Tag Archives: employee engagement

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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A Holiday Miracle

Viewing Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” last week for the twenty-fifth time in as many years, I recalled a kind of holiday miracle I witnessed shortly after I began consulting.

holidaymiracleI was working with a manager team at a food processing plant shortly before Christmas, observing a packing line set up especially to pack hams for the holiday.   Imagine a rapidly moving serpentine conveyor transporting hams from a chiller to a rotating shrink wrap platen and thence to boxing and palletizing operations.   Operators stood at key points, to inspect, load and unload. Because the shape of each ham was unique, proper positioning and repositioning of product was also important to prevent jams and spills.

Observation was something new for this manager team. Not that they weren’t on the floor regularly, they just didn’t spend much time focused on the process. This day we were essentially standing in Ohno’s Circle, watching the work of young lady, call her Martina, stationed at the sealing platen.   Hams arrived every twenty seconds on a conveyor positioned next to the platen, where Martina would quickly do a visual inspection and then load and activate the shrink wrapper. The packing line was paused briefly, and with the help of her bilingual supervisor we inquired of Martina if she experienced any difficulty in her work.   As none of our group could speak Spanish, we could only observe facial expressions and body language.   Her supervisor spoke to her in Spanish and then turned to us with a smile on his face: “I asked if she has any problems and she responded that ‘she really likes working here.’ I think she’s a little nervous.” Martina was looking at our team with a big smile also.

Moment of truth: The top manager in our group responded directly to Martina in English. “We know you’re a very good worker and we’re happy to have you working for us. Is there anything that we can do to help you in your job?”   Her supervisor translated to her, apparently adding a few personal words of encouragement. Martina provided a longer, animated response, demonstrating how she loaded the hams from the conveyor to the platen. We watched as she as she suddenly made a long stretch to a spot where the conveyor took a right angle turn.   Her motion was reminiscent of a first baseman stretching to shag an errant throw.   She looked at us again with a smile. Pointing to the area of the “stretch”, her supervisor translated: “Martina says, that occasionally, a ham will fall off the conveyor at this turn, but that she is always watching and is able to catch it before it hits the floor.” He paused, and then smiled again. “And, she wants you to know that it’s not a big problem, and she really likes working here.”

The packing line was restarted, and we observed this time with a better understanding, watching for the occasional falling ham. There were a couple near misses, but no opportunities for Martina to demonstrate her first base stretch. So it is with occasional problems; only the front line sees them.

Before we moved on, from the top manager came a sincere thank you to Martina for her help, and a direction to engineering to add a higher barrier to the conveyor at the point where hams might tumble. For both management and employees it was a holiday miracle, an epiphany: Each had become visible to the other.   As Goodyear’s Billy Taylor put it at our Northeast Lean Conference “if you make somebody visible you make them valuable.” This is culture change, one small miracle at a time. But, in the words of Bill Murray’s Ebenezer Scrooge, managers have to “want to make it happen every day.”   It’s management’s part of “everybody everyday.”

My New Year’s challenge to every manager: Show your personal passion for continuous improvement every day. Make the miracle happen in your organization. Make your employees and yourself visible.

Best Wishes to All for an Incredible 2015.

O.L.D.

P.S. GBMP wants to help you get 2015 off to a great start with lean training events to benefit your whole team – including Job Instruction Training, Lean for the Office, Six Sigma Green Belt, Total Productive Maintenance, Value Stream Mapping for Healthcare, benchmarking plant tours, free webinars, Shingo Institute workshops and much much more!  Visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events to see the entire list.

Dead See Scrolls

I participated recently in the AME conference in Jacksonville, Florida; a terrific rally for manufacturing excellence with the tongue-twisting theme “Strategic Success Through People Powered Excellence.”   I had a small role on a keynote panel that attempted to answer questions from attendees relating to generating the people power needed for strategic success.  The session evoked a sense of déjà vu, as the challenge to get everyone actively engaged in improvement  – referred to in pre-Lean times as Total Employee Involvement or TEI –  has resurfaced after nearly three decades of dormancy under the heading of people powered excellence. “This is a good thing,” I thought to myself, “that the Lean transformation discussion has moved to the social part of Lean, but why has it taken so long to resurface?”

