Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Starting, Finishing


Starting, Finishing

It's easier to start a project than to end one.

It's easier to dream up a Quality Circle than to implement its results.

It's easier to take off than to land an airplane

It's easier to break ground than to finish the last piece of woodwork in the corner of a room.

It's easier to start a trip than to get home again.

It's easier to schedule a kaizen event than to finish the last day with results.

It's easier to start the season than play in the World Series.

It's easier to have a baby than raise a teenager.

It's easier to quit smoking than to never smoke again.




And the rewards go to those who finish the job. 




So, figure out how to finish well. 






Sunday, November 27, 2005

Making a Plant Hum

Making a Plant Hum

A week ago Friday, Wayne Reisinger of our local Economic Development group and I had the privilege to tour a nearby manufacturing plant about two years into a Lean transformation. They are in a brutal market environment and have a number of local factors working against them. The Plant Manager framed the situation to us as "a street fight for our very survival." And they are succeeding.

Here's what I saw as their keys.

On a foundation of 5S...

The plant was clean and orderly. Despite some inherently "dirty" processing steps, the floors shined, the equipment was in order, and tools were where they needed to be. Their tooling shop was spotless, as was the (gasp) boiler room!

On inquiry, one of their process specialists described the way in which they do monthly 5S audits. Managers rotate the parts of the plant they inspect and score each month. As a result, the habits are growing.

The result? Two key metrics flowed from this. Equipment uptime had improved substantially. Clean equipment works better. When you clean equipment, you find little problems sooner.

Safety also improved. Dry, clean, uncluttered floors are hard to trip on. The discipline of keeping a workplace clean is the same discipline that prevents unsafe actions.

Morale also goes up. Who wants to work in a dirty, unorganized pit??

...they pursue continuous flow.

The central theme uniting all their efforts was flow. How could they keep an individual order progressing through the facility, adding value?

To do this, they moved entire departments, so that, if process A fed process B, they physically moved the work group doing process A right next to process B. The product then flowed on a simple set of rollers or simple, special cart from A to B. There was remarkably little forklift traffic in the plant.

Rather than layout equipment by type (all the presses together, for example) they laid out the plant by product line. This thinking leads to understanding flow. From this foundation of thinking first about flow, managers cleared the fuzz from their vision and could then see the physical and organizational blocks to flow. Their improvement efforts centered on achieving flow.

I can’t say enough about the impact of looking at flow as an organizing principle. I’ve known this for a while but saw it in physical space in this tour. It all starts, though, with thinking differently.

I hope you can change your thinking and then improve some flow, today.

Waste We Do Not See

Waste We Do Not See

Seth once more brings me up short. This time with the waste of newspaper stock price listings. No value. Added cost. The customer doesn’t use them. Why force her to pay for the ink and newsprint?

overprocessing waste.

me open my eyes wider. What else am I missing?

Friday, November 25, 2005

You want 'em to do what?

You want ‘em to do what?

Did my patriotic duty yesterday, Thanksgiving Day. After hosting the in-laws, they left, we cleaned up and Gretchen and I sat down to conclude the day by watching some football on TV.

West Virginia was pounding Pittsburgh pretty hard. As the teams left for halftime, the sideline reporter corralled Pitt head coach Dave “not a contender for the Nobel Prize” Wannstedt to ask him about adjustments for the second half. Wannstedt responded in the same manner that cost him his job with both the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins; excuses and lack of clarity.

“We just have to run faster” was his summary of his plans for the second half. Huh? Just run faster? Like these college players could dial in more speed, on command?

While comical in a sports setting, it hit me that many managers (including me) often do a similar thing. We confuse an outcome with a method to achieve the outcome.

“We just have to cut costs.”

“We just have to get more sales.”

“We just have to boost productivity.”

No more helpful than the Pitt coach.

A leader can see what the outcome needs to be AND then articulates how to get there.

For example, a better comment by Wannstedt would have been “Our team speed can’t keep up with West Virginia. We’re going to have to adjust our defensive alignment to get our guys in better position.”

