Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Conference in Nashville

I'll be out the rest of the week, attending Productivity, Inc annual conference on Lean. Here's the conference overview; scroll down to session 3E and see what Ken Kellams and I will be talking about.

If any of you are going to be there, please email me and we can get together! I'm looking forward to what I can learn and in discussing applications for us here at FBi with Ken.

Here are my notes from last year's conference. I'll post this years observations here later.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Toyota Observations, Part 2

Much activity has delayed writing up my observations from our October 2 visit to Toyota's Fork Truck factory in Columbus, Indiana. The delay hasn't stopped my mulling it, though. Here are some summary thoughts.


Several years ago, I read a discussion of Toyota's openness in conducting tour after tour of their facility. The reason is that most visitors see things as they are. They take a "mental photograph", if you will, of a static system, resolving to try to do what they see. But the real power in Toyota's system is in its dynamic nature. It is impossible for the outsider to see just how rapidly and repeatedly the Toyota folks change the system. It is anything but static...it is a living, breathing, dynamic system that both changes constantly and is amazingly stable.

I've visited this plant four times now in three years and have had just a glimpse of this dynamic. Here's an example.

  • In our mid-August trip, we saw a new idea for improving a subassembly of a wiring harness. The work bench looked a little rough; duct tape holding some hoses in place, masking tape labels, nothing painted.
  • I asked our host, Jim Clark, just how long this workbench idea had been in process. "Oh, we thought of this about 6 days ago. We built the bench last Saturday and this is the second day it has been in production." Wow.
  • When we showed up again on October 2, we saw the same wiring harness bench again. We learned it had moved twice more since mid-August. It was cleaned up, secured and looked as if it had been there forever.
  • I asked the associate in the area about it. He laughed and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess we did just start that in August. We change so much, I kinda forget just when we did what!"

It is this relentnessness, this assumption of change, this eye to improve constantly, this broad sharing of responsibilities that was so impressive.

Importing Jobs

In the last two years, this plant has imported jobs to their facility. They brought in frame welding from Malaysia. Axles from south Texas. They are in the process of importing hydraulic cylinders.

Talk about turning conventional wisdom on its head!! Smart businesses are supposed to ship jobs to low-wage areas!! Ha, they say! Bring those jobs in house and cut WIP and lead time further.

More significantly, they are using their operational excellence to cut costs. They don't cut wages...they cut total costs.

It is an impressive thing to see such a well-run operation up close. To shake the hands and talk with the very ordinary Hoosiers who make the plant run. To see the metrics of improved throughput with existing staff. I'm impressed. I hope you find this helpful as well.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Finishing the Task

Is there anything one can learn from the tragic collapse of the Chicago Cubs in the National League playoffs last week? Getting beyond the "Billy Goat Curse", the history of laughable flopping, management gaffes, Ernie Broglio and ticket scalping schemes, consider the following.

The Cubs came up a mere 5 outs short. In Game 6 of the NL playoffs, they had a three-run lead with 1 man out in the 8th inning and no one on base, their ace, Mark Prior, pitching. And the wheels came off the wagon at that point, as they gave up 8 runs in that 8th inning, lost the game and effectively never recovered.

There is no clock in baseball. Success only comes by clear action, not by stalling. Specifically, one must get the other team out 27 times per game. So just how close were the Cubs, with only 5 outs standing between them and a trip to the World Series??

  • With a regular season of 162 games, plus 5 games in the first round and 6 games in the second round of the playoffs, the Cubs had a total of 4,671 outs to make.
  • The 5 outs that remained constituted only 0.107% of the total outs for the year! Or, they were 99.893% of the way to the finish!
  • Taking this same proportion to the length of a marathon race (26 miles, 385 yards), they came up 49.3 yards short!
I can hear the Olympic announcer: "And now, entering the stadium is the leader in the Marathon! She's all alone after 26 miles and over 2 hours of running! The gold medal is in her sight! She's onto the final straightaway! The crowd is cheering! Wait, wait...she's down! She's grabbing her left calf in pain! The muscles are in spasm!! She has only half the straightaway to go...but she can't get up! She's straining but can't seem to move! And, entering the stadium is the second place runner! She's going to pass the leader! She does!! And she wins! It is unbelievable!!!"

