Tag Archives: shigeo shingo

Lazy Lean Guy

lazyleanguyIn 1987, shortly after I became a manufacturing manager, the shop foreman at the time warned me about a young assembler: “Watch out for Michael, he’s tends to bend the rules. You may need to talk to him.” In fact, I did watch Michael and it did appear that he approached his work a little differently — a bit like the violinist whose bow was out of sync with the rest of the section. So, I asked him “Why do you do it this way?   Michael responded impishly, “I’m just naturally lazy.” “What do you mean by that?” I queried. Then flood gates opened.

Michael explained how he organized his bench, tools and material, to make the job easier. “Look,” he said, “I set up for each job so I’m not running around looking for things.” He pointed to another employee who was obviously searching for something. “Like her,” Michael said.

I chuckled and asked “Is that what you mean by lazy?”

“That’s what they tell me,” Michael smiled, and then continued. “For example, I assemble this product in a different order than Bob,” alluding to another assembler to his left.   “Bob follows the rules, but the rules leave out a couple of important steps,” Michael said. “I still finish faster – and it’s easier!” At that moment I realized what the foreman had meant by ‘bend the rules.’   “Have you mentioned this your section leader?” I asked Michael.   “Ha!” Michael replied. “He told me ‘We’ve always done it this way and it would be best if I just followed the rules.’”

Around this time we were just beginning our Lean journey, referring to it then simply as ‘continuous improvement,’ and I was struck by the lack of either a system or an environment that would enable someone to make an improvement that wasn’t expressly focused on the external customer. Why not make the job easier?

I approached the foreman to let him know I’d met with Michael and observed his work. “It seems like he has some good ideas,” I said.  “Yeah,” replied the foreman a bit resentfully, “he’s always got a better idea, to make things easier for himself.” “Isn’t that okay, too?” I asked. The foreman responded stoically, “We’re in business to satisfy the customer, not ourselves.” This was his paradigm, and I soon discovered that it was shared by many managers. “You’re coddling the employees,” a peer manager protested. “Do you think this a garden club?”

Happily, thanks to few more “lazy” folks like Michael, “making the job easier” eventually became a legitimate concept in our factory. Some years later, I read a quote from Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS: “Why not make work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat?” And Shigeo Shingo, in his book Non-stock Production, went further stating that the order of improvement must be easier, better, faster and then cheaper, in that order! He was adamant. Easier comes first.

Yet this concept of “easier” still eludes many Lean thinkers today. Try Googling the phrase “better, faster, cheaper” and you’ll find five hundred entries including books by the same name and numerous white papers from well-known consultants. But if the word “easier” is included that Google search, the number of entries drops to less than 5 – and most of those are links to the theme of GBMP’s 2012 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference!

Do managers think easy means lazy? Or do they think that honest work should be painful? I’m confounded. What do you think? Please share a thought.

O.L.D.

Burning Platform

blurningplatformA favorite Twilight Zone episode that played Labor Day weekend put me in mind of the stressful push production environment that many organizations still endure today. In a technical sense, push production refers to launching orders into production before customer requirements are known and then pushing them along, some faster than others as requirements become clearer. Shigeo Shingo referred to this production method as speculative, a euphemism for guessing. With a forecast and MPS at the front end of the push, perhaps this could be elevated to educated guessing.   In my MRP days I witnessed the ugly consequences of the automated push: Computer-assisted attempts to tweak the push, including exponential smoothing, safety stock, pan size, shrinkage, yield, order point, n-days supply, fixed and variable lead times, transit times, minimum lot size – all intended to optimize the guessing, but all ultimately resulting in over-production, over-time and over-burden.

The first two “overs”, over-production and over-time, chewed at the bottom line. But the mental and physical stress of push production, the over-burden, ate away at the soul of the organization. Work days were defined by expediting, bumping queues, threats, accusations, finger-pointing poison-pen letters and CYA reports intended to deflect blame when customer deliveries were missed. Over-burden created a social condition worse than push. It was push-push-push! Watching the Twilight Zone clip rekindled memories of the divisive and counterproductive behaviors engendered by push production.

