Tag Archives: lean thinking

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).

Bump and Grind

Here’s a personal reflection from my distant past, but which might still be a current state for some of you.

bumpWhen I began working in manufacturing back in the pre-Lean era, the quoted lead-time for my company’s products averaged twelve to sixteen weeks. By the 1980’s, however, many customers began to routinely object to our promised deliveries, and we would then try to accommodate them by bumping hot jobs to the front of the queue. Bumping, of course, is like cutting in line except not immediately obvious to the bump-ees. But eventually they too become “hot.”   One long-time customer remarked to me, “I always give you plenty of lead-time, but you still miss the due date.”   This unfortunately was true – and inevitable. We bumped them until they were late.  To paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, our bump and grind production system was “perfectly designed” to produce long lead-times, late deliveries and dissatisfied customers.    We tried mightily to mask our problem with tactical workarounds, but they were doomed to fail. Here’s a short list of perverse tactics we tried:

  1. Visual Management. As the number of customers expecting shorter lead-times grew, it became apparent that we couldn’t bump the queue for everyone. So we prioritized the queue. Orders for export were stamped with a big red “F” (for foreign.) Orders from new customers were marked with an “N,” and big customers, “$”.   Then, there were orders that were deemed hot only on the basis of external pressure. For example, a few customers sent expediters to sit in our lobby until their order was complete. These orders were marked with a colorful bull’s-eye. Regrettably, orders with no special mark were deemed unimportant, and due-dates printed on them were largely ignored.
  2. High runner products were built to stock with a rationale to create an apparent just-in-time supply to our customers. Unfortunately, factory orders for stock became fillers, to be completed after all of the aforementioned hot jobs were finished. “We build for orders first, and then for stock,” a scheduler told me.   Consequently, our pick rate from stock was less than 60%.
  3. Daily Huddle. Because of our new taxonomy of hot jobs, (F, N, $, etc.) it became necessary to meet each morning to further stratify the hottest of the hot from the more tepid. This was a least worst choice meeting.   The reality is that when you can’t deliver, there are no good choices. We also covered part shortages at this huddle. We were always robbing from Peter to pay Paul, and as we jerked our schedule around in response to customer complaints, we inadvertently created shortages and expedites with suppliers. Managing stock-outs became the major activity for buyers. (It was also supported by a multicolored visual stock-out system.)
  4. Concierge Service. As a countermeasure to poor delivery performance, some customers placed orders well in advance of need to assure they were in the queue. Our FISH scheduling (First In Still Here) however essentially neutralized that ploy.   More savvy customers realized the best path for service required a demand for very short lead-times. This gave them visibility in the queue, but soon led to the dubious imposition of premium charges for fast delivery. In other words, “We can’t deliver in the time frame you want, but if you pay us more, then we can.”   Some customers balked, but others just passed the increase on.   From an accounting standpoint, this pay to play model seemed like a moneymaker, while in reality it was a reward for poor performance. (As a footnote, a few customers realized that if they needed an order for, say, 10 products, they could place two separate orders, one for one piece at the premium price and a second for nine pieces at the standard price, and all would be shipped on the premium date. They saw through our tactics.)

Altogether, our bump and grind production system created a high stress environment for provider and consumer alike, a cat and mouse game where each system tweak by the provider missed the mark and created unanticipated reactions from the customer.   Production scheduling became a juggling act and we staffed with persons who could tolerate that pressure. The painful lesson for me was that no amount of tactics can overcome a bad strategy. Fortunately, my company discovered TPS and everything changed. That was thirty years ago.  It’s incredible how hard we will try to tweak a system that’s fundamentally wrong before we recognize the need for an overhaul.

How about you? Is your production system in need of an overhaul? I wonder if any of my examples sound familiar to you. Please share a story.

O.L.D.

By the way, GBMP launched its nLEANFLIX-LOGO-TRANSPARENT_SMALLew On Demand Streaming Video Training Content site this week. We call it Leanflix. We hope you’ll take a look, try it out and provide us with any feedback you may have.

 

all4shingoGBMP also has a full schedule of Shingo Institute Workshops coming soon. These workshops provide an excellent methodology to anchor improvement initiatives to principles – to understand the “why” behind the “how” and the “what”;  Students will learn how to use The Shingo Model, The Shingo Guiding Principles and The Three Insights of Enterprise Excellence to get significantly better results from their Lean business transformation. Watch a little video I made to learn more.

True North Pole

truenorthpoleMany years ago a small expedition to the North Pole was funded by several American toy manufacturers, anxious to better understand how Santa’s workshop achieved such incredible productivity and just-in-time delivery.

