Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve, 2004

Christmas Eve, 2004

While I normally try to stay on topic in this blog, I allow myself one day a year to reflect a bit, personally, here in public on Christmas Eve, as I did two years ago and last year. Not only is the day a useful point for self-examination generally, but it is also the day that my Dad died in 1993. So, since then, the day has taken on a new, more sober, meaning.

It is hard to believe that it has been 11 years since Dad lost his year-long battle with cancer. His influence on me is immense. He and I were blessed with a wonderful friendship that avoided many of the periodic estrangements typical between a father and son. His lived out before me and spoke explicitly with me about business, entrepreneurship, risk-taking, risk-avoidance, dealing with colleagues and competitors, handling finances and embracing change. His 78 years were a marvelous gift to me and I am deeply grateful and humbled by it. And his influence remains very real and current, which is why it is hard to fathom he's been gone 11 years. If you are interested, feel free to look at some web pages my sister Karen Eichstadt put together about Dad's early years and college days at Notre Dame where he played football and learned much. You might get a small sense of who he was.

Thoughts of my Dad naturally trigger reflection on my own role as a father to my sons. My oldest, David, is much on our minds. He's an Army Medic serving in Iraq, staffing an Army hospital in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad and 30 miles from Fallujah. (here he is and here he is with his unit). His wife Susan and twin sons are living nearby us while he's deployed. It has been quite a mental adventure to have a son in harm's way, daily, which isn't explainable in any short piece of text. Suffice it to say, we've come to grips with it and are quite proud of him. Our local newspaper ran a story this morning on him and a peer of his who are both in Iraq.

My middle son Nathan (on the right, with his cousin Andrew and the twins last summer) has landed well in Portland, Oregon, finding a solid job in Human Resources in the past year. My youngest, Matt, is a sophomore in High School and got his driver's license last week. They are both marvelous guys, deep thinkers and building significant strengths of skill and character.

Each one is different...each one is alike. I think of my Dad a lot, hoping to emulate his ability to teach and mentor each of them uniquely, just as he lived out a principled life for his wife and four kids.

Now, let's see...if my son has sons, would that make Gretchen and me (gasp) grandparents? Yeah, I guess so. And it leaves me laughing and in a sense of awe, all at the same time. Because, you see, now there are two more sons to teach and mentor. Dad's laughing with me. And his example continues to the next generation.

Thanks for listening. My best to all my readers for a most Blessed Christmas and a very Happy 2005.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Monday, December 13, 2004

Plan vs. Actual, part 2

Plan vs. Actual, part 2       


Continuing to think carefully about Plan vs. Actual (PvA).


I'm working on a request right now that stumps me.  Has for several weeks.  And I've wondered why. 


The request was a description of a problem.  Yeah, it seemed clear enough.  But I didn't know how to respond to the request. And so I was stumped. 


A few minutes ago, it hit me.  While I had a description of the problem, I had no idea what the requestor would consider a useful response.  Put another way, the requestor did not describe anything even close to a "condition of satisfaction."


An analogy:  The tenant calls the landlord, "The grass is long in the front yard."   An assertion, a statement for which the tenant is willing to provide evidence.  But there is no subsequent request.  Just what does the tenant want??  A clear description in the lease of who is responsible for grass cutting?  The landlord to cut the grass?  The landlord to supply a lawn mower?  Installation of Astroturf?  Reclassification of the front yard as a federal grassland area?


The requestor speeds a solution by stating a condition of satisfaction. "I'll be happy to cut the grass if you can supply a working power mower."  Now the landlord can accept that or offer a counterproposal.  But, without a request, he can only speculate what will satisfy the request. 


Alternatively, the landlord could ask the question herself.  "What are you asking me to do?"  Or frame a condition of satisfaction in the form of a question "Would you cut the grass if I supply the mower?" 


But, without a condition of satisfaction, or something even close to it, little action can happen.  And, in this situation, the Plan is never reached.  Actual is a non-action, vegetative state.


I now know how to handle this issue.  I just proposed a condition that seemed reasonable to me.  The customer accepted that as reasonable...we're off center and moving again. 


