Sunday, May 30, 2004

Adding Value at Osco

Adding Value at Osco, originally uploaded by joeelylean.

Adding Value

Saw this sign at our neighborhood Osco Drug store yesterday and it really grabbed me. I'll just list the reasons.

1. It links "value added" to "top-line revenue". All too often in Lean circles we are enchanted by process excellence and forget that we must translate that into business/financial progress. Here, the store manager says clearly "my staff will add value if you want it. Here's what their efforts are worth." And, in so doing, he can add revenue to the store. He puts a price on that value and then boldly asks for added price.

2. It lets the customer determine value. Note that it is the customer, not the store, who determines the price of the product!! How wonderful!!! If the customer has a surly teenager in the SUV who needs to work out some aggression, she just pays the 99c and lets Kevin hoist the bags. If the customer is dressed up but headed home to do some yardwork, he'll pay the extra 26c per bag to save a second trip.

3. It's utter simplicity is beautiful! I just love the handpainted sign, hooked on a pallet!! You can't get any simpler than this. No fluff, no legalese about risk of back strain or privacy of mulch purchasers. In a very complex world, this is such a breath of fresh air.

4. The written offer is almost impossible to negotiate against. How do you counter this offer??? It is there, it makes sense, the only response is to take it or leave it. Written offers have great power, whether on the side of a pallet or in a formal proposal.

Is this analyitical overkill on a simple sign for bags of mulch and topsoil? Perhaps...yet it is in the curiosity about basic things that we learn so much.

I hope this is a little bit helpful.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Flow vs. Batch

Mowing the Grass--Learning about Lean:  Part III


Continuing the story of my long grass and what I've learned.   The perceptive reader asks, during the last discussion of innovation "But wasn't your grass an inch too high after you became 'innovative,' raised the deck and ridded yourself of frustration and mental anguish?"  Well, maybe you asked that....but in case you didn't here's the answer anyway.   And the third thing I learned.


Flow vs. Batch


My grass was so long that my attempt to cut it at the normal height was simply more than my mower (or my patience) could handle.  So, with about 2/3 of the lawn still to cut, I raised the mower from 2.5" to 3.5" and cut it.  The first time.  Then, I lowered the mower deck back to the desired 2.5" and cut the last 2/3 of the lawn AGAIN.  Yes, I covered the same ground twice.  I didn't measure the timesavings, but at a minimum, I suspect it took me no longer to go over it twice without needing to stop every 90 seconds than it may have taken had I not changed strategies.  I may have actually saved time.  I do know I won points with the family regarding aesthetics, as I made the second cut at a different diagonal pattern than normal...pretty spiffy.  And I also know I sure enjoyed the experience a lot more. 


Do we need more examples in Lean of why we should avoid batch processing?  Do we need to beat it into our brains any further that it is wrong-headed to maximize machine efficiency rather than to maximize system efficiency?  Where is value here...doing the lawn in a single pass (machine efficiency) or getting the lawn cut well and moving on to something more enjoyable on a Saturday afternoon in May (system efficiency)? 


Why do we try to "batch" improvement by consistently going for the home run, the colossal big machine, the huge improvement (requiring major financial commitment)?  Why do we not try lots of small things that we can do now, learn from now, and replicate now and improve tomorrow, not a year from now?  Why not flow these improvements? 


Yes, we do need to be reminded of batch vs. flow.  I sure do.  And 6" long grass was a helpful way to learn about it.


I hope these discussions of grass cutting have been helpful. It has helped me to write them up. 



Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Lawn Care, part II

Mowing the Grass--Learning about Lean:  Part II


Continuing my lessons of the lawn.


Where do Innovative Ideas come from?


As I struggled to cut the very long grass in our yard and collect the clippings in the bag on my Lawn Boy mower, the task went slower and slower as I worked into a lower and thus wetter part of our yard.  My frustration level mounted as I seldom could go more than 90 seconds without either plugging the bagger chute or needing to empty the bag that filled all too quickly.  I had visions of being out with a flashlight at midnight. 