The lean perspective knows cutting costs and boosting productivity is there to be had by eliminating waste. Not expecting our staff to “run faster” but rather putting them a position where they don’t have to run as far.

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Peter Drucker Perspectives

More Peter Drucker Perspectives

If you are interested in Peter Drucker perspectives, you can do a search. A couple I have found insightful are on
800-CEO-READ Blog. Here’s one by Michael BallĂ©; scroll both ways for more. Two friends independently passed along Farewell, Peter Drucker: A Tribute to an Intellectual Giant from the Wharton School of Business.

This is a useful time of reflection on the passing of a true leader.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Overprocessing Waste, an example

Overprocessing Waste, an example

Of Taiichi Ohno’s now-famous
7 Wastes, the one I’ve always had the hardest time explaining is “Overprocessing,” sometimes called “inappropriate processing.” It always seems to glass people over. While it is easier to understand why excess motion or transportation is a waste, this overprocessing waste seems to many to simply be giving the customer a little extra.

So, I give you an example.

It’s getting cold here in Indiana and, reluctantly, I’m needing to add some insulation to my legs for my early morning run each day. Last weekend, I ordered a new pair of sweat pants and they arrived today.

Here’s exactly how I opened the package this evening. The box was fine, the sweatpants were fine but Styrofoam peanuts??? In a shipping container that only had a pair of very unbreakable sweatpants??

This is classic overprocessing. An extra step that adds cost but no value. Note that this example not only adds cost to the vendor but cost and hassle to me, the consumer. I have to get rid of the silly things. They cling to everything. And are notorious for being environmentally unfriendly.

Perhaps their shipping department thinks they added value. Perhaps they did this mindlessly. Probably they were sincere. But, clearly, no one there is thinking about waste.

Go find some overprocessing to stomp out. It’ll feel good.

The Products of Inattention

The Products of Inattention


From The Daily Drucker this morning:


The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction, malperformance.


Go fight these today.



Monday, November 14, 2005

But it oughtta work!!

But it oughtta work!!


David Allen wrote yesterday about simplicity.  The key sentence that struck me:


            Lots of great ideas work in your head, but in your hands they die a sure death.


Yeah, that can sure be me.


And the solution is clear and very consistent in a Lean, learning environment.  Try it.  Now.  In a small way.  Don't bet the farm; just try it in a small corner of the farm.  Now. 


I overheard a conversation in an airport recently as one businessman described a seminar he had just attended.  "Yeah, it was pretty good, I got some great ideas.  I'm going to build them into my schedule in the new year." 


He'll never do it.   


If an idea is going to work, get it working now by trying it.  If an idea is not going to work, find out now by trying it and then flush it from cluttering your brain.  Kind of a 5S exercise for mental clutter.


I hope this is helpful. 



Sunday, November 13, 2005

Better Persuasion

Better Persuasion

Why do Lean Implementations fail? Why, when we give a compelling presentation, does nothing happen?

Seth has an idea
on being a better persuader. It’s worth reading.

Let’s face it; most of us in the Lean community are engineers or other technical types. We think and live in a logical world. Which is great when solving an engineering problem.

But most operational issues are not engineering issues at all. They are people issues. And, to persuade people to change something, there has to be a deeper resonance, a (gasp) emotional connection. And most of us engineers are not all that good at this.

Yet we can learn this. And Seth gives us a start.

I hope this is helpful.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Peter Drucker 1909-2005

Peter Drucker 1909-2005

How do you describe a dear friend whom you have never met? Further, how do you explain the pit in the stomach when that dear friend dies?

Which is what I feel this evening upon just learning of Peter Drucker's death earlier today (
news report, official announcement ). Sad. Yet profoundly grateful.

As I've told many people, I learned more about management from Peter Drucker than any other human. A supervisor gave me "The Effective Executive" early in my career, in 1979. Drucker's writing resonated with me in an amazing way. I've read most of his books since. I have a copy of "The Daily Drucker" sitting on my desk, from which I start each work day with insight from this great thinker.

