Tag Archives: shigeo shingo

Doormats

One of Shigeo Shingo’s popular status quo targets was engineers, whom he placed in three categories:

  • Table engineers—those who just sit around a table and talk about problems
  • Catalog engineers—those who think the solution to every problem can be found in a catalog
  • Nyet engineers—those who say no to every request. (Nyet is Russian for “no.”)

On one rare occasion, I heard Shingo retell his engineer category story in the presence of my company’s CEO, Bob R., who was himself an engineer. Bob bristled in response, “I’m a can-do engineer!”  While I’m not a big fan of stereotypes, I smiled at Bob’s retort.   I think Shingo made jibes to shock people, in this case our CEO, into consciousness.

doormatsSimilarly, another teacher, Ryuji Fukuda, once commented, “Engineers should polish their brains, not their shoes.” Dr. Fukuda offered the comment as light humor, but I recall a couple engineers in our group did not see the humor. “I feel like a doormat,” one engineer said to me.  When things go wrong, production just blames us”.

Full disclosure: I am not an engineer and I might on occasion have been one of those production folks who walked all over engineering. While the same barbs slung by Shingo and Fukuda could just as easily be directed at other occupations, in TPS lore the role of engineers seems to be more critical.   Engineers play such pivotal roles in a company’s success that the need for them to be involved in continuous improvement is that much greater than other occupations.   If their work is not done ‘right the first time,’ internal as well as external customers are adversely impacted.   DFA proponents, Boothroyd and Dewhurst for example, point out that every assembly fixture is essentially a workaround for a design that did not adequately consider the folks who do the assembly.  And Shingo noted that the best way to avoid production mistakes is to design them out before the product is released to production.

So why aren’t these things considered before product launch and why do problems take so long to be fixed after launch?  Perhaps the answer to these questions is that engineers are subject to the same cockamamie rules as production.  Here is a short list:

  • Engineers typically have far too much work in process. Studies have demonstrated that two projects at once is an ideal number for a design engineer, yet most designers have many more.
  • Engineers are not typically rewarded for OPD (other people’s designs), which creates pointless complexity: redesigning the wheel.
  • Fixing problems with existing designs is seen to be far less important than creating new designs. Engineers are not encouraged to get into ‘old plumbing.’
  • Design tools make seemingly simple changes arduous.
  • Cost accounting provides no encouragement for engineers to design for assembly or maintenance or test-ability or ease of changeover. Only functional cost is considered important.
  • Most engineering departments are function cloisters of cubicles that limit information flow between engineers in the same way that is often seen in production. Preston Smith, author of The Principles of Product Development Flow, quips, “Communication between engineers is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”

Can you think of any other “rules” that impede engineers?  Please share them.

When Edward’s Deming commented that 95% of an organization’s performance problems are caused by systems, he clearly was not referring only to production.   On the positive side, engineering departments that are able to break through status quo rules are creating huge competitive advantage for their organizations.  Those who cannot break through however will regrettably continue to be doormats. 

 

O.L.D. 

Lean By Doing

Early along, as a student of the Toyota Production System (TPS), now referred to as “Lean,” I struggled with some of the concepts and systems.  For example, Shigeo Shingo’s claim that a four-hour machine setup could be reduced to less than ten minutes made me a skeptic.

“Perhaps,” I thought, “when Mr. Shingo talked about SMED, single minute exchange of dies, he was referring only to machinery in which the changeover involved die changes.  CNC Lathes were different, I rationalized; no chance for single minute changeover there.”

I kept these doubts to myself although I believe the machine operators had similar doubts. We’d made modest setup improvements, but nothing like Shingo was suggesting.  Anything beyond low-hanging fruit took us too far out of our comfort zone.

