Tag Archives: six sigma

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.

The Final Frontier

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first US astronaut to journey to the “final frontier.”  Atop a Mercury rocket, Shepard launched into a fifteen-minute suborbital journey reaching an altitude of about one hundred miles before returning to earth.  His space capsule, Freedom 7, was a wonder of science weighing a little more than one ton and loaded to the max with avionics and life support apparatus. Yet, this pioneering venture into endless space would also afford almost no space for the passenger.  According to launch engineer, Guenter Wendt, “astronauts entered their capsules with a shoehorn and departed with a can opener.”   I remember watching footage of Shephard squeezing into his capsule.  The memory still creates pangs of claustrophobia.

Ironically, space constraints faced by NASA fueled a revolution in miniaturization evident in almost every innovation of modern society – from laptops to cell phones to transportation to medical devices to all things Internet.  The need to pack more utility into a small package has changed everything.  Or almost everything.  Here are some recent exceptions:

“We’re adding a new wing to manufacturing,” a colleague related to me recently, “we’re running out of space.”   As I glanced around a shop floor crowded more with material than machines, I asked, “What are you going to put in the new space?”  “We’re just going to spread out,” he said.  “This is a good time to build before interest rates start to climb.”

Another manufacturer advised recently that he was building a Lean warehouse.  “What’s that?” I asked.   “We’re relocating all of our raw material to a location that’s closer to the main highway,” he said. “We need to add several machines, so were Lean-ing out the space.”    “Aren’t you just adding more space and moving inventory farther from your floor?”  I asked.  His response: “Warehouse space is cheap.”

A major hospital requested Lean assistance to re-design its perinatal services in order to accommodate more patients.  After reviewing the current operation, I recommended that existing space could be repurposed to handle the projected growth. “No,” they said, “We’re cramped. We need more space and the budget is already approved.”

It seems that decisions regarding space are driven more by claustrophobia or perceived worth than actual need.   Flow distance may double or triple as a result of expansion, but additional space somehow still equates to growth.   More space is viewed as an investment, an alluring addition to the balance sheet, or a badge of success.   Only on rare occasions do I encounter a growing business that is interested in reducing space. Perhaps, then, space is the final frontier.  Not more space, but less.   I wonder how much Lean progress would be made if space were seen as a constraint for business as it was for NASA’s Mercury launch.

How much space do you have?  Too much?  Too little? Share a story.

O.L.D.

PS I’m teaching the Shingo Institute workshop “Continuous Improvement” at MassMutual in Springfield next week and a few seats remain if you’d like to join us. Learn more here.

PPS I’m also looking forward to presenting my monthly “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar on June 20th. It’s free! The topic is “Silver Bullet Mania”. Intrigued? Read more and register here.

Systems Tinking

At GBMP’s launch of the Shingo Institute’s BUILD EXCELLENCE workshop, it occurred to me that perhaps systems thinking might be more aptly named systems rethinking.  Workshop participants offered up current systems in their organizations that actually impeded continuous improvement, each time expressing frustration with the difficulty to create system change.  For larger organizations with more explicit codification of systems, the task to create a change was more onerous.  One class participant commented, “Our standard procedures are documented in dozens of binders – all of them covered with dust.”   But even in smaller organizations, creating a new system will mean undoing a de facto process that, despite its shortcomings, feels normal.

According to the Shingo Institute, these systems are the domain of managers who should be reviewing them regularly.  But, when business systems are ingrained as part of the corporate fabric, the idea of changing even one of them instills concern regarding the global effects.  Will changing one system negatively impact others?  Concern for unanticipated consequences will trigger risk-averse behavior.  Add to that challenge the fact that existing systems may, in fact, have been authored by the same persons who are now charged with evaluating their effectiveness.  When Shigeo Shingo declared that subjective inspection of one’s own work is not good practice, he might have included the work of managers along with that of front line employees.    It would be better apparently for these organizations to have no systems to start their Lean journeys than to be saddled with status quo systems that evoke the wrong behaviors.  So, what can be done?

According to the Shingo Institute:

First, stop basing the design of systems purely on local results.  This practice creates silos and disharmony.  Each part of the organization is rewarded as if it were its own company, rather than for its contribution to system goals.   Speaking at a Shingo Conference many years ago, Russ Scaffede, formerly an executive at General Motors (and later at Toyota) quipped, “At GM we used to say ‘All of our divisions made money, only the corporation lost its shirt.’”   That is the status quo condition for many organizations: local bogeys driven by systems that simply don’t knit together.

