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.