Saturday, November 29, 2003

New Meaning of "Minor"

Blogging has been non-existent this week of Thanksgiving and will likely be so for another week or so. You see, I had "minor" surgery on Monday, November 24.

I was diagnosed with bone spurs in the right shoulder which were the cause of a lot of pain over the past couple of months. "No problem" says my doctor, "we'll do some minor surgery and shave them off." And, so he did.

I clearly underestimated just how much the procedure would throw me off. Six days later, I'm only now getting to the point of comfortably reading. My right arm is largely immobile, making it tough to type. The spurs do appear to be is muscle tone!!

And so much to write about!! Saw an incredible example of Lean the night before surgery as I waited for a pizza. Several other very useful thing have come along. I'll have to share them as we go along, though.

Thanks for your patience. And may none of your surgeries be as "minor" as mine was!!

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Training and Learning

One of the many cool things about a Lean system is the constant learning. Here's a wonderfully creative treatment of learning by Jeff Angus. Note how the teacher learns as much as the learner, why documentation is important, why "all of us are smarter than any of us."

Go learn something new today and write it down while you are at it. And, you can feel free to forward to a friend who is also anxious to learn.

I hope this is helpful. Email me

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Situational Awareness

In early August, I had the privilege of attending the graduation of my oldest son, David, from the US Army's Airborne School . He spent three weeks at Ft Benning Georgia learning how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes at low altitude. I'm glad there are people who are willing to do this.

I have no military background at all, so watching David work through Army training over the past year has been a real education for me. On the morning of the graduation, I arrived at the outdoor graduation site an hour early. I began to observe the various officers and enlisted men in uniform interact in the preparation for the event. In particular, I noted who saluted whom, when, in what order and what followed in the military protocol surrounding the very basic matter of a salute. As I said, all of this is new to me, a lifelong civilian.

Later that day, I described my observations to David, wondering just how everyone knew what to do and when.

He chuckled. "It's all about 'situational awareness' Dad."

What's that mean??

"The saluting thing is only partially about military courtesy. Underneath it is the constant discipline to be aware of your surroundings. "

Sorry, pal, I still don't get it.

He sighed, wondering if he could make the old man understand. "Here's how it works. When you are in uniform, you must learn to quickly identify anyone else near you who is also in uniform. You must instantly scan their uniform to learn if they are an officer or enlisted. Then, depending on what you observe, you salute or stand at ease."

Hmmmm. So what's the connection?

He's still chuckling. "Dad, pay attention. What we learn is to constantly know what is going on around us. If you are in a combat situation, you have to be aware, all the time, all around you, for your sake and for the sake of your unit. Thus, the simple thing of saluting makes this awareness second nature. Now, does that make sense?"

Yes. It is good when the son teaches the Dad.

And I ask myself: do I have that same eye, that same situational awareness, for the wastes around me? Have I developed the keen outlook that sees and reacts with the same precision and consistency that a soldier learns? Do I "notice"?

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

Sunday, November 16, 2003

More on Value

So this weekend I noted a nearby conveninece store had 2 litre Pepsis on sale for 79c. In the Pepsi dispenser at work, I can buy a 20 oz bottle (591 ml) for 95c every day.

Things like this make me wonder "Why is this so?"

The big bottle, plus tax, works out to 41.9c per litre. The little bottle, with tax included in the price, works out to $1.61 per litre. And it is the same sweet fizzy liquid in both.

Why would an arguably intelligent man like me (and some regular readers of this blog would argue there is precious little intelligence here :) ) knowingly pay 3.8 times as much per unit for a mere soft drink? I think it comes down to value. Consider:

  • The big bottle is a "batch" of cola. I can't drink it all at once (at least in socially acceptable circles). So, it's use must spread out over time.
  • The big bottle isn't cold. So, I have to either refrigerate it or find some ice before drinking it.
  • The big bottle requires a drinking cup to transfer it into before I can enjoy it. Something else I have to do.
  • I then have to either wash the reusable cup (a hassle) or throw away a non-reusable cup (a waste) when I'm done. I don't like either one.
  • The big bottle requires planning. I have to catch the sale price and then stock up when it happens.
  • On the other hand, the little bottle is there when I want it, it is cold, in a drinkable container, and requires no clean up or advance planning on my part.
In short, the soft drink folks are reaping a 3.8x premium to add services to their sweet fizzy drink. By bringing it to me, at the point of use, in a batch of one, I pay a huge markup. Gladly. Unthinkingly.

