Tag Archives: lean thinking

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.

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.

The Final Frontier

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first US astronaut to journey to the “final frontier.”  Atop a Mercury rocket, Shepard launched into a fifteen-minute suborbital journey reaching an altitude of about one hundred miles before returning to earth.  His space capsule, Freedom 7, was a wonder of science weighing a little more than one ton and loaded to the max with avionics and life support apparatus. Yet, this pioneering venture into endless space would also afford almost no space for the passenger.  According to launch engineer, Guenter Wendt, “astronauts entered their capsules with a shoehorn and departed with a can opener.”   I remember watching footage of Shephard squeezing into his capsule.  The memory still creates pangs of claustrophobia.

Ironically, space constraints faced by NASA fueled a revolution in miniaturization evident in almost every innovation of modern society – from laptops to cell phones to transportation to medical devices to all things Internet.  The need to pack more utility into a small package has changed everything.  Or almost everything.  Here are some recent exceptions:

“We’re adding a new wing to manufacturing,” a colleague related to me recently, “we’re running out of space.”   As I glanced around a shop floor crowded more with material than machines, I asked, “What are you going to put in the new space?”  “We’re just going to spread out,” he said.  “This is a good time to build before interest rates start to climb.”

Another manufacturer advised recently that he was building a Lean warehouse.  “What’s that?” I asked.   “We’re relocating all of our raw material to a location that’s closer to the main highway,” he said. “We need to add several machines, so were Lean-ing out the space.”    “Aren’t you just adding more space and moving inventory farther from your floor?”  I asked.  His response: “Warehouse space is cheap.”

A major hospital requested Lean assistance to re-design its perinatal services in order to accommodate more patients.  After reviewing the current operation, I recommended that existing space could be repurposed to handle the projected growth. “No,” they said, “We’re cramped. We need more space and the budget is already approved.”

It seems that decisions regarding space are driven more by claustrophobia or perceived worth than actual need.   Flow distance may double or triple as a result of expansion, but additional space somehow still equates to growth.   More space is viewed as an investment, an alluring addition to the balance sheet, or a badge of success.   Only on rare occasions do I encounter a growing business that is interested in reducing space. Perhaps, then, space is the final frontier.  Not more space, but less.   I wonder how much Lean progress would be made if space were seen as a constraint for business as it was for NASA’s Mercury launch.

How much space do you have?  Too much?  Too little? Share a story.

O.L.D.

PS I’m teaching the Shingo Institute workshop “Continuous Improvement” at MassMutual in Springfield next week and a few seats remain if you’d like to join us. Learn more here.

PPS I’m also looking forward to presenting my monthly “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar on June 20th. It’s free! The topic is “Silver Bullet Mania”. Intrigued? Read more and register here.

Systems Tinking

At GBMP’s launch of the Shingo Institute’s BUILD EXCELLENCE workshop, it occurred to me that perhaps systems thinking might be more aptly named systems rethinking.  Workshop participants offered up current systems in their organizations that actually impeded continuous improvement, each time expressing frustration with the difficulty to create system change.  For larger organizations with more explicit codification of systems, the task to create a change was more onerous.  One class participant commented, “Our standard procedures are documented in dozens of binders – all of them covered with dust.”   But even in smaller organizations, creating a new system will mean undoing a de facto process that, despite its shortcomings, feels normal.

According to the Shingo Institute, these systems are the domain of managers who should be reviewing them regularly.  But, when business systems are ingrained as part of the corporate fabric, the idea of changing even one of them instills concern regarding the global effects.  Will changing one system negatively impact others?  Concern for unanticipated consequences will trigger risk-averse behavior.  Add to that challenge the fact that existing systems may, in fact, have been authored by the same persons who are now charged with evaluating their effectiveness.  When Shigeo Shingo declared that subjective inspection of one’s own work is not good practice, he might have included the work of managers along with that of front line employees.    It would be better apparently for these organizations to have no systems to start their Lean journeys than to be saddled with status quo systems that evoke the wrong behaviors.  So, what can be done?

According to the Shingo Institute:

First, stop basing the design of systems purely on local results.  This practice creates silos and disharmony.  Each part of the organization is rewarded as if it were its own company, rather than for its contribution to system goals.   Speaking at a Shingo Conference many years ago, Russ Scaffede, formerly an executive at General Motors (and later at Toyota) quipped, “At GM we used to say ‘All of our divisions made money, only the corporation lost its shirt.’”   That is the status quo condition for many organizations: local bogeys driven by systems that simply don’t knit together.