Once a job had been launched to the factory, for example, it was typically impractical to de-kit it and return it to stock. In fact, having just-in-case work orders in the plant provided a false sense of security: there was always something to keep machines and people busy. With this reservoir of make-work orders, measures like machine utilization, OEE, absorption and labor efficiency could all be manipulated to paint a rosy picture of productivity.   Excess orders on hand became habitual.

Too often, those unneeded work orders would be cannibalized to fill part shortages for urgent customer orders. A sales manager once blasted me: “Production does nothing until my customer’s need becomes urgent.” In fact, while that appeared to be the case, the factory was almost always busy building something, just not the right thing. Production by heroics worked for a few key customers, but to the others who were bumped back in the queue, we were bums, not heroes.  A frustrated assembly supervisor remarked as we neared our month-end push, “You know we pump all kinds for work into the factory during the month, but almost nothing comes out until the end of the month. It feels like constipation.”  The crowning blow, however, came from a customer, visiting our factory shortly after I transferred to manufacturing: “Congratulations,” she said, “on your new job, Mr. Hamilton. Perhaps you explain why it takes sixteen weeks for your company to produce product that’s smaller than my fist.”

That was 1985, the year I resolved that there had to be better way.   The push system was bad for our customers, but my burning platform for change had as much to do with the stressful, dehumanizing environment of push, push, push.

O.L.D.

BTW: It’s not too late, even though there are only a few days left before our 11th Annual Northeast Lean Conference in at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Take a look our outstanding lineup of workshops and presenters here, and register here. Hope I’ll see you there.

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.

Unreasonability

unreasonSometimes we receive unreasonable and confusing directions, and sometimes we give them. Check out this example.

As in the short video clip, even if the systems behind this confusion are sound and the motivations reasonable, when you put them together they can create a frustrating no-win situation.

Here are a few examples from my recent experience:

 At an aerospace manufacturer, I followed a team of engineers to the factory floor to observe a defect caused by what they all thought was an assembly mistake. When we arrived at the assembly workstation, the team member was ready for us. Holding an assembly drawing in one hand and a fixture instruction in the other, he asked us, “Which one these do you want me to use?”   A closer examination of the two documents revealed conflicting directions.   The team member continued, “If I follow the assembly drawing to the letter, the part won’t fit the fixture, but if I follow the fixture instruction exactly, the final dimensions for the part are out of spec, so I have to compromise the assembly instruction in order to make the part.”   Each assembly document came from a different department and each department was adamant that its document was correct.

At a small industrial distributor, a sales order department sales associate pointed to the wall behind her desk. “All of these notes and schedules above my computer represent special deals that we have struck with particular customers. It’s hard enough to remember all of them, but sometimes I have conflicting discount offers. I may choose the wrong one, or maybe I’m supposed to combine them, but that could add up to an 80% discount in some cases.” Unfortunately the conflicting instructions often resulted in customer complaints, change orders and credits involving multiple departments.

On a broader scale, managers often grapple with conflicting goals and measures.  For example, a machine shop manager whose efforts to reduce set-up times and run smaller batches whose improvement efforts are rewarded with a low machine utilization score. As Edward’s Deming put it, “You can’t sharpen the blade while the saw is running.”

I believe this can be called Muri: mental strain caused by insufficient or conflicting information. Most often this kind of Muri is internal to the organization and inadvertent because it comes from multiple authorities, each of whom feels they are doing the right thing.

Do you have examples of unreasonability in your organization you can share?   What are effective countermeasures to this kind of mental Muri?

O.L.D.

P.S. Please join me tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. EST for a free, live 45-minute webinar on “3P – Production Preparation Process”. You can register online here.

And don’t miss GBMP’s next Shingo Institute course offerings coming up in the week of May 11 at Vibco, Inc., in Rhode Island.  I’ll be teaching DISCOVER Excellence on May 11 & 12 and Continuous IMPROVEMENT on May 13-14. Join us for one or both; I must admit it’s very convenient to have two of the four courses under your belt in one week and I hope to see you there. Register online here.

all4shingo

Artificial Ignorance

For a few years back in tart_inthe early ‘80’s I fell prey to information automation fascination. I managed an IT department transitioning first from a basic accounting system managed by an external service bureau to a batch inventory control system to an order processing and manufacturing control system running on a succession of minicomputers with names like Dec 1170 and HP3000.  If you recognize the names of these systems or if you are familiar with RPG, assembler, Cobol or FORTRAN, then you too may be an old lean dude. The hardware of that decade was slow, flimsy and subject to frequent crashes; the term “user-friendly” as applied to the user interface had not yet been invented.