I pay for the value. Big time.

OK, Joe, why do you carry on about a bottle of pop? One reason: Simple examples often help explain complex issues.

The beginning of any Lean process is to understand the value the customer places on the product. The Lean process must focus on these two: the customer and the product. Only then can we know what waste is in the process and begin to replace it. Value is the beginning of the framework of Lean.

So, begin to notice value. Where can I find the same sort of value in delivering my product? How well do I know my customer (either internal or external) such that he/she will gladly pay a sizable mark up? Look at the is worth pondering.

I hope this is helpful. Oh yeah, and enjoy your cola of choice from the machine today. As always, feel free to forward to a cola-drinking friend. Email me

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Why is Lean Important?

Because it is a framework for understanding complex systems.

Perhaps this is obvious...perhaps it simply is another "layer of the onion" that peeled back for me. But this basic fact really hit me like a ton of CCA-laced lumber late this week.

In a week full of tough issues, with all the complexity that comes when dealing with people, money, projects, products, the economy, the weather, quality, customers, vendors, bankers, planners, users, paperwork, software, the list goes on; in this complexity, an over-arching framework for understanding is oh so very helpful.

For example, when faced with a pricing question, I went mentally to a value stream map for the item of interest and could begin to estimate the true "value added" costs that went into it...from that, could begin to think clearly about the actual cost and how it was different. Without that framework, it would have just been a matter of debate; "I think it's too high"--"No way, it's actually too low!"

More of concern, without a framework, a job can become simply "Let's work harder" or "Let's try this" or "Let's change the whole thing." There is no sense of putting precious effort onto the point where it can truly help. There is no framework for improvment.

There is no framework for hope.

The business world is incredibly complex and only getting more so. The lean framework is crucial for me to keep focus and useful action.

I hope this is helpful for you to make sense of your complex world.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

What "Just in Time" Isn't

Most folks believe JIT to work like this.

Ain't so. And to cut it this close is, indeed, to leave yourself open to walking around in your boxers. We have to build in buffers for the inevitable variances, beyond our control.

I hope this is helpful. And that you got to work on time this morning. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Monday, November 10, 2003

Tom Peters Online Seminar

Checked in today to a web-based hour long seminar with Tom Peters. Peters was taking questions on his latest book, Re-imagine!, which I've discussed recently. I've read a lot of Peters' stuff over the years...and nobody is as provocative.

One thing grabbed me today that was genuinely new.

How do we find people who will engage with improvement and change?

Peters was asked this question and he answered thoughtfully "You don't find them; they find you." He went on, speaking from experience.

  • If you become passionate about something, those who might be similarly passionate will find you. Somehow.
  • Passion is the only way to truly attract talent. Who wants to play for the Detroit Tigers? Doesn't every good player want to be on the Yankees?
  • Passionate people arise from unlikely places. They also tend to be younger and lower in an organization. Don't reject that.
My observation is that passionate people also raise up more strong opinions than non-impassioned people. And, thus, get criticized. And in many organizations, that is something to be avoided. So, you gotta make your choice.

A truly waste-free system will only happen with passionate people. Find some to work with you. I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Talk About "Value"!

We've talked about the beginning of all Lean transformations: Value. Defining value from the customer's perspective. What he/she wants. How he/she wants it. When. In what manner.

And this afternoon, I happened on a fabulous example of "value". The search engine Google now offers a way to get email updates on news of interest at Google News. While this is not a new development in itself, it did impress me with how easy it was to set up. No complex registrations. No sense that I was giving away my privacy. Rather, I just typed in the search term of interest and my email address. That's it. They confirmed the address with me. And, boom, I was in.

They made it so easy, so frictionless, that it was a simple decision. I wonder why more customer contact can't be that smooth. I wonder how I do that for our customers. Try it and see.

