Friday, January 31, 2003

So what does a Visual Display Look Like?

It seems pretty ridiculous to talk about visual displays and only use words. But I have conquered this hurdle and I now have some images posted that you can peruse.

Our system utilizes two simple charts. One is a daily display that collects the appropriate data during the day by the folks doing the work. The second is a chart that summarizes the entire month on one sheet.

Here is our daily chart for our design group. It uses color and "thermometer" symbols to indicate magnitudes of work done. Hand-written. Using colored markers. Very simple. Each color indicates progress for one of the four teams in the group.

This daily chart then provides the data for the design monthly chart. This chart allows one to see an entire month's trend.

A key technique we use is the "Five Day Cumulative" which you may be able to read on the image. This accounts for the severe fluctuation in job size from day to day. Rather than worrying about just what happens day-to-day, we manage with the five day cumulative figures. My thanks to Hal Macomber for introducing this concept to us.

Applying the same principle to our Purchasing Department, we again have a daily chart, with figures appropriate for that group. Again, note the thermometer and several "yes/no" check boxes. It takes, literally, seconds to update this chart during the day.

This group also has its own monthly chart. You can see here some squares with both writing and yellow highlighting. This is a visual cue that a goal was met for that day.

There is much more that could be said about these incredibly simple and powerful tools. I welcome your questions via email or on the comment section. I'll do my best to answer them. I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Visual Tools are easy to Learn

One of the appeals to me of visual tools is how easy they are to learn. A case in point.

We recently added two new inside sales representatives. Sharp guys in new roles. Their manager asked me to work with them to come up with some method of a local scoreboard to help them assess their progress, daily.

Using the model we found useful in other workgroups here at FBi, we simply started up and tried something in mid-January. Although it was new to both guys, within a couple of days they had the knack of keeping simple, crucial, daily data. Now, two weeks later, they are both all over it and making very sound assessments on how they are doing. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are hitting crucial goals as well.

Boom. Two weeks. Clear data. Linking annual goals to daily activities. It is phenomenal. hope...tomorrow, I'll try to set up links to some of these tools and let you see them. My technical expertise significantly lags my ability to simply type :)

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Why Visual Displays Are Valuable

Last week was brutally hectic (sorry for no posts here...) and I got back very late last night from a two-day business trip. I walked in today and in a total of about six minutes, stood and pondered the data on three visual displays we have here. After being out of touch for several days, the displays allowed me to make some rapid, well-grounded assessments about how we are doing. More importantly, it guided me in several conversations about actions we should or should not take.

This is what a visual display should do. It should allow any associate to quickly (less than three minutes) understand what is going on and if the area is under control or not. It is far simpler than most people make it out to be.

Our displays are all hand-written. They are on normal paper. They are not hooked up to a computer. They are highly visible. They are highly flexible. They are self-maintained by the folks doing the work in each group.

It felt great to be back and to stand and reflect on the effort that each display represented.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Friday, January 17, 2003

It's About Delivering Value, Stupid...

With apologies for paraphrasing a famous presidential campaign slogan, I look at the big picture of a Lean System. It is too easy, in the midst of talking about the tools of Lean such as start up metings and visual displays, to lose sight of the reason we use the tools.

VALUE And, even more importantly, value as defined by the end user.

I share two current illustrations of people who seem to "get it" about value.

In the January 20, 2003 issue of US News, there is a remarkable story about Joy Hakim, author of elementary and High School History texts. Ms. Hakim had the "radical" idea that school history texts should be interesting, not boring. She saw the end user as the student and then set out to write accurate history that would engage that student mind and curiosity. Among other things, she:

  • Used tight, sparse language
  • Didn't feel bound to "political corectness"
  • Tested her work by having students read the text first and "grade it" as to whether or not it was clear.
She had a hard time finding a publisher at first; some school system still balk at her clarity of style. But her "customers" love it; she actually gets fan mail from students. The article is inspiring...I am grateful to my wife for flagging it for me.

Then, check out what this child care center in Ohio is doing to create value for parents. Things like adding:

  • A professional chef to prepare good meals for the kids
  • Carry out meals for busy parents
  • Dry cleaning drop off
  • Haircuts for the little tykes.
(My thanks to Thomas Leonard of Coachville for highlighting this story for me.)

