Monday, September 30, 2002

Documentation Can Help Process (when done well...)

Last Wednesday, I reported on Craig and I working to define a strategic initiative (also called a hoshin, a major strategic breakthrough for business results, asked for by the marketplace). Craig did a whale of a job in planning and grasped how we could link shorter blitzes (also called kaizens) to make the bigger task happen.

Today, he reviewed the plans with two senior managers and did a super job. What did we learn?

  • Having forms to work with got it going. Since the forms allowed Craig to focus on WHAT he was going to do and propose and not sweat the format, he wasted less time doing it.

  • Questions on each form helped. By asking the critical questions for each blitz, Craig listed clearly the deliverables for each component of the larger strategic initiative.

  • It made for a short meeting. The proposal was so clear, it only took one trip through the documents for the senior managers to see what he was doing. We were done 30 minutes sooner than expected... a rarity for us

  • Accountability was clear. There was not doubt for the senior managers who was doing what, and by when.

  • The proposal got better, due to the clarity. One critical matter of timing was vastly improved as a result of one observation of our CEO. I think a good reason he made that contribution was that the proposal was so uncluttered, he could see a missing link.

What’s the next improvement in the process?
>>>> Some questions on the forms are still unclear. We can do better.
>>>> We can evaluate how well the forms work to monitor this initiative. We have to be further open for learning more.

Stay tuned. I’ll report more.

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Thursday, September 26, 2002

"Giving Reality its Insistent Due"

NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu
turned this phrase tonight on All Things Considered. His point? Maturity causes us to move from idealism to seeing the world more clearly. My ahaa? The responsible person who wants to drive quality, throughput and waste elimination must also "give reality it’s due."

I asked myself as I drove "Where have I given reality its due the past couple of days?" A few examples:

>> It is hard to get every window square
>> I am a sucker for chocolate brownies
>> We struggle to eliminate roof leaks
>> We nailed, perfectly, three month’s of process conformance in ordering
>> A six-page checklist is impossible to use

On further reflection, I realized that the effective person then takes action, based on reality. What did I do in response to the above?

>> Initiated process improvement with vendor
>> Complimented the cook and took another one
>> Began to brainstorm mistake-proofing options
>> Quick celebration with folks who contributed
>> Drafted a one-page version

One of Toyota’s mottoes is "Document Reality." What reality do you see? What can you do, today? Send me a note on how you did.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Rapid Change – Developing a Method

When I visited Wiremold’s Brooks Electronics Division in Philly a month ago, I was "up close and personal" with the best conceived system for continuous improvement that I’ve seen. My mind has been churning on it since and today we took an important step to try it.

My colleague Craig has a major project to strip 8% of the cost out of one of our product lines by December 31. Much work is done already but he asked if Wiremold’s method might help direct the final push. So, we sat down this morning for three hours and planned how to link the large project (called a hoshin at Wiremold, renamed "strategic initiative" here) with seven supportive sub-events (called Kaizen many place, we’ve called "Blitz"). Using Wiremold’s model, we reduced each event’s plan to a single piece of paper. Thus, in only eight pages, we have a believable plan for a major effort.

Will it work? I’ll keep you posted. I can say this:
1. The method keenly focuses us on what we are doing, freeing us from worrying about the format.
2. The final plan promotes clear accountability.
3. The method forces substantial conversations.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Fear of Failure -- Diminished Slightly

By 9am this morning, we had the first result of yesterday's improvement effort. By handing the request out the afternoon before it is due, we gave the project managers more time to decide what they needed. By putting it on a pumpkin-orange paper, it stood out in the pile of papers. With no pleading or cajoling or whining to someone else's boss, all five steel requests were in our department by 8:20am.

What did the group learn? One of the best lessons yet in a sequence of improvement. It started with a clear metric and a standard against which to assess the metric. We saw the metric slipping. We said "Stop, let's change something." Even though we didn't know what to change, the people most affected made the proposals. Then we implemented it. In one day. And the results were evident immediately.

