Tag Archives: continuous improvement

Lean Peeves

With just 16 days before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N Conference (by the way the acronym stands for Lead, Enable And Nurture), I’ve decided to share a post-a-day with my readers.  Each post is taken from my 35 years as a student of Lean, and will highlight something that has in my view presented an obstacle to understanding continuous improvement.  Depending upon your point of view –and I’d like to hear your point of view — some of these may seem trivial and others more significant.  For me, each is significant enough that it is a piece of the context by which I see things.  By extension, I worry that if others do not also see these things as I see them, then our collective ability to improve is limited.  My sixteen Lean Peeves, presented over the days leading up to our conference on October 7-8, are shared in no special order.  But because this year’s conference, 21st Century Lean, deals with the harmonization of Lean Transformation and Digital Transformation, I’ll try relate each of my peeves to one or both of these.  Here is the first Lean Peeve:

Lean Peeve #1:  Waste Modifiers.   Why are modifiers like “unnecessary” or “excess” used to describe waste?   Sometimes they explicitly name the waste, (as in the image I pulled from the internet, e.g. Overprocessing,) and other times in amplifying explanations of the waste.   I grate my teeth when I see these interpretations emblazoned on posters in the factories and offices I visit. Shigeo Shingo’s famous quote is relevant here: “Elimination of waste is not the problem; identification of waste is the problem.”   Shingo did not differentiate between “necessary” and “unnecessary” Motion, for example, because ALL Motion is a waste.  Consider the wiggle room that these adjectives afford.  Once we apply them, the ideal is watered down to “the best we can do.”   Who decides what is necessary or not, and how does that standard impact our ability to identify waste?    And, from a digital transformation point of view, while IoT shows great promise to provide an integrated image of work flow (and waste) along a value stream, what if the standard has blind spots?    For some reason, a few of the seven wastes get this special dispensation: “Unnecessary Motion” or “Excess Inventory” or “Over Processing.”    Thank goodness I’ve not yet seen, “Excess Defects.”  

Want to short-circuit creative thinking about elimination of waste and embed misconceptions into IoT?   Just add some forgiving adjectives to obscure the ideals.  Want to learn more about the critical relationship between Lean Transformation and Digital Transformation?  Join us on October 7-8 for the 2020 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference (virtual/digital of course:).  Only $295 for GBMP members.  You can see the agenda here.

O.L.D. 

By the way, I have a couple more beefs with waste distortions that I’ll share in later posts.  But tomorrow my post will be “Student Body Right.”   Can you guess what that will be about?   Please check back. 

Also, a quick note about our conference Kick-Off Keynote – Adapting Lean Thinking to a Crazy Century” – presented by James Womack. Yes, THE James Womack. Lean production and its companion lean management were created in the period between 1950 and the early 1970s in a world that seems stable by 21st century standards. He’ll discuss whether the ideas and methods of lean thinking, created for the long-term steady improvement of stable enterprises, are suited for this new era, and in what ways might they be adapted. He’ll help us grasp the situation in the new century and examine the role of lean thinking in a crazy time. I’m really looking forward to this session (and many more). Hope to “see” you there.

Pole Vaulting 4.0

One summer when I was a kid, my friend Rick and I built a pole vault set-up in my postage- stamp- sized backyard with a plant box (the place where you plant the pole as you begin your vault) and a couple uprights to hold the crossbar.  We used bamboo poles acquired from a local carpet store for both the crossbar and the pole vault pole.  The pit consisted of a couple old pillows – good enough for 12-year-old beginners.  Over the months of July and August we wore out a path in the grass and the skin on our elbows as we tried and failed to clear the bar.    To try this event is to appreciate the number of things that have to go right simultaneously. Our only source of information was a chapter from a book on track and field events. But by summer’s end, bruises and all, we were both able to clear a height of six feet.

As Rick and I entered junior high school, we joined the track team to continue our trek to greater heights.  Our backyard skills transferred fairly well, but now there was new technology.  An eight-foot bamboo pole was replaced by a twelve-foot aluminum version, enabling a higher vault, but also requiring significantly more speed on approach.  With a singleness of purpose, we trained every spring day, and by season’s end we were both able to manage the longer, heavier pole and hoist ourselves to a lofty elevation of nine feet. 

Time marched on as Rick and I honed our skills, but with little technology change. Over the next six years, the sawdust pit was replaced with an air-cushion landing area, a nice safety feature that did nothing to increase the height of our vaults.  And while new technology in the form of fiberglass poles was beginning to replace aluminum, the skills to capitalize on the new material were conceptually very different and even counter-intuitive. The idea of “bending the pole” to gain greater height was very new and not well understood.  In the absence of this new information, fiberglass poles behaved much the same as their aluminum counterparts, providing little height advantage.  Rick and I both maxed out our pole-vaulting careers just under twelve feet in our senior year of high school.  

