Tag Archives: lean

About Time

Twenty-twenty marks the 35th anniversary of a remarkable and unfortunately also singular event in my career:  In 1985, my employer, United Electric Controls (UE), elected to remove time clocks from the factory.  

At the time of this unusual decision, I had already been employed at UE for fourteen years in a variety of office jobs.  I worked in a building a couple blocks away from the factory, and “punching the clock” had never been a part of my day.  From my first day of employ, my attendance was tracked by exception – sickness, personal time or vacations – pretty much on the honor system.  But in 1985, coincidentally around the time I transferred into manufacturing, the idea to remove the time clocks was floated.  I weighed in as member of the management team on this idea, but I was pretty much a bystander, a new kid on the block, still unaware of significance of the change.   

The proposal raised concerns with many managers and supervisors that some workers would cheat the company by fudging their hours or simply not showing up for work.  From factory workers there were suspicions that without the clock they might be coerced to work extra hours without pay.   Both of these concerns were, as I understand, the historical reasons for the implementation of time clocks as a common factory practice.  Time clocks have been fixtures in factories since the turn the 20th century, installed to provide an objective measure of attendance.  They persist today as a management system example of “the way we’ve always done things” as well as a symbol of mutual distrust between management and labor.   

Back in 1985, a business owner reflected on the time-clock proposal and listened to the concerns raised by others in the company.  Ultimately, he decided, hourly employees should be no less trusted than office workers. (Thanks, Dave.)  Forty hours of attendance would be assumed except as noted by each employee.   No more double standard: a twenty-year factory employee no longer had to prove he or she was present while an office worker hired last week did not.  The most obvious result of this system change was the absence of lines at time-clocks.  Subtler yet more significant was the change in working relationships. More of us, less of them.  In 1990, United Electric was recognized by the Shingo Prize for Enterprise Excellence, a coveted award based largely on the engagement in continuous improvement by employees, but arguably influenced by a singular management decision made years before.  (And, by the way, attendance actually improved.)

Today, whenever I visit factories and witness the stampedes of employees to time clocks and hear the complaints of time lost to waiting in line to punch in out, I wonder why no one questions the practice.   On the contrary, in the last 50 years an entire industry has grown up around punching the clock, adding software even to automatically track an employee’s whereabouts as well as his/her attendance.  

Is this an improvement or are we, as Shigeo Shingo liked to say, just automating a waste – the eighth waste – and taking mutual distrust to a new level?   

A quote from Peter Drucker is ringing in my ears: “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

What do you think?  Is it about time to reconsider time clocks? 

O.L.D. 

PS Speaking of time, at this particular time of year, myself and my colleagues at GBMP would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and bright New Year. We look forward to seeing you, members of our Lean community, at events we sponsor throughout the year – from benchmarking plant tours and Shingo Institute workshops to Lean Certificate programs and our annual Northeast Lean Conference. We are especially excited to be able to offer Systems Design, the newest Shingo Institute workshop, this February at Vibco in Rhode Island. We hope you can join us.

Talking Turkey

The English language can be confounding. For example, the word turkey is slang for “a person considered inept or undesirable” while the idiom cold turkey describes the actions of one who abruptly gives up a habit rather than through gradual change. Finally, talking turkey means “to discuss a problem in a serious way with a real intention to solve it.” For the upcoming holiday, let me frame these idioms in terms that are very important to the social science of Lean. First the turkey’s:

A long time ago, after a short stint as a materials manager, I was promoted to vice president of manufacturing. It was, in fact, my good fortune to enter production knowing nothing about it, lest I might have fancied myself an expert. Instead, I relied on people who were already there to help me learn. Having begun my career in the ‘creative’ world of marketing, a block away from the factory, I had previously been given to believe that manufacturing was ‘cut and dry’; a repetitive, mindless environment. What I soon discovered after my promotion, however, was that the production floor was filled with innovative if not spiteful employees who managed to build products despite errors in drawings and bills of material, despite malfunctioning equipment and despite a lack of respect for the irons they pulled out of the fire everyday. When I shared my early concerns with other managers I was cautioned not to spend too much time with malcontents from the factory floor.  

