Tag Archives: bruce hamilton

Leader Standard Waste: Part One

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

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

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

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

Today it’s Visual Controls:

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

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

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

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

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

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

O.L.D. 

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

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

 

Who Cares for the Care Givers?

Last month I joined Eric Buhrens, CEO at Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) to host a leadership team from the Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center.  They were on a study mission to many of Boston’s fine hospitals and were winding up their week in Boston with a visit to LEI.  Early in the discussion one of our guests asked, “In a few words, please tell me what Lean is.”   Eric fielded this question concisely, explaining “Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.”   He then asked me to relate the following story, a bit more long-winded, to amplify the concept:

I had a recent sojourn of more than a few days at one of Boston’s finest hospitals affording me a rare opportunity for extended direct observation of the process.  In Lean lingo, I was observing from the point of view of the “object” of improvement —  the part to be worked on.  In a factory, the object of improvement is a piece of material, a part being progressively converted by agents of improvement into a finished product.

Clinicians bristle at this analogy.  People, after all, are not widgets.  Of course, I agree.  Patients are each of them unique, and the task to make them well is anything but standard.  Caregivers must often make split-second decisions based upon years of experience and practice, spanning an enormous range of different potential conditions.   They are indeed agents of improvement, operating singly and as a team, with a passionate commitment to making the patient well. From scrub techs to cleaners to docs, surgeons, nurses, and administrators, these caregivers adroitly shift gears from one minute to next, at one point calming a delirious octogenarian who is screaming in the middle of the night for a pepperoni pizza and then a minute later resuscitating a gentleman in cardiac arrest.  As one of their recent customers, I extend my gratitude.

Toast-Kaizen_TabletBut, as I note in the Toast Kaizen video, “continuous improvement is not so much about the work as the things that get in the way of the work.”

Therefore, please allow me to offer an example from my extended observation.  For a period of days, I was tethered to an IV connected by about six feet of plastic tubing to an infusion pump and IV solution bag.  The dosage rate required the bag containing the elixir to be replaced approximately twice per day.  I say approximately because the flow of medicine was interrupted on average once per hour by a pump fault – an airlock in the line. When an airlock was sensed the pump would pause and alarm.  A nurse would then come by to adjust the tubing above the infusion pump, clear the fault and continue the infusion.  Depending upon the level of activity on the floor, wait time for the nurse ranged from a minute to fifteen minutes.  Oddly, if the fault was not attended to in the first five minutes the alarm grew much louder.  This I am told is a countermeasure to “alarm fatigue”,  a condition which occurs when there are too many alarms to handle at one time.  My sense is that the increased loudness did little more to alert the nurses; it was just an addition to the ongoing cacophony of alarms sounding throughout the floor.  In my own case, however, the increased loudness caused me to hit my call button.  This sent a signal to the nurse’s station that, after hearing from me that my infusion pump was alarming, would summon the beeper my nurse was carrying.  Depending upon the level of the many non-standard things that could be happening on the hospital floor, this might elicit an immediate response – or maybe not.

WhoCaresPostWhen the pump alarmed, I understood that my need was not the most critical, but felt compelled to ask my nurse – actually multiple nurses over a period of days – what they thought might be done to reduce the incidence of airlocks in the line; for example, did they think the problem was caused by equipment malfunction or set-up or the viscosity of the solution, or perhaps a software issue?  Had they investigated the problem?  I was struck by their responses.

First, every nurse assumed that my questions regarding the pump were motivated by my own wellbeing. “No,” I exclaimed, “I’m not asking for myself, I’m inquiring on your behalf.  Your time is so valuable, I hate to see it consumed by these kinds of headaches.”  Still, the response was a long-suffering “we do whatever it takes to care for our patients.”  In the minds of caregivers, clearing pump faults was just an inevitable annoyance – part of the job.  The mindset, while admirably focused on the patient, was also resigned to the status quo of common annoyances.  “At what point does an annoyance become a problem?” I asked one nurse.  She responded simply “its hard to make changes.”  Then, pausing for a second, she reflected, “One of our technicians showed me a trick a while back that he said would reduce airlocks in the line.  Let’s give it a try.”  With that, she repositioned the tubing above the infusion pump.    Subsequently, the pump did not alarm for hours – not until a refill solution bag was needed!  The breakthrough here was not so much in the deployment of a potentially better method, but the realization by one caregiver that what she had considered an annoyance was actually a big problem.

