Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Masking waste, even by a good deed

Masking waste, even by a good deed


Had a long talk with a neighbor last night who is very active in a food pantry at his church.  They feed over 250 families a month and have done so for nearly 20 years.  His role is in finding and transporting food to the pantry.  Many local stores donate old food and my neighbor takes it to the pantry.  He described one store's story to me.  


"Yeah, it was really a shame when that store got their logistics act together last year."


Oh really?


"Yes.  Before the change, I could go there on Saturday morning and get enough day-old bakery goods to fill the trunk, back seat and passenger seat of my car!  But now, boy, they are running better and I'm lucky to get a couple dozen donuts each week."   He just shook his head.


So what happened?


"Oh, they just figured out what was selling in the store and quit guessing.  So now they have stuff that the paying customers want.  A lot less is left over for us."


My waste-free-system side went clashing into my do-right-in-the-community side at his description.  Clearly, the company made some effective changes in predicting and supplying their bakery shelves.  Did the contributions to the local charity mask this supply chain problem for them?  Did they ignore other problems under the banner of "helping the community"?  I have no idea. 


Yet it also raises the issue that we not mask a system problem by calling it something that it isn't.  And, similarly, we not mask a community responsibility by just letting waste flow that way. 


How much better to have a good supply system and a good way to contribute back to local communities.  Both clearly called what they are. 


I hope there is not a "Corporate Scrooge" somewhere now relishing the fact that they are not sending food to help local poor.  But, even more, I hope they are not masking either their ability to contribute or their ability to supply their stores. 


Inventory masks problems in many ways.  This is a new one to me.


I hope this is helpful. And go make a contribution, in money or in kind, to a local food pantry today.  You'll be better for it and so will they. 


Friday, August 26, 2005

Never get complacent


Never get complacent


"Success always obsoletes the very behavior that achieved it.  It always creates new realities.  It always creates, above all, its own and different problems."

Peter Drucker, from The Daily Drucker, p 262


Today's thought from the writings of Peter Drucker is dead on the money for a lean thinker.  Indeed, one of the fundamental concepts of Lean is continuous improvement, kaizen, a relentless and never ending quest to improve. 


While this quest can be stated (and often is) as mere pabulum, what does it mean for your company?  Is it, as one process company I know of put it, a continual improvement in their "first batch quality" metric?  Is it, as a retail company describes it, a steady increase in the average purchase per customer visit?  Can you measure it and then improve it?


Further, from our understanding of Theory of Constraints, do we apply this improvement most intentionally at the point of constraint?  And, further, do we apply it to make sure we increase capacity for throughput as we expand the constraint?


When we succeed, we create new issues.  Face them.  Measure them.  Improve them. 


I hope this is helpful.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Distractions vs. Focus

Distractions vs. Focus


Today's activities:

--accounting issues

--unplanned tour to give

--a lost document to find

--a wounded ego to salve

--plan a major project that just emerged

--plan a kaizen event for next week


So, what else is new?  Sounds pretty normal doesn't it? 


One of the key features of a lean system is the ability to separate the important things that require our attention from the noise that is always there.  This is why we use kanban cards, for example (making the fulfillment of inventory clear and easy) or daily production charts (which show us the key metrics we know we need). 


We need these tools to separate the important from the rest of the things that clamor for our attention.  Not all signals are created equal. 

I hope you can separate the key signals from the fluff today.


I hope this is helpful.



Friday, August 19, 2005

"So, what was that name again?"

"So, what was that name again?"


A friend and former colleague called a few weeks ago, asking me if I'd be a reference for a job search.  I was pleased to help.  I got a message from a background-checking firm about him yesterday and I called them back a few minutes ago. 


The receptionist answered the phone; I stated my name and asked for the interviewer who had called me.  The receptionist then asked me for the name of my friend.  I stated it.  Even spelled both names.  "Thank you," she said, as I heard her clack the keys of her computer as I spoke and she put me on hold.


The interviewer picked up in after 20 seconds of elevator music.  "Your name, sir?" she asked.  I gave it again.  "And about whom are you calling?" she asked, clicking away on her keyboard.  I gave my friends name.  "Oh yes, Mr. Ely, thanks for calling back," and we proceeded. 


So what happened to my name and the name of my friend between the receptionist and the interviewer??  Was it all a ruse?  Was she just IM-ing her friends as she talked to me?  Did their information system not have the capability to tell the interview "Joe Ely on line 5 about John Doe"? And if it didn't, why not? 