How could this go better???  I stopped the mower.  I stood and thought.  An idea emerged.


What would happen if I raised the mower deck to not cut so much grass in each pass?  I tried it, lifting the deck from a 2.5" to a 3.5" setting.  I started back in and, to my surprise, found that I was no longer plugging the chute and the bag did not fill quite so quickly.  The frustration level dropped appreciably and I started getting on with it. 


In retrospect, this is obvious.  But it was not obvious at the time.  And why do I bother to write about it?  Why is this useful? 


It is useful because the seedbed for innovation is often found in annoyances.  What bugs you about your job?  What is the annoying thing you keep fighting?  What triggers frustration?  What makes you stomp off outside to clear your head?  What is it that your spouse secretly prays will NOT happen to you at work because it puts you in such a foul mood by the time you get home? 


Try this exercise today when you encounter an annoyance:   

a.   Stop and think.  Yes, stop what you are doing.  Physically cease action. 


b.  List five things that frustrate you and get in the way of you doing excellent work.  Be specific:  "It annoys me to have to look in three different places for information on the weekly cash report."  "It annoys me to have to sweep down the grinding table every afternoon."  "It annoys me to have walk across the shop to get the wrench I need to adjust this machine."


c.  For each of the annoyances, list five things that YOU could do, NOW, with ZERO CASH to address it.  Don't count on anyone else or any other resources.  Again, be specific:  "I will write a new report to pull the cash data together."  "I will get one of the pieces of data on my way to the coffee machine each Tuesday." "I will choose to not be annoyed because this data is needed."  Don't shift the it yourself, with authority you currently possess.


d.  Do it.  Now. 


e.  Measure, quantitatively or qualitatively, what happens.  Then write down what you learned. 


f.  Go back to step b and do it again for another of your Five Frustrations.  

I'd love to hear what you find...please post a comment if you'd like.


I hope this is helpful.  




Monday, May 24, 2004

Mowing the Grass--Learning about Lean:  Part I

It is May in Indiana and one of our great pastimes of the spring is cutting grass.  Seriously.  The soil is good, the weather is cool, the rains are abundant and the grass grows like crazy.   It is a huge topic of conversation and a subject of intense scrutiny, from the technical (how often to you sharpen your blade?) to the aesthetic (how did you select that diagonal pattern?).

Due to inattention and bad timing, our lawn got out of control and before the neighbors filed charges with the Grass Police, I waded into it during a long Saturday afternoon.  And I surprised myself by learning more about lean systems.

The Middle "S" of 5S

You know about 5S (there is a quick discussion here and here's one of the best books on the subject ).  5S is a foundation of standard work in a Lean system by keeping the workplace visual and neat.  Of the five "S's" (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain), the middle one gained new meaning for me Saturday.

As I prepped the mower for the 5" tall grass, I tipped the mower deck and scraped off some accumulated grass clippings.  As I did, I noticed that the engine seemed to wobble a bit on the mower deck.  Investigating further, I noted that one of the three motor-mount bolts had fallen out.  Who knows where it was.  But I chose to repair it before beginning, even though I already had a long afternoon ahead of me.  I removed one of the two remaining bolts, headed for the hardware store, got a matching replacement, and quickly secured the motor with three bolts. 

Why "Shine"?  Is it about a sparkling surface on my mower?  About not clogging the grass chute with a build-up underneath?  Yes, but that's not enough.

When I "Shine" my workplace, I am literally cleaning, wiping and touching all it's surfaces. And in so doing, I get up close enough to it to see details I would not notice otherwise.  In this case, I detected a bit of a wobble in the motor that was not evident when the mower was on all four wheels.  The two motor mount bolts held the motor in place OK...but what happens if a second bolt drops out?  What safety issue arises?  What damage to the motor happens?  Instead, I could fix the problem in a calm and clear manner and prevented any possible further problem.

"Shine" is about getting close to the work.  Touching it.  Feeling it.  Examining it.  To see details you would otherwise miss.  Do 5S in your workplace.  And make it Shine.  And see what you learn. 

I hope this is helpful. 



Friday, May 21, 2004

Jim Womack Review

Wisdom from Jim Womack


What a cool teleconference yesterday with Jim Womack, author of Lean Thinking.  75 minutes of intense discourse on systems, excellence and companies.  Here are the highlights from my notes:

  • What is the key building block for a Lean system?  It is simple: seeing business as a set of processes.  Then continually improve each process.  There is a relentlessness in this statement that few of us full comprehend.  Yet, that is a key.
  • What does a successful change agent look like?  In Womack's view, change agents come in many sizes and shapes, yet they have one thing in common; the effective change agent says, privately and publicly, "The future will be different because of me."  The change agent truly believes that he/she can eliminate waste continuously.  Womack says, "That person is at the head of the improvement parade."  And then they do it.
  • What does a change agent need to understand?  The best change agents have an innate understanding of processes, Womack emphasized.  While some change agents get things done by influence and rhetoric, the best ones, the ones worth paying attention to, understand and love processes. 
  • So what does the change agent really DO?  Womack cited the best example he knew of, Art Byrne, who led Wiremold in a ten-year transformation.  He observed that Art:

1.       Act with certainty

2.       Start simple

3.       Avoid programs

4.       Keep it going

I've met Art, heard him speak for about 5 hours total and met a lot of Wiremold people.  It really is about this simple.

  • So is a Lean Transformation about techniques or people?  This is a laughable question in Womack's experience.  It is all about people!!!  Lean only happens if it is sustained.  Sustaining only happens in a strong culture.  And the culture is far more important than the technique. 
  • Is Lean top down or bottom up?  Both, says Womack.  It is top down, in that there needs to be someone with clout who can sponsor and support it.  But it is primarily bottom up, because it is at the work process level where all the expertise resides.  Note:  not with the engineers...but with the people who physically and daily touch the product. 
  • So do you need the CEO to buy in?  Interestingly, Womack says no.  She/he should be at least OK with it.  But CEO buy in is not necessary.  Rather, the person who has most influence in operations needs to be passionate...this person is the key. 


These are my key notes that I thought you'd be interested to see.  Read other summaries on the call by Effern and by Hal Macomber (who set the call up).  Note that if you missed the call, Hal recorded it and you can go listen to it...follow the directions at Hal's blog.  It will be worth an hour of your time and a long-distance phone call to listen to.  My heartfelt thanks to Hal and Greg Howell for organizing the call. 


I hope this is helpful.  It was a super learning experience for me.



Monday, May 17, 2004

A Free Way to Learn More About Lean


Here is a unique opportunity for you who want to learn how to do Lean.  You can be in a live conference call this Thursday, May 20, from 1:00-2:15pm Eastern Time with Jim Womack, co-author of Lean Thinking the seminal book on Lean systems.  


To register, go to this post by Hal Macomber, sponsor of the teleconference, and follow the directions.  You will get confirmation, a phone number to call and a PIN to get you in.  You only pay for the long-distance phone call.  It is an awesome deal.  


I hope you can join me in this unique opportunity.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Just how DO we improve?

"Both - And" not "Either - Or"


My friend Frank Patrick, one of the most erudite guys I know, posted a very useful blog entry yesterday on continuous improvement strategies.  In it, Frank compares moving a pile of material with either a shovel or a wheelbarrow.  Do we use the leverage of a wheelbarrow or the rapidity and simplicity of a shovel?


I can't do Frank's excellent writing skills justice, so click over there and read it yourself. 


What Frank captures with this fine word picture is an apparent tension over how to make things better.  I struggled with this for a long time until I spent a very seminal week at Wiremold's Brooks Electronics Division in August, 2002.  Immersing myself in their application of Lean, I saw something very telling. 


