Tag Archives: northeast lean conference

Space Junk

spacejunkLast weekend in the Nantucket ferry terminal, I passed a defunct phone booth, the ornate wooden kiosk kind that was used twenty years ago to frame a payphone, provide a modicum of privacy, and hold a phone book.   It appeared that this particular phone booth had been re-purposed to hold a suggestion box; or maybe the suggestion box was also defunct.   Who knows?  I picked it up and shook it; it was empty.  And there were no blank suggestion forms in the side slot.  These thoughts crossed my mind as I viewed the payphone/suggestion box combo:

  • In this bustling terminal where customers crowded to catch the last boat to the mainland, someone might have written a suggestion if there had been pencil and paper. Notwithstanding my jaundiced view of the effectiveness of locked suggestion boxes, this particular one might as well have read: “We don’t really care.”
  • When the phone company removed the payphone, probably a decade ago, all that remained was an empty kiosk. The functional part of the phone booth had been stripped leaving a useless shell.

These are two different kinds of space junk, a term I’ve borrowed from NASA that describes the half-million pieces of accumulated debris left behind by decades of astronautical experiments; except in this case, the stuff is floating around in our offices and factories and labs and  ORs and warehouses.

The first kind of space junk, epitomized by the suggestion box, represents a system that is apparently in place, but is not purposeful and probably even counterproductive since it does not demonstrate understanding or commitment.   In fact, I frequently see suggestion boxes in this condition.  Other common examples include:

  • Taped lines left on the floor or signage left hanging from the rafters after a department re-layout
  • Huddle boards with “to do” dates more than a year old
  • Standardized work charts that bear no resemblance to the current condition
  • Kanban racks overflowing with over-production – or conversely, empty
  • ‘Employee of the Year’ postings last updated three years ago

At one point any of these experiments may have been purposeful, but now they’ve become monuments to stagnation and backsliding.

The second kind of space junk, represented in this case by the payphone-less kiosk, is debris that is left behind from old systems.  Like the kiosk, this stuff appears to be re-purposed, but after a time it accumulates into a hodgepodge of hand-me downs.  I’d wager, for example, that more than half of the seven-foot shop cabinets I see are leftovers from an earlier use.  They are almost always too deep for the current use, creating FIFO problems and inviting storage of excess supplies, tools and materials. Other examples of this type of space junk include:

  • Old desks turned into tables, perhaps to hold a printer plus “stuff” or maybe used as a lab bench
  • A wall that once divided two different departments, now just blocks the line of site between two team members from the same department
  • File cabinets and book cases re-purposed as fixture holders or walls
  • Electrical and plumbing drops left from an earlier time; like the payphone kiosks it was just easier to leave them behind.

To be sure there are times when old stuff can be effectively re-purposed, but more often than not these attempts save a few pennies up front, only to add cost and strain later on:  Many years ago, walking a convoluted conveyance route with a material handler, we came upon a floor scale that jutted into the route causing the employee to muscle the cart to the side of the aisle.  I asked, “Who uses the scale?”  The material handler didn’t know.  In fact nobody knew or could remember when the floor scale was last used.   Space junk.

I invite you to look around at the fixtures in your workplace and ask if they are really there to facilitate flow and make the job easier, or if they are just space junk.  How many can you find and how do they impact your work?  Please share a couple examples.

O.L.D. NELeanEsig2016_v2

PS I can’t believe it’s only 40 days until the start of GBMP’s 12th Annual Lean Conference. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to check out the website, take a look at the agenda and consider joining us. I personally am looking very much forward to spending time with our community of hundreds of passionate Lean practitioners from manufacturing, health care, insurance and other industries and to our four exceptional keynote presenters – Art Byrne, John Shook, Dr. Eric Dickson and Steven Spear – not to mention the dozens of presentations, interactive sessions and The Community of Lean Lounge. What a line up! I sincerely hope to see you there.

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!

