Tag Archives: continuous improvement

Late Bloomers

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Last week as I climbed into my car, I glanced at a tub of morning glories that I’d started from seed last March.   All spring and summer the plant grew taller and taller leaping at one point off the trellis and over the garage door frame.   Green and gangly, my morning glory plant was the picture of health, but for one thing:  it had no flowers. I watered and fertilized, but each morning as I climbed into my car nary a bloom; even into the early fall there was only greenery.  With the first frost imminent, I’d pretty much given up on the idea of blooms.

 
But then, suddenly (or so it seemed) on October 19th there was a profusion of heavenly blue blossoms.  I waxed philosophical at the sight, reflecting that some of us are just late bloomers.  We find our passion, if we’re fortunate, a little later in life.

 
One week earlier I’d delivered the opening keynote at the Northeast Lean Conference in Providence, RI.  Before beginning, I asked the audience for a show of hands:  “How many of you,” I inquired, “when you entered the workforce and took your first job, had no idea that one day you’d be attending a conference that dealt with transforming your organization?”   Five hundred hands went up – almost everyone in the hall.    Perhaps there were a few twenty-somethings who knew from the first that this would be their career, but for most of us, there was no guiding vision of Lean Transformation when we took our first jobs.  For me personally, there were few resources to even prepare me for the struggle of a cultural and conceptual revolution.   I left school with a B.A. in English literature to work in a marketing department.  Today I relate happily that, with the exception of that first job, I’ve been equally unprepared for every job I’ve ever held.

 
In fact, if the hands in the audience are any indication, many of us entered the workforce with a different idea of the future.   Who knew we’d become excited about dealing with seemingly overwhelming challenges?  Who knew that a serendipitous struggle – or in some cases calamity – would draw us into the fray?  Who knew that would become a personal burning platform.   “Thank you,” I said before continuing, “Thank you for the important contributions that you all make.”  Late bloomers, all of us.

 
I’d be very interested to know, how did your Lean journey begin?  Please share your story.


O.L.D. 

PS A quick reminder: At the conference last week, we offered a special super early bird discount ticket price for next year’s Northeast Lean Conference – October 23-24, 2019 in Hartford CT – good through the end of this month. If you’re planning to attend (and you should be) register now and save huge (only $795 per person instead of the regular $995 for members, $1095 for non members). The theme will be “Total Employee Improvement”. We can’t wait.

 

 

Silver Toaster Spirit

silver-toaster-fBob C. was a front-line employee with twenty-five years experience.  His day was spent operating a machine that stripped and terminated leadwire assemblies.  Problem was, there were over one thousand different assemblies and it seemed that, while the machine was always busy, it was always behind schedule.  Because these wire assemblies were needed for virtually every product his company manufactured, stockouts were a highly visible frustration.

Industrial engineers addressed the stockout issue with the purchase of a new high-speed wire machine.  The machine performed several operations in a single pass and cut cycle times in half, but it took much longer to set-up than its predecessor.  And, because the new machine was very noisy, Bob’s department was moved far away from his internal customers and enclosed in soundproofing foam.  As parallel countermeasures to stockouts, production schedulers massaged the sales forecast to bump up planned quantities of popular products, while inventory planners increased safety stock quantities for high-runner wire assemblies.  These steps combined to pyramid inventories to record levels; one entire row of high-bay storage in the automatic storage and retrieval system was now dedicated to wire assemblies; but, no improvement to delivery.

These were pre-Lean times with pre-Lean countermeasures, none of which involved Bob C.  He was just some guy on the front line, as much an object of change as the lead-wires he made.  Then Bob’s company discovered the Toyota Production System, referred to now as Lean.    The technical aspects of Lean resonated with Bob immediately: Why not build what his customer’s needed as opposed to some speculative amount based on forecasts and safety stocks?  Bob reasoned, “If I build only a week’s supply instead of month’s worth, I won’t even need the high-speed noisy machine; I can use the older machine that has short set-ups.”   This was the birth of Kanban at his company, a simple two-bin system.   It was a difficult birth.