Try this today on something that stumps you.  See if it gets things moving.


I hope this is helpful.




Sunday, December 12, 2004

Plan vs. Actual--Part 1

Plan vs. Actual--Part 1

Have been thinking and observing a lot on the concept of "Plan vs. Actual." I'll probably be writinig a bit about this in the next few weeks and I'll try to make it interesting.

A mainstay of any solid Lean implementation, Plan vs. Actual (or, I'll abbreviate as PvA) is a rigorous application of Deming's famous "Plan-Do-Check-Act" cycle. In short, it says that we predict ahead of time what we think will happen. Then we do the task. We measure whether or not we actually saw what we thought would happen, usually in a binary, "yes/no" way. Then we say "What did we learn?" and do it again.

Most companies utilize the obvious ways PvA measures, such as:

  • Number of items manufactured vs plan
  • Expenses vs Budget
  • Deliveries on time

What has always impressed me in really good Lean companies is just how many, many more ways they use PvA than ordinary firms, how frequently they measure, how simple and visual the measurements are and how it drives learning throughout the company. Such as:

  • Measuring items manufactured, plan vs actual, by the hour, not by the day or the month.
  • Budget numbers delivered weekly, not monthly
  • Number of days they deliver on-time through a month, not just the monthly percentage.

What happens when we shorten this cycle time of PvA? How do keep track of it? How do we learn, in the busy-ness of work life?

I'll write more and I hope it is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

More on Coaching

More on Coaching

I've had some very interesting feedback on my recent post on coaching.  It has largely been in the vein of  "Yeah, but how??" 


It is not easy.  Not everyone wants to improve or is interested in helping others improve, at a substantial level.  And not everyone has the skill set to help improve.  Yet, improve we must. 


Last night, while looking for something else in my stack of HBR, I came across a Harvard Business Review article from the September 2004 edition that speaks to this.  Entitled Deep Smarts, by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap, the authors explore just how knowledge transfers from person to person in an organization, particularly the seemingly intuitive knowledge that comes from experience and pattern recognition.  It runs pretty deep and goes far beyond the usual list of job descriptions and knowledge databases.  They deal deeply with the progression from story telling to Socratic Teaching to Guided Observation to Guided Experimentation. 


If you have access to HBR, you may find the article useful.  If not, you can download the article for $6 and it may be well worth it.  I know I'm exploring it with some colleagues here.


I hope this is helpful.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Lean companies (gasp) working together??

Lean companies (gasp) working together??


My good pal MaryPat Cooper just pointed me to this article on The Buddy System--helping others achieve Lean in the current issue of Industry Week. 


Is this a path to figuring out the coaching dilemma I wrote about a few days ago?? 


Is this a next step for our local lean network?? 


What does it mean for you in your area? 


I hope this is helpful and thought provoking.  And thanks, as usual, to MaryPat!!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Why Coaching

Why Coaching

An important fact I thought I knew, but realized I didn't really know, hit home on a cold, rainy Saturday morning in a store this morning.

I've been fighting a nagging achillies tendon problem for the past several weeks that has hampered my morning runs. Since the tendon only flared up after I bought new shoes in mid-October, I thought the footwear may be the culprit. So, I went to Athletic Annex with the express purpose of having a trained shoe fitter try to figure out what my feet were doing and getting me in a more appropriate running shoe.

There I met Margaret, an experienced runner and sales professional. She sat and listened, asked a number of useful questions and pondered my situation. Only then, did she start to think about which shoe I might need. Pair after pair came out. We laced and talked and looked.

But the key was when she took me outside and set me off to run down the 40 yard long covered porch along the strip mall where the store was located. She stood, arms crossed, pondering my gait, as I lumbered down and back with each pair of shoes. "Those make you roll in." "Those are awful." "Those work."

Why was this important? And why do I bore you with this drivel? Here's the deal:

I can't watch myself run. I'm busy running. I can't see my feet, how they hit the ground, what my ankles and knees do as I'm going downt he road. I needed another person, another qualified person, to watch me run. Only then could I begin to understand what was really going on.