So, what does this story have to do with Lean and continuous improvement?  Several things:

First, Rick and I became practiced with a method that required revision as technology changed. The method we learned well as kids ultimately bounded our development. In the words of improvement expert Tomo Sugiyama, in The Improvement Book, practice makes permanent, not perfect.  Or paraphrasing Deming Prize winner Ryuji Fukuda from Managerial Engineering, Before you practice, first be sure you are learning from a good teacher.  Practicing a bad golf swing does not improve it.   

Second, having new technology and benefiting from it are two different things. In 1965, my friend Rick and I had the physical technology in our hands, but the information component necessary for human benefit was not yet available.  As Stan Davis notes in Future Perfect (1987), information is the new currency. First to coin the terms “information society” and “mass customization,” Davis augured the impact of what is now dubbed IoT, the Internet of Things.  Today, for example, thanks to multi-sensory technology, bio-mechanics, high-speed digital video and analytics, the physics of pole vaulting is informed like never before.  The result?  The current world record for pole vault is over 20 feet.  Unfortunately, like Rick and me, too many organizations spend millions for new technology, but then skimp on training employees how to use it.  Perhaps this is because the technology is an “investment,” but training is an “expense.” 

Finally, Pole vaulting is a human endeavor that has been around for thousands of years, slowly advancing from oak sticks to bamboo to tapered aluminum to fiberglass and carbon fiber, each technical change meeting first with objections (fiberglass poles were actually banned from the 1972 Olympics), and then through gradual learning and acceptance propelling athletes to new heights.  Owing to the science now behind it, perhaps we can call it Pole Vaulting 4.0; not really a revolution but more a continuous evolution supporting human endeavor.  So, why not take it to another level:  Replace the athletes with robots.  We could. But should we?  This consideration is, for me, the most worrisome.  Harkening back to my backyard, where Rick and I first learned to fly, I wonder about the implications for human development. What do you think? 

(By the way, current pole vault world record holder, Armand Duplantis, also began his reach for the sky as kid in his back yard!  Have a look at the joy of human endeavor: Twenty feet and climbing.)

O.L.D.                                                                                             

Hey O.L.D. Readers:   Industry 4.0 and IoT are central in the discussion at our upcoming 16th Annual Northeast LEAN Conference.  The theme, 21st Century Lean will deal with many of the ideas from this post. How can Lean thinking inform IoT?  Must we adapt Lean thinking to harmonize with Industry 4.0?  And thanks to the Internet of Things, you can join in from anywhere this year as we have pivoted to virtual for safety during Covid-19.   Please join Lean legend Jim Womack and Industry 4.0 experts, Fady Saad and John Carrier along with ten more Lean/IoT thought-leaders. Registration is super-affordable and you get to sleep in your own bed.  More information and registration here:  https://bit.ly/2ZKmo5t

Single Minute Exchange of Bar

With all the gloom and doom of the Coronavirus, the divisive political climate and the Zoom fatigue, this has been a tough summer.  Here is a whimsical post to kick off the fall about applying Lean thinking when you’re stuck at home.  

Maureen (Mrs. Toast) and I have found some respite over the last six months in an occasional visit to our outdoor pub, situated on a porch to the side of our house.  There, with a backdrop of our favorite music from Spotify, we can enjoy some lighthearted conversation and laughs.  Back in March, when it became apparent that we’d be spending a lot of time sheltering at home, we resolved to build our own mini-resort – mostly from scrap materials.   The open air was a soothing balm and, especially on a warm evening, we almost felt like we were on vacation.  But there was one problem:  Our little oasis was not waterproof – especially in heavy wind and rain.  After the first storm we tried buttoning up the leaks, and covering with a tarp. But alas, the weather played havoc.  When a second storm was forecast about a week later, we frantically carried all libations inside, fire brigade style, stacking them anywhere and everywhere.   We emptied the bar in about 15 minutes, but setting it up again after the storm took more than an hour. 

Always Kaizen-minded, Maureen was unhappy with this haphazard approach, and set about to simplify and standardize the pub changeover.  First, she sorted out excess or seldom-used materials and then created set locations for the remainder.  (This probably also reduced the time to mix a drink, but that was incidental as we really don’t drink that much and mixing the drink is part of the social experience anyway – i.e. “value-added.”) Next, she created an order of assignments for both dis- and re-assembly of our haven.  A couple old tubs that I once used to drag Lego simulations to customers were more than adequate for transport to a dry location.   Our first-time trial was 10 minutes for breaking down the bar and 15 for setting it back up, but we were making small adjustments for both steps during the trial. Then we waited for a storm.