“He’s not building to MRP,” declared the inventory planners as though it were heresy.   Production control, already in hot water with the sales department, echoed concerns of inventory Armageddon.  “We’ll go out of business if we do this.”   Bob’s plan was scaled back to a proof of concept pilot.  With one foot in the pull world and another still in push, Bob persevered: small batches triggered by Kanban made on the old machine and gross overproduction for the remainder produced on the new high-speed machine.  Little by little Bob’s concept was borne out; stockouts were nearly eliminated for the pilot parts. After several months, a plan was generated to gradually phase in additional parts.

But Bob wasn’t satisfied. As he reflected on the set-ups steps for his machines, he determined that they could be greatly reduced – almost eliminated.  “If we can make a few simple changes to this process, I can build a day’s worth and still keep up.  I can produce the low-runner wires pretty much as needed.  And, I no longer need the noisy high-speed machine.”  By this time, Bob was no longer “some guy on the front line.” He was a change agent and a thought leader.  “We can use pull for all of our production.”  Bob became our Kanban expert.

Bob C. continued to think about his production.  “Why so many wires?” he asked.  “Some lengths differ by only a thirty-second of an inch.  Who cares?”  It turned out that nobody cared. Wire assemblies had been designed in different time periods, and designers had not had good design tools to identify the insignificant differences.  Bob saw the opportunity, however, because he was on the front line and was looking for improvement opportunities.  I posted a story about variety reduction in 2011 if you’d like to know more about that.  In short, however, far fewer lead-wires part numbers were ultimately needed.

Until his retirement, Bob C. continued to develop mastery of his craft and freely shared his learning with everyone around him.    In that spirit, GBMP established the “Silver Toaster Award” in 2008 to recognize front-line employees that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and spirit for continuous improvement.  The award is presented annually at the Northeast Lean Conference.  All nominees receive free admission to the conference, and one of this distinguished group will receive that Silver Toaster.

Is there a front-line employee in your organization with the Silver Toaster Spirit whom you’d like to nominate?  There’s still time.  Here’s how.

Hope to see on October 10-11 in Providence at the 2018 Northeast LeanConference.

O.L.D.

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Who is Accountable?

accountable.jpgLeader Standard Waste Part Two (Did you miss Part One? Read it here.)

Many years ago, TSSC introduced to my factory a visual measurement device referred to as a production activity log (PAL), also known to some as an hour-by-hour chart.   Posted at the last operation of a particular process, the PAL provided an up-to-the-minute accounting and hourly summary of actual production quantity versus plan.  The far right column of this report contained the most important information regarding the process health.  If the actual rate in any hour deviated either high or low from the plan, the cell lead was accountable to report the problem and either remediate the cause or flag for additional assistance.  Causes for deviations, either high or low, were innumerable: missing parts, missing operations, defective parts, broken fixtures, incorrect drawings to name just a few.  As V.P. of manufacturing, I was accountable to review the PAL documents daily to assure overall process health.   My job was to confirm that the area supervisors were able to address problems as they occurred. We didn’t call it Daily Management and we didn’t use the word “accountability,  but it bore strong resemblances to both of these.

Shortly after implementing the PAL, I was chastised by TSSC’s consultant: “If you looked at the PAL,” he said, “you’d see that problems are not being fixed. If you don’t care, no one will waste their time reporting.”   At the consultant’s insistence I began to visit and initial PAL’s every hour, an activity that was stressful for me, but also incredibly informative.  As I paid closer attention, a few previously unnoticed accountabilities quickly became apparent:

  • Design engineering was accountable to provide a basic work standard and drawings detailing the specifications, dimensions, and features of the part or product. When these were wrong or incomplete, production became guesswork and rework. Too often, this particular problem did not get fixed for a long time, or ever.  Not until I visited that actual place where the problem occurred did I grasp the significance of “incorrect bill of material” messages.
  • No one seemed to be accountable to provide fundamental skills training to team members that were needed to do the work. Skills like welding or soldering, for example, were not always adequately provided, creating safety and quality problems.  Ultimately, this observation led to greater care in qualifying special skills – no more OJT.   What might have been listed on the PAL problem column as “scrapped part” took on a much deeper significance when I was able to ask “Why?”
  • Industrial engineers were accountable to develop and improve standardized work to balance the production rate to customer need and to confirm new standards with team members. What I learned, when I looked more closely was that the various artifacts of standardized work were not always aligned with actual production and were not kept up to date.  So-called “standard WIP” was not standard; sometimes there was a pile in front of an operation, other times nothing.  In particular, the standardized work chart, which supposedly provided a visual image of the standard, was frequently out of date.
  • Area supervisors were accountable to visit at least hourly to provide support for problems that occurred in the previous hour. (Now I was doing this also in order to show commitment to the process.)  Supervisors bristled at the idea that they were supposed to fix problems.  “Every hour we have problems,” an angry supervisor told me, “and most of them I can’t fix.”

