Tag Archives: kanban

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.

 

 

More Than Toast

More than ToastIt’s hard to believe that 2018 is the 20th anniversary for the Toast Kaizen video.  After two decades, nearly one hundred and fifty thousand copies have been sold – in more than a dozen languages from Spanish to Icelandic.  It’s everywhere.  Several years ago, while walking down the streets of Dubai, I was stopped by a gentleman who pointed to me and declared, “You’re the Toast Man.”    I frequently encounter folks who tell me, “You’re famous,” to which I reply, “No, the “Toast Kaizen” video is famous.”  And happily so.  What was originally intended as a device to encourage fellow managers to get out of their offices and go see has become a non-threatening way to explain continuous improvement to almost anyone.   As I say on the video,  “It’s not about the work, it’s about the things that get in the way of the work”.

While it’s gratifying to think that this campy thirty-minute video has found a place in Lean Transformations, it’s also a little concerning when I hear that the “Toast Kaizen” video is the Lean training.  What was created as an icebreaker, has occasionally been overblown beyond its purpose.   Some time ago, while speaking at the Shingo Conference I asked attendees in the audience how many had seen the Toast video.  Nearly every hand went up.  But when I asked who had read any of Shigeo Shingo’s books, only a few hands went up.  I asked the audience, “Did you know there’s a whole lot more to Lean than the Toast video?”

Yes, a whole lot more than viewing the “Toast Kaizen” video will be needed to really receive the benefits of Lean.  Toast is just a small catalyst to kick off the continuous improvement engine.  This is why at the 14th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. conference, while we celebrate Toast’s 20th (tattoos and Toast caps for everyone), we are also homing in on those transformers that have truly become Lean Learning organizations and whose compelling results bear witness to their efforts.

There’s still time to register, but seats are filling fast.  Please join me on October 10-11 at the Providence Convention Center. Rhode Island is beautiful this time of year. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the two Shingo Institute courses – Discover Excellence and Continuous Improvement – which are being offered in conjunction with the conference. You can learn more about those here.

O.L.D.

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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Excelize Me: 4 Myths & 4 Realities of Racing to Automate

On the eve of our celebration of the American Revolution, here’s a post about another revolution: Industry 4.0.

excelizeITWho remembers VisiCalc, often referred to as the first killer app?  In 1978, this first spreadsheet software ushered in the personal computing boom.  Although it only ran on Apple’s priciest computer (the one with massive 32K RAM), its ability to calculate and recalculate arrays had much to do with the explosion of information automation. By 1985, a next-generation product name Excel conquered the market with significantly more computing capability than its predecessors, eventually adding macros, graphics, nested arrays and easy interface with many other applications.  Today Excel is reportedly in the hands of some 1.3 billion users.  It’s a fascinating tool with more features than almost anyone can use.

But fascination with information automation can be problematical.  In 1996, while TSSC was assisting my company with improvement to machine set-ups, I used Excel to devise an A3 improvement plan complete with graphical VSM current and target states, problems and countermeasures, and milestones and results (documented in a 2012 post, “Value Stream Wrapping.”)   When I proudly showed the document to my teacher, he scoffed “You should spend more time observing, and less time making it pretty.”

I’m reminded of this advice every day during my work with customers.  Why do we feel the need to digitize everything?  From strategic planning to training to project management to idea systems to problem-solving to pull systems, we race to automate, believing that these are improvements.  Here a few myths from Lean implementers, quoted verbatim that I’d like to debunk in honor of my teacher from TSSC:

 

Myth 1:  “We cascade our strategy online to every department creating a line of sight from corporate down to individual department metrics.”
Reality:  Too often this multi-level bill of activities replaces the kind of human discourse needed to effectively communicate and deploy strategy.  An X-type Matrix, for example, nested to multiple levels does not illuminate, it hides connections that would be immediately apparent on a physical strategy deployment wall.

 

Myth 2: “Putting our Idea System online has increased the visibility of ideas.”
Reality:  Online Ideas System software hides ideas.  A factory employee recently referred to her company’s Ideas App as a “black hole.”  Also, when ideas are digitized, the visual nature of a physical idea board is lost to myopia.  We view ideas one at a time rather than components of a system.  And, even though computer literacy of the average employees is improving, the thought of using an app still scares many employees away.

 

Myth 3: “Electronic huddle boards provide real-time standardized information.”
Reality:  Sure, LCD’s are cheap today – maybe even cheaper than a decent whiteboard – but electronic huddle boards suck the life out of creativity and ownership from the front line.   One supervisor complained to me, “It takes me much longer to enter information to the huddle board application than it did to simply write on the whiteboard.  I update it when I can find the time.”   Hardly real-time.

 

Myth 4:  “We are conducting our Lean training online to save time and money.”
Reality:  No doubt, there is an explicit component to Lean learning that may be accomplished sitting a computer screen, and there are slide shares for this, some available through Groupon for peanuts; but real learning only occurs through hands-on practice and coaching.  This is especially true for Lean learning where concepts are counter to conventional thinking.  While the Internet offers an incredible resource for learning, it’s not a substitute for tacit learning — learning by doing.  Organizations that think they are saving time and money by using only online training are actually wasting both.

 

Implicit in all of these myths is the replacement of manual management of information with a machine function – call it the Internet of Things or Industry 4.0, our next industrial revolution.   But what will be the benefits?  Will the killer apps really make industry more flexible and efficient, or will they merely dehumanize the workplace.  What do you think?  Can you cite any other IoT myths?  Please share.

 

Happy 4th.  For iPhone and iPad users only, here’s a fireworks app J

O.L.D.

PS I’m hosting a free “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar and a discussion about Idea Systems, next week after the holiday. Are there gaps that hold you back? Ideas Systems are one of the most powerful and impactful means to engage “everybody everyday” in your improvement process. Yet many fall short of their potential for lack of participation. Join me on Tuesday, July 10 for a “Summer check-up of your idea systems”. What’s working, what can be improved? See you then! Register here.

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.