In 1996 however, when a consultant from TSSC, a division of Toyota, began working with us, it quickly became apparent to me through her questioning that our doubts arose from ‘conceptual blind spots’ developed through old setup practices.  These were preventing us from seeing a multitude of improvement opportunities.  With some priming from our consultant, we found waste in areas where, as Mr. Shingo would say, “it was thought not to exist.”   Under the guidance of our TSSC consultant, our well-ingrained existing frameworks for analyzing problems were gradually un-learned as part of our Lean learning.

leanbydoingimageOur consultant, who had no special technical expertise with CNC equipment, nevertheless brought a conceptual framework to the table that turned our skepticism into science.  She used a method I refer to as “directed discovery” constantly challenging us with questions about our beliefs and expectations.  For example, we were asked, “Why are four bolts needed for the tool holders?  After we got over the because-we’ve-always-done-it-that-way answers, one of the operators had a brainstorm: “Can we replace two of the bolts with guide pins?” he asked.  We experimented with the idea and, notwithstanding the concerns of the CNC lathe manufacturer, the guide pin idea worked!

Over a four-month period, focusing on sixty-six parts that ran on one CNC lathe, setups were reduced first from an hour to thirty minutes, then twenty and finally to eight minutes for any changeover between any two parts.  At that point the operators began measuring the setups in seconds.

The impact this had on our operation was truly revolutionary.  An abstract understanding that we had gained from reading Shingo’s book was now replaced by a tacit learning that could only have come through guided discovery and continual practice: Learning by doing or, in this case, “Lean By Doing.”

There are two morals to this story:

  1. Book study or classroom activities alone cannot create deep learning and may, in fact cause persons to privately harbor doubts. Only with constant hands-on practice can we remove the conceptual blind spots that obscure the full benefit of Lean tools.
  2. The perspective gained through the mentoring from our consultant was necessary to help us see beyond our conceptual blind spots.  Experienced eyes can guide inexperienced.

GBMP has chosen the “Lean-by-doing” theme for its 12th annual Northeast Lean Conference and in doing so we have invited some the most hands-on practitioners and experts to share their tacit learning with every participant.  Over half of our sessions will be hands-on learning.  The event gets under way in 26 days and registration is still open at www.northeastLEANconference.org.    Hope to see you there.

O.L.D.

 

Peripheral Discoveries

The following post is inspired by The Teachings of Don Juan, an anthropological novel from the 1960’s written by Carlos Castaneda chronicling his travels with Don Juan, a Yaqui shaman.   To crudely paraphrase, according to Don Juan, the road to knowledge is blocked first by fear of learning new ideas, an experience most of us have had to one degree or another on our Lean journeys.  For those who forge ahead in the face of this “natural enemy” of knowledge, we are rewarded with “clarity,” a confidence we gradually acquire as we seek to learn.  Clarity, however, becomes the second enemy of knowledge, because its focus blinds us to new learning beyond a confined framework.  Shingo called it complacency.  I call it “too happy too soon.”  The point is when we are too confident with our understanding of continuous improvement, new learning stops.   With that preface, here is a story:

peripherySometimes we go to the floor with a specific intention, but along the way discover an opportunity well beyond the margins of our conscious attention.   As an example, I was once tasked with improving the productivity of a high-speed manual packaging line about thirty feet in length, one where products were delivered by conveyor to a team of employees who frantically picked, packed and heat-sealed individual products in plastic sleeves.  Picture Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory; that was the pace and tenor of this line.  I was working with a team of six persons from production, each focused on a particular function within the line, while I stood back attempting to see the whole.  There were a hundred observable reasons why this line did not hit packing targets, but that focus is not the subject of this blog post; only the backdrop.

As I concentrated on the packing line, an area chosen by the company’s owner for improvement, an interference blip appeared just at the edge of my peripheral vision.  Someone was observing from distance.  A middle-aged employee standing in the finished goods warehouse was watching intently.  Call him Jim; he was the warehouse manager.  I briefly glanced in Jim’s direction and smiled.  He smiled back and then during a break approached me.   “I don’t know why you’re focusing on this line,” Jim said alluding to the packing line in front of me.  “They’re producing far more than we sell.  I can hardly find a place to put the products.”

