Tag Archives: standardized work

Leader Standard Waste: Part One

leader standard wasteThree years ago I wrote a post entitled “The Emperor’s New Huddle Boards,” in which I expressed concern about the trappings of improvement without actual improvement.  Since then, my concern about the application of Leader Standard Work and Gemba Walks has deepened as these potentially valuable practices have too often degenerated into obligatory scripted play acting.

Ten years ago, when I first heard David Mann presenting these concepts, I thought to myself, “Hmm, it’s about time that someone gives thought to the best use of manager’s time in support of kaizen.”

Most managers, in my opinion, needed some guidelines in this regard.  A hesitancy to go to the floor for direct observation was a pervasive manager shortfall.  Many persons who have viewed GBMP’s video, Toast Kaizen, may not know that in fact, its genesis was in trying to persuade senior managers to get out of their offices and go to the floor to observe.  So the idea of establishing a standard that included visits to the Gemba was appealing to me.

Unfortunately, good ideas are sometimes unintentionally abstracted to the point that they become pointless.   For each of the three parts of David Mann’s model, I have observed a proliferation of shortcomings that invalidate the intended Lean management system.   For the next three weeks, I’ll cover these one-by-one.

Today it’s Visual Controls:

Call me old school, but I grew up in a factory where visual controls mainly meant building visual information directly into the work.  For example:

  • A standardized work chart posted at the workstation so an observer could compare the actual process with the standard.
  • A production-activity log in the production cell, updated on each work cycle with particular emphasis on problems that occurred so that problems could be fixed instantly.
  • A visualization of standard work in process, for example, a chute that held only four pieces – no more or less – to clarify the balance of operations.
  • An Andon that, if flashing, signaled an immediate need for production support.

When I was a kid, the opportunities like these to build information directly into the process in a low-tech way seemed endless.  They provided excellent opportunities for workers to share information about their work, and a manager who understood these visual devices could understand the health of the process at glance.

Today I see far less visual information at the point of use.   It’s been replaced by ubiquitous huddle boards and kiosks and video displays, often situated on a wall far from the actual work.  The ideal of “frequent focus on the process” has been become an infrequent focus on visual displays updated once per day just before the huddle meeting.  The ability to visually compare actual to standard has been lost.  Recently, in fact, I visited an organization that proudly announced they were replacing all manual huddle boards with digital displays that could be viewed remotely.  I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but when these types of standalone visual devices become the sole standard for visual controls, managers learn little or nothing about the Gemba.  “Grasping the current condition” is replaced by counting the red and green dots.  One manager announced to me that he could tell the condition of the factory merely by glancing at the huddle board for several seconds.  “No,” I responded, “you can only tell the condition of the huddle board.”

One final rhetorical question regarding the red and green dots:  In an environment where reviewing a huddle board is understood to be going to the Gemba, how many red dots would you expect to see?   A colleague related to me a comment he received from a shop floor employee.  “Have you heard of the color watermelon?” the employee asked, and then answered.  “We have watermelon dots on our huddle board.  They’re green on the outside, but red on the inside.”

In fact, I do think huddle boards and kiosk displays can be an impactful part of a visual factory or office; but they are only a piece, and probably not the most important piece.  And as stand-alones, they create an additive activity that makes management’s visits to the floor a standardized waste of time and an insult to the front line.


PS Did this get you hot under the collar?  Then please add a comment.  And watch for the continuation of this post next week when I’ll be sharing some concerns about the second part of the Lean Management System: Accountability.

BTW For a terrific story from one senior leader who understands management’s role to create a transparent workplace that incorporates visualization of the work, I recommend Jim Lancaster’s The Work of Management.  Or better still, sign up for our 14th Annual Northeast Lean Conference to be held in Providence on October 10-11, 2018 and hear Jim Lancaster’s Lantech story directly from him at his October 11 conference keynote.


What is Advanced Manufacturing?

I am looking for some help to answer this question.   Seeking illumination, I recently attended a presentation offered through CCAT, a non-profit Connecticut corporation with a mission not unlike that of GBMP – “to apply innovative tools and practices to increase efficiencies, improve workforce development and boost competitiveness.”

The word optimization was used more times than I could count.  One slide in particular from the presentation, entitled “Rapid Manufacturing Scenario,” caught my eye.  The speaker described a series of two improvements (noted in the bar charts at the bottom of the slide) using “machining process optimization software tools.”   “Hmm,” I thought “interesting stuff: virtual verification of NC code, 3D part scanning and digitization, optimal tool paths, automatic program correction”.   But I couldn’t help noticing that as operational times were being slashed, the orange bar – Setup on Machine – stayed the same.   In fact, nowhere in the presentation, was there a mention of machine setup improvement.

I wondered, ‘Would this ‘improved ratio’ of setup to runtime cause a machine shop to run fewer parts or more parts?”   For a site grounded in Lean, I think the answer would be ‘always work on setup reduction in order to run exactly what is needed for the next process.”   In the absence of that grounding however, I worry that the ratio would create more over-production to “optimize’ part cost.

