Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dude, you gotta understand waste better than that!

Dude, you gotta understand waste better than that!

Had a sales rep call on us last week with a proposed improvement to one of our processes. He was selling a motorized mechanism with specific attachments for certain products. Although his presentation was weak, we were able to ascertain eventually what he was offering and how it genuinely may be helpful to us.

At one point in the conversation, he stated fairly emphatically “I think this unit can really help you eliminate waste.”

Cool, I said, tell me how!

He stammered a bit, as if he didn’t quite understand my question. So I asked again, “There are multiple wastes, seven to be precise; which do you think you can reduce?”

After a blank stare for a few uncomfortable seconds, he began to talk about scrap. And indeed his unit could help in that regard. One of our engineers then asked about the changeover time for the various attachments.

He stammered a bit again and then told her “Oh, I’d allow about an hour to make the change.” Three of us gasped audibly. She pursued the questioning; “So, if you got good at it, how long would it take to swap the attachments?” The rep circled a bit and then said “Well, you really don’t want to change very often. Once you get it adjusted, you should run at least 500 parts.”

When I pointed out that one of the parts had an average weekly demand by our customers of about 50 parts, it was his turn to gasp audibly. I went back to the “waste” comment and said that we didn’t want to decrease the waste of quality to merely increase the waste of excess inventory.

This rep was a good man, had a good product and we may well use it. However, it was very clear that any drive for process excellence would be something we’d have to carry out on our own. This vendor didn’t have the ability to help us.

It also made me wonder how much better he and his company might do with a simple understanding of waste and of the principles of rapid change-over. The potential was there, yet it remains unrealized.

In a world where the contrast between process excellence and process mediocrity is becoming starker, how long can machine vendors avoid recognizing it??

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What creates job dissatisfaction? You'd be surprised

What creates job dissatisfaction?  You'd be surprised



We interviewed a candidate for an open manufacturing position last week.  A very capable person and her comments were telling.


She took an "early retirement" offer from a major auto manufacturer recently, an effort at significantly downsizing the company.  We asked her about her experience at this firm and, in particular, what bothered her. 


She stated that her biggest struggle was the fact that line workers, such as her, were often forced to pass along a known defect.  Their team on the line badly wanted to produce product that conformed to specification.  Yet she was instructed, if she couldn't fix the problem as the line moved past her station, to say something to the next person downstream, and then carry on with the next car.  "We never knew if that problem got fixed or if it just ended up as the customer's annoyance," she told us with a frown.


She then turned the table and asked if we had a similar view of handling defects.  Imagine how thrilled I was when three of our manufacturing associates, part of the interview team, immediately and together enthusiastically told her "NO.  We don't pass along known errors.  We stop and fix it at that point." 


This issue of rapid error detection and correction is a matter of policy not technology.  When management decides it is good to do, the manufacturing team will do it, better than ever.  But the management walk and talk have to match. 



Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mick Jagger meets Flow


Mick Jagger meets Flow

Is there anything that gets in the way of the "flow" like email?  The sound goes and/or the little envelope shows up at the bottom of the screen...and boom, you check it and concentration is shot.  It has been driving me nuts the past few weeks.


Enter Merlin of 43 Folders, a wonderful site on personal productivity.  Merlin regularly urges us to simply turn off email, allotting certain times of the day only to check and follow up on email.  I've been doing just that the past week.  Turn it on in the morning, respond to urgencies, turn it off most of the morning, check it mid day, than again around 3 and once more before I go home.  That's it.  Amazing. 


This bit of personal revelation happened chronologically near the spectacle of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones doing the halftime show at last weekend's Super Bowl.  Having come of age in the late 60s, the Stones' music is pretty well embedded in my psyche and seeing the group again (ancient though they are...gee, did Mick, never a handsome man, look bad in the close ups or what??) triggered an odd burst of creative (and probably misdirected) energy.  So, here's a new set of lyrics to their staple "Paint It Black".  My apologies, but here goes:


The voice says "you have mail" I want to turn it off.

Demanding all my thoughts I want to turn it off.

Projects sit and languish as I wonder what to write,

Bcc or just cc, it's all a foolish sight. 


I can't think anymore, I want to turn it off.

Distractions all day long, I want to turn it off.

Thinking deep is not allowed; it just takes way too long.

"Reply now" or lose the chance to ever be profound. 


Banks from Nigeria are sure to send me cash

My number's all they need, I'll soon have me a stash.

Spammers come but they don't go, they just keep bustin' through

Email's free, at least to them, but the cost is all on you!


I wanna see you turn it, turn it,

Turn it off.   Shut it down. Walk away.

The world will be just fine.  For a time.  Hey!.

Turn if, turn it, turn it, turn it off.   Yeah.


(Instrumental portion, with nasal-like humming sounds here)


(Fade.  )


Yeah, well, enjoy.  Turning off email really is a good idea, even if my lyrics are not. 


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Just what are we optimizing?

Just what are we optimizing?

"It drives me nuts!!  They don't get it! What is their problem??"  My friend Ricardo was yelling in the phone.


Down boy, I said.  Inhale.  What's going on?


"Optimizing.  They keep talking about optimizing.  But they are clueless what to optimize!!!"  I could almost see his neck muscles bulging through the phone.


OK, tell me what you heard.


"So, I'm sitting in a meeting. One department's guy is making a big speech about why he has to get his efficiency figures up.  The next department makes the same speech, except that her group gets inefficient when the first group gets efficient.  The first group just dumps stuff to her to gain the efficiency.  And nothing resolved, they just went back and forth."


Yeah, so tell me something new, Ricardo; departments argue.  Why are you so mad?


"What makes me mad is that nobody saw it!!  Everyone in the meeting was operating on the assumption that if each department is efficient, the entire company is efficient! And we've learned from Goldratt and Womack and many others we need system optimization, not local optimization."


That's why I like you, Ricardo, you're a good student.  But you're out of school now.  What do you do with this knowledge?


"I don't know.  My lectures just don't seem to work." 


Well, if you yell at them like you are yelling at me, I'd guess they aren't.  So what would be better?


"There you go probably are going to suggest I show them something."


What would you suggest?  What's a way to demonstrate this elusive optimization?


He thought a moment.  "How about time?  Like the amount of time it takes to process a product?"


Seems like a good idea.  But show me some numbers.


He thought some more.  "If department A tries to be more efficient, it can crank up it's output to 300 units per hour.  But, by doing that, they slow down department B to 240 units per hour."


So what happens to the extra 60 units every hour?


"Aw, they just pile up in the aisle.  Gets a little messy by the end of the day.  But department A has better numbers."


So how much gets shipped to the customer in this plan?


"Well, without overtime, just around 1,900 units a day, since department B can only do 240 per hour.   But a lot of times they stick around an hour or two to get the aisle cleaned out."


So how efficient is that to pay time and a half for those folks?  A rhetorical question.  I try another tack.  If Department A is a bit "inefficient" what do the numbers look like?


"Well, department A slows down to about 280 units per hour, while department B gets to 250 per hour."  A further pause.  "And so that would put about 2,000 parts per day out the door.  Without overtime."


There's your example, my friend.  Use the real numbers.  The competition is outside the plant, not inside. 


Optimize...the whole, not the part.