“Where should we be watching?”, I asked Jim.  “Come watch us pick and pack orders for Wal-Mart,” Jim replied.  “We can’t hit their deliveries and are in danger of losing that business.  If that happens, you won’t have to spend time on that packing line.  It will be shut down!”  At the end of the day, Jim and I reconvened in the warehouse for a quick review of the pick and pack process.   His team was working overtime to complete an order that, if not shipped on-time in-full, might be refused altogether.   As we walked the process, once again my peripheral vision picked up some blips.  Other warehouse employees watching and listening just out of my line of sight were now keyed into our observation.  They too had ideas about improvement to the shipping process.  Ultimately, we re-focused our attention away from a packaging process that surely could be improved but was less critical to one that had only been on the periphery but nevertheless was extremely important.

Today I am frequently asked by organizations that I visit, “Where do you look for improvement when you visit a site?”   My answer is, I try not to focus right away in order to receive any signal, direct or deflected.  I don’t want to ‘point the camera’ based only on my past experience.   Or as Shingo put it “The best place to look for improvement is in an area where it is thought not to exist.”

Do you let your current knowledge obscure opportunities for new learning?  Are your decisions ruled exclusively by “clarity” or are you following the ways of Don Juan?   Let me hear from you.

O.L.D. 

PS It’s hard to believe but there are only 48 days until The 2016 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference! Our 12th annual event features five tracks and includes presentations by Lean thought leaders, peer-to-peer discussions of critical best practices, experiential learning through hands-on exercises and exceptional bench-marking opportunities, all designed to help you take your Lean initiative to the next level.The practical learning format caters to all learning styles & levels of experience. From the front lines to the corner offices,  there is something for everyone.  Please join us on October 4-5, 2016 at the DCU Center in Worcester MA to learn how to help your organization act its way into Lean thinking. Read more about the event, view the agenda, read the abstracts and register here.

Profitless Part Proliferation

leadwireI wrote a post a little more than five years ago about Variety Reduction Program (VRP), an amazing but little known product design optimization tool.  At the time I referred to VRP as an idea whose “time had not yet come.”  Last week, as I gave a short presentation on VRP, I realized that five years later its time apparently still has not come.  In the interest of creating more interest around this significant technique, the following post expands on my epistle from 2011 and provides a couple of tangible examples of that significance from my own experience.

First, I think the technique deserves a new, mnemonic and alliterative moniker:  Profitless Part Proliferation.   I suggest this clarification because the word “variety” has an unfortunate positive connotation in the sense of greater customer selection, and therefore turns off sales and marketing folks before you can explain that VRP is not about product line trimming.  That was my initial experience in my own company many years ago.  “Just another anti-customer maneuver by operations,” I heard.  In fact, VRP aka P3 is about trimming needless part variety and all of its associated costs (e.g. drawings, inspection, purchase orders, stocking locations, etc.)

Secondly, I would like to call attention to the false sense of profitability that is often created through the addition of new parts and assemblies.   Minimizing the functional cost of material (the one that shows up on variance reports) for a single product looks good on paper, but almost always creates huge overhead costs arising from complexity.  Engineers and cost accountants typically focus on the apparent profit from product X, but ignore the resulting system costs.   They can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak.   The following two examples for common part commodities, one a purchased part and the other a sub-assembly, speak to this problem:

O-rings.  A project was initiated to examine O-ring specifications and dimensions – things like durometer, chemical resistance, temperature range, ID and OD.   The first thing we realized was that there was no single repository for this information.  Our computer part master record contained dozens of fields to support ordering and costing, but most important design information was squished unintelligibly into a description field.  After cataloging specs and dimensions for O-rings, we realized that twenty-nine different O-rings were stocked.  Our discoveries:

  • Our information system made it difficult for designers see what was already available when they were choosing parts. It was just faster and easier to go to a supplier catalog. An alarming amount of part variety arose simply from poor design tools.
  • Once we were able to view O-rings as a part type from a design standpoint, we realized there was considerable overlap in specs and dimensions. Of the twenty-nine O-rings we cataloged, we determined that all production needs could be handled by only five O-rings.
  • Of the five remaining O-rings, one had metric dimensions because of unanticipated tolerances with mating parts. Rather than deal with correcting the mating parts, a unique O-ring was selected as a “bushing.”  Incidentally, that particular new part required the addition of a new supplier.