I was floored. “What are these guys thinking?” I asked my welding supervisor, Lenny, as I related the malcontent story. He gave me wry smile and replied, “You’re heading in the right direction. Don’t get discouraged.” I thanked him and thought to myself, “This is different. I’m the manager and he’s coaching me.” Later in the week, I found a gift on my desk (the coffee cup above) from an anonymous friend. The thought and particularly the background behind it helped me through a few struggles. 

Now for the idiom cold turkey.  This is a model referred to in the Lean world as “blitz kaizen,” a big, sudden change.”  These events are typically characterized by major layout changes. Machines and people are moved close together to facilitate material and information flow – both great objectives. Problem is, the machines are fine as objects of improvement. We can push them around as often as we like. Not so much with people. We struggle with change even when it’s self-initiated, and we really don’t like being pushed around. We like to be the agents of change, the innovators, not the objects. Our habits don’t change on a dime. Gradual, continuous improvement works better for us than cold turkey. 

If we want to engage “everybody everyday” we need to talk turkey to get the root cause of real problems – especially managers. Recently during a factory tour at potential customer, a manager proudly shared his huddle board strategy with me: “We require each department to identify and solve a problem every day”, he said, “just like your slogan “everybody everyday.”  

Gazing at the huddle board I asked an employee, “How important are the problems on your huddle board?” Her reply: “Sometimes they’re important, but one way or another we have find problem to solve every day.”    “How’s that working for you?” I asked. “Okay,” she responded tentatively, “but we seem to have more problems than solutions.” Seemed like they were counting problems not solutions – not talking turkey. 

 Finally, for the holiday I want to share a frivolous clip that was the inspiration for this idiomatic post: me talking to a turkey. Just a reminder that to everyone that we all need to lighten up some times and be grateful for the good people in our lives. To all my Lean friends, Happy Thanksgiving.

Customer First Santa

santaEvery December the man in the red suit delivers cheer and presents to millions of happy children around the world.  It seems like magic, but a closer observation of Santa’s behavior demonstrates that Santa actually employed critical elements of TPS philosophy long before Toyota itself did.  For example,  Shotaro Kamiya, Toyota’s first president of sales, hired away from Nippon GM in 1935, championed a new idea at Toyota:  “The customer comes first, the dealer second, and the manufacturer third.”  Kamiya’s “Customer First” philosophy was revolutionary for Toyota and bedrock in the philosophy.

Yet, as can be seen from this documentary footage of Mr. Claus,   Santa was abiding by this ideal many years earlier.   His chagrin, when asked to “push” toys that were slow movers, indicates St. Nick’s abhorrence for speculative production also known as overproduction.  After all, the Christmas list was the original Kanban.  Without this pull system, Santa’s elves would, like many manufacturers, always be very busy building the wrong things; and Santa would have to leave backorder notes under the tree on Christmas morning.  As for standardization, anyone familiar with Norad’s Santa tracker will attest to his standardized conveyance route.  And Oh!  What a Takt time for the jolly old elf!  I have to admit that despite my enduring admiration for Toyota’s Production System, none other than Santa Claus is the penultimate just-in-time provider.   Thank you, Santa.

To everyone else, ho ho ho.  Have a restful and happy holiday.  Gratitude.

O.L.D.

P.S. I hope you will join me this upcoming Tuesday, December 18th, for my monthly free webinar “Tea Time with The Toast Dude”. I’ll be discussing how organizations sometimes struggle to gain traction with Hoshin planning. While substantial energy is put into the strategic planning process, too often the plan becomes a static document that fails to align and motivate the entire workforce. The deployment part of strategy deployment does not happen. Read more/Register here. Did I mention it’s free? Hope to “see” you there.

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.

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.