Of course, this just a single point of observation, an anecdote.  I didn’t see the nurse again to thank her or ask her what trick she had applied.  I wondered who else on the floor knew about this trick and how many pointless interruptions to their incredibly valuable work could be reduced if the trick became a standard.

I concluded my story to the management team: “Your caregivers are your most valuable resource.  Management’s job is to create an environment in which the ‘things that get in the way of the work’ are exposed and corrected, enabling caregivers to fulfill their missions with more time and greater focus on making the patient well.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

O.L.D.

Back To The Future

backtofuture
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.

Ten Posts for Ten Shingo Principles

Hurrah!  Today is the first day of Spring, if a little snowy, in the Boston area.  And the 28th Annual Shingo Prize Conference is fast approaching in just one month.   GBMP will be there and I’ll be teaching the Shingo Institute IMPROVE Workshop on April 24-25.  In honor of the conference, I’ve dug into the archives of my blog, going back to 2010, to find posts relating to each of the ten guiding principles from the Shingo model.  For those of you who’ve started reading my posts more recently, I invite you to peruse a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious potpourri of posts from the last six years.

Looking for a five-minute break from your work?  Each post takes about that long to read.  Follow the links and enjoy – and hope to see you at the Shingo Conference in Washington, D.C.

ogg

Lead With Humility

Humility may be seen as a sign of weakness.  This post from early in 2010, entitled Lead with Humiliation is about a couple of my fellow managers struggling with the concept of humility.  Leading with humility can be scary for managers.

Respect Every Individual

I wrote this post, Invisibility, about the unfortunate assumptions that are often made regarding the value of formal education or lack thereof.  The 8th waste is definitely the worst and unfortunately the most prevalent.

Focus on Process

Inspired by a scene from Casablanca, this post, The Usual Suspects, from 2011 reminds us to focus on the 5 Why’s rather than the 1 Who.   When we rush to judgment without understanding root causes we poison the quality culture.

Embrace Scientific Thinking

In 2010, I had a funny experience with a young engineer’s interpretation of ‘direct observation.’  This post, entitled Being There was written with millennials in mind, but probably applies to all generations.

Flow and Pull Value

My personal experience trying futilely to satisfy customer demands with push production is described in this recent post, Bump and Grind.  The message is that a bad system cannot be fixed with workarounds.

Assure Quality at the Source

As suppliers we often feel that zero defects is impossible or at least impractical; but as customers we demand zero defects.  This post from 2013, titled Cracked, is about a familiar product for which most of us as customers will accept no defects.

Seek Perfection

Managers are often encouraged to choose easy targets, a practice that limits professional challenge of team members and stymies Lean transformation.  This post, Target Practice, was written in 2010 about an experience at customer from several years earlier.

Create Constancy of Purpose

Here are some good Lean lessons I learned while coaching my kid’s soccer teams.  Last year I wrote a post called Up, Back and Around as a reminder that when the goal is clear, we may adjust our tactical decisions will also be clear.

Think Systemically

Watching repairs to the UMass Boston campus library last June, I reflected on the criticality of improving a system, not just its parts.  Failure to do this will have negative consequences.  Long Term Sinking is a result of short-term thinking.

Create Value for the Customer

In 2012, I wrote a post about my experience many years ago accompanying a salesman to a customer site to learn some lessons about the importance of understanding value to the customer.  The post: A Salesman’s Gemba.

I hope you’ll find a few of these stories and video links helpful.  As always, your responses are a welcome indication that there is somebody there.  Want to learn more about the Shingo Principles?  Come to the Shingo Conference in Washington next month!

O.L.D. 

Hey!  Would you like to be able to see Toast Kaizen any time on demand as well as ninety-nine other classic GBMP Lean videos, podcasts, plant tours and conference keynotes?  Become a Gold Level GBMP member today for only $895 and receive streaming capability for our award-winning videos as well as 15% – 30% discounts on our annual conference, public training events and products.  Click here to learn about LEANFLIX and see all the membership benefits.

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Ludicrous Speed

speedMel Brooks fans will remember Spaceballs, his jocular jibe at the Star Wars epic. In pursuit of a rebel ship, evil Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) orders his crew to accelerate their craft beyond the speed of light to “ludicrous speed.” While time travel remains science fiction, our ability to process and transmit data has proceeded apace since I was a young lean dude. In college we expressed data transmission speed as a baud rate, a unit of measure roughly equivalent to one alphanumeric character per second. Geeks like me sat at Teletype machines watching our computer programs transmit programs at the blazing speed of 32 baud (i.e. 32 characters per second) to a shared computer at Dartmouth College, which then processed that information at a rate expressed in IPS, instructions per second.   Information speed was severely limited by the transmission and processing technology of the day.  By the time I graduated college however, speed had progressed to MIPS, millions of instructions per second, then to billions, and more recently FLOPS.   The trend continues today, bounded only by theoretical limits, towards ludicrous speed.

