Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why write it down?

Why Write it down?

The longer I pursue Lean, the more I am amazed with its fundamentals. I may write more about this in the near future.

Like the emphasis to write things down. Lean is built on standard work. We write down work instructions. We write down paths for material handlers. We ask associates to write down small improvements. We write down kaizen plans.

Why write? Why not just do?

Last week, we ran into a particularly vexing supplier problem. It almost pushed me into complete disfunctionality; it was all I could think about. I was staring out my office window, stewing over it, and then just started to write in my single notebook (more about that another day). I drew a large outline of major issues and major frustrations. I started to fill in the gaps. Action steps started to emerge as I wrote. I saw separation of the crucial and the trivial, the annoying and the important. I wrote up a series of next actions to take and took them.

Why write?

On Tuesday, one of our supervisors asked me if I could join her team as they struggled to find the root cause of a process concern. “Could you show us how to do 5 Why?” she asked. She didn’t have to ask twice.

We gathered at a large white board near the workplace. I started with the observable problem at the top left of the board and asked why. They answered. I wrote both the statements (“We did X process incorrectly”) and then each Why ("Why did we do X process incorrectly?”). I followed that with another written statement ("We did X process incorrectly because…") and we followed where it led. At Why #3, we desribed three distinct branches of cause and effect. We pursued each branch and came up with 3 root causes and 5 simple, doable, action steps. All in about 30 minutes.

I covered the whiteboard with writing. The team caught what we were doing. Simple questions with clear answers; no trickery involved, no complex story problems about trains leaving Boston. They engaged and owned both the problem and the solution. Three of them wrote extensively as we talked.

And the team will fix this problem. Quickly. We found root cause.

Why write?

I think writing clears out waste in the brain. It forces one to distill random thoughts into cogent drawings or clear sentences. It forces one into useful logic and away from speculative dreaming.

Try writing today. See if it helps.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A cool resource from the EPA

A cool resource…from the EPA, of all places!

Long time Lean buddy Gary Stewart of just passed along to me a very nice Lean resource which is new to me.

The Environmental Protection Agency has published a free handbook, Lean and the Environment. No, it’s not about Al Gore’s new weight loss program. Rather, it is a very nicely prepared introduction to Lean with specific applications to identify and eliminate hazardous waste usage and discharge. It covers the basics of Lean, Value Stream Mapping, Kaizen Events, 5S and other useful topics. It is printable and, at 90 pages, has substance while being accessible.

It is encouraging to see a resource like this from the public sector. I hope you find it useful.