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. 




Saturday, August 28, 2004

Creating "Pull" in Advertising

Creating "Pull" in Advertising


Once again, Seth Godin finds a way to force conventional wisdom with his recent post: Seth's Blog: John Battelle on upside down advertising.  Read it, with the link, if you find this clip fascinating. 

The short version: Imagine online ads that carry money and rules with them. If you're a blogger or web publisher or even someone sending out email, and you fit the rules for a given ad, you can publish it. Every time you do, you get paid.

The ads deplete the money in their account and then vanish. If the ads are working, the advertiser refills them. If publishers find that readers like them, they publish them more often.

Talk about a Lean concept!  Here, the advertising is quite literally PULLED through the system.  Only ads that conform to a certain demographic and are effective get funded.  We don't have silly ads foisted on us.  The customer rules. 


So, a company posts on it's server an on-line ad it thinks (hopes, wishes, dreams) will work.  It invites on-line sources to post the ad.  When they do, the on-line posting host gets a small amount of money wired to its bank account.  Good ads propagate...ineffective ads go away.  An ultimate PDCA cycle.  


And Seth correctly points out most of us are afraid of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.  To our own peril.


Scratch your head on this one...I am.  And I hope it is helpful

Friday, August 27, 2004

Back in the RS, Back in the RS, Back in the RSS

Back in the RS, Back in the RS, Back in the RSS


With apologies to the The Beatles, I've made easier access to an RSS link for this blog. 


What on earth is RSS? you ask.  


Well, if it does not mean anything to you, I suggest you learn about it.  I believe RSS will become as key a method to getting exactly the information you want as both email and the Web is today.  Seriously. 


RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication."  You can learn more at My Yahoo! - RSS Headlines Module -- Frequently Asked Questions. 


Here's why I think RSS is important and how it illustrates Lean principles.

  • It surfs the web for you.  Rather than you going to the sites you find useful and looking for the information you want, an RSS reader will do it automatically and let you know when something you have deemed important shows up.
  • It is the ultimate "opt-in" method.  You ONLY get the info you want, ONLY from the sources you want to hear from.
  • It taps the wealth of blogging.  Most serious bloggers now have RSS available.  (HA!  I say "most" because I just got on the bandwagon!!!) And with over three million blogs out there now, a few are relevant to you. 


So how do you get started?


  1. Find an "RSS Reader".  This is some type of software that will go out and track the RSS links you ask it to.  After a number of false starts due to frustratingly complex software, I got on board about three weeks ago when I discovered that the web portal I've used for years, My Yahoo!, added an RSS module.  Since it is web-based, there was no software to install, no firewalls to worry about, no permissions to ask.  And, whether I'm at home or at the office or at Uncle Wilbur's, all I need is web access to get it.
  2. Add the sources you want.  Any software will have a method to add sources.  In most cases, a site you want to follow will have "the little orange thingie" (as Frank Patrick puts it) with the "XML" in the middle.  Click on it and you'll get a long URL in your browser address window.  Copy that and paste it into your RSS reader.  Alternatively, there may be some phrase like "Syndicate this site (XML)" on a link which will do the same thing. 
  3. Sit back and learn.  I find it harder to explain this than to actually do it.  So, go do it. 


RSS is a Lean process because it lets the customer define value and the customer pulls the exact thing he wants.  Nothing is pushed.  Nothing extra is forced.  It is pure value. 


And I hope you find value in my postings.  I welcome your feedback. 

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ten Rules for Lean Projects

Ten Rules for Lean Projects


My friend Hal Macomber celebrates two years of blogging on project management with a terrific summary of how to deliver projects in a waste-free way with Ten Rules for Project Managers.


Well worth your reading and exploring.  Hal allows passing along, so long as you attach the credit. 


I hope this is helpful.



Recycling, Point of Use, Immediate Feedback

Recycling, Point of Use, Immediate Feedback


In my recent vacation in Michigan, I saw and used that state's approach to recycling; a bottle grinder at the grocery store that cut the cost of cheese dip.


