Tag Archives: lean thinking

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.

3P – Putting People Phirst

With our 10th Annual Northeast Conference just eight days away, I’ve taken a little poetic license with the conference theme, Putting People First, to highlight just one of the outstanding teams who will be presenting at the conference:

3p Phirst

The “ideas of many” built from cardboard and brown paper.

Two weeks ago I had the honor of attending the ribbon cutting for the West Suburban Cancer Center in Needham, Massachusetts.   This innovative center was conceptualized in the spring and summer of 2012 by a diverse, dedicated cross-functional team of approximately 30 docs, nurses, technicians, physicists, architects, facilities engineers and administrators using a technical method referred to as Production Preparation Process, or “3P”.   While the structured, rapid brainstorming and prototyping methods used to design the new center design were important to the success of this large project, far more crucial were two principles that guided everyone’s thinking:

  1. A single-minded Patient First principle focused everyone’s thinking on the best possible experience and outcome for the patient and patient’s family rather than just maximizing local efficiencies of the providers.   Patient focus groups provided an essential perspective that kept the team grounded. Using tabletop models to simulate the patient flow, in one instance reducing patient moves from twenty-two to five, the team was guided by the philosophical position that the needs of the customer must come first.
  1. The project’s mantra, “The ideas of many are better than the experience of one,” challenged team members to collaborate in a way that encouraged everyone’s ideas.   With encouragement of BIDMC management and support from facilities and architects, the new center was actually designed by the people who work in the space. In the words of one team member, “We ended up with a design that no one could have foreseen when we started the project.”

As I entered the new cancer center and surgical pavilion, I recalled the original cardboard and brown paper structures that the team had built in order to test and improve their design. At the entrance, I was greeted by one of the physicians who participated on the 3P effort.   She remarked excitedly, “This new design really works!” That excitement was shared by other team members who attended the grand opening, and, I must admit, by me also. The technical achievement was outstanding, but would never have been possible without the focus on people.

There is so much more to this success story than I can relate in a post. I hope you’ll join me on October 1 and 2 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts to hear more from this team and others who are ‘putting people first’. Still time to register and recharge your Lean efforts.

O.L.D.