“How can Santa produce all those toys in such a short time?” one manager questioned in disbelief as the small group of managers furtively approached a window of Santa’s workshop. “Be quiet,” the group’s leader whispered to his fellow conspirators as he carefully wiped away a patch of window frost, “we want to learn as much as we can about their process before we’re discovered.”   Through the window, an army of diminutive workers could be seen producing to a cadence such as never before witnessed by these American managers.

“Look how they move these toys down the line without a hitch,” exclaimed one manager.

“Yes and look at the smiles,” noted another, “no entitlement here. My workers are three times the size of Santa’s but don’t produce even a fraction of the volume. All they do is complain.”

A third manager observed, “There appears to be a chart in the middle of the floor that tracks production by the hour. No doubt Santa uses that to crack the whip.”

“Indeed,” noted yet another manager, “and there is some kind of chart above the workers that shows how they optimize their production, and another white board that shows what’s expected of the team.”   “We could never get away with this my plant,” lamented one manager. “It’s clear that the North Pole has a team culture that’s foreign to the U.S.”

Suddenly the production line stopped. Apparently one of the workers had found a defect. Workers swarmed to the area where the defect was found and then gathered to talk about it. “How can these little people be so productive when they stop just because of a single defect?” laughed one of the managers who was immediately joined in laughter by the others.   “Yes, shouldn’t they just call the quality department?” one queried.

Still, the managers agreed there we some unusual new tools that appeared to be central to Santa’s secret. If only they could learn more about how those tools worked.   As if to answer their wish, Santa suddenly swung open the workshop door and bid his industrial spies, “Merry Christmas! Please come in. What would you like to know?”

The startled visitors thereupon entered Santa’s workshop and spent the remainder of the day asking questions about the tools that he had devised to improve productivity.   With cordiality that befit the season, Santa answered every question.   “Even if our employees are not as good as Santa’s,” remarked one of the managers, “at least we can take advantage of these new tools.”

As the shift was winding down, Santa’s visitors thanked him for answering their many questions, and then departed, intoxicated with these North Pole manufacturing techniques. When the visit ended, one of Santa’s employees asked Santa, “Why have you answered all of these questions from our competitors?”   Santa smiled wryly and replied, “Do not worry, what they need to know they will not see.”

Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas. See you next year.

O.L.D.

Up, Back and Around

up backWatching the US Women’s Team take the World Cup last week caused me to reminisce about my short-term coaching stint of a U12 soccer team. Before becoming a coach, I hadn’t played soccer or even watched a game, but there were not enough coaches in our town league so I volunteered.   After a two-week clinic for new coaches, I’d learned enough to know when I was allowed to substitute players, what was meant by off sides and a few other key rules. I’d even learned how to clumsily dribble and pass, but, like many other coaches, not well enough to actually teach the kids.  Fortunately for the team, however, a parent of one of the players knew John G., a local resident who at one time had played on the Portuguese national team. John seemed to know everything about soccer from basic skills to game tactics and even strategy for the season. Beyond this, John motivated and energized the kids. His personal enthusiasm and love of the game was contagious. Whenever I would thank him for sharing his skill and experience, he’d humbly respond, “The game is the best teacher.”

“No doubt,” I thought, “the boys are learning to play by playing, but John G. observes each boy’s every move, making subtle adjustments in skill and teamwork.”

Practice, after all, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. John had the boys practicing dribbling, passing and kicking the right way. Over the course of the season, every player improved individually, and the group of giggly eleven year old boys became an accomplished team – not World Cup, but pretty darned good.   “Better teams beat better players,” John G. exclaimed when any player appeared to be less than selfless in his play. Along the way I also became a better coach observing and listening to him.

Watching the superb play last week by the US women reminded me of one more of John G.’s lessons, which like his other coaching tips have had direct application to my work. “Up, back and around” he’d shout to the field during scrimmage. “Don’t always try to beat the defender directly. If the resistance is too great, then pass the ball back to your teammate and play around the defense.” While this tactic appeared to be “two steps forward and one step back,” it led ultimately to many goals.

So it is approaching True North.   The goal does not change, but depending upon the resistance at any point we should take John G.’s advice and avoid forcing the play. Don’t try to change the status quo by yourself. Share with your team members, and take the change up, back and around.

Do you trust all of your team, or do you only pass to certain team members? Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

PS I’ll be in Gorham, Maine on the 23rd of this month at Jotul N/A for an afternoon “Lean Learning Bite” event on Gemba Walks. Maybe you can join us. Here’s more info.

PPS We’re offering The Shingo Institute workshop “Discover Excellence” in Texas for the very first time at the end of the month. Check it out here.

And just one more thing – GBMP just released the agenda for its upcoming 11th Annual Northeast Lean Conference in Springfield MA. See the agenda, get more info about the event and register on the conference website: www.NortheastLeanConference.org

I hope I’ll see you there!

 

 

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.