OK, many of you have seen these, so you are yawning.  Have a nice day, see you at my next posting.  For the rest of you, hang on.


As I walked into a local grocery store, I saw a soda-dispenser-sized machine in the entryway.  Inquisitive, I noted that they accepted plastic soda bottles.  I trotted back out to the car, grabbed a Diet Coke bottle I had finished and put it in just to see what would happen.  Whiz, gurgle, grind.  It took my bottle, ground it up into little plastic bits and issued me a bar-coded receipt for ten cents.  Not knowing just what to do with the receipt, I took it into the store, picked up my cheese dip, put the receipt down on the cashiers counter, who promptly slid it across the laser scanner along with my purchase and, boom, my jalapeno cheese dip was a dime cheaper. 


From that, I found a number of bottles in the next couple of days, took them back, got more receipts and bought more stuff at the store.  All the while eliminating bulky bottles from a landfill somewhere and cleaning up the roadsides, just a little. 


I don't know how the full economics of this works in Michigan, whether or not paying out a dime a bottle is worth it.  Yet it does do several things that any lean system should do. 

  • First, it is very clear on the offer and the value of the offer.  A dime a bottle. 
  • Second, it delivers the value instantly.  Put the bottle in the machine, get the receipt. 
  • Third, this translates into a consumer-determined value on the very same trip to the store.  I got cheese dip, the person behind me gets bratwurst, the next person gets baby formula.  No waiting around.  Use it however you want.
  • Fourth, it is self-paced by the performer.
  • Fifth, it has to help traffic at the grocery store.  
  • Sixth, it is very simple.  I'd guess grade-school kids get into this, understanding it fully.


Got me thinking.  Hope you find it helpful.  Say "yes" to Michigan (and "ja" to da U.P, eh?).


Saturday, August 21, 2004

Always Pull Elephant Ears

Always Pull Elephant Ears

Regular Reader Gary Grissom of Dart Controls gave me permission to share this email he sent me last week. Enjoy this great story!
My wife and I went to the Indiana State Fair with another couple yesterday. The weather was ideal for a day at the fair. This resulted in great attendance figures. About half way through the day the couple we were with decided they would indulge in an elephant ear. My wife and I didn't care to partake in the deep fried carbohydrates, so we stood under the awning and by the observation window of the fried concoction trailer. This allowed us some time to get out of the sun and, according to my wife, to 'people watch'. While she was observing the individuals in the crowd I turned my attention to the processes that were occurring in the trailer. In less than 30 seconds I was ready to offer up my lean manufacturing consultation services.

They definitely were running in mass production batch mode. Even though my wife was annoyed by my incessant babbling about "they need to change this process", she turned her attention to me and away from the 50-something-year-old-overly-tattooed lady in the bright blue hip huggers and fluorescent pink tube top. Her escort was a hum-dinger as well, but that's another story. Even though my wife didn't understand what I was describing, she obligingly listened to my "This is how they should make Elephant Ears story". For your enjoyment here are my observations...

On first look I easily identified that I was looking at a manufacturing, warehousing and sales operation. The sales department was the guy running the cash register. He was charged with taking orders, ringing up the sale and making the cash transaction. He had a secondary role to provide technical support as well. When a customer asked what the difference was between an elephant ear and a funnel cake, he would state "The guy in front of you just ordered a funnel cake. An elephant ear is like that only it is flat and has granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar." He was doing a great job promoting their wares!

Upstream from the sales guy was the inventory of finished goods. A big pile of funnel cakes and a single elephant ear were basking in the bright warm glow of a heat lamp. When sales got an order, an inventory specialist would pull the order from stock and add some fresh sugar then, if needed, would turn around to the back of the trailer and fill the drink order for the customer.

Next to the finished goods stock were the workers of the production department. They were clearly producing to a sales forecast. As I walked up they had removed the last funnel cake from the fryer thereby completing the production batch they were told was needed. Finished goods had been increased by eight funnel cakes. Uh oh - only one elephant ear in stock! Panic ! Make more now! But wait ... a single individual was in front of deep fryer #1 (it was labeled that). She was making elephant ears using a dough processor that turned a ball of dough into a pizza crust kind of shape which she then placed in the oil for transformation into that beautiful golden hued calorie container. It only took about 30 seconds of fry time. She was able to make one at a time and keep up with sales.