Today, by comparison, I regularly carry around in my coat pocket a thumb drive with a million times the storage capacity accessible and one thousand times the speed of what was available to my entire company in 1980. And that’s puny compared to the multi-parallel processing power available to businesses today. Today’s super computers pile up so much logged data, that decision rules under the heading of “artificial ignorance” have been created to intentionally ignore data that has been deemed (by someone) to be insignificant. Amazing!

What’s more amazing, however, is that most of the software running on today’s super machines follows essentially the same network-scheduling model we were using in 1980. Call it MRP or ERP, it may be zippier and have more tentacles today than it did then, but the deterministic model that assumes we can know what to produce today based upon a forecast created weeks or months ago is still alive and well. Shigeo Shingo called this model “speculative production.” I call it computerized fortune telling. If production lead times are very long, the fact that we can now run that forecasting model one thousand times faster doesn’t improve its efficacy.

If we add to this model of forecasting and back scheduling a standard cost accounting system whose operating assumptions go back a century, then we have created a model that systematically optimizes local efficiency to four decimal places as it pyramids inventories. Eli Goldratt used to call these calculations “precisely wrong.”

I was at a company several weeks ago that is in the process of replacing a 1980’s MRP system with a later model ERP system. “We’ll be able to allocate our parts for specific orders,” the materials manager, Bob, explained to me. “Hmm,” I thought, “why is that a good thing?”

Bob continued, “We’ll have real-time data.” I reflected, “What does that mean? At best he’ll have a rear view mirror. He’ll be reading yesterday’s news.” Assuming the transactions have been completed correctly and in a timely fashion, Bob will still only know the last place the material has been. Is it still in department A or is it in transit? Or has it arrived in department B, but not yet been transacted? This out of phase situation causes many a supervisor to chase down either parts or transactions to enable production.

“What happened to the pull system you were implementing last year?”, I ask.

“We’ve had to put our continuous improvement activities on hold until we go live,” Bob apologized, “but things will run much smoother once the new system is completely rolled out. We’re discussing an electronic kanban – going paperless.”

And this is where I cringe. I know that it’s been months since the continuous improvement effort was mothballed in order to redeploy resources to the ERP implementation. And I also know that Bob will likely have many more reasons to postpone CI efforts once they do go live. There will be ugly discoveries regarding the differences in rules and assumptions between the new and legacy systems. Material will be over-planned to compensate for shortages arising from start-up misunderstandings. Overtime will be rampant to catch up late deliveries.

Pardon me for sounding cynical. I’ve witnessed it too many times. In the last three months alone, I’ve heard similar stories from nine different organizations large and small. Immense resources are consumed to install hardware and software that runs counter to the objectives of improvement efforts. Thousands of resource hours are spilled into the abyss of information automation with a promise of productivity improvement – hours that would be have been far better spent on simplifying or eliminating questionable business processes. But nobody wants to talk about it publicly. One executive confided recently, “We’ve spent too much money to turn this off now.”

In 1976, Joe Weizenbaum, one of the early leaders in the field of artificial intelligence warned in his landmark book, Computer Power and Human Reason (on Amazon for $.01) that while computers can make decisions based upon rules, only humans should make choices. I worry that with each step change in computer power, human reason takes a step back. Dr. Weizenbaum foresaw the era we now live in where choice is reduced to a set of rules that hide beneath the legitimacy of the “system.” Ironically, this system, built up of nothing more and 0’s and 1’s and once described by Weizenbaum as the “universal machine” because it could be programmed to do anything, has on the contrary become the hugest monument process in any organization. Today’s popular ERP systems, with more than a quarter-billion lines of code, have too often become the tails that wag the dogs.

Maybe I’m just old school, but it seems that thirty-five years after my first love affair with computerization I’m still feeling jilted. How about you? Is your IT strategy supporting productivity and competitiveness or is it the tail that wags the dog? Tell me I’m wrong. Or share a story.

Happy New Year.:)

O.L.D.