Look at what is going on here. In mundane, ordinary enterprises (school books, child care), folks are stepping back and asking "What does the end user really need? Can I provide it?" They both got very creative and tried some things. Outside the "normal" expectations for either. And, having defined value for the end user, both were far more able to see what activities did NOT add value...and these are opportunities to stop doing something and remove waste.

Think broadly about value. This stretches my mind on the subject. I hope this is helpful to you as well.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

More on Daily Start-Up Meetings

A few further observations on successful start up meetings.

The purpose is not to is to improve. This often gets lost, particularly after running the meetings for several weeks. The team leader (whether or not he/she is the official leader) must regularly ask for proposals for improvement. I've seen a consistent tendency by group members to want to simply "attend" the meeting. Our culture reenforces this "entertainment" mode of meeting rather than the "involvement" mode. Some questions that seem to work include:

  • "So what can we do about this?"
  • "What can we do today about this?"
  • "What would be an improvement?"
  • "What caused that breakdown?"
  • "If we could do that over again, what would we do differently?"
  • "Can you document that idea?"
You get my specific and ask for action!

Periodically ask yourselves "How can we make this meeting better?" Don't limit improvement to only the work you do...also improve the way you make improvements.

How can I "meet" if I work by myself?

This is a real issue for many professionals, particularly those in sales and other professions that are mobile or solo. The "meeting" still is effective, if done using the outlines I suggested last week.

Central to a solo performer is the visual display of results, about which we'll talk more in my next posting. A brief story will illustrate.

In my career before coming to FBi Buildings, I ran my own consulting company and worked from home. A friend suggested I make and pay attention to a simple display of the key items I needed to be successful. They were not unlike those needed in any firm. Who are my customers? Do I have enough of them? Are they paying their bills? Do I have cash? Will I be able to stay in business for the next six months?

I constructed a chart and updated it twice a week. Then, daily (mostly), I reviewed the chart and tried to do activities that would drive the figures positively. It was the most useful time of the day and the most useful piece of paper I had.

That's how a solo professional can make lean principles work. I strongly suggest folks who work alone adopt a similar practice.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Good and Bad practices in Daily Start Up meetings

I've seen quite a few daily start up's what I've observed.

Do This

  • Smile and make eye contact. Particularly difficult for technical people, but remember, lean is about valuing people...hard to make them believe that when you are talking to your shoes.
  • Keep it moving and be crisp.
  • Use the Visual Display to guide the meeting each morning. These metrics can focus the discussion on results which the group can affect.
  • Make assessments and propose action. Example: "Our on-time delivery has slipped in the past week. I propose Bob and I work tomorrow afternoon to figure it out."
  • Seek coaching much as an athlete asks someone else with experience to observe and suggest how performance can improve. Find someone who can help your meetings get better and better.
  • Build a mood of expectation, one that says "We can address problems and steadily improve." This is the opposite of a mood of resignation and being a victim.

Don't Do This

  • Try to solve all problems while there. Better to index issues that need to be addressed outside the meeting.
  • Solve other groups' problems. That's their job. Focus on issues under the group's own control.
  • Allow one person to dominate the discussion and exclude others. Each person in the group should speak each day. Remember, the group should be no larger than 9 members.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Why a Daily Start Up Meeting?

Yesterday, I described the five identifiable elements of a Lean system. Today we talk about the Daily Start Up Meeting.

Most of us shudder at the thought of another meeting. Even worse, a DAILY one. Stay with me here, we're talking about something different.

Lean systems are built deeply on the value of each team members' worth and contribution to the continuous improvement process. The fundamental building block of this is the daily workgroup start up meeting. Here's what it looks like.

It happens in the intact workgroup. A workgroup is a collection of 4-9 people who could help do each others' job, if needed. It is small enough so all can contribute to the discussion. It is large enough to get some real work done. Note: the daily meeting does NOT happen with the whole company, unless it employs less than 9 people.

Everyone is present for the meeting. Input is valued.

The meeting happens in the workplace, not in a meeting room. No donuts, no formalities, no meeting arrangements.

It takes 10 minutes or less.

It happens daily, not 3 times a week. It builds a rhythm of communication and contribution.