Go improve something, anything, today.

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Monday, September 23, 2002

Fear of Failure Short Circuits Continuous Improvement

Last week we saw a quality metric in our Purchasing group heading south. On 10 of the previous 13 days, the group had failed to receive order requests from our project managers for the steel which covers most of our buildings by 8:30am, which put them in a time crunch to submit to our vendor by 11am. Having made the assessment late last week that we had non-conformance, I asked two of the folks most affected to propose a solution.

This morning, I asked about the proposed solutions. Two seemed to make a lot of sense. First, put the request on different colored paper so it would stand out on the generally-cluttered desks of our project managers. Second, distribute the order request forms at 4:45pm the day before it is needed, rather than at 8:00am the day it was needed.

"So, let’s try it today!" I said, "We can know by 9am tomorrow morning if it works or not!" My colleagues managed only a weak smile. "But we don’t want to do it wrong" was their reply.

Their hesitance came from a fear of failure. They were worried that even a small move like this might be seen in a poor light. I realized that somehow, our culture had bred a reluctance to try something new.

Leaders need to break that culture by sponsoring good tries like this. Small or big. Keep trying to improve. Learn. Try again.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Defining the Conflict

I had a very testy and brief conversation with our safety director on Thursday. Stan and I are friends...we like and respect each other. Yet, we were both fed up with the other and felt it.

At issue was fork truck operators not wearing seatbelts. OSHA requires it. Our guys are on and off the truck 30 times an hour and refuse to do it. Stan said "Hey, they just need to do it." I said "Hey, we have to make it easy to do." Thus, the conversation with Stan ended.

I had a long drive to a job site (see Friday’s entry) right after that, which gave me time to think. My mind moved to Eli Goldratt’s "evaporating cloud" technique, and I sought to utilize it. In it, one takes care to carefully define the shared goal and the conflict. In this case, the shared goal was a safe and productive forktruck operation. The conflict was that safety demands wearing seat belts, productivity demands ignoring the seat belt. You can’t split that baby in the middle.

Goldratt says to then find the assumptions which sit under this conflict and see if you can zap it, making the conflict moot. While in Gemba, at the job site, I saw another subcontractor operating a small skid-steer loader. That unit had a padded bar that the operator pulled down from above his head to secure him in the seat. It resembled a safety bar on a roller-coaster car.

The assumption this may eliminate is that we have to use the seat belt. What we need is to secure the operator. If we can install/retrofit a safety bar, we make it both safe and productive.

Until I defined the conflict, however, I was still hung up on the testy exchange with my friend. Instead, we are checking out this option.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Settings vs. Measurements

Going to Gemba seldom disappoints. Yesterday was no exception. I came away with a list of seven clear assessments, accompanied with conversations on how to improve our performance.

One was a marvelously and elegantly simple set of clamps that three of our foremen had dreamed up and had fabricated. They were steel rods about 17’ long with a bracket on each end and a vise grip tool (yes, the kind you buy in a store to clamp things together) welded onto each bracket. Funny looking but very effective. They used them to quickly and accurately clamp two trusses together while they fabricated them on the ground. The clamps held the two trusses at precisely the correct distance from each other while the 2x8s that were the final product were inserted. Safety was enhanced (they worked on the ground, not 25 feet in the air), quality was improved (all spacings were perfect) and speed was tripled.

Why? They employed the lean principle of "settings are better than measurements). The correct measurement was embedded in the spacing on the rod. Normally, they would use a measuring tape on these trusses. Not so here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002


My colleague, Ken, reminded me of a central Lean concept late this afternoon. Where? Where, physically, do we do Lean? Where, physically, do we see the waste we want to eliminate? Where, physically, do we make decisions that will improve my company?