I can't watch myself lead a kaizen event. I can't watch myself do a performance review. I can't watch myself leading an operations meeting. Why?? Because I'm busy leading the kaizen, the performance review, the ops meeting. I have to "keep my eye on the road." And while I can do a self-critique at the end, I will miss many things. I need someone else to watch and then tell me what she/he sees. Self-diagnosis doesn't always work. Ask my wife.

I need a coach to watch me do my job, just as I needed Margaret to watch me run. But not just anyone. A non-runner, a non-trained person would understand the interaction of shoe fit with pronation, arch height and gait on my ability to run injury-free. A non-lean person won't be able to understand how a kaizen event should run, or how I should approach an ops meeting.

And it isn't easy to find such a person. And it isn't easy to figure out how to pay such a coach. And it isn't easy to submit oneself to another's teaching, as I submitted myself to Margaret's expertise. And I sure don't have it figued it out. Yet this is important if I'm serious about developing genuine expertise. It is important for you too.

I'd welcome your input. And I hope you find this helpful as you seek to improve your own skills.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Monday, November 22, 2004

How do you price your Excess Capacity?

How do you price your Excess Capacity?


Those of you who understand Theory of Constraints or Lean realize that, at the macro level, all improvement efforts must increase the capacity of the organization.  What few talk about after that is "So what do you do with that capacity?" 


In many cases, the capacity is still with you.  You still have a part of a building.  You still have staff.  Unlike extra machines or equipment, you just can't sell off a quarter of your building and laying people off who have participated in improvement efforts is remarkably stupid and self-defeating. 


What you can do is to price the excess capacity at a price that only needs to exceed your direct costs. 


And here is one of the coolest examples of selling excess capacity. Jeff Angus, in his excellent blog Management by Baseball, writes of how the Minnesota Twins are selling extra seats in the Metrodome by a most creative season-ticket plan that is not a season ticket plan. 


A further lesson from the Twins' experiment is that "all of us is smarter than any of us."  The Twins are trusting (gasp) that busy people in the Twin Cities know how to use their own time better than Twins management does.  And they have set up a structure to achieve this. 


This lesson builds on a most excellent recent book I'm still working through titled The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by Jim Surowiecki.  It also builds on a great topic Hal Macomber blogs on today about just enough leadership. 


We are stuck with so many assumptions.  And breaking out of them is hard.  And our people will help us do just that, if we only ask.  The Twins demonstrate this, in spades, on pricing excess capacity. 


I hope you find this helpful.



Sunday, November 21, 2004

Kaizen, Real Time, Part 2

Kaizen, Real Time, Part 2

Finished up the Kaizen event on Friday. I think a lot about these things. What worked, and why? What bombed, and why? Who connected, who didn't? What did I get close on and just need to tweak next time? What is so bad that I need to start all over, from scratch?

One thing that worked was the Management Review. This is a little-discussed part of a Kaizen event but I have come to view it as one of the most distincitive and crucial parts of a Kaizen event and is a distinguishing mark of Lean. In short, at the end of the event, the Kaizen team presents a short (literally 15 mintue) presentation of their goal, what they did and what they found. Then, invited guests who are affected by the outcome of the event are welcome to ask questions, scrutinize the outcomes and offer coaching. In a well-developed Lean firm, this is also a time for significant coaching.

When we gathered on Friday, we chose not to tell about one development of standardized work, but to let the assembled guests actually do the standardized work, with virtually no instruction. It was a test of our proposed improvement. Since we held the Management Review in the actual part of our facility that we were improving, they had to walk only a few feet to test the process. And, in three mintues, literally, we had tested our new system 11 times (because 11 people were there for the review!).

What was cool was that it worked 10 out of 11 times. And one member of mangement found a mistake.

And the moment of truth would we respond to an error??

It provided a moment of coaching and teaching. First, we thanked the man who identified the error. We realized it had happened in the haste to finish up. And we realized how to avoid it in future. Exactly what a management review should do. Cool.

The big error in this kaizen was my poor estimation of the time it would take us to implement the changes we were proposing. Like I only allotted half the time it required. Yeah, 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound just wasn't possible. In my optimism in planning, I botched it. We have a too-long list of to-do's...I hope we can get them done in the next week. But it messes up the schedule for the next Kaizen (which is linked to this one) as we work around the holiday schedule coming up here in the US.