Second, consider the foundational principles beneath the Lean tools, or, as Shigeo Shingo noted, first ‘know-why’ before you ‘know-how.’  Many organizations parrot the tools without understanding the philosophy that makes them effective.  Simply layering tools on top of a faulty philosophy also generates disharmony rather than real results.   Many organizations, for example, have invested time to develop a quality system like ISO including QC tools and problem-solving methods; but employees are afraid to report problems for fear of reprisal.  Shingo Principles articulate the culture that must be present to make systems work.

sytems_tinkeringFinally, to avoid concerns regarding the interdependency of systems, i.e., the unanticipated consequences make the changes small; in the words of Masaaki Imai, “create many small changes for the better.”   Don’t let the policy books gather dust; review and update them often.   To use a metaphor from knitting,  check and adjust your systems one thread at a time.  Don’t let the knitting unravel.  It’s called tinking, the process of taking knitting back stitch by stitch to correct a problem in the fabric. (Tink is knit spelled backward.)   In this case, let’s call it “Systems Tinking.”

O.L.D.

P.S. Speaking of the ‘know-why’ before the ‘know-how’, GBMP’s  Lean conference is coming to Worcester MA on September 19-20. The theme for our 13th annual event – “The Integration of Culture & Tools” – will be an exploration of the value of Lean tools when embedded with a Lean culture. I know September feels like a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. The event features four keynote presenters including Paul Akers, author of ‘2-Second Lean’ & Brian Wellinghoff from Barry Wehmiller, plus 30+ breakout sessions and more than a dozen poster presentations for yokoten in our Community of Lean Lounge. Simply put, it’s the best opportunity for Lean learning and networking with professionals just like yourself – passionate Lean practitioners. Early bird registration discount (save close to $200!)  in effect through May 31. That’s tomorrow folks. I hope you take advantage of the savings. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the agenda at a glance, testimonials and photos from last year’s event and much much more on the website and decide for yourself. I sure hope to see you in September!

 

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).

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. 

Traditional Lean?

Twice in the last month I’ve heard the phrase “Traditional Lean” used in public presentations.   In neither case did the presenter explain the expression, but traditionalleanone displayed a slide with a Venn diagram showing the overlap between Lean and Six Sigma.  I suppose this means that he defined Traditional Lean as meaning Lean plus something else, in his case, Six Sigma.   For both presenters, however, the word “Traditional” implied passé.  They were moving on.  Lean, or Lean-Sigma, if you prefer that definition of “traditional”, was a dated process, in need of enhancement or even replacement.  In the 1980’s, I referred to Lean and Six Sigma respectively as TPS and QC Tools.  Each was derived in part from W. Edwards Deming’s post-World War II reconstruction efforts in Japan.  In that pre-Lean era, there was little literature about TPS and few consultants.   Being one of those folks old enough to remember when there was neither Lean nor Six Sigma – at least in name – I find this latest buzzification of Lean to “traditional Lean” amusing.  It’s certainly not the first time we’ve been encouraged to employ alternative approaches to productivity improvement:

By 1985, when American manufacturing was reeling from declining market dominance, an HBS article entitled “MRP, JIT, OPT, FMS” began what has since become a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms each describing a supposed elixir to the problems of rising costs and disappearing customers.  The article is worth a read, if only from the standpoint of showing how focused we were at the time on better methods for scheduling production and reducing inventories.

JIT was the popular surrogate for TPS in the mid-80’s, often juxtaposed with MRP (Material Requirements Planning.)  Back then, the pejorative “traditional” adjective was used to describe push-production of which MRP, a network scheduling system, was a part; we called it “traditional manufacturing.”

FMS, flexible manufacturing systems, was a techno alternative to TPS that proposed superior flexibility through use of robotics and automation to move material and information through the factory.  In a notorious example of FMS, General Motors attempted in the 1980’s to create fully automated facilities.  All told, GM spent 90 billion (yes, billion) dollars to “modernize” its operations.  While TPS sought to elevate employees, GM tried to automate them out the picture.   Ultimately, GM’s lights-out people-less plants were deemed unworkable and were mothballed.

As for OPT, Optimized Production Technology, this was another alternative to TPS from Eliyahu Goldratt (author of “The Goal”) to develop a computer-assisted queuing model that scheduled around bottlenecks.   After taking a couple of Dr. Goldratt’s classes in the late 80’s, I decided that if I could actually define all of the parameters needed to run OPT, I would know so much about my plant that I wouldn’t need any software to schedule around bottlenecks.  I’ve always been an Eli Goldratt fan, but this particular TPS alternative, like MRP and FMS was yet another software/ technology solution to a problem that went far deeper than automation of information and material flow.  Interestingly, all of the alternatives to TPS noted in the HBS article, proposed information and production automation as viable solutions to flagging productivity and competitiveness.   Even TPS, was thought to be only a scheduling model.