When the panel discussion concluded, I retreated to further reflection: “Maybe,” I thought, “there never was a social part of Lean, only a set of techniques to be implemented and layered over a traditional organizational structure that valued only a few “thinkers” and treated everyone else as expendable ‘doers.” Maybe this was why the focus shifted in the early ’90s from Total Employee Involvement to Some Employee Involvement: Blitz Kaizen teams and black belts and subject matter experts and value stream leaders, none of which existed in the pre-Lean era. Maybe the Total part was just too hard or too foreign, so we retreated to our caste system of thinkers and doers and glommed onto the technical part of TPS. Technical problems, after all, are always so much easier to solve than people problems.

ideabookIn the late 80’s, Productivity Press (now CRC Press –  then the leader in bringing TPS thinking to America) published an excellent “TEI Newsletter”, a resource that provided tremendous insight about creating the environment that we are now referring to as ‘people powered excellence.’ I have all the old issues, but there is no reference to the newsletter on the Internet; and no reference to TEI in the popular Lean Lexicon or any other glossary I researched. The acronym and what it stands for have apparently been expunged from our Lean consciousness.   For those of you who’d like to revisit this prehistoric concept I recommend reading The Idea Book, authored by the Japan Human Relations Association in 1998. The book (once published by CRC Press) is now out of print, but available on Amazon for $0.01.

theoryzDigging farther into the pre-Lean period is another seminal text by William Ouchi, entitled Theory Z, a seminal dissertation penned in 1982 on creating a management system that stimulates employee engagement and loyalty.   This book came to mind during my keynote panel discussion. I wondered how many of the 1500 persons in the room had ever heard of it. Theory Z is also now out of print and available on Amazon for $0.01. Ouchi’s book is largely reflective of W. Edwards Deming’s thinking, and is still very important reading.

My post-panel musings caused me to venture to the AME exhibitors area for a visit to the CRC Press booth to peruse their latest offerings. Nearly all of the display was comprised of technical how-to books: 5S, A3, 3P, kaizen events, policy deployment, value streaming for this and that, and a host of Lean-for… texts (Lean for sales, Lean for healthcare, Lean for accounting, etc.) I asked the salesperson, “Do you still publish Ohno’s and Shingo’s books? I don’t see them here.”   He replied, “Yes we do, but we only bring new books to the conference.” (Shingo’s 1988 book, Non-Stock Production, is happily still in print, if not on the shelves.) As he answered, I recalled a warning from Shigeo Shingo that we should “not confuse means with ends,” for example, don’t think of 5S as an end in itself, but as a means to a higher purpose. All I saw for sale however was means type texts from latter day disciples.   Apparently the works from the likes of Shingo and Ohno and Ouchi have become more like the Dead Sea scrolls: they still exist, but almost nobody reads them any more. Call them the Dead See Scrolls to disambiguate.

O.L.D.

News Flash: DExc

Don’t miss this important Shingo Institute training event, Discover Excellence.
Date: January 8-9, 2014
Place: Haworth Inc., Holland, Michigan
Instructor: Me
For more information, visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events

BTW: This is the fourth anniversary of Old Lean Dude, a blog I started partly to promote management engagement in continuous improvement and partly as a means to blow off steam. Posting about twice per month since 2010 has, in fact, been helpful to my personal sense of well being, but I hope there has also been some value to others. Thanks to everyone who has responded to my posts. I really do appreciate your comments and observations.   Keep ‘em coming.  – Bruce

Frankenstein Equivalents

frankensteinI was speaking with a friend about a recent downsizing at his church. After nine years, a popular priest had been reassigned to another parish. In an apparent effort to cut costs, a new priest would now split his time between two parishes in neighboring towns. When I expressed some regret about Father S’s departure, my friend replied, “It’s not so bad. If you look at total staffing, the number of FTE’s hasn’t changed much.”

For the uninitiated, FTE’s or Full Time Equivalents, is a ratio between the total number of paid hours during a period and the number of working hours in that period. The ratio units are FTE units or equivalent employees working full-time. In other words, one FTE is equivalent to one employee working full-time – sort of.

