Tag Archives: lean

Lean Society

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

This quote from George Orwell’s political allegory, Animal Farm, occurred to me recently as I listened to a design engineer explain to me how he was taught in college that engineers have a special responsibility to help their less able co-workers.  Not intending to single out engineers or generalize from one data point, this example demonstrates what I observe to be a longstanding preoccupation with degrees, certificates, and belts.  We may refer to employees on the front line as “value-adding”, but too often it’s the ones with letters after their names that we actually value.

In 1957, Peter Drucker dubbed the latter group knowledge workers, “high-level employees who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal education,” thereby inadvertently differentiating the thinkers from the do-ers, the high level from the low level, the brain trust from the variable expense.

My personal experience with this distinction developed over a period of years as I changed jobs, first from marketing to IT and then to production.  In the eyes of my fellow managers, I morphed in the process from an imaginative idea person into a brainy techno-geek and finally to a slow-witted grunt.  The adjectives are important because they connote associated stereotypes.  I joke that I started near the top and then worked my way down, IQ dropping along the way.  Paradoxically, my knowledge of value and waste increased each time I got further from that theoretical and analytical knowledge and closer to the floor.   John Shook noted at the 2016 Northeast LEAN Conference, the persons who do the work are the real knowledge workers, as they are the ones with a first-hand understanding of the work.   (Incidentally, our 2017 Northeast Lean Conference is on the horizon. Check out the agenda.)

Whether in a factory or an office or an operating room, the knowledge is contained in the work.  In that sense, all work should be knowledge work if we are thinking about it and trying to improve it.   Steve Spear refers to Lean transformation as “theory proven by practice.”  Both are essential and should be inextricably linked.   Our Lean transformation should have room for both the theorists and the practitioners.   Unfortunately, when it comes to transformation, some employees are “more equal than others.”   We favor the theorists and mostly ignore the practitioners.  Perhaps our love affair with a college education and degrees and certificates and belts has baked in a two-class society where only a select few employees are heard and seen; the rest fall into that eighth waste category of “lost human creativity.”  I’ve assembled a short list of nouns and adjectives commonly used to describe these classes. Can you think of others?  Please share.

O.L.D.

P.S. GBMP is a licensed affiliate of The Shingo Institute and we are teaching their 5 courses on 17 occasions over the next few months (with new dates and locations being added all the time). I am a certified instructor along with other GBMPers Dan Fleming, Pat Wardwell, Mike Orzen & Larry Anderson. We hope to see you at a workshop soon. Here’s the schedule; visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events to learn more. The Shingo Institute courses are a great way to learn how to embed Shingo Model principles into your Lean program and create a road map to sustainable Enterprise Excellence. Read what past attendees have said about the workshops and GBMP’s instructors.

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).

Mistake-Proofing Mistakes

mistakeproofingThere is a popular lore provided by Shigeo Shingo, that the original name for mistake-proofing (Poka-Yoke) was “fool-proofing” (Baka-Yoke). Shingo chided managers at Panasonic for using the latter term, as it was disrespectful to workers, essentially calling them fools. Shingo substituted the word “mistake” for “fool”, because, as he aptly noted, making mistakes is part of humanity. “Mistakes are inevitable,” he said, “but the defects that arise from them are not.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Shingo’s admonitions, however, I still hear the term “fool-proofing” used regularly, and occasionally with a little more venom, “idiot-proofing.”   No doubt, these derogatory terms, along with others like ‘screw-up’ and its less gentile derivatives, have given a bad name to one of the most energizing, empowering and creative tools from the TPS toolbox. Many organizations never even get out the blocks with this technique because of an overt insulting, blame environment. Who wants to report a mistake, when the reward is blame and ridicule? Like Mr. T, managers tend to blurt out the wrong words when mistakes occur. Bad habits die hard.

But even for more enlightened managers there are still some common hurdles to creating a really powerful Poka-Yoke system. A few weeks ago I gave a short Webinar for AME on Poka-Yoke, and was asked this question by a viewer:

“How do I ensure the effectiveness in use of the Poka-Yoke device? People usually don’t want to continue using it.”