The rub was that the most robust O-rings cost a few cents more than marginally acceptable specifications.  Cost accountants argued that using the most robust  O-rings would increase product cost, ignoring the additional costs of maintaining two-dozen unneeded parts.  In fact, as we were a low-volume high-variety producer, we pretty much had to order months of supply for every one of the different O-rings anyway.  Finally, engineers argued that the cost of an engineering change – particularly a drawing change – was too great.  “We have better things to do” I heard.   Fact is, engineers are typically not rewarded for fixing up old parts; they are recognized for designing something new. Ultimately, however, some concessions were made in the interest of experimentation and the O-ring variety was reduced.

Lead wires.  A more egregious example of Profitless Part Proliferation was the variety of lead-wire assemblies. As a manufacturer of electro-mechanical products, my company built thousands of different lead-wire assemblies to support perhaps three dozen product families. At one point we dedicated a full bay of ASRS storage to lead-wires.  Still, lead-wire assembly stock-outs represented a major cause of late customer deliveries. Lead-wires were cut and terminated in large batches owing to the long set-ups on the machine.  While working on set-up reduction of the lead-wire machine, a production team lead astutely wondered why many lead-wires differed by insignificant lengths, as little as 1/32”.  During a project launched to catalog the variety in gauges, stranded or solid, terminations, insulation color and material – and many other specs – we did in fact identify an important opportunity just in lead-wire length variety.  This variety, we suddenly realized, stemmed from a single statement regarding the length of the connection leads outside the end item enclosure.  Sales and technical literature read something like this “Lead-wire length:  12” outside enclosure.”  In fact, our customers would have been happy with “at least 12” outside enclosure.”   Twelve and one-half inches would have been fine, as would twelve and one-thirty second inches, and so on.  The authors of VRP advised us to be clearer regarding which dimensions should be fixed and which could be variable within a range.   Once the product specification was changed to reflect “at least 12 inches outside,” the number and type of lead-wire assemblies plummeted!  So did the stock-outs.

These are just two of many specific examples where parts proliferation was pointless and profitless.  Now, before you say to yourself, “Oh that would never happen in my factory,” I’d encourage you to choose a common commodity of a purchased or manufactured part, and investigate the variety.   Please share a story for our readers about your discoveries. (One lucky commenter will be selected to attend GBMP’s 12th annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference coming in October to Worcester, MA. I am delighted to reveal our four exceptional Keynote presenters will be: Art Byrne, John Shook, Steven Spear & Dr. Eric Dickson (not to mention the forty other educational, informative, motivational and fun breakout sessions).

Shigeo Shingo was quoted as saying “The worst waste is the waste we cannot see.”   Help us to see by sharing an example from your experience.   I’d hate to think that I’ll be reflecting again in another five years on an idea whose time still has not yet come.

O.L.D.

BTW: GBMP’s calendar of Shingo Institute workshops is jam packed through October. Check it out here and join us for a workshop (or two) soon.

lfxAlso, I’m happy to share that GBMP’s online streaming video subscription service which we launched in March and call Leanflix  is receiving terrific reviews. We are so glad that we have been able to provide convenient, low-cost, on-demand video training content to meet the varied and ongoing training needs of so many in our Lean community. If you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will set aside a little time this week to do so.