By now I had been watching for about five minutes. During that time not a single funnel cake was sold from stock. They were becoming everyone's LEAST favorite fair treat - the dreaded oil sponge cake. The powered sugar had dissolved into the mass. They were looking not too appetizing. That's why the sales assistant added new sugar. I noticed every customer wanted an elephant ear - maybe because while in line they were witnessing the melting into goop process. Anyway by the time the sales transaction was completed the fresh ears were ready for just in time delivery. I was wondering how that was happening.

Then I noticed it. The deep fryer #1 operator was not working to a forecast. Even though she was at the far end of the noisy hot trailer she could hear the customer orders. If they ordered two she would drop two dough masses in. She had figured it out - just in time production of fresh product! And they were delivered fresh - the customers were having a hard time holding the hot plates. It was working great. Then the training of the other workers kicked in and they identified that there was a crisis in the inventory (OK the manager had yelled at them to quit standing around and to get busy). They needed to react before the customer was impacted.

They all sprang to work. One went to the raw materials warehouse and started up another batch of dough, even though the last batch had only been about 20 percent consumed. Other coworkers pretty much pushed the just in time operator away from the dough machine and started running it at capacity. The output from the dough press was placed not only in fryer #1 but another coworker grabbed some partially cooked ones and moved them to fryer two - the funnel cake fryer - thereby running both fryers at capacity. Within a few minutes all was right in the world for workers in the trailer. Inventory was again full. A customer crisis was avoided. Elephant ears would be available for everyone that wanted them. My friend had received the last of the just in time elephant ears. I could see the pile already beginning to look like the funnel cakes - gooey.

The bottleneck of the operation was the sales department. Because they couldn't process orders quickly enough they were not only underutilizing manufacturing capacity they were losing sales. Lots of potential customers would stop near the window and state "Looks really good but I don't want to wait in that long line". A second cash register and moving one of the production folks to it would have easily more than doubled their sales capacity.

Beyond the sales constraint this process was clearly in need of a lean transformation - lean really can work on anything. I'm thinking about another trip to the fair to see if any competitors have figured out better i.e. lean ways to meet customer needs. I'll let you know if I do.

I hope you enjoyed my story more than my wife did. By the time I walked away she had zoned me out and was looking at the crowd again.

Gary tells a great story here. Two things are at its core: Finding a way to pace production to demand (takt time) and identifying constraints to increase throughput. While humorous when viewing a concession stand with only two products, the principles apply in each of our companies.

What is particularly useful here is using a simple process to make a profound point. Which is the entire point of this weblog.

Gary, thanks so much. It is useful to me and I hope for all other readers.

(And your wife and mine would both roll their eyes together at all this....)

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Two Great Wastes

The Two Great Wastes


Hal Macomber and Greg Howell have added to our understanding of Lean with an important new paper, discussed recently on Hal's blog.  The paper, The Two Great Wastes in Organizations proposes that Not Listening and Not Speaking are the fundamental human problems that contribute to waste of people, just as the now-famous Seven Wastes describe how we waste material.


I'm going to be writing more on this in the weeks to come.  Hal and Greg allowed me to read early versions of the manuscript starting about 18 months ago and I've been testing this in my own job since.  Indeed, they added one of my summaries in an appendix to the paper. 


We often talk about the difficulty on the human side of a Lean implementation.  "They just don't understand!"  "No one wants to change!"  And we wring our hands and wonder where all the good people are. 


The good people are with us.  And, in framing the problem as Wastes of Not Listening and Not Speaking, we can then use many familiar Lean tools to make improvements. 


I'll share more of how I'm approaching it.  In the meantime, do read the paper and leave some comments on it here or for Hal's blog.  Feel free to forward the link to the paper to others. 


This is hugely helpful to me...I hope it is to you as well. 