Here, with a few embellishments, was my response:

“The general answer to this question from today’s Webinar is that if people don’t find a particular tool purposeful, they don’t use it.  More specifically for poka-yoke, there are seven reasons that the tool is not seen to purposeful by team members:

  1. Sometimes to assure quality, an additional step is added to the operation to prevent or detect the defect, but this step is not considered in the standardized work, i.e., no additional time is allowed.   If the device or method requires an extra step that takes more time (e.g. use of a check list or matching parts to a template) then employees will feel rushed and pressured to choose between rate and quality.
  2. A corollary to the lack of standardized work is the lack of communication to team members, team leaders and managers. An undocumented and untrained standard is not a standard.
  3. If the device or method causes strain to the employee it won’t last. Substituting Muri for Muda is not a good trade off.
  4. For detect-type poka-yoke devices (i.e., a defect is created, but is detected before it can pass to the next operation), the concept involves swarming the defect when it’s trapped in order to understand its root cause. I see many cases where defects are trapped, but there is no follow up. Defects pile up, or they are picked up occasionally by engineering or quality, and no feedback goes back to the production line.  When problems don’t get fixed, this promotes cynicism.  It’s not poka-yoke, just a scrap sorter.
  5. Sometimes, as suggested in the question above, a device is put in place, but the defect persists. This could mean the device isn’t used by the team member, but it can also mean the device just doesn’t work.  More PCDA is needed.   If the device doesn’t work, team members will be the first to know.   Telling them to use something that doesn’t work is disrespectful and disengaging.
  6. The term Poka-Yoke is used too broadly to describe countermeasures that have nothing to do with human error, but relate more to providing proper tooling and fixturing to team members. For example, if a particular job requires super human sensor capability to complete (more Muri), creating fixturing to make the job doable is not a Poka-Yoke solution.   My father, who was a machinist by trade and an artist by avocation, could draw a straight line freehand around an entire room. Most of the rest of us would want a straight edge and a level to complete that task.   The point is when we refer to such countermeasures as “mistake-proofing”, we’re once again disrespecting team members.
  7. Most importantly, if the employee who uses the device is not included in the solution, there is typically little commitment to use it, especially if any of points 1 through 6 apply.

That’s the long-winded answer to the short question.  The short answer to that question is that the “technical” portion of poka-yoke doesn’t work if it is not grounded by a quality culture.”

Perhaps you can think of some other common mistake-proofing mistakes to share with our readers. Please let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

By the way, a few years ago, GBMP made a Lean Training DVD about poka-yoke called “Achieving Zero Defects By Respecting Human Nature“. If you’d like to learn more about poka-yoke and how to apply it in your organization, check it out here where you can read about it, view a clip from the video and purchase it if you’d like.

Putting The Pieces Together

Summer’s here, and puttingpiecespicturethat means a family vacation to the beach, the boardwalk and the Hamilton’s favorite Pizza place.   We all agree that Manco’s pizza is the best anywhere, but we differ on the reason why.

My brother, Geoff, thinks it’s the cheese: aged white cheddar in place of mozzarella. My son, Ben, says it’s the combination of spices in the sauce, but my daughter, Alison, thinks it’s the oil – maybe olive oil. Maureen, Mrs. Toast, insists it’s the dough and the thin crust. And for me, it’s the boardwalk experience: the warm summer night and the relaxed atmosphere that give this pizza place the edge.

No doubt, it’s all of these things, not just one, that make Manco’s Pizza what it is, but human nature seems to dictate a tendency to break down the whole into it’s pieces for understanding, and then to subjectively isolate according to our particular experience.   I notice in my work that, depending upon the job title or discipline, there is often a distinct bias or perspective for improvement.   Engineers for example, generally tend to think in terms of functional costs and view value engineering as a means to improvement. Production focuses on safety, speed and operational availability. And quality worries that engineering and production may be cutting corners, adversely impacting product quality. This list goes on. I’m reminded of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, each of us trying to understand the whole through a narrow lens of our particular experience or expertise. We bring our silos with us wherever we go.

Similarly, we segment various aspects of continuous improvement in our attempt to break a big system down into digestible pieces. (How do you eat an elephant?)   We recite the seven wastes one-by-one as if they exist separate from one another, and juxtapose culture and tools with questions like “Which is more important.”   The tools themselves are studied ala Carte, too often promoted as ends in themselves rather than means to the ends they are intended to achieve. We break off pieces of the Toyota Production System and call it “Lean” when we should be looking at the whole.

Recently, the Lean discussion has turned to the top manager’s role in Lean transformation, declaring lack of management commitment to be the “elephant in the room” the most important prerequisite for sustainable improvement. While I’m inclined to agree with this hypothesis, Harvard Business Review has declared that the optimal tenure for a CEO is only 4.8 years – a short time for continuity of leadership. Perhaps the next elephant in the room for lean thinkers will be boards of directors, whose average tenures are twice that of the CEO — better for long-term thinking.

In fact, I think our piecemeal learning and the vertical and horizontal extension of Lean thinking over the past forty years would be very positive if it were only holistic, building upon and deepening our understanding. Too often, however, Lean implementers glom onto the latest piece of the puzzle, behaving as if the pieces already in place have maxed out or become passé.   Ultimately, as with the pizza discussion, if we focus only on the pieces, we’ll never understand the whole.