Never a time to stop learning. I hope this helps you to learn a little as well. Thanks for listening.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Kaizen, real time

Kaizen, real time


My brain is half-fried and I'm tired and I couldn't feel better.  We are partially through a kaizen event, which I am enjoying along with four eager-to-contribute colleagues.  What a day. 


And here are 6 reasons why the fatigue feels so good.


1.       We blocked out time and focused.  Which is what a kaizen event is.  We said "no" to a hundred other things and did one important thing.

2.       Kaizen makes a rich seedbed for learning.  By doing it in a different place, in a different way, we saw things we hadn't seen before.  In a familiar setting, we would have missed some profoundly simple things we saw today.

3.       I have a greater appreciation for others' example.  I'm a very, very fortunate fellow, to have had the gift of many others teaching me, directly or indirectly.  As such, at several times today, I could apply others' learnings and mistakes to help direct our efforts.

4.       We learned about each other, as people.  I had a marvelous conversation with one colleague as we worked at an assignment all afternoon.  This builds trust, ever so necessary in the high-change environment required to move to world-class manufacturing.

5.       It all happens in the workplace.  I have learned to never hold a kaizen event in an office.  And we didn't...we gathered and worked in the exact place we targeted for improvement.  Wow.  Forget the donuts and soft chairs and woodwork.  Gimme hard plastic chairs and makeshift workplaces anytime.

6.       Do it now.  At mid-day, we needed some physical supplies for a task.  Boom, I ran out over lunch to a local store.  15 minutes and $20 later, I had all the stuff we needed.  Forget the long ordering process...go do it.  Now.  Kaizen builds this.


I'm tired and happy.  A good way to go home. 


I hope this is helpful.   

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

No, this is not Jidoka

No, this is not Jidoka


After reading Saturday's entry about Jidoka, my old pal Matt Gudeman emailed me with this tongue-in-cheek counterproposal:


Enjoyed learning about Jidoka this morning.

I don't know though. There must be some merit to the conventional way:

1.    Detect an error
2.    Blame someone
3.    Cobble something up to get by "just this once"
4.    Talk to someone about how stupid employees really are these


Indeed.   That's how it usually goes and it sounds silly when written out.  Yet it is true.  I hope you can find a way around the usual method and use Jidoka properly!


I hope this brings a smile. It did to me...thanks Matt!


Saturday, November 13, 2004




"Jidoka" is an odd term, one which many Lean practioners don't understand well, making it difficult to practice.  Yet, along with "Just in Time," it is one of the twin pillars of Lean, both resting on a foundation of Standardized Work.


Jidoka is often translated as "autonomation" or "automation with a human touch", yet that still doesn't help much. 


Jidoka, in action, is best known as the famous line-stop cords in Toyota factories, whereby any associate can pull the cord and stop the entire line when she sees a quality problem or a non-conformance.


I began to understand Jidoka better a couple years ago when I read a paper by Mark Rosenthal (now at Kodak) who summarized the four key points of Jidoka as:

1.       Detect an error

2.       Stop.

3.       Install a countermeasure.

4.       Find the root cause of the error.


From that, I've come to describe this pillar of lean as "the rapid detection and correction of errors.".   Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, I know, but it seems to communicate.


Why do I bring this up?


Because its application goes way beyond just the manufacturing floor.  And I saw it, in spades, yesterday. 


Around 5:45pm yesterday, Friday, a former colleague, Ed, phoned me and we talked about a construction project he was trying to sell and was giving Ed fits. As we talked and rolled around in facts of the situation, it hit me that Jidoka applied.


You see, Ed's project was doomed in that it had a very weak set of construction drawings to utilize as a basis for planning and pricing.  The only way to get it right for his (potential) customer was to:


1.       Detect the error.  Ed recognized, based on his experience that the drawings were just not robust enough to allow either him, as the contractor, or his customer to move ahead with confidence. He knew there was a problem

2.       Stop.  This is the hard part.  Ed realized he had to have the conversation with the customer to stop the current bidding process.  Yes, stop.  Cease.  No further action.  Don't build on a weak foundation.  Shut it down.  "Pull the cord."  It takes guts and strong leadership.  Did I say it was hard?  Yeah, it is tough. 