This Japanese word is far less familiar than kanban or kaizen. Yet it is every bit as crucial to seeing. Gemba, most simply, means "workplace". The physical place where value is added to the product. The place where a customer would say "Yes, that is my product. I can see it. Make it well, folks, and get it to me quickly!"

The vast majority of the time it is not in my office. It is not in a meeting room. It is in the dust of a construction site. It is at the desk of a designer. It is next to the purchasing clerk buying windows.

When I am in Gemba, I can see. The rest of the time, I can only speculate. And, as Phil Crosby said, "all quality problems are caused by hunches by management." Being in gemba knocks down hunches.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

5,000 Apple Pies – Initial Introduction to Lean

Tonight, I did the demonstration with Legos of how a container kanban system could work to make all these apple pies. With a committee of 9 people, I divvied them up into roles as material sorters, a material handler and assemblers. By varying how many were doing each, I visibly shifted the constraint of the system and showed the visual clues that will tell us how to balance production.
What did I learn about training and acting as a change agent?
1. The demonstration was worth far more than any write up, memo or diagram. When I was done, the group was sold and didn’t want or need to see anything more.
2. The concept of small containers, delivered frequently, hit home.
3. In the ensuing discussion, I learned of a few more wrinkles to the process than I had known before. Had we not done the demonstration, I would have missed some important facts.
4. Labels on containers will be crucial. The visual workplace concepts work.
Two weeks from tonight we finalize the plans. We’ll make 5,000 pies on October 15-16. Stay tuned.
5,000 Apple Pies – The Proposal

My son’s school has a fund raising event each fall – preparing and selling frozen Dutch Apple Pies. This fall, they want to produce 5,000 pies in two days with volunteer labor. Last year, by all accounts, the process was near chaos. So, my wife and son who worked on the production last fall and experienced the mayhem, encouraged me to be on the committee this year. “You’re the process guru…they need you, Dad!” was the tone of their urgings.

So, we had the first committee meeting two weeks ago. I got the lay of the land; Traditional “batch” processing, lots of good people running around, working hard and getting little done.

Tonight, I propose a radical rework of the flow of the pie production. One, single, U-Shaped cell to assemble and package the pie, one at a time. Then simple container kanban systems to bring the raw materials (crusts, apples, cinnamon/sugar mix, topping) to the cell. Further feeder cells to peel and core the fresh apples we use.

While the process is simple from a lean perspective, my interest is how a change agent works. These pies have been produced this way for many years. It is an all-volunteer process. How does change happen?

I’m going to try to demonstrate the process with a simple Lego exercise to show how we can get rapid clues as to where we need resources if we match the feeder line’s pace to that of production. I’ll post how it goes.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Making quick application

I find that if I quickly try out something that I have learned, I learn it more deeply.

This morning, in a non-work setting, I briefly explained the four steps of forming a habit; awareness, awkwardness, skill, habit. The setting was a class at my church for parents of teen-agers. The other parents were struggling to implement some of the concepts we were trying to learn.

I quickly wrote the four steps on a piece of paper and described the two steps. The six other people stopped, absorbed, then reached for their own paper to copy it down.

As one guy said "I always get stuck at the "awkward" step...I don't persevere enough to get to "skill" " Well said.

My application... try to communicate, quickly, what I'm learning. It helps me assess if it is useful or not. And, hey, it might help someone else too.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Dwight's Visit

An old friend of our company stopped by yesterday. In a discussion about how to drive change, he mentioned his view of the four steps to a culture change:


This sequence resonated with me. Before I can expect someone in our company to adopt a new method, I have to make him/her aware of it. Clarity must be key.

Then I need to encourage and coach through the stage of awkwardness. I need to celebrate getting it "almost right".

Skill can be demonstrated. It will follow an encouraged awkwardness.

Habit happens when skill takes over in the subconcious. At that point, it is subconcous and the mind takes over to become aware of a new practice.

How quickly I expect people to jump from "awareness" to "habit"!!