Fascination with information speed has been with us since 1953 when the first commercial computer was sold. At that time UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) processing speeds averaged 0.002 MIPS. Only a handful of the world’s largest corporations could afford the million-dollar price tag for the twenty-nine thousand pound device that filled a four hundred square-foot room.   UNIVAC was the device that coined the term “real-time” defined as the “actual time during which something takes place” plus a few more MIPS for processing.   No doubt, the technological breakthrough was amazing, if only visible to a few persons.

However, compare UNIVAC’s real-time stats to the iPhone 6, weighing in at less than five ounces, and fitting easily in a jacket pocket. In a sixty year span, the speed of real-time has increased by nearly 130 million percent. Ludicrous speed! Moreover, smart phones are ubiquitous. Now everyone can have real-time information, not just a few large corporations. So what’s so ludicrous about that?

From a Lean standpoint, there are a number of challenges:

  1. First, is the barrage of media presented to us every minute of the day. How many emails must I routinely delete each time I handle my smart phone?   How many videos do I need to see on, for example, Kanban? YouTube lists 56,600 entries. Which of these is valuable to me? Which represent misinformation?   How can I confirm? In reality anybody can post any video today – with ludicrous speed.  No doubt, some of these videos will be excellent. But I could sort and sift through the YouTube haystack forever looking for good information.
  2. Second, the promises of automating Lean are alluring but insidious. For example, say some, do away with those pesky cards (kanbans) and replace with them with real-time kanban. This, unfortunately, separates the information from the material, assuring that the two flows will be out of sync. Moreover, the ‘instantaneous’ information becomes invisible.   Cyberspace is not a Gemba. We can’t go there to see queues or delays or problems.
  3. There is a paradox in the lack of connectedness that has derived from this ludicrous speed of information flow. An increasing number of persons labor under the delusion, for example, that texting is “talking to someone.”   At a time when we are finally acknowledging the importance of social science to real Lean transformation, we are at the same time interposing a tool that isolates people, that creates only the illusion of human interaction.
  4. The ludicrous speed with which we can all whip up professional-looking presentations today has blurred the distinction between looking good and being good. In the immortal words of Dave Lee Roth, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how good you look.”   PowerPoint, the original “baffle-them-with-B.S.” application has been around for twenty-five years, but it is quickly being supplanted by a plethora of smartphone apps for 5S, standardized work , Kanban, Kamishibai, and..well…you name it! Why do we do this? Because we can.   The words of my old-school TPS teacher are ringing in my ears.   Responding to my PowerPoint-drawn value stream map, he replied “Don’t make it pretty, make it accurate.
  5. Finally, as with material flow, when we focus primarily on cycle time, those nanoseconds of computer processing and transmission, we lose sight of the often huge stagnation time of computer queues, the automated over-production of information (produced before it is needed), and the total elapsed time for information flow, which includes the batching of information before input and after output. Those times can be truly ludicrous.

I’m admittedly a participant in the information age and I benefit from its ludicrous speed.  I use the Internet, for example, to write my posts and revel in the opportunity to pull in links to humorous video, historical background and scholarly articles.   But I worry that the ludicrous speed with which I send and receive information today may not be leading to more wisdom.

Please share your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with the challenges I’ve posed? Can you think of other challenges?

O.L.D.

P.S. GBMP has lined up several Shingo Institute workshops this winter and spring. For those who wish to learn how to create and lead sustainable cultures of excellence based on the Shingo Model and its Guiding Principles, we hope you can join one of our exceptional Certified Facilitators at an event near you soon. Read all about the courses and our faciliatators here.

Also, it’s long been a part of my organization’s mission to help build a community of passionate lean practitioners, leaders and learners and we at GBMP are proud of our Membership Mission and program. You can read all about it here. After more than a decade without a change in the annual fee to belong (which has always been an astonishingly low $495 per year for a company-wide membership),  dues are going up in March of 2016. Not without additional benefits, we promise. And not without the option to pay the current price to keep the current level of benefits (plus a few new ones). Beat the increase by signing up for or renewing a current membership now so you’ll get all the benefits of our GOLD Membership for the old price.