After the presentation, I jumped onto the CCAT website and did find a one-day course on set-up reduction (none scheduled however) and an article on Lean simulation software, not a favorite approach with me.  I think the real floor is where the action is, not the virtual floor.  Call me old-fashioned.

Investigating a little further, I discovered that the state of New Jersey understands Advanced Manufacturing (AM) to “make use of high-tech processes in their manufacturing plants including installing intelligent production systems such as advanced robotics.”   Same thing in Iowa and Georgia and, of course, my home state of Massachusetts.  In fact, this AM description appears in pretty much every reference to advanced manufacturing I could find.    Ultimately, I landed on the website of NACFAM, a non-profit who describes itself as  “the voice of advanced manufacturing in Washington, D.C.”   They appear to have offered the authoritative definition of AM, the one that everyone else is parroting:

“The Advanced Manufacturing entity makes extensive use of computer, high precision, and information technologies integrated with a high performance workforce in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility of custom manufacturing in order to respond quickly to customer demands.”

In June 2011 our national government announced it would spend $500 million to support advanced manufacturing.  I hope they understand what it means.  I’m still confused.  I worry that Advanced Manufacturing sounds an awful (and I mean awful) lot like Lee Iacocca’s “agile manufacturing” strategy (vintage 1990) to leapfrog Toyota’s system.  History did not validate this approach; I hope it has not been repackaged for 2012.

I recall a complaint offered by Shigeo Shingo in 1989 that while at that time nobody was paying attention to SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies), there were a swarm of doctoral dissertations on algorithms for optimizing economical order quantity (advanced manufacturing?)  Have we grown beyond that thinking today, or are we still squirming in quicksand?

What do you think?  Let me hear from you.


BTW:  Mark your calendar.  The Northeast Shingo Prize Conference is coming up September 25-26, 2012.  Hope we’ll see you there.

Incremental Elimination of Weeds

Spring is my favorite season because of the spirit of renewal it brings with it.  So here is a post dedicated to spring that is inspired by a comment made recently by my colleague, Menrika Louis:

“I am one with the weeds,” Menrika commented jokingly while we were working together on an improvement project.   She was referring to the nitty-gritty realities that present themselves to us when we are that close to the ground.   The expression typically refers to getting too tangled up in details.   But while it can be argued that a broad perspective may not be achievable from the ‘weeds,’ I think there are too few kaizen leaders who spend enough time there.  Menrika’s comment reminded me of a few lessons I learned from my Dad when I was a tot – maybe 7.

My father had a knack for breaking big problems down into palatable chunks, something I suppose he brought home from his job as a factory manager.   One Saturday morning he showed me the Frank Hamilton method for pulling weeds.   He was not a big fan of herbicides, preferring to use a weed grubber to control weeds.  To demonstrate, he placed a three-foot square frame on the ground and proceeded to move systematically from left to right and top to bottom identifying and removing weeds inside the frame.  He named them for me as he removed them: dandelion (pictured right), crabgrass, plantain, clover, chickweed, wild onion, and a few others.  These were analogous to the seven wastes – they starved the lawn of nutrients and moisture.   “If you get close enough to the weeds,” my dad said as he pulled up a small sprig of crabgrass “you can see them before they take root and you won’t even need the grubber.”

“Funny,” I thought, “the lawn looks so much different at knee level.”   There were stones and mold and bare spots and insects — all sorts of different problems that were only visible when, as Menrika would say, I was one with the weeds.

“But why do you use the frame for weeding?” I asked.

“There are two reasons,” he explained.   “First the frame helps to focus the task so you’re less likely to miss weeds.  And second, it divides the job into manageable tasks.  If you look at the lawn as a whole, the job seems overwhelming.  But in smaller increments it’s not so bad.”

“So when do you think we’ll be done with this job?”  I asked.

My dad smiled and replied, “We’re never completely done with this job, Sport.   But if we work at it a little bit each day it won’t take much time and we’ll have a nice lawn.”

Happy Spring!


What does 3P Stand For?

3P, “Production Preparation Process,” is a method introduced to the US in the mid-80’s by Chihiro Nakao, a contemporary of Mr. Ohno, and founder of Shingijutsu consulting.  I recall the method was called “New Production Preparation” (NPP) early along, but apparently succumbed to a marketing intervention, hence 3P.   The basic idea of 3P is to achieve, in Mr. Nakao’s words, “breakthrough or transformational changes in production process” through rapid, integrated prototyping of both product and process.

I had a 3P experience recently that reminded me how much I learn from customers.  My inspiration occurred during a “mini-event” to develop a build-out addition to a surgery center.  The decision to use a 3P approach to develop a better floor layout was made pretty late in the process. We had one week to investigate the current condition and understand design requirements. Then, we began, a team of eight clinicians – docs, nurses, techs and housekeepers — to “trystorm”, a term connoting brainstorming activity combined with actual doing.   The first of Mr. Nakao’s  “16 Catch Phrases” advocates minimal pre-planning and “lightning fast” prototyping, a criteria we closely followed: the event lasted 1½ days.