– Bruce

 

Eye of the Beholder

kanbaMany moons ago when I was just getting started on my lean journey, I visited a large automotive supplier to benchmark pull systems.  My own factory had started a pilot kanban between two work centers and I was hoping to gain some insight from a more experienced source.  To my disappointment, when I was escorted to the factory, the aisles were crowded with pallets of kitted orders.  “What is this inventory?” I asked my tour guide.  “That’s Kanban,” he said.  “How so?” I asked. “Every day the stockroom pulls stock for the floor,” he explained, emphasizing the word “pull.” I thought to myself that this particular material looked just like traditional factory orders, launched before they were needed.  The floor of this benchmark facility was more crowded with inventory than my own.   Not wishing to be rude, I tactfully inquired, “Isn’t the kanban supposed to stay near to the supplying work center?”   The factory manager confidently responded, “Oh yes, we have a central Kanban area.  I’ll show you.”  With that, he led me to large storage area that looked just like my stockroom only larger. “We pull from here,” he reiterated, once again emphasizing the operative word, “pull.”

“Amazing,” I thought to myself, “the factory has just swapped its STOCKROOM sign with one that reads “KANBAN.”  (Thirty years later, by the way, that factory has been closed.)  The point here is not to focus specifically on the tool, in this case kanban, but rather to highlight the difficulty that arises when the concept behind any tool is misunderstood.  If we don’t understand “what good looks like,” we could be doing exactly the wrong thing.

Two days ago, for example, I heard a machinist jokingly describe his factory’s use of Andons:  “When there’s a problem with my machine, I set the Andon to red and that signals everyone that I’m away from the machine hunting for the maintenance department.”    Unfortunately, while the front line employee knows this not how Andons are supposed to function, the details are less well understood elsewhere.  There is not a single Lean tool I can think of which is not burdened by misconceptions.  Here are six common ones.  Perhaps you can add to the list in the comments section below and we’ll keep a running tally (think we can get to 50?):

  1. Ganging up shop orders with similar set-ups regardless of due date in order to amortize set-up time, and then calling it “set-up reduction.” This is set-up avoidance. The whole idea of reducing set-ups to “build the customer’s exact order immediately” is lost when orders wait their turn for the right set-up.
  2. Creating dedicated “cells” which sit idle 80% of the time. People tell me, “We don’t have room for cells.”  No wonder.
  3. Moving the stockroom to the factory and then referring to months of stock on hand as “point of use inventory.”
  4. Referring to work instructions as “standard work.” In fact, having a clear work standard and job instructions build an important foundation for standardized work but too few sites understand standardized work as a dynamic choreography matching supplier capability to customer rate.
  5. A subset of the above, confusing Takt time with cycle time.
  6. One of my favorite misconceptions came from an engineering manager who let me know that he appreciated the “8th waste” (loss of creativity) because he was tired of his engineers wasting their creativity on production problems.

Confronted by these kinds of mis-perceptions, I’m reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode, Eye of the Beholder.   Watch the two-minute clip to see how ugly things can get when we don’t have a good understanding of the concepts behind Lean tools.  In the last several years, a great deal of attention has been given to creating a Lean culture rather than just implementing the tools.  This is an ideal I subscribe to wholeheartedly so long as we define culture as an environment favorable to continuous improvement, and recognize that a proper understanding of the tools by both workers and managers is a key part of the culture.

O.L.D.

PS I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind folks that the Early Bird price for The 12th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference  – “Lean-By-Doing: Accelerating Continuous Improvement”– ends May 31. It’s a great event and all the better if you can save your company some dough when you register your group. (It’s still a really affordable event even if you wait until the summer to register, no worries.) I am really looking forward to it and hope you are making plans to join us. There will be keynote presentations by John Shook, Steven Spear, Art Byrne & Dr. Eric Dickson, plus more than 30 interactive, educational, inspirational and fun breakout sessions rounded out with networking socials, yokoten in the Lean Lounge and much more. Here’s the agenda. See you in October, I hope!

As an added incentive to add to my kanban misconceptions list, one commenter will receive a free registration for the whole event! Good luck! BEH