On April 13, the day after Easter, we had the first opportunity to test Maureen’s quick-change system.  This was a live operation as there was approaching thunder in the air. Time to breakdown the bar was 8 minutes, as was setup after the storm had passed.  Not that time mattered that much in this case.  It was more a matter of reducing the frustration of a chaotic process.  Making the changeover easier was as important as making it faster.  There is a natural satisfaction in making a job easier – even something as frivolous as SMEB (Single Minute Exchange of Bar.)  Would Mr. Shingo approve? 

O.L.D. 

Hey OLD readers – as summer draws to a close and you begin planning for 2021, don’t miss the 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference.  Naturally, it’s virtual, which makes attendance from anywhere easier than ever.  And we’ve kept price way down to respect the hard times that many of our customers have experienced.   Our theme, 21st Century Lean, established long before the pandemic is almost prophetic in its objective to deal with the intersection of Lean and IoT.  As Covid-19 has accentuated the promise of the Internet of Things, it’s more important than ever to establish a balance between technology and respect of people.  Hope you can join us and some world-class presenters for that dialogue.  Here’s the link to the agenda and registration:  https://bit.ly/2ZKmo5t

Culture Change

Shortly after my last post, in which I referred to sowing the “seeds of change,” I enlisted the help of my son, Ben, to reseed a particularly bare area of our yard.  I’d neglected this spot for a few years and it had become sparse and dormant.  Fixing the problem was therefore not merely a matter of spreading new seed.   There was a significant amount of work to be done first to prepare the soil.  This essentially exposed the problem and at the same time made it amenable to improvement.  Had I just sown seed on the thatch and weeds that had infested the grass, the results would have been disappointing.  A seed or two might have taken root, but most would have languished. 

It occurred to me as I watched Ben, fifty years my junior, steadily completing a task that would have been more of a struggle for me, that changing a culture requires sweeping away an accumulation of debris from the past.  Exposing the problems is hard work and not pretty.   “Make problems ugly,” is a popular expression in the Lean world, but exposing problems often elicits criticism from the keepers of the status quo.  At least in this case, exposing the problems fortunately fell to the younger generation.    I got the easy job: sowing the seeds.  Each of us contributed to the change as we were able.  After three months more of creating a favorable environment for the grass, I celebrated with a Sam Adams in the space we planted together.  This time, I think, I will try harder not to take the lawn for granted.  Culture change is after all, not a discrete event, but continuous improvement that engages everyone according to their individual capabilities.  And not to be taken for granted.

Have a relaxing 4th.

O.L.D. 

PS Speaking of Culture Change, my organization is a big proponent of The Shingo Model and Guiding Principles to provide context for Continuous Improvement – the “know why” in the form of principles before the “know-how” which is systems and tools. It develops company culture thru analysis of how principles (along with company vision, mission, and values) inform behavior and how systems reinforce it.  Benefits include a more engaged workforce that understands continuous improvement at a much deeper level and a sustained culture of excellence. When results are achieved through behavior grounded in principles, they are for the long-term. Learn more about it during our upcoming virtual seminar.

And if you’re interested in continuing your Lean tools education during the summer months, GBMP has lots of great virtual workshops to choose from – from value stream mapping to pull systems (kanban) and much more in between. Check them out here. We look forward to “seeing” you soon!

Now, as the economy begins to reopen, two lessons learned

To our customers, suppliers, partners and friends,

For the last four months, GBMP, has of necessity, pivoted to predominantly virtual consulting, training and coaching.   Now, as the economy begins to reopen, I’d like to share with you two lessons that we have learned:

Office space adds limited value to our work.
We have discovered that physical distancing for our team does not necessarily reduce presence or alignment.  In fact, the need for very frequent communication during the pandemic has highlighted the advantages of virtual methods like Zoom and Slack.  The GBMP team has not been able to assemble physically since February, but we have met “face-to-face” virtually nearly every day, something that would not be practical in real space.  While do look forward to a time when can occasionally meet in person, we have come to realize that the “new normal” may not require the expense of an office. 

Virtual is here to stay, as a component of learning.
Like many of you, GBMP has adapted to the pandemic’s reality, and we have learned through this difficult process that there are aspects of virtual learning – particularly the explicit learning – that are actually advantageous to both teacher and learner. This is something I would not have subscribed to personally, had pandemic conditions not demanded it; but response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.  We are anxious to be back on-site with our customers “in the Gemba” at some point, but we also anticipate that aspects of virtual learning will continue and develop as an improvement to Lean and Six Sigma learning and organizational transformation. 

While timing for recovery from Covid-19 is no less uncertain for me today than several months ago, life goes on, work continues and so does improvement to the work.

GBMP’s mission, to keep good jobs in our region, is stronger than ever and we will continue to adapt to provide value to our community.   We value our many relationships and look forward to bright outcomes for all of us. 

Bruce Hamilton,
June 25, 2020