Monday, August 16, 2004

Learning from Dwight D. Eisenhower

Learning from Dwight D. Eisenhower

Just snagged a few days’ vacation. My ideal time away involves little schedule and much reading. It was great to finish a wonderful book, Eisenhower; A Soldier's Life by Carlo D’Este. Several key observations:

  • Leadership is a fuzzy task. An overriding theme of the book was that Eisenhower had as major of a task managing the Allied commanders, their egos, their ambitions, as he did addressing the central military elements of defeating Nazi Germany. His military training was constantly being affected by the human and political questions; such as “Who will be the first to cross the Rhine?”—an ongoing battle, eventually won by American George Patton over British Field Marshall Montgomery.
  • Act only on well-grounded assessments. In the pressure of war, Eisenhower made excellent decisions when he had strong evidence to support his opinions. Similarly, he made some very poor decisions when he acted on unsubstantiated feelings.
  • Socratic Method. In 1922-24, Dwight Eisenhower was in a boring posting in Panama. Boring only in name, as he was under Gen Fox Conner. Gen Conner used the The Socratic Method to fill the time in teaching the young Eisenhower about military strategy and planning. Fox’s probing questions forced his student to think harder and understand better than he ever did at West Point. Many historians view this three-year hitch as the foundation of the American victory in World War II.
  • View any assignment as good preparation. In the mid 1930s, Eisenhower was assigned to go to France and locate all the American military cemeteries from WW I. Not an exciting task. Yet, despite his disappointment at not having a more strategic task, he took to it with energy, criss-crossing northern France by car and horse. In so doing, he gained direct knowledge of the geography he would cross again ten years later.
  • Know whom you can count on. Eisenhower was viewed by many as not the best person for the job of supreme commander, but rather as the one who offended the least number of key players, Churchill and Roosevelt the chief among them. As he progressed in his command, he found this birth in compromise left him with a precious handful of true compatriots. He leaned on them and their support was key to winning the war.
  • Be clear on your objective. The number of tugs and pulls on Eisenhower were colossal, at a level I never imagined. The daily grind was telling; the book speaks of the incredible weariness of the man as the war ground on and the Allies moved towards Berlin. His great strength was absolute clarity of objective.
  • Constraints. Multiple stories showed (again) the principle of understanding constraints. Most notable was the repeated constraint imposed by the availability (or lack thereof) of enough small landing craft, or LSTs. Indeed, it was the number of LSTs available which governed the scope of the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944. In preparations for D-Day, Winston Churchill grasped this principle when he said “the destinies of two great empires seemed to be tied up in some blasted things called LSTs.”

The applications for each of us are obvious.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Toyota Reprint Available

Toyota Reprint Available


I mentioned in yesterday's post the WSJ article on Toyota, from last week.  Alert Reader John Robinson commented on the post and pointed to free access to the article here, at the Lean Enterprise Institute website.  If you're not registered with LEI, you'll have to do so, but it's free, they don't do bad things with your email address (now THAT would be really un-lean wouldn't it??!!) and there are good resources there. 


Thanks, John, for the heads up.


I hope this is helpful.


Monday, August 09, 2004

Even Toyota needs good people

Even Toyota needs good people


Last Wednesday's Wall Street Journal had a front page article on Toyota's Quality Concerns (subscription may not get access to this link).   In summary, the article shows that even Toyota's legendary production system, the one after which all Lean models are built, struggles to keep up with its success.  Toyota's legendary quality has triggered so much growth that it is having a hard time maintaining quality. 


The hardest thing for them?  Having enough experienced coaches to go around.  Not enough teachers to train the next generation of production leaders.  A very human problem as many of the original lean sensei retire and as Toyota becomes more and more international. 


Many observers want to reduce Lean to a set of practices, such as Just-in-Time or kanban cards.  While these are highly visible aspects of Lean, at its core is people.  Good people, who know the system, have internalized it and can teach it, coach it, walk the talk, explain it.  Over and over.    And herein is Toyota's struggle. 


Pay attention to your own skills.  Learn all you can.  Learn it by showing others how to do it. 


And take heart.  Even the most prolific Lean machine ever turned loose struggles with the same thing.