The reasons for the Cubs' collapse will be debated all winter (one of the Cubs' annual contribution to mental health in the Midwest is by providing much to mull about every winter...this will be no exception). But, whatever the reason, they came up short.

How often do we do this in any project? How often to we launch into some waste-eradicating effort, build up a lead and then not finish it off? How often are we happy with getting 99.893% of the job done?

Success depends on finishing the job. I hope this is helpful.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Toyota Report #1

So much to say, so little time!! My mind is still buzzing from last Thursday's trip to the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing facility in Columbus, Indiana. I'll write up more in the next several days...I have seven pages of dense notes that I'll try to distill for you.

In the mean time, Gary Stewart of Classico Seating gave me permission to share the following observations. Gary is a fellow steering committee member on the Wabash Valley Lean Network and gives leadership to his company's lean efforts. He and three of his colleages, Shelly Langler, Nell Browning and Steve Williams compiled their list of observations. From this unedited list, you will get a flavor of just what we saw.

1.) Commitment from upper management this is the way it is...no options!!!!!
2.) Commitment and believe in the system from the front line supervisors that there are better ways to do things believing in continuous improvement and that change, is a good thing!!!!!!
3.) Real-time information and status reporting.seamless flow of information and product.
4.) Support staff to support the company goal of change and continuous improvement.
5.) Training the right people investment in training the people that are actually doing the work.
6.) A place for everything and everything in it's place. If it's wasn't needed it wasn't there.
7.) Overall adherence to established procedures and overall work area cleanliness.

1.) The key to every area of improvement was to "Reduce Walk-Time". By analyzing the walk routes by each employee for each cycle, they built carts, racks, etc. to bring the components closer to the employee. This increased the ergonomics as well as decreased Takt times.
2.) Team leaders as well as hourly employees seem to take pride and ownership in their ideas & programs making the implementation process easier.
3.) The supervisors meeting held every 2 hours to update build-off boards. Every employee knew at any time where they stood with the daily build schedule.
4.) The continuous training and retraining of new as well as experienced employees. As well as the diverse cross-training to cover days off. There was complete documentation, so a team leader knew who could cover a particular area in certain circumstances.
5.) Overtime was scheduled on a daily basis at any particular time of the day. No job was left incomplete to "catch-up" the next day.
6.) Every area of the facility was clean and orderly. Every cart, bin, or tote was properly identified with a tag as well as location number so everyone knew exactly what it was and where it went.

1.) Some of the simple things that caught my eye were the availability of information to EVERYONE. Rather it was the info posted in all the meeting rooms in each department, the defect lists in the CIV area, the lighted boards with production info (today, present, goal), the ANDON board with lights and music for immediate problems, or simply the bulletin boards with info posted. Very visible and widely available. Who keeps all this info up-to-date?
2.) The very simple and inexpensive labeling of the kanban racks. We struggle to keep our tags in place. The addition of a tube (we have plenty) with a label covered by one of our clear plastic leg sleeves would work wonderfully.
3.) The absence of corrugated. They used a lot of reusable containers. Much more durable and neater appearance. No disposal issues.
4.) Color coding of kanban cards by department or process.
5.) Ratio of support personnel (material handlers, quality inspectors) to manufacturing "associates".
6.) TIEM had estimated approximately 25% of trucks were built to order or customized. We are in a different situation with 99% of our product "custom" build to order. How would they address the unpredictability of product requirements?
7.) They did mention one of the steel vendors that delivers every 2 hours. How many vendors do they have and how many of them have at least a daily delivery. Do they use their own trucks? How many of their suppliers are related companies? How often do they receive product from Japan and in what quantities?
8.) Incentive programs for associates involved with the lean reduction projects. There is a payback. Not all lean projects result in someone losing their job. They specifically stated where they "reduced" associates, they were not let go, they were simply relocated to another area.