Second, consider the foundational principles beneath the Lean tools, or, as Shigeo Shingo noted, first ‘know-why’ before you ‘know-how.’  Many organizations parrot the tools without understanding the philosophy that makes them effective.  Simply layering tools on top of a faulty philosophy also generates disharmony rather than real results.   Many organizations, for example, have invested time to develop a quality system like ISO including QC tools and problem-solving methods; but employees are afraid to report problems for fear of reprisal.  Shingo Principles articulate the culture that must be present to make systems work.

sytems_tinkeringFinally, to avoid concerns regarding the interdependency of systems, i.e., the unanticipated consequences make the changes small; in the words of Masaaki Imai, “create many small changes for the better.”   Don’t let the policy books gather dust; review and update them often.   To use a metaphor from knitting,  check and adjust your systems one thread at a time.  Don’t let the knitting unravel.  It’s called tinking, the process of taking knitting back stitch by stitch to correct a problem in the fabric. (Tink is knit spelled backward.)   In this case, let’s call it “Systems Tinking.”

O.L.D.

P.S. Speaking of the ‘know-why’ before the ‘know-how’, GBMP’s  Lean conference is coming to Worcester MA on September 19-20. The theme for our 13th annual event – “The Integration of Culture & Tools” – will be an exploration of the value of Lean tools when embedded with a Lean culture. I know September feels like a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. The event features four keynote presenters including Paul Akers, author of ‘2-Second Lean’ & Brian Wellinghoff from Barry Wehmiller, plus 30+ breakout sessions and more than a dozen poster presentations for yokoten in our Community of Lean Lounge. Simply put, it’s the best opportunity for Lean learning and networking with professionals just like yourself – passionate Lean practitioners. Early bird registration discount (save close to $200!)  in effect through May 31. That’s tomorrow folks. I hope you take advantage of the savings. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the agenda at a glance, testimonials and photos from last year’s event and much much more on the website and decide for yourself. I sure hope to see you in September!

 

Lean Wizards

wizardOctober was Lean conference month for me: First our own Northeast Lean Conference in Worcester (pronounced “Wustah”), then the international AME conference in Dallas and finally, the mid-Atlantic Lean Conference in Timonium, Maryland.   These annual assemblages of Lean wizards are themed to inspire, inform and reinvigorate true believers and newbie wannabees;  maybe not wizards, but at least committed to continuous improvement at some level.  I’m always flattered when someone sees me at conference and wants a selfie with the “toast guy.”   But really, if we were wizards, there would be a lot more Lean magic out there in the workplace.   After forty-five years in the workforce, almost thirty of them spent personally pursuing TPS understanding, I worry sometimes that the major product of TPS so far has been more wizards, not more excellent organizations.   When I began my Lean odyssey, for example, there were precious few persons or functions in any organization dedicated to continuous improvement: no kaizen program offices, no value stream managers, no lean accountants, no lean trainers, no belts, and no lean consultants.  Today there is an entire industry dedicated to training, developing and placing these folks.

What struck me at October’s Lean conferences was how nomadic this community of wizards has become.   Rarely do I find a consultant, internal or external, who has remained with the same organization for more than a couple years.   Some have moved on for higher pay, but most it seems it seems are refugees from organizations whose commitment to improvement has waned.  Gallows humor regarding shifting sands beneath Lean foundations abounded in private networking discussions, and more than a few business cards changed hands.  While building a Lean culture has emerged as singularly important to Lean transformation, it seems that the wizards do not find enough stability within their organizations to stay in one place long enough to help to create that culture.

Many years ago I was asked to present at a Lean conference at University of Dayton.  They requested specifically that I speak on “Survival of the Change Agent.”  When I suggested that I felt uncomfortable with the topic, they pleaded, “But we can’t find another change agent who has survived.”  No doubt, that was an exaggeration, but even in 1992,  Lean transformers  were careful not to push the Lean envelope too far.   So perhaps nothing has changed in twenty-five years. Last week I received a request for help from a talented and insightful Lean change agent whom I will have known now through four different companies.  She continues to grow and develop her skills while the organizations from which she has moved on have plateaued in their Lean journeys.   Maybe there are just more wizards in flux today.   At the recent AME Dallas conference, a Lean colleague and vice president of opex for a large corporation mentioned to me  “I have never seen so many resumes from continuous improvement persons in transition.”

To my readers:  Do you also see this phenomenon?   What are the implications? I’m not sure what to think about this, but it’s a little spooky.   Happy Halloween.  : )

O.L.D. 

PS A reminder that the onsite discounted registration price for our 13th (another spooky coincidence?) annual Northeast Lean Conference was extended to November 8th. Don’t miss out on saving 30% per seat, simply by registering online in the next week.  Only $665 per person (normally $950).