For example, having one priest, presumably with more assignments, commuting between two parishes did not seem “equivalent” to me, but I kept that thought to myself. My friend, a doctor at a nearby hospital knows all about FTE’s. It’s a codeword in healthcare used to describe head chopping in the name of cost reduction. It’s a convenient way to dice up people’s work and then, like Dr. Frankenstein, sew them back together as if they were a whole.

frankenstein2In healthcare, the priest is replaced with a doctor who literally runs between campuses, or a nurse who covers two floors simultaneously. At the front door of a business, the receptionist is gradually loaded with new tasks until there is no time left to greet visitors. Or maybe the receptionist is chopped altogether, and that work is sewn onto another job somewhere in the office to create an FTE. Now there is only a phone and phone list in the lobby. On paper these may look like improvements but, in real life, who benefits? Saving lives, saving souls, saving customers – they all require whole persons, not pieces stitched together as FTE’s.

How about in your organization? Are you employing real persons or Frankenstein Equivalents?   Share a story.

O.L.D.

Don’t forget: Our next Tea Time with Toast Guy Webinar will be on Tuesday, August 12 from 3:00 – 3:45 p.m.   The topic is “Creating a Realistic Pace for Improvement”. Read more and register here. Bonus!  We’ll select one person from the list of participants to win a free registration to our October 1-2 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. Learn more about the conference here.

Lesser Gods

lesser_gods2I learned recently of the passing earlier this year of person I worked with twenty years ago at my last job in manufacturing.   Manny S. was a ‘lesser god’, a term which is meant neither to canonize nor demean him.   He wasn’t perfect – not by a long shot – but boy could he get things done!   If you asked him to help with a task it would be done before you finished the sentence. While others moved with exasperating deliberation to solve problems, Manny needed only seconds to take action.   I wrote a post in 2011 that illustrates his exemplification of the adage “Fix problems instantly.”   I’ve heard and repeated this adage many times, but Manny lived it.   From him I learned the effect of following the adage. But for this short tribute, the Lean world will never know who he was.   He wasn’t an engineer or a manager or a black belt, and didn’t have a great deal of formal education.   He never wrote a book or white paper, never gave a speech and never posted a blog. But he taught me something.

Words like “sensei” and “guru” have entered the English language, primarily I think, as catchy alternatives to “consultant.” (No one would ever have referred to Manny as a “sensei.”)   These persons who have come before are presumed to be the sources of Lean understanding. We idolize the most famous as gods of Lean. In fact, most today are no longer primary sources, but more like reporters or interpreters, who, thanks to the Internet, have a reach far greater than the original authors of TPS.  I cringe at the sensei and guru titles – way too presumptuous. I prefer “co-learner” not only because it’s a touch more humble but also because it implies reciprocity – collaboration in which we learn from each other. Like how Manny and I learned.

To be sure there are experts like Deming or Ohno or Shingo who have come before us, true Senseis through practice and application.   The rest of us are way down the totem pole: lesser gods. But, if we work at it, we can learn from each other.   Contributions from folks like Manny may not be trending on Twitter, but that doesn’t make them less important. For those of us who consider ourselves teachers or consultants (or even senseis) if we keep our eyes and ears open, there are co-learning opportunities right in front of us everyday. One of the greatest joys of my work is the co-learning gifts I receive from my customers.

Can you think of any lesser gods in your organization? Unheralded change leaders whose actions teach us the principles of Lean? Share a story.

O.L.D.

BTW: Speaking of unheralded change leaders…The Silver Toaster Award for Employee Excellence in Lean will be awarded again this year at our 10th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference in October in Springfield MA. It’s a tremendous way to recognize the hard work and dedication of your most enthusiastic employees. All nominees get free registration for the 2-day event and a plaque and a tee shirt during the award ceremony  on the first morning of the conference – so send a team to cheer them on;  Nominations are due in less than one month, on August 1st, so don’t wait to download the application form. Read more and get the form here.

And a reminder – I’ll be discussing Kaizen in the Office during my monthly free webinar tomorrow, July 8 from 3:00 – 3:45 pm. Hope you can join me. Register here.