 

 

P-D Ratios

The last few weeks have been all things Shingo for me including a presentation at the Shingo Institute’s International Conference three weeks ago in Provo, Utah, followed by four days of Shingo Institute workshops at Vibco in Richmond, Rhode Island. Questions at both events about assessing for enterprise excellence caused me to reflect on a basic framework that Shingo himself used to explain the progression of what we refer to today as “Lean maturity”.

pdratioThe P-D Ratio was Shingo’s comparison of the time required to Produce a product to the time given by the customer to Deliver the product. A large P-D ratio, for example, was indicative of a producer who took much longer to produce a product than desired by the customer. In 1985, this was the condition in my business. We attempted to match the customer’s short “D” time by stockpiling inventory.   Our push production method, as Dr. Shingo called it, was “speculative”, that is to say we built to forecast. Unfortunately our forecasts were wrong much of the time and there was an abundance of Muda in our production system. The atmosphere in the plant was one of frenetic expediting, particularly at month and quarter end. I don’t recall using the word “culture” at the time, but in today’s terms we did not yet have a culture of improvement. Shortly after I took a job as materials manager, a question posed to me by a buyer from one of our largest customers, a compressor manufacturer, summed up our P-D ratio:

“Welcome to your new job, Mr. Hamilton.   Can you explain to me why your company takes sixteen weeks to fill an order for a product the size of my fist, while my company can make a product as big as a house and deliver it in a week?”

That mortifying question may very well have been the trigger for my first study of TPS. A read of Robert Hall’s Zero Inventories (1982) led via a footnote to Shigeo Shingo’s Study of the Toyota Production System (1981) and this is where the epiphanies began. The book was such a bad translation from the Japanese that it has become a collector’s item. (It was retranslated in 1989 to a more readable but less authentic form.) Using Shingo’s ideas, we began to shift our production from “speculative” to “authorized” – Mr. Shingo’s words to describe the shift from push production to pull. And little by little, the sixteen weeks reduced to ten and then five and eventually, over a period of years, to two weeks for our customer’s product. With starts and stops and lot of TPS learning opportunities, by 1990 we’d reduced the P-D ratio from 16:1 to 2:1, not exactly just-in-time, but improved enough to be recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize for Manufacturing Excellence.

By the fall of that year we were asked to tell our TPS story at the annual AME conference in Boston.   A team of seven persons from my company each told a piece of the story: what we’d learned technically and how we worked together to overcome challenges and develop an improvement culture. After our presentation, each team member sat at a different lunch table, anxious to hear from other participants. As I seated myself for lunch, the gentleman to my right was already talking about some impressive results: shorter lead-times, inventory reductions, lower costs. Not to be outdone, someone across the table talked about same day delivery.   Another told a story of enormous cost reductions. “These are really impressive results,” I thought to myself.

I broke my silence by announcing that while my company had worked very hard to improve, our results were not nearly so compelling as those described by others at the table. Hoping to capitalize on the experience of others at my table, I then asked, “What companies are you with?”  To my complete surprise, everyone else at my table was a consultant. One was pushing Theory of Constraints, another was into TPM and a third was an MRP consultant. The rest were Lean consultants, a relatively new idea at that time. All had business cards in hand. Suddenly their improvement claims seemed a bit less credible. In 1985, there had been almost nothing written about TPS and the only Lean (TPS) consultants were from Japan. It was hard to find companies that had even heard of TPS. But, by the 1990 AME conference, Lean consultants were apparently multiplying like lab rats.   The group at my lunch table outnumbered the doers by 9 to 1, a ratio that was later borne out more generally by other of my team members. “Lean is good business for consultants,” I skeptically thought to myself, “but what about their customers.”

pdratio2Revisiting Shingo and his ideas over the last few weeks at conferences and training, I’ve concocted a whimsical P-D ratio for us to keep an eye on: The ratio of Pundits to Doers. (Yes, I am now a Pundit too.)   Today’s pundits have titles superior to consultant: Lean Expert, Lean Practice Expert, Sensei, Master Sensei, Black Belt, Guru and so on. Have a laugh –  We’re even on Weird Al’s radar!   My unscientific application of this Pundit-Doer ratio leads me to believe that while there are many more Doers now than in 1990 (the good news), the Pundit-Doer ratio is getting larger (the bad news.)  There are more of us, both internal and external, than there are doers.