3.       Install a countermeasure.  We threw ideas around and realized Ed needed to find a way to develop an accurate set of prints.  After some brainstorming, we realized there were some very do-able ways to do this.

4.       Find the root cause of the error.  More complex, but necessary.  On further reflection, Ed realized this customer had a pattern of "ready, fire, aim" when it came to developing construction drawings.  He may have an opportunity, in future, to offer these services earlier to the customer.  He may also be able to apply this with other customers.


My point is that this pillar of Lean applies far beyond the manufacturing floor.  I hope you can find a way to do these four steps of Jidoka today. 


I hope this is helpful. 

Friday, November 12, 2004

What Hal Says

What Hal Says


My friend Hal Macomber has emerged from a self-imposed quiet stretch and blogs  today on getting ideas from the team.


Hal's experience on this topic is similar to mine.  Ideas are out there for the having.  But it takes leadership to gather them and implement them.  And, even more, it takes a long-term effort to keep them coming, to the level that they become a strategic advantage. 


And this "sticktoitiveness" seems to be so difficult.  Another guru speaks, daily.  Another demand lurks, hourly.  Another distracting email arrives, each minute. 


Thus we need an overarching paradigm to make sense of it all and slice through the clutter.  Which is what I find a Lean view of business so helpful.


I hope this is helpful.  And not a distraction.


Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Impact of a Written Note

The Impact of a Written Note 


We did a Kaizen event last went well, more on that in later posts. 


But just a few minutes ago, I was on our production floor and two of our associates turned and said "Thank you!" as I walked up to them.  I looked a bit surprised and they said "For the note!"


Oh yeah.  After the kaizen, I wrote a short, hand-written note to the home address of each of the seven folks on the team.  Not a big deal...they even had to wade through my less-than-Palmer-Method handwriting to make sense of it.  I just expressed my appreciation for them being on the team and contributing so many good ideas. 


And the note seemed to mean a lot, perhaps more than the mere effort to send it. 


As I've said many times before here, a Lean environment is a high-change-rate environment.  For it to work, there must be a reservoir of trust.  And one way to build trust is to say "Thank You" in numerous ways. 


In this email-driven, largely impersonal world, a hand-written note stands out, more clearly than ever.  It is so unusual, so unexpected, so surprising that it becomes memorable.  Take a moment today and mail a short, hand-written note to someone who deserves a "thank you". 


I hope this is helpful.



Tuesday, October 12, 2004

More on Flow

More on Flow


Mark Rosenthal, who has become one of my key teachers in Lean, recently posted a wonderfully helpful view of flow on the NWLEAN listserve. 


Here, he quotes Mr. Chihiro Nakao, one of the closest students of Taiichi Ohno, on the types of flow that should be evident in any operation:


Incoming materials - do people and processes have what they need, when they need it, where they need it, in fit-for-use condition? If they don't, you will see disruption to the using process.


Work-in-process - is there a smooth flow of material THROUGH the process? Does inventory accumulate? Are defects disrupting the flow? Is the amount of work-in-process steady, or does it fluctuate up and down for some reason?


Outgoing materials or finished goods. Is there a steady, level, even pull from the customer process? Are the right things available to the customer at the right times? Are they pulling in large batches (driving the production process to build large batches) - or are they pulling level (so the batch size is driven by problems the producing process can solve).


Information - do people know what they need to, when they need to? Is there too much information? Is information delivered on a pull, JIT? Do people have a way to signal and get an immediate response to problems?


Equipment - does the hardware itself support, or disrupt flow? Or is the process accommodating the machinery? Can the equipment support one-by-one production, of any designated product, in any sequence? Is there continuous positive evidence that it is operating normally? That quality- and operation-critical inputs such as air pressure are within normal limits? That feeds and speeds are normal?


