I woke up this morning to some very unsettling news, or should I say yet another crescendo in seven months of unsettling news. Wishing the President and everyone in his sphere affected by this latest chapter of Covid-19 a speedy recovery, I’ll take the easy way out today with a short list of Trivia covering Lean and IoT for you to ponder over the weekend. How many of these questions can you answer without using the Internet?
Who is the creator of the X-Type Matrix for Policy Deployment?
Who did Shigeo Shingo pay homage to as “his teacher’s teachers”?
What is the literal translation of Poka-Yoke?
When was The Machine That Changed The World published?
What is the difference between Internet of Things and Industry 4.0?
Who coined the term “knowledge worker”?
When was Toast Kaizen first videoed?
Who said “If this Lean stuff seems easy, you’re probably not doing it.” ?
When was the World Wide Web invented?
When was the first toaster connected to the Internet?
Have a relaxing weekend, puzzling over this trivia – think of it as preparation for next week’s big event. Just four days to the 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. I’ll be back on Monday with another Lean Peeve.
By the way: On the afternoon of the first day of our conference we’ll also take a break from serious inquiry for some “Lean Before Dark” fun that may include more Trivia with a few prizes and possibly some asynchronous Karaoke. Hope you can join in for the learning and for the fun. Hope to see you.
Several years ago, I wrote a post (worth a quick re-read) entitled, “Rosie the Robot,” wondering how technology changes that have emerged in this century will affect continuous improvement efforts. Now, with just a week to go before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Lean Conference, I’ll add this thought regarding my 8th Lean Peeve, what Shigeo Shingo called superficial improvement, transferring a manual waste to a machine.
Having spent thirty years in manufacturing in the last century before becoming a consultant, I had a chance to be up close and personal with these kinds of superficial improvement:
High-speed machines that outproduced customer need by orders of magnitude.
IT systems that pushed instructions to over-produce into the factory before we knew what was actually needed. (I was an IT manager for six years.)
Fork lifts that carried the unneeded inventory to the stockroom.
High-bay automatic storage and retrieval systems that efficiently stored large quantities of inventory that were not needed.
These examples actually MULTIPLIED waste rather than reducing it — in the name of local efficiency.
I wonder sometimes if this equation is taught in Engineering 101, because it’s a staple for many a machine justification.
In fact, while the intelligent use of mechanization in the 20th century absolutely extended human capability, a great deal of that mechanization also, as in the examples above, just created waste more efficiently. Now, as we enter the next decade of this century, the emergence of powerful new technologies, referred to collectively as IoT, the Internet of Things, promise even greater enhancement to human capability.
But is there also a risk that even greater waste may also be an outcome? Effective convergence of digital transformation with Lean transformation is the theme of this year’s Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, 21st Century Lean. I hope you’ll be able to join us for this significant discussion.
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.
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.
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.)
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
Speaking at the 2003 Shingo Conference, Guy Briggs, General Manager of North American operations for General Motors lamented,
“We spent the 1980’s ‘counting robots’ before we realized that it’s people that make the difference in our business.”
He was alluding to the thirty-five billion (yes, billion) dollars that GM had invested in the 1980’s over a three-year period to develop “lights-out” robotics technology. As Toyota sought to elevate employees, GM tried to automate them out the picture. Ultimately, GM’s lights-out people-less ‘flexible manufacturing systems’ were deemed unworkable and were mothballed. All told, GM spent 90 billion dollars in the 1980’s to “modernize” its operations, touted by many as Industry 3.0, the third industrial revolution. At the beginning of that revolution, GM was the lowest cost US auto supplier. By the end, it was the highest. The greatest shame in this saga was not so much the money squandered on equipment, but time lost by adopting the wrong philosophy: one that idolized technology while disrespecting people.
The recent increase in Industry 4.0 buzz has me reflecting on that now ancient history of GM’s ill-advised strategy and thirty-year slide that culminated ten years ago with a $50 billion government bailout and the firing of its CEO. To be sure, the multi-techno advances since the 1980’s are startling. There are bright promises of robots that learn, linked multi-sensory process coordination and instant informative feedback; of analytics, complex simulation and additive product development and manufacture. Today’s Internet of Things dwarfs the early attempts at General Motors to automate its factories, and the science just keeps accelerating. So this should be cause for optimism.
Unfortunately, history gives reason for skepticism as well. First, CEO math has not changed since 1980: Rosie the Riveter is still an expense, but Rosie the Robot is an investment! Industry 4.0 proponents are quick to point out that smart robots will work alongside humans, not in place of them. As Guy Briggs noted in 2003, we should not fall prey to counting robots. But, notwithstanding Mr. Briggs remark, I wonder how far most organizations have progressed with an enlightened social science to support the rapidly evolving IoT and complementary production technologies. As the glitzy new 4.0 technologies become more accessible, will they be viewed as an enabler for human capabilities and development, or will make the same mistakes we made with industry 3.0. What do you think?
PS If you’re in the New England/Massachusetts/Rhode Island area, I wanted to highlight a great training event GBMP is putting on next week. It’s a two-day Improvement Kata workshop on Monday & Tuesday, December 4-5, being hosted onsite at Boston Orthotics & Prosthetics in Avon MA. Read more about it here.
Also, GBMP is offering a Holiday special on membership through New Year’s Eve. Use coupon code “Save50” to join our awesome Lean Community. Read more and sign up here.