Most of the 3P team had minimal previous exposure to Lean concepts.  But all were very passionate about patient care and “constructively dissatisfied” (a theme I take up in GBMP’s DVD Moments of Truth) with the status quo at the surgery center:  Bed shortages in the recovery area, ORs waiting for available beds in recovery, surgeons waiting for ORs and, of course, patients waiting for everything.

When I introduced the concept ofpatient-centeredhealthcare from a Lean perspective, a connection between passion and principle occurred – not a perfect understanding, more a fuzzy idea that focusing on the care from the patient’s point of view might yield a breakthrough.   By the end of the first day (actually half-day), there was consensus regarding the status quo and a first pass concept for improvement.  We agreed to “sleep on it.”  This, I have found is a very important, if not scheduled, part of the 3P process.

On day two we jumped into trystorming with a vengeance.  One participant advised that she’d awakened at 2:00 a.m. with a thought.  “What was it?”  I asked.  “That we might not come up with a better layout.” she replied.  Nervous laughter.  We trudged on with a concept that was based upon “adjacencies,” a word that connotes relative locations of departments to facilitate workflow.  I reminded the team to focus on patient flow, and placed a couple Lego people on the prototype layout to signify the patient and his family.  As we broke for lunch, there was a feeling within the team that the trystorm layout created so far would not be a breakthrough.  We were facing a 4:00 p.m. deadline for a solution, and CHI-E was kicking in.

Lunch was over quickly  — back to work.  A team member blurted out as we restarted, “If we can’t fix the recovery area problem, the rest of this expansion won’t matter.”   “Go with that idea,” I suggested.  A new layout idea developed quickly working back from an “ideal patient recovery area.”   The principle was right: patient-focused.  Ideas were popping now: trystorming and more trystorming.  Within an hour, the team was sensing a breakthrough, and anxiety turned to excitement.   By four o’clock, an operationally superior plan emerged that was, in the architect’s words, “totally different from what we would have drawn.”

A follow-up email from the project leader for this 3P effort sums it up:

“I know that my staff who were able to come really gained valuable perspectives and were definitely engaged in ‘thinking outside the box’. I must admit that I was unsure how we could begin to make change, but count me in as a true believer in the process. I have always believed that if you need change to happen, it needs to happen with the caregivers first- it needs to be their ideas or the change never happens. I think this is only the beginning for us and I hope to be able to use what I learned from now on every day.”

So what did I learn from this customer?  That, if the right people (in this case the direct patient providers) have the passion to improve, then the keystone to improvement is the right principle.  The technical side of lean is important, but the people side is essential:

3P = People + Passion + Principle

Do you have a 3P experience you can share?  Please send it along.


BTW:  Speaking of principle-based transformation, there’s still time to register for the fast-approaching International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, April 30 – May 4.  I’ll be there, and hope to see you too.

JIT, Boy Scouts, and Stooges

I take my work very seriously, but sometimes when I have excess idle time (like on the red-eye from Phoenix to Boston), I’ll have a whimsical idea.  Here’s one I’d like to share, to demonstrate the universality of a good idea.  My stream of thought begins with recent participation in the Boy Scouts Merit Badge University.  As a counselor for music merit badge, I attended a course for their  “new” training method, referred as the EDGE method.   I noticed that it bore a striking resemblance to the methods used during World War II to backfill and rapidly train workers in US plants.  The same method subsequently was used to help the Japanese manufacturing economy rebound after the war.   And today it is experiencing resurgence on US shores, helping to standardize and improve operations in many industries.  Most recently, it appears to have made it into the latest edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook.  Hurrah for the Scouts, an organization from whom I think I learned more that I did from college. I suppose there is a TWI’er in Scouting today who had the foresight to pass this thinking along.  I can only hope that as scouts grow into business people, that EDGE will eventually become their means for training employees.

Boy Scouts of America Edge Method  (2011)
The Trainer’s EDGE uses contemporary training techniques and emphasizes the importance of experiential learning, or “learning by doing.”

The acronym stands for:
Explain how it is done – Tell them.
Demonstrate the steps – Show them
Guide learners as they practice – Watch them do it.
Enable them to succeed on their own – Use memory aids, practice it, they teach it.

Training Within Industry Job Instruction Training  (1940)
A step-by-step on the job training method in which a trainer:

(1) Prepares a trainee with an overview of the job, its purpose, and the results desired,
(2) Demonstrates the task or the skill to the trainee,
(3) Allows the trainee to mimic the demonstration on his or her own, and
(4) Follows up to provide feedback and help.

So far in my story, no particular whimsy.  However, by coincidence, a recent email from my brother, an inveterate Three Stooges fan, contained a link to a Stooges classic, that sums up the learn-and-do spirit and structure of Job Instruction Training in 1938, fully three years before the advent of TWI! Watch it for yourself:  “Swinging the Alphabet.”

Could it be that that the creators of TWI were Stooges fans?

Have light-hearted day.