Engineering - I may be wrong, but I usually explain this as the flow of improvements. Do they come continuously, in the form of problem solving of real problems, as they are encountered? Or are improvements done in big batches crammed into a week? Is there clear evidence of continuous problem solving? Nakao-san explains the "flow of engineering" as the "footprints of the engineer on the shop floor." It is, with a little reflection, a pretty good way to put it. Bottom line: Does anyone care, or is the shop left to fend for themselves once the outline of a process is put into place?


Mark, thanks for this wonderful description of flow and how to see it.  Thanks for sharing your learning with us all.


I hope this is helpful. 




Monday, October 11, 2004

Traffic Flow.or not

Traffic Flow...or not

Just before 5pm last Friday afternoon, a foolish squirrel made his last decision on this earth and took a wrong step in a nearby power substation.  The resulting electrical outage hit most of this part of town for several hours. 


Out of my office window, I noted the stoplights at a busy intersection were knocked out as well.  Within 15 minutes of our bushy-tailed friend being fricasseed, the traffic was backed up 10 times farther than normal.  Slowly, cars approached the intersection and, one at a time, eased through.  Left turns, right turns, straight ahead.  It was not a place for the faint of heart. 


At first blush, this seemed to be "single piece flow".  One car at a time, moving through the intersection.  But, if single piece flow speeds production, why was the backup so long? 


First blush was wrong.  Single piece flow is about "flow" much more than it is about "single piece".  Flow was completely destroyed due to the non-functioning traffic lights.  While one car at a time eased through the intersection, many, many more had flow totally wiped out as they sat in rush hour traffic on a dismal, rainy late Friday afternoon. 


A functioning traffic light releases flow for a period of time in one direction, then releases flow in another, and so forth.  Well-timed traffic lights sequence flow through a series of intersections in a city.  The focus is on flow.  Always flow. 


Find some way to improve flow today.  I hope this is helpful.  And warn a squirrel while you are at it.   



Wednesday, October 06, 2004




"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."   Steven Covey


"Effective executives do first things first and do them one at a time."  Peter Drucker


"This one thing I do."  Apostle Paul


Distractions are legion.  In a 24/7, overworked world, there are a hundred voices clamoring for attention. 


Offering Lean leadership demands a focus.  And a willingness to say "no" to other things.  Good things.  Things you'd love to do. 


And you have to say "NO."  And be perceived as a jerk at times for being unwilling to fit into someone else's agenda. 


It is in this focus that true leaders distinguish themselves.


Go focus today. 


I hope this is helpful.  Yeah, I need it too. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Why clean floors are so important

Why clean floors are so important


I was with my colleague Mike a few minutes ago in our boiler room.  Mike is in charge of our physical plant and takes his job seriously and responsibly.  We were looking at a piece of equipment discussing its on-going maintenance, when Mike suddenly blurted out "What is that?"


He had spotted a small bolt and nut on the floor.  We immediately began looking above that spot on the floor to see where it came from.  In fairly short order, we found a hose clamp that was bolt-less.  We reinstalled the bolt and started looking at other nearby hose clamps.  We found three more clamps on which the bolts were loose.  We tightened them all. 


And it all happened because Mike kept the floor clean of dirt and debris.  Yes, in a boiler room...the floor was clean. 


On a clean floor, any abnormality is easy to see.  Had the floor been cluttered, we would never have seen the single bolt and nut.  Would have never looked at the other hose clamps.  And who knows what might have happened on this key piece of equipment had hoses gradually worked loose. 


We've talked in this space about using 5S as a workplace organization tool.  And this is one more example of why it works.


I hope this is helpful...and you can clean up a mess somewhere today.



Monday, September 27, 2004

Moving in a Fog

Moving in a Fog

On an early-morning jog yesterday, I saw a beautiful sight.  About 15 minutes before sunrise, ground fog lay before me as I plodded along our city's walking trail.  A translucent tablecloth draping a boggy area, it draped gracefully over the trail.  This will be kind of cool, I thought, to jog through the fog.


I got to the low-ish point on the trail, right next to the bog, where I had noted the fog was the thickest.  I wondered when I would really be running in the fog.  As I came up a hill to the other side, I realized what had happened.


From a distance, the fog appeared thick and foreboding.  As I moved through it, however, it did not affect my movement.  Particularly at my very non-Olympic pace, I could see my immediate surroundings quite adequately.  And I enjoyed the run.