1.) “Insourcing” rather than “outsourcing”. Developing ways to bring in work rather than send it out by reducing costs.
2.) Actual sample parts are on the production floor for the QA inspections. A solid reference point for each person.
3.) Getting and implementing ideas. Consider any idea a Kaizen opportunity. Last month, 712 Kaizens were received. Average is 95% completed / implemented.(This is with a facility of 500 people.)
4.) Move materials into an area rather than store materials in the area. By moving the materials in to the production area, work space was neat, orderly and quantities of WIP were avoided,
5.) Constantly look for ways to improve production. The emphasis is on the flow of the materials and products.
6.) Lists are kept of the “annoyances” and posted in the department or work cell. This provides the opportunity for people from other departments or work cells to offer their ideas, opinions and comments.
7.) Emphasis is on ergonomics. Reducing fatigue has a value in increased output. Although some of the improvements are incremental, the belief is a combination of small improvements will provide a large benefit. (Long term viewpoint.)
8.) Constantly train and retrain people. Use the training records as a basis for advancement into other jobs as they become open.
9.) Job rotation on a two hour basis within the work cell.
10.) Post information on the boards (4’ X 8’) in the work areas. Postings are kept neat, orderly and up to date.
Gary and friends, thanks for your permission to share this!! I hope it is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Friday, October 03, 2003

Four Quick Stories of Lean

Here are four useful illustrations of Lean I've come across in the past week.

  • A Lean Barber Shop? Yes, indeed. My thanks to my friend and alert reader Brian McCorry for this story, derived from recent Wall Street Journal reports of a lean barber shop. Note how many lean tools this entrepreneur used.

  • Lean Product Development. Thanks to my colleage Ken Kellams, we discover no less a prestigious group than McKinsey & Company producing this paper on product development using standard Lean tools. Eliminating batch and pursuing flow in product development?? Yes, indeed.

  • Lean means changes and how we manage change governs how well (or even if) we can transform. For a delightful look at managing change check out this blog by Jeff Angus. His key point:
    As in most smart efforts to squeeze out process time, you start with waste. And in a human-intensive process like baseball, you don't try to wrench it out all at once -- you tweak, see what happens, repeat.

  • Tom Peters Group walks the talk as I found out this week. On Tuesday, I got an email notice of an early purchase opportunity of Tom's new book. Wanting to take advantage of the offer, I clicked on the Tom Peters Group link. But, for some reason, the page wouldn't load and I couldn't execute the request via the web. I noted a toll-free number and called it.
    • I encountered the most appealing and friendly voice mail greeting I've ever heard. Try it yourself at 1.888.221.8685 if you are in the United States.
    • I pressed the right number to talk to a human. Explained my web problem and she happily took my order over the phone...without getting transferred again.
    • This morning, exactly 48 hours later, I had the two books on my desk here in Indiana.
    The experience was, in a word, remarkable. And, I'm telling you about it.

    On top of all this, my mind is racing from all I saw yesterday at Toyota. Stay tuned for more on that subject.

    I hope this is helpful. And, that you will make your own lean stories.

    Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

  • Wednesday, October 01, 2003

    Learning About Lean at Toyota

    One indication of the interest of Lean in our area will happen tomorrow. Our local group of lean manufacturers, the Wabash Valley Lean Network, is sponsoring a field trip to Toyota's fork truck assembly plant in Columbus, Indiana. We have two big busses booked full...100 people in all are signed up for the tour, sold out quickly. We had to limit each member company to only five people. Interest in Lean? You betcha.

    I'm hoping to see more on implementation. What happens in that culture? What work group leadership happens? How is improvement organized?

    Look ahead to reports on what we see. I hope it will be helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me