Tag Archives: TPS

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

 

 

 

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.

Up, Back and Around

up backWatching the US Women’s Team take the World Cup last week caused me to reminisce about my short-term coaching stint of a U12 soccer team. Before becoming a coach, I hadn’t played soccer or even watched a game, but there were not enough coaches in our town league so I volunteered.   After a two-week clinic for new coaches, I’d learned enough to know when I was allowed to substitute players, what was meant by off sides and a few other key rules. I’d even learned how to clumsily dribble and pass, but, like many other coaches, not well enough to actually teach the kids.  Fortunately for the team, however, a parent of one of the players knew John G., a local resident who at one time had played on the Portuguese national team. John seemed to know everything about soccer from basic skills to game tactics and even strategy for the season. Beyond this, John motivated and energized the kids. His personal enthusiasm and love of the game was contagious. Whenever I would thank him for sharing his skill and experience, he’d humbly respond, “The game is the best teacher.”

“No doubt,” I thought, “the boys are learning to play by playing, but John G. observes each boy’s every move, making subtle adjustments in skill and teamwork.”

Practice, after all, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. John had the boys practicing dribbling, passing and kicking the right way. Over the course of the season, every player improved individually, and the group of giggly eleven year old boys became an accomplished team – not World Cup, but pretty darned good.   “Better teams beat better players,” John G. exclaimed when any player appeared to be less than selfless in his play. Along the way I also became a better coach observing and listening to him.

Watching the superb play last week by the US women reminded me of one more of John G.’s lessons, which like his other coaching tips have had direct application to my work. “Up, back and around” he’d shout to the field during scrimmage. “Don’t always try to beat the defender directly. If the resistance is too great, then pass the ball back to your teammate and play around the defense.” While this tactic appeared to be “two steps forward and one step back,” it led ultimately to many goals.

So it is approaching True North.   The goal does not change, but depending upon the resistance at any point we should take John G.’s advice and avoid forcing the play. Don’t try to change the status quo by yourself. Share with your team members, and take the change up, back and around.

Do you trust all of your team, or do you only pass to certain team members? Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

PS I’ll be in Gorham, Maine on the 23rd of this month at Jotul N/A for an afternoon “Lean Learning Bite” event on Gemba Walks. Maybe you can join us. Here’s more info.

PPS We’re offering The Shingo Institute workshop “Discover Excellence” in Texas for the very first time at the end of the month. Check it out here.

And just one more thing – GBMP just released the agenda for its upcoming 11th Annual Northeast Lean Conference in Springfield MA. See the agenda, get more info about the event and register on the conference website: www.NortheastLeanConference.org

I hope I’ll see you there!

 

 

Precisely Wrong

preciselyLast Thursday marked the fourth anniversary of the passing of someone who, while not typically credited as a “Lean” thinker, nevertheless had a profound impact on many Lean implementers. Eliyahu Goldratt, or Eli, was an Israeli physicist whose PhD thesis on queuing theory led him and many followers on an improvement odyssey based on his first book, The Goal, that paralleled and eventually supplemented the Lean revolution. I do not believe there is a definitive biography of Eli Goldratt, but there are many individual memories and stories. In 2011, I wrote one in my blog just two months before Dr. Goldratt’s death entitled: Epiphanitis. Here is another to commemorate a great thinker and influencer:

Eli Goldratt’s passionate and sometimes-brash approach to teaching was a hallmark, yet he approached his audience with the logic of a physicist. Holding a lit cigar while he challenged listeners to reject status quo thinking, he sometimes accented his points with profanity. As English was not his first language, I think he may not have been aware of which expletives were appropriate for which crowds – or maybe he was.   He was all about confrontation and doing battle with the conventional concepts that he considered to be the root cause of low productivity. I attended a seminar once where Eli’s TOC model was described by a participant as “too complex due to the myriad and flux of constraints in a typical factory.”   Dr. Goldratt shot back with visible anger, “If you think this is too difficult, then think harder.”

“Cost accounting is public enemy #1 to productivity,” he declared nearly ten years before I’d ever heard of Lean accounting. By 1986, with one year of production management under my belt, I began to understand his reasoning: On a daily basis, my factory’s direct labor was being scrutinized, while waste, which ran rampant, was a periodic footnote on a variance report. This confusion led me to attend a five-day Goldratt workshop to seek an alternative approach to production. When Eli entered the classroom as a guest speaker at the workshop, I approached him immediately with questions about standard costing and variances. He responded, “Traditional cost accounting is precisely wrong,” a comment that instantly and forever changed my thinking. We were measuring labor to four decimal places, yet ignoring all but the biggest production problems.   This particular practice unfortunately continues to this day as a major impediment to productivity improvement.

In 1985, Eli did not explicitly align himself with the Toyota Production System. His Theory of Constraints, TOC, was seen by many as competitive to TPS. But his emphasis on the defective underpinnings of traditional manufacturing were mostly in concert with TPS. He focused at a deep level on the root causes of poor performance: behavioral, logistical and managerial (policy-based) constraints. Goldratt’s TOC Effect-Cause-Effect Technique, or ECET (a topic for a later blog post) provided a powerful means for setting improvement priorities that I have used now for thirty years. In his sixty-four years, Eli Goldratt went on to publish nearly twenty insightful books, each developing his Theory of Constraints and broadening its application beyond the factory floor.

In 2007, Eli Goldratt summed up a kind of unified field theory, including TOC and TPS, as well as the Ford System. Entitled “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” the clip paid homage to the science of improvement, from one of its greatest if not improbable proponents: a PhD physicist who to my knowledge never worked a day in a factory. It’s seven minutes long and little hard to understand, but worth a listen.

Are you an Eli Goldratt fan? Share a personal story.

O.L.D.

BTW: Speaking of constraints, don’t miss “Teatime with the Toast Dude,” my free monthly webinar, which this month (July 7) will discuss The Politics of Organizational Change. Sign up here.

Also, GBMP has a full schedule of summer Lean learning and benchmarking opportunities – including Plant Tours, one day workshops for manufacturing and healthcare and, as a licensed affiliate of the Shingo Institute, several Shingo Institute workshops planned for Texas, Idaho and Massachusetts. See the full line up of events on our website.

And of course you won’t want to forget about our upcoming September conference – the 11th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. Get a sneak peek of the preliminary agenda here or visit the official conference website to read lots more and register.

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.