So what does this have to do with the visual controls on huddle boards; the red and green dots that enable managers to assess the process health “at a glance”?  Several things:

  • First, if I, as a senior manager, had not gone to the actual Gemba, I would have remained woefully misinformed about process health. All of the missed accountabilities noted above would have been summarized into red dots.
  • Secondly, if I had not followed the process health on an hourly basis, I would have failed to grasp the importance of fixing problems instantly. They would have been batched for a daily huddle – and many likely would have been forgotten.
  • Third, if I had not shown a commitment to understand the problems, as my TSSC consultant said, the front line would not have wasted time reporting them. They would have just muddled along — SOS.

In 1995, we referred to the huddle board as a “production board,” and it provided a valuable periodic summary of quality, cost, and delivery, often capturing trends that would not have been apparent on daily charts; for example, delays occurring at the start of a shift or the start of week, or part shortages occurring at end of month.  But, for breaking news, we went to the Gemba – the real place.  And this is my concern about visual accountability as I often see it practiced today:  It’s all about the huddle boards.  When they are the only visual devices used by management, then the workplace becomes essentially invisible.   (Incidentally, a quick read of David Mann’s book, will indicate that he intends huddle boards to be one of many visual devices, all of which must be functioning properly for the huddle boards to have any meaning.)

As part of your leader standard work, do you get out to the real place frequently to “sustain new behavior” or do you simply visit the huddle board and risk sustaining the old behavior?

Please send me your thoughts.

O.L.D.
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By the way:  The TSSC consultant who took me to the woodshed in 1995 has just been added to the agenda and will be speaking at our October 10-11  Northeast Lean Conference in Providence, Rhode Island.   Bryant Sander’s topic will be… Daily Management : )  I can’t wait and I really hope to see you there.

 

First Lady of Adult Literacy

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At the Gemba: Avelino Coehlo and Ines Chiodo show the First Lady a cause and effect problem solving method.

In 1987, my company, United Electric (UE) initiated an ESL training program to support our continuous improvement efforts.  The idea came from a factory supervisor who noted,  “If we really want to create a continuous improvement culture we need to give our employees an opportunity to read and speak English.”  Over nine languages were spoken in the plant and while many employees understood enough English to get by, few spoke or read English well enough to get ahead.  In order to discuss problems and share ideas, it was essential for UE to invest in ESL learning for its employees.

With funding from the Massachusetts Workplace Education Initiative and under the guidance of a gifted ESL teacher, UE’s HR department established an ESL curriculum that was astounding in its impact.  Employees attended classes during the workday and curriculum was thoughtfully constructed to support their particular jobs.  Ironically, as UE adopted concepts from TPS over the next several years, Japanese words were added to ESL student’s lessons. Employees were learning English, but also Japanese words like Kanban and Poka-Yoke, concepts that now were part of their second language.  The difference in the work environment was notable almost immediately.  Persons who might have previously been considered “difficult” were actually just frustrated at being unable to describe the problems they faced in their work.  ESL had opened the lines of communication, changed attitudes and unlocked creativity. What had been a virtual Tower of Babel was developing as a rich multi-cultural team.  The proof of the transformation showed in UE’s 1990 award of the Shingo Prize, heralding its excellence in quality, productivity and customer service.  While this was truly an honor, perhaps a more meaningful recognition was yet to be bestowed.