During a recent discussion with my board of directors, the question was posed: “What do we want GBMP to look like in ten years?” One astute board member commented, “Perhaps we should ask ‘What do we want our customers to look like in ten years?’”

Where is your company on Shingo’s P-D scale?   Where do you want to be in ten years? Please share a thought.

O.L.D.

Hey! Speaking of Shingo, there’s still time to register for our next Shingo Institute Discover Excellence Course, June 9-10 at Smith-Midland in Midland, Virginia. You can register here.

Also, this week is the last call for the early bird registration discount for our 11th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference on September 29-30, 2015 in Springfield MA – a great event to meet, hear from and share with other “doers” just like you.  Read more and register here.

Finally, I hope you’ll join me for my next “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar on June 2. It’s FREE! I’ll be discussing Overcoming Organization Obstacles to Lean. Get the scoop here.

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.

Invisibility

A chance reading recently provided a thought from Henry Thoreau that I think is worth sharing. Thoreau said:

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when
one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

The quote caused me to reflect on an incident some years ago at a film manufacturer:

I had been asked to visit with a team of engineers and scientists to troubleshoot a process problem on the production line.   While I had no special technical understanding of this process, the project manager felt that “another pair of eyes” might help to discover the cause of impurities deposited on their finished product, polarized film.

invisiAfter a short meeting, our team of erudite problem-solvers took to the floor, which, in this case was a one hundred foot long automated coating line. Film wound in serpentine fashion through prep, coating, drying and slitting zones over dozens of stainless steel rollers, accumulators and knives.   When the two technicians manning the line were told to take a break during our investigation, I objected and asked if they could work with the team.   One of our team, a gentleman with a PhD in Chemistry, grunted disapproval and then declared that he had isolated the problem in the process and had a solution. “MEK on this roller,” he said, pointing to a large stainless cylinder.   He turned to one of the techs and barked at her, “Wash this down with MEK.”

Both technicians glanced over to me, one of them shaking his head slightly.   “What do you think?” I asked them. One tech responded tentatively, “I used DI water for a similar problem in the past.” I glanced back to the problem-solving team, but no one was paying attention. In a slightly elevated tone, I repeated the tech’s idea. “She says that DI water has worked for cleaning in the past.”

After a short pause, our PhD chemist replied with an air of condescension, “Just use the MEK.”

By now, dear readers, you may think you know where this story is headed.   And you’re right! After several hours of experimenting with MEK, the team decided it was not working. “How about trying the DI water?” I asked. The project manager shrugged and replied, “Ok, let’s give a try.”

The cleaning with DI Water worked; the residue of impurities on the film vanished. To my amazement at the end of the day, the team thanked me – not the technicians – for the idea.   I corrected them, but I’m not sure they understood. To paraphrase Henry Thoreau:

“The greatest insult that was ever paid me was when
no one asked me what I thought, or attended to my ideas. “

Are you attending to the ideas of your employees, or are they invisible?   Please share a thought.

O.L.D.

ALERT: Less than six weeks until our Northeast Lean Conference. This year’s focus “Putting People First” will energize your Lean journey. Click here for more information.

And don’t miss my next free Tea Time with the Toast Guy Webinar on September 9th from 3:00-3:45 p.m. The topic: “Getting Suppliers Involved – Do’s and Don’ts.”  Register here.

Frankenstein Equivalents

frankensteinI was speaking with a friend about a recent downsizing at his church. After nine years, a popular priest had been reassigned to another parish. In an apparent effort to cut costs, a new priest would now split his time between two parishes in neighboring towns. When I expressed some regret about Father S’s departure, my friend replied, “It’s not so bad. If you look at total staffing, the number of FTE’s hasn’t changed much.”

For the uninitiated, FTE’s or Full Time Equivalents, is a ratio between the total number of paid hours during a period and the number of working hours in that period. The ratio units are FTE units or equivalent employees working full-time. In other words, one FTE is equivalent to one employee working full-time – sort of.

