Thursday, October 31, 2002

Flow vs Batch

George Koenigsaecker of Simpler Consulting describes nine ways that Lean doesn't make sense. His first point-counterpoint:

"Batch production vs. 1 piece flow"

Why do we want to batch things together? I look at my is full of "Batch", translated as "I'll get to that when I can" or "I'll batch all those annoying little tasks together in one lump" or "I'll file all this stuff when I get around to it."

It's no different when we manufacture things. We want to lump all the same size trusses together, even though the timing of the orders may be quite different. Try as I did, I had little luck getting our wonderful pie-making volunteers to make one pie at a time.

I wonder if it isn't genetic, to some extent, or behavorial, found in our agricultural roots. We want to gather food when there is food to be had. I drive past massive piles of corn on the ground these days as the Indiana harvest season comes to a bountiful end. "Batch" surrounds us.

Flow, on the other hand, does not seem as evident. Probably for the very fact that flow, by definition, is moving. Thus, it doesn't stay in place very long. You can't go see "flow" nearly as easily as you can go see "batch." There is evidence of my work when I make a big pile of something. There is no remaining evidence if I make what the customer wants, just as he/she asks for it.

When I was at Wiremold in August, I arrived just before 5pm on a Monday, due to flight delays. One of my hosts, Hans Cooper, gave me a quick tour of the facility. Now, the production associates end their day at 4:30pm, so the plant was quite empty. Hans proudly showed me some of the assembly cells he had helped revamp earlier in the year. "Let me show you some of our surge suppressors that we make here," he said proudly. Then, he looked and looked...none were to be seen. "Wow, I guess they are all shipped." That was flow. No finished was all packaged and on a truck, heading for the customer. For the entire week I was there, the only time I could see product was during the work day. Even then, I had to look fast, as it quickly flowed through the cell, into a box, then onto a truck, backed up to the shipping dock.

Yeah, Batch feels better. Flow pays better. We take our pick.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

5,000 (almost) Apple Pies -- The final story

We did a wrap-up of our apple pie adventure on Monday night. While I was quite pleased with the operational aspects of the exercise, the financial results blew me away, to wit:

  • We netted just over $20,000, to add to the school's tuition assistance fund
  • We had 95 volunteers donate an average of 3.5 hours each to make pies
  • This works out to over $55.00 per volunteer hour

I wonder how many non-profit fund raisers can point to that kind of productivity?? What a compelling statement to ask folks to be involved!! Plus, it was fun to work in a clean, orderly, U-shaped production facility where materials came to you and there was little clean-up, due to the minimal WIP!!

I hope to get photos posted this weekend.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Why does lean feel weird?

George Koenigsaecker of Simpler Consulting has been a leader in Lean implementation in the US for 20 years now. I had the chance to hear George speak at a conference recently. Later, I spent another half hour in the hallway with him, pursuing details on both the human and the technical aspects of a lean system.

In his presentation, George identified nine ways in which a lean perspective runs counter to the way most of us think. Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to describe them and then, in my own words, try to articulate how we run into this in a post-frame construction environment. I welcome your input.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Monday, October 28, 2002

Wiremold Data

I found a much more readable version of the interview with Art Byrne that I mentioned last week.  I urge you to print it out and read and think carefully about.  I can attest to its accuracy.  Click Here to link to the interview transcript.

Why am I fascinated by Wiremold? Because:

  • They started small
  • They practiced clear focus
  • They did it without major capital infusions
  • They built a culture that built both people and quality
  • They did it in very ordinary product areas

If they can do it, anyone can. But do we have the discipline??

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Still working on commenting software, Monday pm. It appears to work now...I added a comment, if someone else could check it and add one too, I'd appreciate it!!

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Straight Talk from Wiremold’s CEO

I mentioned last week that I had a mind-stretching time at Productivity Inc’s conference on Lean and TPM on October 10-11.

One highlight was an hour-long presentation from Art Byrne, the just-retired CEO of Wiremold. My notes were full and I wondered how I could communicate what I learned. Then my colleage, Gary Stewart, from the Wabash Valley Lean Network passed these links to me. If you want to stretch your mind about what is possible in manufacturing, go to these pages and read. Then go reflect on it. These two interview summaries contain virtually all of Art’s content that he shared at the conference.

After spending a week in a kaizen event at Wiremold in August, I can tell you, this is the real deal. Then, go take some action. Email me with your comments.

From The Society of Manufacturing Engineers

Wiremold is a rare company. It has achieved national and international prominence not so much for the products it makes, but for the manner in which it makes them. Under the 10-year stewardship of Art Byrne, the company was one of the first in the U.S. to embrace the production and management techniques of the Toyota Production System. Since then, his company's sales have grown by more than a factor of four to $460 million, or by more than 38 percent per year. Its operating margin exceeds 12 percent. It continues to double inventory turns every two years and has improved quality by at least a factor of 10. In this article excerpt from Manufacturing News, Byrne offers some sound advice on what it takes to succeed and fail at lean.