On January 28, 1991 in midst of the first Gulf War, another war was being waged by then First Lady Barbara Bush.  At the invitation of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Literacy Campaign, Mrs. Bush visited UE to celebrate with ESL students from our 1991 class and promote the critical importance of adult literacy.  The day was extraordinary on many levels.  First, due to the Gulf war, security was extremely tight.  Parking was cordoned off for two blocks around building and bomb-sniffing dogs scanned the factory and offices. Because we were advised only a few days earlier that our site would receive a visit from Mrs. Bush, cleanup activity in the plant was frenetic.  Workplace organization, which was normally very good, achieved new heights.   Halls were given a fresh coat of paint and floors were buffed.  Even the elevator, which was normally used only for freight, was painted red, white and blue.  We were honored that the First Lady and number one advocate of adult literacy would visit our site.

bush2Shortly before 2:00 p.m., as an armada of state and local police cars could be seen in the distance escorting the First Lady’s party, the excitement was palpable.  After formal greetings in the lobby with management, Mrs. Bush proceeded to our ESL classroom to attend a class and meet with students.  In preparation, each student had written a short story or letter to Mrs. Bush, and ESL compiled these into a booklet entitled “Short Stories and Letters,” a tangible memento and testimony to the power of ESL.  A letter from one of the students, a gentleman who emigrated from Aleppo, Syria summed up the sentiments of the class:

“When I first came to America, I felt stupid because someone talked and I looked at their faces and never did I understand. It is important to have ESL in the workplace because now I can understand the blueprints and the order papers.  I understand what my supervisor says.  I am starting to read the newspapers and write my own checks.  I can take care of my family shopping and my home. This month, for the first time, I wrote down two valued ideas to save the company money.”

Following the ESL class, Mrs. Bush accompanied students to the Gemba where students proudly demonstrated some of the many improvements they had made to their work.  I am absolutely sure that none of these stories would ever have been told without the investment made in our employees to learn English as a second language.   Having the opportunity to offer this testimony directly to the First Lady of Adult Literacy was a powerful moment.

After Gemba, Mrs. Bush and an entourage of secret service, political dignitaries and labor leaders boarded the red-white-and-blue elevator to attend a meeting in the cafeteria for speeches and photo ops.  I was asked to provide a short speech of no more than five minutes about the value of ESL and its impact on our company and our employees.  I recall that this was the one and only time in my career that I wrote a speech down, memorized it and presented it verbatim – exactly five minutes in length.  Several other five-minute speeches followed including one from our Governor Bill Weld.

Finally, the great lady spoke, culminating the eventful day.  She spoke first of the importance of literacy to our country and our families, relating the goals of her literacy foundation.   Mrs. Bush then addressed the ESL students, thanking them for their diligence and applauding their efforts.  She then turned to Mr. Weld, quipping  “perhaps the State of Massachusetts could learn something about continuous improvement and problem solving from these students.”  The room erupted with laughter as the Governor nodded in agreement.  After a short reception, the magic day was over and we all got back to work, grateful to have had the First Lady of Literacy in our midst.

Thank you, Barbara Bush.

O.L.D.

Why “Everybody, Everyday”?

Plus a big “congratulations” to MassMutual Financial Group of Springfield MA. Allow me to explain…

As an examiner for the Shingo Prize and also as a certified instructor for the Shingo Institute Enterprise Excellence Workshops, I’ve had the opportunity to visit and learn from many terrific companies. The Shingo Prize criteria set a very high standard for both results and process, evaluating the entire enterprise from the corner office to the loading dock. GBMP has long been a proponent of the Shingo Institute and the Prizes it confers each year to excellent enterprises from around the globe.

Next week, GBMP will be at the 30th Annual Shingo Conference and Awards in Orlando, Florida to celebrate with a recipient from our northeast region: MassMutual Financial Group from Springfield, Massachusetts will receive the Silver Medallion, the second highest honor bestowed by the Institute. This huge accomplishment is more impressive still because it represents the collective efforts of more than 5000 associates at the Springfield site. The spirit of improvement that has been unleashed at MassMutual is evident to anyone who visits, and we are indeed fortunate to have this kind of showcase and beacon of excellence in our region. Congratulations to the many leaders, managers, and associates at MassMutual who live the slogan, “everybody everyday.”

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GBMP’s Logo & Tagline since 1998

 

Speaking of “everybody, everyday”, I recently created my first VLog and posted it to YouTube here. In it, I discuss how GBMP got its logo & tagline. I hope you will view, enjoy and share it.

 


How does your organization embody the ‘Everybody Everyday’ philosophy? I’d love to hear about it.

Sincerely,
O.L.D.