I hope this is helpful. 


Saturday, August 07, 2004

A Corvette Teaches Lean

A Corvette Teaches Lean

On the expected list of Saturday errands today, I had to drive about 7 miles across town to a store. The route took me on a city street that was quite busy this afternoon. I noted, shortly after starting my journey, a really cool looking, 2004 Chevy Corvette in the lane next to me. Fully decked out, throbbing with power. The vanity license plate said simply "SAMSON";I figured the owner must be into muscle.

And we both were stuck in the same traffic.

We were an odd couple, easing ahead and behind of each other in adjacent lanes. Here I was in my 1998 Saturn, all 129,000 miles of ordinary, keeping full pace with this gorgeous work of automotive art. "Samson" had his stereo cranked up, the subwoofer pounding out thumpa-thumpas dwarfing my small radio tuned to the Cubs-Giants pre-game show. "Samson" was one cool dude (though "Delilah" must have decided to stay home for this outing); I'm a manufacturing geek (and hey, my wife stayed home too).

And we both were stuck at the same untimed traffic lights.

And we both got to the same parking lot at the same time.

Why did this strike me? Because I had four conversations in the past two days on the same topic.

On the open road, my pal Samson would blow me away in an instant. In a parking lot, he would get all the oogles. But, today, in getting from point A to point B, we were full equals. Why? Because the system constraints limited our individual capabilities!

The busy traffic, the poorly-timed lights took away any individual advantages or disadvantages. As such, the extra expense of the hot Corvette was of no use compared to my well-depreciated Saturn. Any speed in traversing this route demanded other solutions.

My conversations showed people still trying (hoping? yearning?) to create or buy better "cars" when the limits on their "speed" lay elsewhere. Any lean system that is to have effect on company financials has to look to optimize the system, not just create better components.

And I think we still don't really get this fundamental fact.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Look who's Blogging now!

Look who's Blogging now!


No less a thought leader than Tom Peters himself!  His company re-did their corporate website a month or so ago, shifting to a central focus on blogs from Peters' and his team.  Then, yesterday, Tom wrote a long entry on direct marketing which included this bit:


(4) Upon re-reading Michael Levine's Guerrilla PR Wired: Waging a Successful Publicity Campaign Online, Offline, and Everywhere in Between, I summarily decided that my future-for good or for ill-lies to a significant degree in blogging. (Again: Stay tuned!)


Tom Peters?  Seeing his future in blogging????  We'll see.  I have to say, though, I've been a fan of Peters ever since he and Bob Waterman wrote In Search of Excellence in 1980.  And, yes, he's out there.  And yes, he's right a lot of the time.  And, reading his site, he has some very timely (read: same day) insight into how companies work and don't work. 


It's worth reading. And it's free. 


I hope you find it helpful. I sure do. 


Sunday, August 01, 2004

"One and Done" won't get it won

"One and Done" won't get it won

Ran into an old friend last week who told me a troubling story. Seems that she had been working with a peer in her company to change a process in their service operation. The effort started with promise, then foundered. Her colleague became bored and disinterested...behaviors in the department then reverted to earlier, less functional levels.

Months later, her colleague acknowledged that he had not driven the implementation effort adequately at the start. He had assumed that a few conversations would ensure behavior change, without him following up. He realized that was wrong. And that's the good news.

The bad news is that he was adamant that any change effort should be done in one shot. He agreed the failure was due to his lack of follow through. Yet, he felt deeply that, had he followed through, it would have been fully implemented in one shot, and then would have stayed changed.

Ouch. Big ouch.

Change efforts are never one shot deals. They take continuous effort. This manager had a "batch" view of it once, it sticks. Human nature is not that way. Indeed, this is why continuous improvement is "continuous." It starts, it gets improved, it improves more.

How much better a "flow" view of change. Where one makes steady change and makes many small steps that stick. World-class companies find 2 such changes every month from every employee. Yes, 2 per month, per person. Not a typo.

I felt for my old friend. She tried hard, but could not bust through the inadequate view of change. I hope you have a better view. And document some changes this week.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me