Click here for interview summary.

From Manufacturing News

This is a longer interview from Art…prepare to blow away many of your preconceptions.
Click here for full interview text.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Monday, October 21, 2002

5,000 (well, 4,502) Apple Pies – The Results

We finished the production of pies on Wednesday night, October 16. I’ve recovered from 17 hours on my feet that day and reflected on what happened. Here are my thoughts on implementing a lean system.

  • Energy matters. We had a bunch of Purdue students from a service organization there join us for production each evening. Hard to measure the impact of injecting 20 college kids into a group of 35-50 year old adults, but it is positive. Especially in a volunteer system like this, the simple ability and tendency to move quickly matters.

  • Material handling matters. While a simple understanding of lean pays most attention to the cell or assembly structure, a deeper understanding knows that how raw materials get to the cell is equally important. We saw this. Fortunately, we saw it quickly when it broke down and could correct it in minutes.

  • Equipment breakdowns cost money. Our goal was 5,000 pies. We made 4,502. The difference??? The refrigerated trailer we rented broke down on night one…we had to cut off production two hours early. In those two hours, we could have easily made 500-600 more pies. This error cost our fund raising efforts at least $2,500. It was an expensive breakdown.

  • Productivity goes way up. Compared to 2001, we made 50% more pies with 1/3 less manpower. Roughly speaking, this is an improvement in productivity of 80% to 90%. All by going to three u-shaped cells and using simple visual kanban for material movement. This blows me away.

  • Satisfaction goes way up We had repeated comments from folks who worked the line that “wow, this is a lot more fun!” Anecdotal, perhaps, but we’ll have a lot easier time recruiting workers next fall since they enjoyed it this year.

  • Humans want to batch, not flow. My biggest disappointment was how difficult it was to get to single piece flow (or single pie flow, as I jokingly termed it) in each cell. Our volunteers really, really wanted to push pies through in batches, not one at a time.

  • WIP goes way down Despite the mini-batches, the cells physically limited the WIP. The small cells just wouldn't hold much of a "batch." So much so that when we shut down the lines at the end of Wednesday night, we went from full-bore production to the last pie in the box in only 16 minutes. We were producing at a rate of 450 pies per hour and still only had 16 minutes of raw apples in the system. That was cool.

  • Gotta have metrics I did a simple tracking of how many pies per cell per hour we produced. Even this simple method of scrawled notes on a 3x5 card in my pocket gave us committee members insight on the fly during the hectic day of production. Lean systems have to have metrics.

All in all, it was quite an experience. We raised nearly $30,000 for the school scholarship fund. This works out to around $35/hour for the time contributed by the volunteers. This feels good for people to know that their time is well worth it.

Thanks for following this saga. It was fun.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

5,000 Apple Pies--Day One of Production

Yesterday, we had the first of two days of pie production. A few observations, before I head over for day two.

1. The Lean System we set up used half the space that the previous assembly line/batch/queue system used. The last several years, it used the entire gym floor. Now, we made just as many pies and nothing extended past half court.

2. Anectodally, our productivity was probably 1.5 to 2.0 times what it was last year. I don't know for sure, as it relied on some of the "veterens" remembering about how many pies we made with about how many people. We had lower turnout this year of volunteers, but still hit our numbers for the first day.

3. The three, identical, U-shaped cells worked great. The visual cues seemed to be obvious for the volunteers.

4. Having three cells let us ramp up and ramp down production according to the number of people we had at any moment.

5. Clean up was a LOT simpler. Far less mess than before.

6. Single piece flow was better but not perfect. What we did find, though, was that by confining the space and limiting the WIP, we simply did not have the space to build up too much inventory.

7. Possibilities for improvement are endless. My mind whirs.....

The Stats of Day One: 2,020 pies in just a little over 8 actual work hours. That's a cycle time of just over 14 seconds. I was shooting for 13, which would allow us to get 5,000 done in two 9 hour shifts. A freezer truck breakdown caused us to quit early last night (yes, we filled one entire semi trailer with apple pies). If we can keep the pace, we'll get done well today.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Note: I have added new commenting software to this page. Thus, any comments will appear with the page and others can add as well. Let me know what you think....or better yet, add a comment!

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

5,000 Apple Pies...rightsizing containers

In the midst of a rapid spurt of training and input on Lean, we set up to make 5,000 apple pies at my son’s school for their big fall fundraiser.

As previously mentioned on this blog on Sept 17, I volunteered to help make the flow go well for the "manufacturing" process. So far, we have a plan, but it will all be about execution.