In the 1990’s, along with renaming TPS to Lean, came more techno solutions: Agile manufacturing, boasted Lee Iacocca at Chrysler, would “leapfrog” Lean.   Agile, described at the time as the next step “beyond Lean,” promised faster response and greater flexibility through a combination of IT integration and physical re-organization.  It was big on concept but light on details.  At the same time, Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, popularized yet another improvement method, 6s (Six Sigma), presented at first as an alternative to Lean and later through the marketing genius of a large consulting firm, mashed into “LeanSigma.” The mid-90’s, also brought us business process reengineering, BPS, an IT-driven methodology aimed at radical process change.  This top-down change method had a de-humanizing impact on organizations; a condition that many understand today is a major deterrent to continuous improvement.

And all of these software-assisted tools can be rolled into one mother acronym, ERP, which is MRP plus all of the above except TPS.   Readers of one my recent posts will recall ERP referenced as “the granddaddy of excuses” for not spending time on continuous improvement : )

So what does all of this have to do with “traditional Lean?”  Here’s my take:  Over the last three decades, organizations have spent too much time searching for technical alternatives or supplements to Lean without first understanding Lean basics.   I’ve listed just a few of these experiments: MRP, FMS, OPT, Agile, BPS, 6s, ERP.   Perhaps you can add some others.  While there may be merit to some of the thinking behind each of these concepts , they have unfortunately  diverted attention and resources away from the hard work of learning people-centric TPS.  I think “traditional Lean” is TPS.  It’s what Lean was before we consultants got our mitts into it.  Call me a TPS ideologue.  I’m good with that.   Do you agree or disagree?  Share a thought.

O.L.D.

And don’t forget:

  1. Today is the last day to get the early bird price on registration for The Northeast Lean Conference coming October 4-5 in Worcester MA. Visit www.NortheastLeanConference.org to learn much more.
  2. We’re still accepting list items for Kanban misconceptions from my last blog post and will randomly select a winner for one free registration for the conference on Friday of this week. See Eye of the Beholder to add your comment.
  3. 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.

Another Use for Duct Tape

ducttapeHere’s a post inspired by the glut of recent football weekends. Lou Holtz, the legendary college and pro football coach offers the following advice to coaches everywhere:

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

Top managers often lament their employee’s reluctance to embrace change and adopt better ways to work. But, after thirty years of Lean implementations, few executives have genuinely accepted their roles as change leaders. To lead a Lean transformation, there are so many things for top managers to learn – and unlearn – it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps Lou Holtz has the best idea for starting: Stop talking. At first glance, top manager silence may seem a little incongruous, but here’s why it’s a good place to start:

A while back, I toured a local factory with their general manager, Paul. Paul was concerned about lack of employee participation. “Some days,” he said, “it seems like I’m the only one with ideas.” The root cause of the low participation became apparent as we toured the factory. At each department, Paul rushed in and started brainstorming solutions to problems, sometimes talking to me and sometimes to his employees – but always talking. Finally I whispered this suggestion to him: “I’ll have to get out the duct tape if you don’t stop talking.”  Pointing to a problem statement on a huddle board, he exclaimed emphatically, “ But I know how to solve that problem!”

“Perhaps,” I responded, “but if you want your employees to begin thinking that problem solving is a key part of their jobs, then you have to cease being the chief executive problem solver.” It was apparent to me as a visitor that factory employees immediately deferred to Paul, awaiting his strong advice; but he was oblivious. Paul scowled at me in response. After a few minutes of sullen but thoughtful silence, the Paul spoke again. “You know I got to where I am by being a good problem solver. It’s not easy being silent, when I see a solution.”

“I understand,” I said, “that you are good problem solver and an enthusiastic, involved general manager, but how can you transfer that problem solving enthusiasm and skill your employees? Isn’t that the real problem for you to solve?” Paul thought for a moment, and replied, “Maybe I need to talk less and listen more.”

“Do you think you can do that?” I asked, “It won’t be easy,” Paul replied.

How about in your organization?   Do your coaches talk or listen? Please share a thought.

O.L.D.

By the way, tomorrow I’m presenting a free webinar about “Pokayoke” (aka Mistake Proofing) at 3:00 PM EST. Join me if you can. Register here.

Take a look at all of our upcoming Events on our website to see what else we’ve got going on. Great Stuff. Hope to see you soon! If you don’t get our weekly event e-bulletins, subscribe on the GBMP home page and then you’ll be the first to know when new events get posted.

Lastly, the video clip above comes from GBMP’s Go See: A Management Primer for Gemba Walks video – one of four in our Management Engagement Series. Learn more about getting your own full copy here.