “new normal” is used to describe a recent sea change in the world economy.   “Cost subtraction” marked a less obvious sea change in the 1980’s, but one that arguably has contributed significantly to our latter day new normal.   Simply put, the cost subtraction formula assumed that the customer determined the price and that profit therefore required effective cost management.  Organizations that had previously been free to pass along cost increases, now had to find ways to reduce costs.

How did US industry respond?  With outsourcing, off-shoring and leveraging of suppliers.  We purchased larger lots from suppliers to avert their price increases, and then rewarded buyers for “cost avoidance”.  We downsized our workforces and reduced employee benefits.  A company president quipped, “we’ll charge employees for parking spaces if we have to.”  Companies large enough to afford it sought to automate their way out of the dilemma, replacing employees with machines.  These superficial improvements created paper savings while weakening productive strength and emptying cash reserves.  Russ Scaffede, a former executive at General Motors, joked as a Shingo Conference speaker, “All our plants made money, only the corporation was losing its shirt.”

My little company did not have the financial resources to exercise many of these superficial options, which fortuitously led us to the discovery of TPS.   We learned the story behind the cost subtraction principle: that the lion’s share of cost reduction could be found through many small improvements.

Forty years after the cost subtraction sea change, many organizations continue to deny it.  Some are “lucky” companies, still able to price their products or services to cover wastes; others revert to superficial improvements to eke out a profit.  Where does your company stand?  Are you a lucky company?   What are your cost subtraction strategies?  Share a story with us.

O.L.D.