It all starts on Monday evening, when we do the layout of the gym. We’ll build three U-shaped cells, each of which can be staffed with 2-5 people. We’ll have material handlers that will move materials with marked containers from peeled apples through to crumb toppings. All of this will funnel bagged and boxed pies to a rented semi-trailer freezer sitting in the parking lot.

Takt time calculation says that if we make one pie every 13 seconds, we’ll have the whole thing done in two 9 hour shifts. The experienced people have all laughed at this. It normally has taken two 15 hour days.

Our big challenge will be how to utilize a widely varied number of volunteers. We’ll have a smattering of people in the mornings...a big bunch at night. Thus, my strategy is to have three cells prepared and then pull all the raw materials.

Stay tuned.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Friday, October 11, 2002

Thoughts from Orlando

Just finished up earlier this afternoon with the Lean Conference sponsored by Productivity, Inc. Many, many observations...this is an index of them, in no particular order.

  • Don't be too happy with too little The gains to be had with a fullblown Lean implementation are order of magnitude jumps. Expect it. Question myself if the gains are not that big.

  • Don't say "I've got it" too soon Too many people, myself included, will declare themselves "Lean", long before it is really true.

  • High hanging fruit tastes better The gains get bigger, not smaller, as you continue. Consider the flywheel.

  • Change can happen quickly if the soil is prepared Leadership means everything, from the top down.

  • "What you are speaks so loudly I can't even hear what you are saying." Gotta walk the talk or it's all a sham.

  • The Big Price Squeeze Like it or not, we are in a global net of inexorable downward pressure on prices. Much more to write about this one.

  • "What does the grasshopper do when he reaches the edge of the sea?" I leave it to the reader to ponder this one.

  • G2G and Lean Jim Collins' work, Good To Great, is almost point for point consistent with Lean. Collins speaks at the most senior executive level...Lean builds from the shop floor. They align. I think the two are a powerful combination.

  • How you count affects what you do. Standard costs, full absorption accounting can lead to some very wrong decisions. A two hour session with Brian Maskell was most enlightening. Much to ponder on this one.

  • What you count affects what you do A few simple and unfuzzable metrics are critical. The fewer the better.

  • It is much simpler than we think

  • It is much harder than we think

My session? It went well. I owe Vickie Messersmith a Pepsi...over 30 people were there for my talk in the very last breakout session of the event. She said there would be 25. Good energy, surprisingly so given the position of the talk. Very few folks are working on Lean apps in a non manufacturing setting. We're plowing some new ground...we can't give up on it. See points one and two, I say to myself.

Gotta head for the airport. More on this later. Let me know what you'd like to hear more about.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

These Guys Got it Right

My cell phone was down to four minutes talk time...I had to get a new
battery. Stopping by the wireless
phone store where I got it, I found out they no longer stocked it. They
sent me to a battery store
downtown. Arriving there, they said "Sure, we have one of them" but
couldn't find it. It seemed their
inventory system was off. By one.

"But, ya know, we sure can order one for you."
"So how long before it gets here?"
"Oh, a week from Monday."
"Hmmmm. How much will it be?"
Tap, tap, tap. "Looks like $62.50. Plus tax."
Gulp. "I'll think about it." And I headed out.

At home, I jumped on the web and quickly found href="" Phone
. In three clicks, I found the battery for my phone. Price?
$28. Four more clicks and some credit card info and it was ordered.
delivered in four days. Later that Saturday, I had email confirmation of
order. On Monday, I had a UPS tracing number to track the package's
progress. Right as promised, I had the battery on Thursday, complete with
conditioning instructions for how to charge it the first time.

I've had the battery for a week now. Have been through the prescribed three
conditioning cycles. I haven't
bothered to turn it off yet. And it just works. I smile every time I make
a call.

I have no idea if the folks at Phone Batteries are using lean systems or
But clearly, they focused on what I wanted. A battery. With minimal
hassles at a good price. And, they clearly had systems to deliver on that

Cut out some fluff today. Figure out what your internal or external
wants and deliver it. Just it. And do it quickly.

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Off to Orlando

I leave this afternoon for a new experience for me. I've been asked to
speak at a connference on Lean Manufacturing, sponsored by Productivity Inc.

I'm presenting on the changes we have made over the last 2 years in our
design and take off department.

My interests in the conference are:

  • Hear the emphasis on culture change
  • Listen to a lot of practitioners
  • Engage in one-on-one conversations where I can
  • See who is interested in non-manufacturing applications

And, I get to do this for free since I'm speaking...that is kinda cool.

If I can get internet access while I'm there, I'll post observations to the
blog. If not, look for some items over the weekend and next week.

Oh yeah...I'll say Hi to Mickey while I'm there....

Feel free to forward to a friend.
Email me

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Three Levels of Change, all at Sue’s Desk

In ten minutes this morning, my colleague Sue articulated the examples of three levels of continuous improvement.

  • Strategic Change Sue clearly explained to three other folks in our Purchasing department the impact of our current strategic initiative. We have just released a PC based application to allow our sales crew to spec and price a simple post-frame building in 15 minutes, with all materials lists and prints complete. She explained what that will do for our volume and costs. The group understood and shared her enthusiasm. She explained how we will see the benefits by late this quarter and in a major way in 2003.

  • Workgroup Improvement From this discussion, Sue slid seamlessly into a description of a three-day blitz or kaizen in which she is a key participant. She’s a key player to describe exactly how certain manufactured components will flow directly from the output of the PC application to our manufacturing facility, with no human intervention required. She stated that the group will be done with this by Thursday...three days after they started.

  • Local improvement Shifting gears only slightly, Sue then explained that she confirmed late yesterday that an improvement in how we specify and price shingles was implemented. She had identified this as a need last week, talked directly to the right people and made it happen. A simple change, that was done by her, quickly.


    When I visited Wiremold in August, I saw the most seamless implementation of three levels of change I have ever seen. I’ve been talking about it since, with documentation of how to do each one. This morning, I saw a glimmer of it’s adaptation, in ten minutes. Way to go Sue...she is a learner and I’m not surprised that she grasped it so well.

    Does this make sense? Email me and let me know!

    Feel free to forward to a friend.
    Email me

  • Monday, October 07, 2002

    The Seeds of Improvement...

    ...are in the ugliness of screw-ups.

    Last Wednesday, we discovered about $4,000 work of building material had
    gone bad while sitting outside in our yard. Ouch. We asked Why? five times
    and discovered that the material in question should have been under cover.
    We had tucked it under an open-sided building, but it wasn't good enough.
    The rain still blew in.

    So where could we put it? Folks voiced a lot of opinions and as usual,
    there was more heat than light. Except for Ernie....

    Ernie supervises our entire yard operation. He and his eight direct reports
    handle $1M worth of material a month inbound and $1M outbound. He walked
    around the yard with us last Wednesday and Thursday and watched the
    hand-wringing and opinion-making over this degradation of materials. And he
    thought...and he thought.

    On Friday afternoon, I talked with Ernie, and put forward an idea I thought
    might work, yet I knew it was only a partial solution. After I proposed it,
    Ernie, keeping a straight face, said harshly "NO!! That'll never work.
    Come here." I thought I had really ticked him off.

    He walked me just inside of a building. "You see that rack there? We're
    going to move it on Tuesday...we'll replace it with the rack to hold that
    stuff that went bad. We can get to it easily with the fork trucks here. I
    thought about it last night and realized we could do this. My guys are
    swamped on Monday...we'll do it Tuesday." And then he grinned and slapped
    me on the back...he had me.

    What strikes me out of this is:

    • We had to lose the money on the material to define the need clearly.
      The screw-up got us to face reality.
    • Getting mad didn't help...thinking hard did. We defined what we could
      do, even when we didn't know how to do it.
    • The best idea came from the guy closest to it. Ernie captured the idea,
      mulled on it at home and came up with the solution.
    • A solution can come about quickly. This one had bugged us for several
      years. When we finally faced up to it, we had an improvement in 5 workdays.

      Embrace the screw-ups. Therein is the seed of your next improvement.
      Try it today.

    Thursday, October 03, 2002

    Supply Chain Lean Part 2

    Some further observations from our Steel Supply Chain meeting on Wednesday.

    1. Waste exists everywhere No surprise here for all of you paying attention to lean systems. But, it bears repeating. Yet, in a supply chain discussion, each company can tend to "pound its chest", Tarzan-style, proclaiming expert ability to deliver value. Not true. Waste always exists...we just have to keep finding it.

    2. Numbers help find waste. Until we have clear metrics, it is tough to clearly identify waste. Without a target for a particular metric, I can't tell if I am falling short.

    3. Performance numbers are harder to talk about with vendors than pricing numbers. How many times do we place the order late? How many times is labeling wrong? How many times do bills of lading not match what’s on the truck? We've found that setting standards for this type of metric finds waste faster than any other method.

    4. Three places need attention to waste removal This is a new perspective for me.
      • The supplier
      • The customer
      • The link between the supplier and customer
      The two parties have to deal with their own problems and not shunt them off on the other. In addition, the two have to come together to rid waste from their interface. It is all, not just one or two, of these but all three.

    It's not easy. But the gains to be had are well worth it. Have a conversation with a supplier, either internal or external, today.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Feel free to forward to a friend.
    Email me