It has a set agenda, and is not just a daily "water cooler" gab session. The agenda will depend on the nature of the work, but will almost always include the following topics:

  • Greeting the group at the start of the new day
  • Reviewing the previous day's key metrics on the visual display (more on the visual display later this week)
  • Making assessments about the group's performance
  • Asking about the day's plans for each group member and if they have needs
  • Wishing everyone a good day
It rotates leadership, eventually allowing everyone in the work group to lead. Many groups allocate leadership to take place in one week intervals.

More tomorrow on good and bad practices in such a meeting. I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend.Email me

Monday, January 06, 2003

How can I know if I'm doing Lean?

I've struggled with this one. The books about Lean are fascinating and the stories others tell are compelling. Yet, what does it look like? If I were a doctor and came up with a diagnosis "The patient is Lean" what would be the basis of that statement?

I've landed on five indespensible and observable characteristics. Look at an intact workgroup in a company and try to find the following.

  1. A Daily Start up Meeting
  2. A Visual Display of Results
  3. Documentation of work group practices
  4. A plan for continuous improvement
  5. An audit of progress
These are both observable and improvable. They each are simple, and ZERO capital expenditure is required to do any of them. They can turn a company around. They are difficult to do, consistently.

Which is exactly what a lean system is: simple, low cost, highly effective, and very difficult. Much like a good diet or an effective exercise program, it depends far more on consistnecy and follow through than on fancy gimmicks or big dollar payouts.

I'll discuss the daily start-up meeting and the visual display of results this week, as they are tightly related. Next week, I'll hit the other three.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend.

Email me

Friday, January 03, 2003

5S, always a good starting point

I've observed that many, many experienced lean practitioners urge those new to lean to start with 5S. Now, I've done 5S in a number of situations, but I think I got some new insight into it over the holidays.

By way of review, 5S is the five-step system for creating and maintaining an orderly workplace. The five steps are:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in Order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain
Here is an excellent summary of 5S. A very useful, short book on the subject is published by Productivity Inc. The steps are self-explanatory and are fundamental to any lean system.

I applied 5S over the vacation to my home office. My, what a mess it had become. My intent was to work through the first three steps of 5S in two four-hour blitzes. It worked and here's what I observed.

Sorting forces disciplined thinking. The lean concept here is to get rid of anything that does not add value. Only leave the items you use every week . So, I dug in and started at the top, asking, do I need this? Bottom line: I filled up six file storage boxes with junk. I found and emptied seven three-ring binders. I found an overdue library book and returned it. I have a stack of 20 books to give to our local library for their used book sale. I found some old baseball memerobilia I'm going to list for sale on eBay. I had to ask myself, over and over, does this book/paper/form represent anything I really need? If not, throw it out, give it away, sell it. In the midst of all the junk, I found about six papers that I really valued. The rest went away. (If you'd like a copy of a 1981 issue of Sports Illustrated with a very young Wayne Gretzky on the cover, it is yours for the asking...just Email me!)

"Set in Order" forces labeled storage. I need to keep old tax returns. How? The second step forced me to think through how to sanely keep the items I truly need. Some simple shelves, with hand-written labels did the trick. Minimal cost, reconfigurable.

Labeled Storage helps others help me keep it clean. The few things I need to keep-bank statements, health care records, for example-now each have their place. My wife and I both know where they go. They are far less likely to get "tossed". Without the labels, it is impossible to get to the step of Standardization.

Shine means "shine". It was fun to finally get down to the top of my desk, last seen several years ago, and spray on cleaner and make it really shine. The physical act of cleaning and eliminating literal dust and clutter is amazingly invigorating.

Eliminating clutter frees the mind to focus on what is important. Lean is all about relentlessly eliminating waste that gets in the way of creating value. The simple act of cleaning a workplace is the starting point.

5S is contagious. I did the 5S on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday evening, I went into the office to see my 14 year old son cleaning out a side table where he kept homework he had done on the printer. It, too, had been a mess. Matt cleaned it all off and left one reference book and a box of computer disks neatly in order. I hadn't asked him to do this. He saw the look of amazement on my face and said, sheepishly, "Well, I see what you did and figured this was the least I could do." Good kid.

Find some clutter to clear out today. Clear your mind to add value.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend.