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 book...it 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.