Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A new writing project

This blog has been rather quiet for the past couple of months, which reflects two concurrent facts.

One is an incredibly busy period for my own manufacturing job.  Good stuff, but hugely time-consuming, filling work days and leaving little mental space for blogging.

The other fact, however, gets closer to actual root cause of minimal posting.

The more I learn about lean systems, the more I come to grips with the utter centrality of just a few things.  Particularly, the topics of pull, kaizen and respect for people dominate my perspective on leading a particular enterprise.

It's easy to write about what text to put on a kanban card.  I find it harder, however, to write clearly about communicating kaizen, for example.  Having little to say, I have chosen to not write.  Why clutter your already-crowded in-box or RSS reader with mere drivel??  Overproduction waste...yuck.

In the past week, though, a bit of clarity emerged for me.

I've begun writing a (short) book on a specific application of kaizen.  I hope to have it done by end of April.  But I'll probably not be posting here much.  There's only so much writing I find I can do.

I may well post some news on the project here...I may want your input to do kaizen on the kaizen effort.  But this space may well be quiet for the next few months.

Thanks for reading and, by all means, keep on learning.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Creating Interest

Flow is a lot more interesting than batch.

This occured to me in recent conversations with one of our team leaders who schedules work for her area.  A series of well-intended but misdirected steps had created a batch process in her area.  She couldn't figure out how to fix it but we managed to reverse the errors well enough and regain flow.  Two weeks later, she couldn't be more pleased.

"We are getting more done each day," she beamed.  Why? I asked.  "Well, there is more variety.  We work on several different products each day and that stops boredom.  Plus, by doing that we use different materials and are less likely to run out of our supplies." 

There is all the theory of why flow trumps batch, why synchronizing production to sales works, why pull is better than push, why reacting promptly is better than predicting accurately.

Yet, when you get down to the core, it's also just a lot more interesting. 

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Go Look at the Ears

"You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."
Dwight Eisenhower, Address at Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois, 9/25/56

Ike had it right.  Need we say more about getting out of the office and to the place where we add value?  About showing respect for the folks doing the work by spending time in their worlds?  About feeling the rocks in the soil and the insects crawling and the joy of a good harvest and the sweat by which it comes about?

No wonder the Allied Armies were willing to follow and fight for General Eisenhower. 

My thanks to Jamie Flinchbaugh for pointing me to the Eisenhower quote. 

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Monday, October 08, 2012

The Curse of Sophistication

As long as I've worked at implementing a Lean strategy, I continue to find it amazing how a description of it seems to fall flat on others' ears.  A common reaction is "Well, it's just common sense."

Which is truly a comment which dismisses it as a viable strategy.

Lean works when folks accept the fact that "simple" works.  That replacing what you sold is an effective inventory strategy.  That a promptly-recorded, hand-written metric is an effective visual indicator.  That a manager walking down the hall to see a situation for herself beats the daylights out of a screen-full of four decimal pointed figures.

Our access to technology and obsession with sophistication blinds us to simple processes.   Simple processes are, less and less, "common sense".

And it is that simplicity which is truly Lean.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Ten Years of Blogging

Flying well under any publicity banner, today marks ten years of this blog.  My first-ever post, on September 14, 2002, got this whole thing going.  568 posts later, allow me a few reflections.

Ten years ago, there were not many resources about Lean on the web.  Blogging itself was new; the concept of self-publishing triggered consternation for many, worried that unedited text would lead the world astray.  My rationale for starting this odd exercise was simple.  I was learning more about Lean.  Many of the vendors with whom I worked wanted to learn as well...we linked up electronically.  Amazingly, others enjoyed it as well...people I never knew, around the world.  I kept writing.  The exercise helped me learn.

And a lot has changed.

Lean resources have multiplied on the web.  There is terrific stuff out there in many forms...solid material by outstanding thinkers and writers.  Blogging, as a medium, grew greatly and then faded as Facebook, Twitter and mobile apps unchained people from desktop and laptops machines.  Attention spans also shortened.  Even the best blogs use fewer words now than five years ago.

Nevertheless, I continue to learn much about Lean...I'm almost 14 years into applying this framework for approaching processes.  And I feel I'm going deeper into it.  How do we implement it?  How do I explain it?  How do I bring others along, philosophically?

It's easy to explain a kanban system.  But how to bring others along to grasp the criticality of a pull system?  That's a different level of conversation.

That's what I'm learning.  I less sure just how to write about it; thus not so many posts here in recent months.

But, man, am I still learning.  And the blogging platform uniquely allows a "parking place" on the web for substantive thinking.  So, I'll keep this alive.

After all, it would be a shame to not try to go for twenty years.

Keep learning.  And thanks for reading.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Probing the Perimeter

One of our supervisors recently began a very useful practice, its clear elegance being a model worth considering.