I hope this is of value to you...feel free to unsubscribe if it isn't. Feel free to pass it along if it is. And thank you for reading!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Election Day Constraints

It's probably hopeless that I'll ever quit seeing things like this...but it happened again, early this morning.

At 6:30am, on my way to work, I stopped off to vote in our local municipal elections. Walking into the school, I was pleased to see a line out the door of the voting room. "Great to see so many people voting so early!" I said to myself. Then I saw the reason for the line. And it had nothing to do with a lot of people showing up to vote.

Looking through the door, I saw that only two of the four voting booths had voters standing in them. Immediately, I looked for the constraint. And there it was: a chaotic and disorganized process to sign-in each voter. Two harried poll-workers were flipping crazily through three-ring binders with the voter rolls in them; one with A-M, the other with N-Z. At the same time, three other poll workers were standing back, just observing.

And few people were actually voting. And isn't that the point of this exercise in democracy?

See how this illustrates constraints? How any improvement to the process had to happen at the constraint? That there could be no improved throughput (which here means ballots cast per hour) without expanding the constraint?

So what could happen?? What could we suggest??

  • Create a third notebook to look up names; go to A-G, H-P, Q-Z.
  • Add sticky notes to the binders to make it easier to find major letter divisions
  • Allocate one of the other poll workers to help the folks looking up the names.

Of course, since I'm a very non-political guy, I'm only looking at the physical constraints. We may well have a "policy constraint" here, literally. There may be regulations stating both a Democrat AND a Republican have to observe the looking up of the names in the book. Therefore, policy prohibits going to three books. If this is the case (I don't know that it is...just postulating), then only changing that policy will impact the throughput of voters.

Why do I go on? Because simple things like this illustrate how we approach bigger issues of throughput and improvement in our companies. I hope this helps you to see a little better.

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Lean 2003 Conference Report #2

In yesterday's blog, I summarized some of the big items that struck me while at Productivity Inc's Lean 2003 conferencethe last week. As I jumped back into the fray today after 2.5 days away, a very simple thing struck me.

In several sessions, while describing plenty of other sophisticated techniques, the speaker would say in one form or another, "Of course, most of this is just another use of Demming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle."

Indeed. First articulated by Shewart in 1931, Demming made it real for an entire generation. He had a particularly eager audience in post-war Japan. And, thus, drove the attitude of Continuous Improvement.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And the PDCA cycle is so very, very valid. Keep using it yourself, please.

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Sunday, November 02, 2003

Lean 2003 Conference Report #1

Just got back from a mind-boggling two days at Productivity Inc's Lean 2003 conference. There is a ton I can share...I'll try to deliver it in bite-sized bits.

The Importance of Vision

Some would characterize Lean as a relatively plan-less search for elimination of waste. Certainly Tom Peters' recent book Reimagine creates this view of non-strategic, incremental improvement that never creates anything new, rather only improveing what exists. This criticism is valid in many applications, and usually results in improvements that are too small to have a business impact and/or are not sustainable.

What was crystal clear in many presentations in Nashville was how a longer-term vision and focus was necessary to overcome that. That this focus had to be on constraints and in delivering breakthroughs from the customer's perspective. We saw specific tools and target metrics for three-year planning. The tools themselves were as waste-free as the best running manufacturing cell.

The key? Vision. From the top. Taking a view of business development that uses lean tools to free up cash which then fund further development.

Communicating that Vision

I also saw a combination of written and spoken means to communicate the vision of where a firm is going. Some very simple graphics. Some very simple planning sheets. Plain language. Radically simplified financial statements. Clear targets for staff. Clear rewards for success, shared by all.

Eliminating Fear in an Atmosphere of Rapid Change

A vision is only useful if it our teams hear it. And if fear pervades an organization, nothing is heard. The change required to see productivity increase is nothing short of breathtaking. So much so, it will be hard for many of our folks to absorb. Which is why actions are so critical. Which is why some form of sharing the financial gains is so important. Which is why simple, clear metrics that are inherently fair are so needed.

I'll share more. This is just an overview. And I hope it is helpful.

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