Tag Archives: lean manufacturing

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.
ESignature2018ConferenceMedium
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.

Who Cares for the Care Givers?

Last month I joined Eric Buhrens, CEO at Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) to host a leadership team from the Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center.  They were on a study mission to many of Boston’s fine hospitals and were winding up their week in Boston with a visit to LEI.  Early in the discussion one of our guests asked, “In a few words, please tell me what Lean is.”   Eric fielded this question concisely, explaining “Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.”   He then asked me to relate the following story, a bit more long-winded, to amplify the concept:

I had a recent sojourn of more than a few days at one of Boston’s finest hospitals affording me a rare opportunity for extended direct observation of the process.  In Lean lingo, I was observing from the point of view of the “object” of improvement —  the part to be worked on.  In a factory, the object of improvement is a piece of material, a part being progressively converted by agents of improvement into a finished product.

Clinicians bristle at this analogy.  People, after all, are not widgets.  Of course, I agree.  Patients are each of them unique, and the task to make them well is anything but standard.  Caregivers must often make split-second decisions based upon years of experience and practice, spanning an enormous range of different potential conditions.   They are indeed agents of improvement, operating singly and as a team, with a passionate commitment to making the patient well. From scrub techs to cleaners to docs, surgeons, nurses, and administrators, these caregivers adroitly shift gears from one minute to next, at one point calming a delirious octogenarian who is screaming in the middle of the night for a pepperoni pizza and then a minute later resuscitating a gentleman in cardiac arrest.  As one of their recent customers, I extend my gratitude.

Toast-Kaizen_TabletBut, as I note in the Toast Kaizen video, “continuous improvement is not so much about the work as the things that get in the way of the work.”

Therefore, please allow me to offer an example from my extended observation.  For a period of days, I was tethered to an IV connected by about six feet of plastic tubing to an infusion pump and IV solution bag.  The dosage rate required the bag containing the elixir to be replaced approximately twice per day.  I say approximately because the flow of medicine was interrupted on average once per hour by a pump fault – an airlock in the line. When an airlock was sensed the pump would pause and alarm.  A nurse would then come by to adjust the tubing above the infusion pump, clear the fault and continue the infusion.  Depending upon the level of activity on the floor, wait time for the nurse ranged from a minute to fifteen minutes.  Oddly, if the fault was not attended to in the first five minutes the alarm grew much louder.  This I am told is a countermeasure to “alarm fatigue”,  a condition which occurs when there are too many alarms to handle at one time.  My sense is that the increased loudness did little more to alert the nurses; it was just an addition to the ongoing cacophony of alarms sounding throughout the floor.  In my own case, however, the increased loudness caused me to hit my call button.  This sent a signal to the nurse’s station that, after hearing from me that my infusion pump was alarming, would summon the beeper my nurse was carrying.  Depending upon the level of the many non-standard things that could be happening on the hospital floor, this might elicit an immediate response – or maybe not.

WhoCaresPostWhen the pump alarmed, I understood that my need was not the most critical, but felt compelled to ask my nurse – actually multiple nurses over a period of days – what they thought might be done to reduce the incidence of airlocks in the line; for example, did they think the problem was caused by equipment malfunction or set-up or the viscosity of the solution, or perhaps a software issue?  Had they investigated the problem?  I was struck by their responses.

First, every nurse assumed that my questions regarding the pump were motivated by my own wellbeing. “No,” I exclaimed, “I’m not asking for myself, I’m inquiring on your behalf.  Your time is so valuable, I hate to see it consumed by these kinds of headaches.”  Still, the response was a long-suffering “we do whatever it takes to care for our patients.”  In the minds of caregivers, clearing pump faults was just an inevitable annoyance – part of the job.  The mindset, while admirably focused on the patient, was also resigned to the status quo of common annoyances.  “At what point does an annoyance become a problem?” I asked one nurse.  She responded simply “its hard to make changes.”  Then, pausing for a second, she reflected, “One of our technicians showed me a trick a while back that he said would reduce airlocks in the line.  Let’s give it a try.”  With that, she repositioned the tubing above the infusion pump.    Subsequently, the pump did not alarm for hours – not until a refill solution bag was needed!  The breakthrough here was not so much in the deployment of a potentially better method, but the realization by one caregiver that what she had considered an annoyance was actually a big problem.

Of course, this just a single point of observation, an anecdote.  I didn’t see the nurse again to thank her or ask her what trick she had applied.  I wondered who else on the floor knew about this trick and how many pointless interruptions to their incredibly valuable work could be reduced if the trick became a standard.

I concluded my story to the management team: “Your caregivers are your most valuable resource.  Management’s job is to create an environment in which the ‘things that get in the way of the work’ are exposed and corrected, enabling caregivers to fulfill their missions with more time and greater focus on making the patient well.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

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.”

GBMPLogoHorz

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.