She was faced with a physical constraint in her area, in her case a particular piece of equipment which seemed to limit her group's daily production.  But to what extent did it actually limit production?  She launched a very simple experiment.

Each day, she asked her team if they could produce one unit more than the day before.

While the group (and the supervisor) thought the limit was 254 units, they tried 255.  It worked.  The next day, they tried 256.  Hmmm.  She then asked what they learned with one more unit.  The group made observations. And tried 257.  The process has continued over the past month.  And they have discovered they do have a constraint but the limit is both higher than they imagined and also more manageable they they had thought.

Goldratt says the second step of dealing with a constraint is to maximize it.  This is just what she did.  Just as a skilled physician gently probes around the perimeter of an abdominal mass to understand just what it is, this team gently probed the extent of the constraint and, in so doing, understood it in a remarkably new way.

Please note, this only works with a system bumping into a constraint.  If the customer is not asking for one more item, you only create waste by making one more item.  But, to understand a limiting factor, this is a very quick, simple and low-cost method to learn much.

Probe gently.  Probe well.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Organizations Which Succeed

While not a Lean expert, ESPN commentator Colin Cowherd recently made a comment I found insightful.

Observing three organizations which seemed to be consistently successful, he found this common theme amongst the San Antonio Spurs, the New England Patriots and the Boise State football program.

     "Celebrate rarely.  Grind always."

All three teams consistently outperform any expectations made on the basis of the "talent" they have.  All three have had long-tenured leadership which has maintained a consistent perspective on how to succeed.  None are flashy.  All repeatedly win.

Useful to consider.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012

PDCA--a clear perspective

One of shortest, best descriptions of the philosophy of Plan-Do-Check-Act I've seen in some time is here, published a few days ago by Seth Godin.

Mull on it.  To your own benefit. 

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Just Hold the Relish

Why do we have the Hot Dog bun?

Because a guy instinctively wanted to stop waste and improve his business.

A soon-to-published new book  recounts clever innovation.  Here's how one reviewer described the humble beginnings of the Hot Dog Bun, as recounted in the book:

...the best story comes out of St. Louis in the 1880s, and there was a street vendor who was selling [hot dogs]. At the time they weren't called hot dogs, they were called either red hots or frankfurters. And while selling them, he would give out white gloves, because when someone would buy the red hot they wouldn't want to get their hands scalded or wouldn't want to get too greasy. The problem was that a lot of the patrons were running off with the gloves, and this was really hurting his bottom line. What he ended up doing was going to a brother-in-law of his and saying, look I have this problem, and he was lucky enough that his brother-in-law was a baker and suggested the soft roll.
The white gloves constituted over-processing waste, doing too much to the product.  Yet, he also had to keep the grease off the customer's clothes to prevent a waste of defects.  Thus, he integrated the protection with the product.

Explain this to your buddy next time you visit the ball park.  Or better, bring along some white gloves to make your point!

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Plan to Actual, with chocolate icing

On my way to work recently, I stopped by the bakery of our local grocery store to buy a celebratory-looking cupcake.  While making my choice, I spotted this sign on the counter. 

Plan to Actual.  With a was out there for all the customers to see. 

And I was surprised.  Why was the target so low?  And why was neither the store nor the bakery department hitting the goal?   And how did they get these numbers in the first place?   This is a well-run store and the bakery department in particular is very good...I've ordered any number of specialty cakes over the years and they always do a terrific job. 

"So how can I improve your score?" I asked.  The manager smiled, thanked me for noticing and told me I could find a link on the bottom of my receipt where I could give voice to my satisfaction. 

So I did.

And I figured out why the score was so low.

I went to the site indicated at the bottom of my purchase receipt and found:

  • A requirement to enter data from the receipt which was not so labeled on the receipt.  I took a guess and got in. This took a couple of minutes
  • The survey was long, at least 5 screens worth. I skipped a couple of questions and got an error message demanding me to go back and answer all the questions. 
  • Only deep into the survey did they ask about the actual bakery.  
  • Almost 8 minutes later, I finished the survey and then got this screen message:

Bummer.  All that work and it didn't even take.  I was a very satisfied customer.  And I couldn't make a clear, simple statement to the store of that fact.  And how did the store take 5 screens of data and boil it down to a single metric?  Did anyone know?  Did the bakery staff know?  Why was the bakery's score "47%"?  Percent of what??   I was willing and anxious to help bump up that score but was unable.


It's a good thing, a very good thing, to have visual, transparent tools.  It's a horrible thing, a very horrible thing, to have the method of making those measurements disconnected from the display.

Could my customers figure out a way to bump our score?  Can my employees figure out how to help our visually-communicated metrics?

Can yours?

Be aligned.

PS.  What was the celebration about?  The three of us die-hard baseball fans at our shop had a small ceremony to sing Happy Birthday on the 100th anniversary of baseball in Boston's venerable Fenway Park.  Yeah, we really sang.  Yaz would be proud.

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