How about in your organization? Are you looking at Lean holistically or hop scotching from the latest trend to the next latest trend?   LMK.

O.L.D.

Hurry!   There’s only two months (66 days to be exact) to go to until this year’s Northeast Lean Conference. Our objective this year is to practice seeing all the pieces of the Lean puzzle as whole, and we’ve lined up some dynamite leaders, practitioners and experts for learning and sharing.   That’s the theme of our 2015 Northeast Lean Conference: Putting the Pieces Together. Hope to see you there.

BTW: Have a great summer!

 

 

Long-Term Sinking

This past week my organization, GBMP, moved from our home of twenty years at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts. The UMB College of Management needed more space and so did we, so we relocated to quarters that will afford room for our growing staff and dedicated training space for our customers.   The occasion has given me inspiration for the following post:

sinking1I was walking across the UMass Boston campus last week, reminiscing about the two decades that GBMP has called it home. Glancing toward the twelve-story Healey library, I viewed a familiar spectacle: Scaffolding reaching nearly to the top had been erected on the south face of the building. Workers at the site explained that the top twenty rows of bricks were loose and at risk of falling. I thought of the biblical metaphor of the house “built on sand,” or more accurately in this case the library built on an old landfill.   At some time in 1880’s the city of Boston, like many municipalities, determined it would be good idea to dump its prodigious amounts of trash at its periphery, which in this case was a cow pasture at the border of the city and its scenic harbor. The area nearby, a neighborhood known as Columbia Point, gradually became a mountain of garbage, notorious for its stench and visual pollution. By the 1960s, community residents from Columbia Point hired F. Lee Bailey to help get the city dump permanently closed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  It’s hard to understand today why the dump site, literally a monument to short-term thinking, was chosen in the first place.

sinking2Ten years after the dump was closed, the site was selected by Boston State College (now UMass Boston) as its new home. The campus, which opened in 1974, created a striking skyline against the backdrop of the majestic Boston Harbor, and appeared to be a terrific re-purposing of the former blighted site. Beneath the brick facade however there lurked a half-century of shrinking landfill. Perhaps because the state of the art for civil engineering was not sufficiently advanced in the 1970’s or perhaps because budget controls caused corners to be cut in the design of footings for the new campus, the Healey library began to sink; imperceptibly at first, but eventually in ways that required constant monitoring and repair. For whatever reason, it can be said that insufficient consideration had been given to the design of the building’s foundation. By the 1990’s the motion of the facade caused bricks to become dislodged and sometimes fall, and by 2006 the parking garage beneath the library was closed for safety reasons. Finally, this year began the perennial re-facing of the library’s facade, the event that inspired this post. Rumor has it that eventually the library must be replaced altogether.

So what does this story have to do with our Lean transformations?   Several things:

1) Without a firm foundation, there is only a crumbling facade.

2) No amount of problem solving can overcome a fundamentally flawed design.

3) Short-term thinking creates long-term sinking.   : )

Are you dealing with any of these challenges? Share a thought.

And have a terrific Fourth of July!

O.L.D.

BTW July’s Tea Time with The Toast Dude (that’s me) FREE Webinar is coming up on Tuesday, July 7. The topic this month – The Politics of Organization Change. I hope you can join me. Register here.

GBMP is also very excited to be offering the Shingo Institute workshops “DISCOVER Excellence” & “Enterprise ALIGNMENT” several times this summer in several locations – including central Massachusetts, Texas and Idaho. Check out all of our upcoming events on our website.

Overproduction

Not wishing to rub salt in the wounds of my beleaguered Red Sox, their meteoric rise from last place in 2012 to first place in 2013 and subsequent plummet to the cellar in 2014 underscores the problems with speculative production. Last week, celebrating a birthday, I was offered a dish of “Fenway Fudge” ice cream, and was amused by the container.

overproductionCHAMPIONS?

Well perhaps the Sox were when the product was made. Or maybe the ice cream (which, by the way is delicious) was made very recently, but dispensed into packaging that was printed in 2012. Maybe a buyer got a good deal on a large print quantity. The specialty packing industry typically likes long runs to amortize pre-prep and set-ups. Or maybe the forecast for the 2014 season augurs another rise from the ashes for the Sox.   I don’t follow the team closely, so perhaps someone more in the know has a line on next season.