It struck me that this illustrates what we so often encounter at work or personally.  What appears to be very uncertain at a distance becomes much clearer when we get into it.  Whether it is applying Lean in a work setting, raising a teenager, making a sales force work, dealing with an aging parent; the fog is very real at a distance.  Yet, with some grid to guide us as we move through it, move we must.  And when we get into it, the fog is not as deep, the uncertainty not so serious.  We often can see quite adequately what the next few steps can be and can navigate them safely. 


A Lean paradigm provides a safe trail in the work setting.  Ethical and spiritual paradigms are crucial to make sense of personal issues.  With these in place, the only big mistake is to not proceed.


I hope you can proceed into some foggy areas today.  And that this is helpful.


Saturday, September 25, 2004

More on Single Piece Flow

More on Single Piece Flow


Have had a wonderful series of conversations with one of our production associates over the past 10 days.  She has read a fair amount about Lean Manufacturing and wants to learn more. 


Her question: "Joe, just how small must lot size be to get to single piece flow?" 


Very perceptive.  And there is not a clear answer.


Consider a process in which a five-foot pipe is cut into one foot sections.  Is single piece flow 5 one-foot pieces?  Isn't 5 more than 1?  But if flow is 1 one-foot piece, what do you do with the rest of the raw material, which is now four feet long?  Do you minimize scrap by always making a "batch" (gasp) of 5? 


Before she asked me the question, our associate was already grappling with these questions.  My response to her was "Well, it depends."  Other factors play in; cost of the raw material, impact of scrap, processing time, overall demand of the customer, and so on.  Single piece flow is one important part of the equation...but only one part. 


In any event, we want to get lot sizes to their smallest logical level.  And that level demands clear-headed thinking.  And, never, ever, ever forget to listen carefully to the person actually touching the material.


I hope this is helpful.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Talk about Single Piece Flow!

Talk about Single Piece Flow!


Just learned about Woot! a couple of weeks ago.  A website that takes single piece flow to the retail extreme. 


They offer one product per day.  Every day at midnight, they post a new product.  One at a time.  Their FAQs are a riot to read. 


Does this work?  I don't know. The site appears to be a place for buyouts and inventory clear-outs for techno-stuff.  Does it make money?  Don't know either...but they do sell out on a number of their items.


The Lean Lesson? 


A clear focus and offer of value.  In the extreme.


Pure pull.  They offer an RSS feed; the ultimate technical pull tool.  No pushing going on here.


Seems waste free.  The prices are awesome and there is a very bare-bones offer to people who are comfortable with such gear.


And it makes you think more broadly just how deep this could go.


I hope this is helpful.. 


Friday, September 17, 2004

Avoiding Groupthink

Avoiding Groupthink


Tom Peters posts on a very doable way to get better decisions.   


I gotta get this has my mind spinning. 


Hope the link is helpful.




Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Two Years of Blogging

Two Years of Blogging


Kind of amazing, in that what started out as an experiment to link technology and learning is still going on.  Two years ago today, I posted my first blog entry.  A humble start...but Dwight Stoller's comments on the change process are still applicable.  Yeah, kind of amazing. 


My motive has evolved in these two years.  Among other things, I have grasped more clearly that writing is an important mode of learning for me.  If I can explain it in a few words, I understand it better.  Of course, many would dispute if my "few words" are all that "few"!!  Yet, it is very helpful for me.  And if you have enjoyed the ride, then so much the better.


Blogging, as a concept, is also fascinating to me.  Specialized, focused, topics.  All over the map.  And very, very useful.  I think we still have much to learn from it.   At it's core, though, blogging is very Lean, in that, when well done, it has a very clear customer focus.  And, the customer can opt in or opt out whenever she wants to, depending on value. 


I appreciate, deeply, the many comments and emails I've received as a result of this blog.  I have learned much.  I hope it has helped you in some small way. 



Thursday, September 09, 2004

Quick Advice on Flow

Quick Advice on Flow

This morning, a request for help appeared on the NWLEAN mailing list.  Here's the essence of it:


I am currently in the process of trying to convert our assembly lines towards a one piece flow format.  Our current lines are in a state of disarray we call n "globism." 