For example, having one priest, presumably with more assignments, commuting between two parishes did not seem “equivalent” to me, but I kept that thought to myself. My friend, a doctor at a nearby hospital knows all about FTE’s. It’s a codeword in healthcare used to describe head chopping in the name of cost reduction. It’s a convenient way to dice up people’s work and then, like Dr. Frankenstein, sew them back together as if they were a whole.

frankenstein2In healthcare, the priest is replaced with a doctor who literally runs between campuses, or a nurse who covers two floors simultaneously. At the front door of a business, the receptionist is gradually loaded with new tasks until there is no time left to greet visitors. Or maybe the receptionist is chopped altogether, and that work is sewn onto another job somewhere in the office to create an FTE. Now there is only a phone and phone list in the lobby. On paper these may look like improvements but, in real life, who benefits? Saving lives, saving souls, saving customers – they all require whole persons, not pieces stitched together as FTE’s.

How about in your organization? Are you employing real persons or Frankenstein Equivalents?   Share a story.

O.L.D.

Don’t forget: Our next Tea Time with Toast Guy Webinar will be on Tuesday, August 12 from 3:00 – 3:45 p.m.   The topic is “Creating a Realistic Pace for Improvement”. Read more and register here. Bonus!  We’ll select one person from the list of participants to win a free registration to our October 1-2 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. Learn more about the conference here.

Addicted to Lean

One of my early lessons in leading change came at the age of 19, while working in in a program known as VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. The lesson was this:

Leading change is marathon not a sprint. Sometimes you just have to pace yourself, give your mind and body a break and do something frivolous and fun to maintain your balance.

In 1968, racial tensions were especially high in rural Florida, and neither my fellow VISTA workers nor I were feeling the love in the segregated communities we were supporting. We were mostly a bunch of passionate, idealistic kids, referred to by many of the locals as “outside agitators.”   For some of our volunteers, the tense, resistant atmosphere triggered a response that I call ‘passion overload.’ These volunteers responded to rejection and resistance by redoubling their efforts, a tactic that sometimes worked but ultimately left them without balance in their lives.   After several months of non-stop advocacy to disinterested and sometimes hostile communities, these overly zealous VISTA volunteers began to crash. Several quit the program while others just became paralyzed by overload and stopped trying. It’s not that they cared more deeply about creating change; they were simply unable to lighten up occasionally.

I escaped those fates, mainly because I had been serendipitously paired with a VISTA partner a few years older than I who was practiced at keeping things in perspective. At the end of almost every day, David T would find an amusing distraction to put the seriousness of the moment in perspective. Bear in mind this was the pre-internet era, not even television in the rural area where we worked. We found amusement in practical jokes and makeshift competitions like tossing rotten tangelos from the grove near our shack into the lake. Somehow that frivolous diversion was a counter balance to a very bad day on the job. It took a little practice for me to join in, but after a while I got the idea.  One night, while we were competing to see who could loft a tangelo the farthest, Dave commented about a fellow VISTA worker who had just quit out of frustration: “We can’t become addicted to our work or we’ll become ineffective.”

Fifteen years after VISTA, I found myself in another outside agitator role, this time in a manufacturing company that was resisting Lean. Managers liked the status quo, and workers distrusted the new kid in town. It reminded me of Florida. In particular, I thought about David T’s lesson. Be passionate, but don’t become addicted. To be effective, change leaders must take their work very seriously, but sometimes they also need to lighten up and have some frivolous fun. In that spirit, I have collaborated with my associates at GBMP to produce another short parody video dedicated to all you serious change leaders who need to lighten up a bit. We hope it adds a little balance to you work life: Click here if you feel like you’re becoming Addicted to Lean.

O.L.D.

By the way…

There’s still time to register for tomorrow’s free “Tea Time with the Toast Dude” webinar when I’ll discuss The Technical Side of Going to See. Starts at 3:00 pm EST and ends promptly at 3:45. Hope to “see” you there. Sign up here.

Also, for those of you who don’t already know (and for those who do, but haven’t finalized their plans), GBMP organizes an annual conference for lean practitioners from all business sectors, including healthcare. 2014 marks out 10th year celebrating the region’s lean community as we get together to learn, share, network and benchmark. We hope you are making plans to attend and getting a team together to take advantage of four exceptional keynotes, 5 concurrent tracks, more than 45 breakout sessions, a virtual plant tour, the Community of Lean Lounge and so much more. Get all of the details here.