My guess however is the large quantities of packaging and ice cream were manufactured according to what Shigeo Shingo referred to as “speculative production.”  Fenway Fudge, after all, is not the only Red Sox flavor; Green Monster Mint and Grand Slam Vanilla, to name a couple more, also sport the “Champions” banner. So if the ice cream is good, what’s the big deal?  Diehard fans still love their Sox even if the packaging is a season behind (or ahead.) The big deal, I think, is about the need to produce packaging and product well before, as Mr. Shingo would say, they are “authorized.” When the time to produce goods and services is much much longer than the customer’s desired lead-time, then we are forced to speculate – roll the dice – in order to schedule our resources.  Not every type of manufacturer will be so obviously impacted as one that ties it’s marketing to a baseball team, but seasonality, product proliferation, and customer taste make long runs of any product a gamble. And while not every product will cost as much to store as ice cream (note the use-by date on the Fenway Fudge package is 9/30/15), the need to produce too much or produce too soon squanders resources and increases costs in a way that current cost accounting rules hide as an asset.

One of my favorite Shigeo Shingo quotes is:

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

Overproduction’s stealth has been legislated into management accounting and operations policy, and until this is recognized, it will be rationalized as a necessary evil, needed to “hit the numbers.”

Is overproduction really seen as a waste in your business, or is it tacitly accepted? Share a thought.

As for the Sox? Wait for next season. Go Sox.

O.L.D. smilebruce

Hey! Our 10th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is next week! October 1 & 2 at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Over 550 Lean learners from 150 companies have already signed up. Click here to register today to learn, share, and recharge your Lean batteries. Hope to see you there.

I’m Against It!

A recent viewing of a Marx Brothers film caused me to reflect on one of the questions I’m frequently asked, “How do you deal with people that are against Lean?”

i'magainstitMy stock response is to quote Shigeo Shingo’s advice that “99% of objection is cautionary,” that is, persons who appear to vigorously object to Lean are really just asking for more information. I confess that, while this answer puts a positive spin on objection, depending upon who is doing the objecting, it doesn’t really answer the question.

For example, very early along in my TPS discovery process while I was away from the plant for a week’s vacation, two of my fellow middle managers, armed with apocalyptic predictions about employee empowerment, took advantage of my absence to make an end run to the corner office. Upon my return, our CEO confronted me: “I understand that you’re turning all of the decision-making over to the employees,” he said.

In another context, I might have taken his words as a compliment, but given the tenor of our organization at the time and the stern visage before me, I quickly understood that I’d been thrown under the bus.   A practiced counterpuncher, I was fortunately able to respond with a few compelling examples of decisions made by frontline employees to make improvements or solve problems, thus diffusing my adversaries’ arguments.  I thought to myself, “Thank goodness I didn’t take a two-week vacation. I might have been fired by then.“

There are several points worth noting here.

  • First, had our CEO occasionally visited the front lines, he would have been in touch with what was actually happening and would not have been vulnerable to the emotional arguments of naysayers.   Unfortunately, too often in the early stages in Lean transformation, the CEO is only passively involved.
  • Secondly, at least some of the time, factual arguments will trump emotional ones. The top manager usually has no ax to grind with any department or division; his/her interests lie in the prosperity of the entire organization.
  • Third, middle managers are often troubled by a perceived loss of authority among their direct reports. If front line employees are empowered, does that make the managers less powerful?
  • Fourth, middle managers may resist a change that they perceive is a threat to their turfs.   For example, “quality at the source” may be seen as an attempt to eliminate the inspection department. Or Kanban may be perceived as a threat to production scheduling.   If improvement implies organizational change to their turf, territorial imperative kicks in.
  • Finally, early Lean successes will sometimes create professional jealousy. Managers may perceive the rising star of a lean leader as a threat to their own advancement. For these managers, the response to the change leader’s ideas is likely to be “whatever it is, I’m against it.”

To be sure each of the concerns above could be characterized as “cautionary.” At a later point in the Lean journey, many managers will come to realize that their early concerns were horse feathers; organizations and individuals do change — for the better.   But in the earlier going, change leaders need to be mindful of and responsive to managerial objections. How we do that is the topic of my October 14 Tea Time with Toast Guy Webinar.

O.L.D.

Alert: Our 10th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is now less than a month away. I hope to see many of my readers there as the theme, “Putting People First,” is recurrent in the O.L.D. annuls.   For the last four years my posts have dealt primarily with management’s responsibility to create an environment that’s favorable to problem solving and continuous improvement – and that too is the theme of this year’s conference. I hope to see you all there!

BTW: Attend my next free Webinar next Tuesday, September 9, and you could win a FREE registration to our 10th Annual Northeast Lean Conference. The topic: “Getting Suppliers Involved – Do’s and Don’ts.”  Register here.