Globism is the preferred method of assembly by the operators as it allows them to build up large amounts of WIP onto trays, pass them to the next operation and then begin filling another one.  This method not only ties up inventory we may need for other products, but it also generates a mismatch of product that they manually try to rectify towards the end of the day.<snip>


How can I promote a constant flow of product through the line (where everyone passes their work forward at the same time)?


How can I keep my buffers from being dissolved?


If they do get dissolved, how do I regain them?


Any other advice you can give me?






So I jumped in.  I don't know if they will publish my response or not, but here it is anyway:


Jeff, you are in a wonderful position.  You can improve this.


Remember that perfect, single piece flow is the ideal situation.  Therefore, any time you see a disruption of single piece flow, you have an opportunity for improvement.


Which means you must first SEE the disruption!!  Pick one area and instruct your staff to STOP when they have no work to do, either because the next buffer is full or the previous buffer is empty.  Sound an alarm...give them a small whistle to blow...turn on a flashing light.  Then, have the supervisor and a technical person go to that place, right then, and see, for themselves, what stopped the flow.  And fix it, right there. 


Until you start disrupting things, stopping the line IMMEDIATELY when it does not flow, you will never get there.  And it will get worse before it gets better.  And this is the path.


Utilize your staff's good knowledge to get to flow. 


Read Norman Bodek's book "Quick and Easy Kaizen" to see how to do this.


Remember that one of the twin pillars of Lean is Autonomation--the immediate detection and correction of errors.  And the four steps of Autonomation are a) detect the error b) Stop c) correct the immediate problem d) install a countermeasure.  


Do this over and over. 


And start today.


I hope you find this helpful, as you look at your own quest to find flow. 




Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Value Stream Mapping, on the fly

Value Stream Mapping, on the fly


So I'm sitting in a meeting earlier this afternoon and it felt like it was dragging.  With a number of the company's key people in the room, it was also an expensive drag.  What to do?


I began to diddle in my notebook and the idea hit me to draw up a basic Value Stream Map of the process we were to accomplish in the meeting.  It seemed appropriate, as we were gathered to review and decide on a series of proposals.  As I began to draw, ideas began to flow.  I "saw" the steps more clearly, with pencil now in hand.  I then noted how I could collect data for the data boxes in each area.  I pulled my watch off and began to time things...informally, not terribly accurately, but time them nonetheless.  documented 7 steps to the process; previously I thought there were only 4.  I noted active time, idle time, disruptions to the flow.  And each of it was measurable, however roughly, and trends began to jump out. 


What I found was each "product" followed a predictable path.  On that path, there was one, single constraint.  The data was overwhelming...nearly 8 times as long spent in that one step than any other. 


As I observed, the ideas kept flowing as to what we could do.  Ideas that moved towards breaking the constraint. I kept writing.  More ideas.  More writing.  The meeting ended, everyone else left, I was still sitting there writing more.  Yes, I turned out the lights when I eventually left.  And now I'm writing more.


The lessons for me?  First, the tool of Value Stream Mapping is much more widely applicable than it first appears.  That basic template of VSM gave me a framework to make sense of a meeting that I otherwise simply said seemed to be "cumbersome."  It is worth understanding VSM well. 


Second, start writing.  Anything.  The pencil is a great aid to learning. 


Third, collect some data.  Even rough data.  It guides to the important topics, it steers away from the trivial. 


I hope you can try this.  And I hope it is as helpful for you as it was for me.


Monday, August 30, 2004

Paying attention to moods

Paying attention to moods        


From an unusual source comes a good report on why a Lean manager should pay attention to moods of employees. 

One potential advantage of keeping records is to show employees the effect that their moods and attitudes have on job performance. They may not have given it much thought, and likely wouldn't be aware of the impact.

Observing moods is an example of listening well.  This avoids one of the Two Great Wastes; in this case, the failure to listen.  Moods of resignation, avoidance, discouragement all speak loudly; do we listen to them? 


Don't be piggish...listen well.  I hope this is helpful.