Pure waste.  My effort to give my name and my friend's name to the receptionist was for naught.  The firm did not value my time.  They were content to waste it. 


Pure waste.  And where in each of our firms do we do the same?  It is one thing to see this in a phone call elsewhere.  But where do we ask employees to constantly repeat their address or phone on forms?  Where do we expect customers to do silly work to tell us information we already know?   


I hope you can find a silly waste like this and eliminate it today. 


I hope this is helpful. 


Thursday, August 18, 2005




Just got a report this morning from my colleague Annie on some progress she has made in solving a particular manufacturing problem we have.  She's an engineer and is working with two of our production associates on this vexing issue. 


In her report, she described how she's been on the production floor multiple times each week, handling and working with the product in question, in close quarters, as a  team.  And they have gained insight we haven't seen before.




The team is working elbow-to-elbow.  Literally.  They are close enough, physically, that their elbows can easily touch.  In that setting, they make observations and communicate intensely.  Over the period of two short weeks, they have begun to blaze the trail to the root cause of this problem. 


This type of interaction doesn't happen via email or over a large conference table.  It happens when two or three people get on the same side of a table (literally) and face the issue, close enough their elbows touch. In a Lean setting, we must solve problems quickly.  And it happens most often elbow-to-elbow.


Thanks to my oft-mentioned friend Hal Macomber for alerting me to this term and principle years ago.  It works.  Get elbow-to-elbow with some colleague today.  See what happens.


I hope this is helpful. 


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What do you want from this blog?

What do you want from this blog?


Seth Godin writes a super piece today on asking "what do you want" .  Read the three brief stories he tells and stick with him to the last paragraph.


And, so, I ask you, my readers:  What do you want from this blog?  Leave a comment or email me with your view.


Thanks...you will be helpful to me!!


Tuesday, August 16, 2005




Further observations as I dig through my inbox, catching up from some time off. 


Two great minds, Frank Patrick and Tom Peters wrote recently on focus.  Frank's point is that we need to do one thing at a time.  Tom took a different tack, urging us to not get locked into a solution too quickly when approaching a problem, or, in his terms, to "defocus" before locking in. 


Then I had a meeting yesterday adding a further "ahaa" to the topic of focus.  Examining some production metrics with my key colleagues, one trend over the past week jumped out.  We saw it clearly because we had configured the presentation of our metrics to change colors when our actual figures were far from our plan. 


The presentation told us clearly and simply where our problem was.


The conversation that followed was anything but clear or simple, however.  The reasons were complex and difficult to talk about.  And the solution was not obvious.  We had to take a step back and "defocus" on our preconceived notions of the cause.  Yet, the metric had led us to a conversation about the right issue.


Focus.  Defocus.  Stepping closer.  Stepping back.  Stating assumptions.  Challenging assumptions. 


Frank and Tom are both right.  And knowing when and how to focus is key for each of us offering leadership in achieving process excellence.


I hope this is helpful.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Quick Reads

Quick Reads


Just back from 9 days of refreshing vacation.  And I find two items in the piles awaiting me worth reading by this group.


First, Tom Peters on why logistics matter.  We all want to implement.   And we'd better pay attention to how the pieces fit together.


Second, Seth Godin on two kinds of writing.  I've missed this in the past. 


Many more observations I'll post over the next few days. 


I hope these are helpful!



Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Quietly Spectacular

An acquaintance phoned me yesterday, August 1.  He was kind of bewildered, yet happy. 

He and I had talked off and on over the last six months about his attempt to install a pull system to even out his production flow.  He had had mixed results and had equally mixed buy-in by some of his manufacturing staff.  They wanted to anticipate demand downstream rather than respond solely to the production signals that kanban provided him.

And, during July, it seems that he hit a critical mass of buy-in.  He noted during the month that uncertainty seemed to be lower, staff whining seemed to be quieter and his final goods and in-process inventory metrics seemed to be better...even though they were having a good month, business-wise. 

But the kicker came as he compiled some month-end figures for July.  His on-time delivery rate was up by 3 percentage points, to a level above the target his management had asked him to hit.  A significant accomplishment in his world. 

And he wondered aloud "Gee, it didn't seem that flashy."

Indeed.  An effective lean system is not flashy.  It is very quiet.  In fact, it calms things down to a level that a manager can then see the genuine problems and not be distracted by noise.  He saw the results up close.  I was happy for him.

I hope this is helpful.