They used shovels AND wheelbarrows.


In many cases, an individual associate can make a local improvement.  She can move a machine, re-do a spreadsheet, relabel a shelf.  Quick.  Easy.  And builds the culture of improvement. 




The company can decide to take on a major step and organize in weeks to months to overhaul a process or an area. 


Both can happen at the same time in the same place in the same plant even with the same people. 


So, use leverage...grab the shovel...make something happen. 


I hope this is helpful.



Thursday, May 13, 2004

On a Personal Note

Nathan, Andrew Three Months Old!, originally uploaded by joeely.

One of the main reasons that blogging has been sparse recently has been the arrival of these two lads in our house. While our son, David, is serving with the US Army in South Korea for a year, his wife, Susan, has moved in with us. Nathan and Andrew then arrived on February 13 and what a kick that has been!

Thought you might enjoy the photo and that even a Lean guy can be a proud grandparent.

I hope this is helpful...or at least gives you a smile!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Results of Lean


Today's WSJ had the following headline in the International Section


Toyota's Profit Jumps 55%On 12% Increase in Sales


How can this happen?


Last Thursday, I had a chance to speak with my friend Jim Clark of Toyota Industrial Equipment, the folks who make Toyota's fork trucks in Columbus, Indiana.  I asked Jim how he was doing and his eyes got big and he described a recent project.  It seems that an internal machining process in their plant was having a hard time delivering to the main line the right part, on time.  Looking sad, Jim said "We had four days of inventory and still had stockouts," as if it were a moral failing to have that much in-plant inventory.  Then his face brightened: "So our associates themselves took a different path!!  Instead of using kanban to pull these parts they worked with the line to find out the day's production run and queued up the exact parts they needed, in order, as they needed it!!  And we cut the inventory to about a half day!" 


How can this happen?


In the May issue of Harvard Business Review (not yet available online for non subscribers), Steve Spear wrote "Learning to Lead at Toyota" where he followed the training of a Toyota leader.  Spear wrote the seminal 1999 article, also in HBR, Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System  ($6 download).  In this new article, Spear gets to the heart of how an individual leader, like my friend Jim Clark, learns how to get rapid change, rapid improvement and a relentless lowering of costs and elimination of waste. 


Read these two articles to learn more.  They are seminal to understanding Lean.  And it explains how thousands of Jim Clarks, around the world, allow headlines like this to appear.


I hope this is helpful.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Moving On

One Adventure Ends, Another Begins

Tomorrow, May 3, 2004, is a milestone for me personally, as it marks the conclusion of a wonderful time in my career. I'm leaving FBi Buildings and moving on to a new adventure in the medical device industry.

As I tied up projects over the past four weeks and prepared to move on, it struck me time and again how crucial people are. Yes, we talked about maintaining the momentum we'd established for continuous improvement, keeping up on work we'd started with our fine set of vendors, talked about continued training in understanding the tools of Lean.

But mostly we talked about people. About the depth of relationships we had. About how that depth was due to trust. About how that trust was forged in both the competitive fires of business and the realities of each of our lives. About how trust grew as we learned that teammates were both competent in their areas and consistently did what they said they would do.

In the end, relationships always trump techniques. And I saw, clearly, that to be the case at FBi. Given the strength of relationships, the techniques of Lean were straightforward to apply. Deep mistrust will deflate even the most brilliant technique.

It was tough to drive away, one last time, from the FBi office as the sun cast long shadows last Thursday afternoon. Mostly because of the friendships that will continue but I won't experience on a daily basis.

And that's what it is all about in the end. And for that, I'm deeply grateful for the owners and team at FBi for welcoming me for a most fascinating 6.5 years; for Ken, Sue, Tina, John, Randy, Ernie, Stan, Vickie, Jeff, Greg, Miles, Barry, Kurt, Ed and many more. You are forever in my heart.

More about the new adventure in weeks to come. Stay tuned to this space. For now, just go build a bit more trust today with those around you.

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