And now he is gone.

Drucker's unique combination of clarity and consistency of thought drove his passionate pursuit of excellence that put people first. His was a constant theme that good management was key to the social order in that it enabled people to advance and grow and contribute. While firmly grounded, he was keenly aware of the changing of the world's economy and contiued to be relevant, even to his last months.

About four years ago, I was invited to address a group of general contractors in the the commercial building industry on applications of Lean principles to their world. Following the session, a participant pulled me aside and said "You know, you sound just like Peter Drucker. Have you ever read his material?" I had not metioned Drucker at all, yet his complete influence on my thought came through. This remains my most cherished compliment I've received in business.

Much more can be said. For now, we can simply be grateful for this great man and that his writings are with us.

Thank you, Peter. May you rest in peace, my friend, my mentor.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Attended a Lean seminar today and a speaker asked the assembled group "How many of you have completed your Lean work?"

The troubling thing about this question was that the speaker felt she had indeed completed the work at her company and simply wondered who else was at this level.

This is akin to asking "Have I become a good parent?" "Have I become a good person?"

You never arrive. And to think you have is delusional.

There is always waste to find. The customer would always be pleased with better value, more help to solve her problem, better pricing for his budget.

It is the relentlessness of the journey, not the destination, that is the joy. To think we have arrived is to miss the bus completely.

I hope this is helpful.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Socratic Method at the Dinner Table

Socratic Method at the Dinner Table


I've written recently about the Socratic Method as a central practice of many Lean companies.  My son, Matt, age 17 and a junior in High School, gave me an opportunity to explore it further last week when he posed the following question at dinner:


"So why does the US have military bases in other countries, but no other countries have military bases here in the US?"


Great question.  I almost answered directly but then decided to see if I could teach by asking questions.  Here's how it went, a pretty accurate transcript.



Joe:  Good question.  Do you think folks in other countries like having a US base there?


Matt:  Boy, I sure wouldn't want a foreign army here.


Joe:  But what about people living in another country?  Would they like it?


Matt:  (confused) I don't know, I don't live there.


Joe: (realizing I started down a poor path with initial questions; take a new path) So, just what countries are you thinking about?


Matt:  Well, like Italy or England.


Joe:  So, what do we know about Italian people reacting to a US base there?


Matt:  Well, it seems to be pretty peaceful...not like they are throwing rocks at it.


Joe:  So, why would the Italians not be upset? 


Matt:  I don't know, I'm not Italian. 


Joe:  How about the British?  Are they upset?


Matt:  Don't appear to be.


Joe:  So what's our history, militarily, with the British?


Matt:  Well, we defeated them and became independent.


Joe:  (I'm still not connecting...have to refocus a bit) Let's not go that far back...more recently, what was our military connection with the British?


Matt:  Oh, well, we were allies. 


Joe:  Geographically, what is England near?


Matt.  (pausing) Germany? 


Joe:  Yes.  And what is the US near?


Matt: (smiling) Canada!


Joe:  So why would the US have a base in England?


Matt:  Because it was near an enemy in the two World Wars!


Joe:  And why didn't England place troops in the US? 


Matt:  (laughing) Canada isn't about to attack us!!


Joe:  So that explains part of it.  But the wars are long over and Germany is now an ally.  Why are the British not still upset?


Matt:  (pausing) Because the base buys stuff.


Joe:  Like what kind of stuff?


Matt:  Well...just stuff.  I don't know.


Joe:  (shift gears again...trying to make it less abstract) Think of a solider or airman stationed in England.  What would he or she buy there?


Matt:  Oh.  He might go to a restaurant or a pub in the town. He's spending money.


Joe:  And what does that do for the area around the base?


Matt:  Well, it helps businesses make money.


Joe:  So why would people not be upset about the base?


Matt:  (pause, then big grin) Because the presence of the base is mutually beneficial!!


Joe:  Yeah.  Make sense?


Matt:  Yeah.  May I be excused?


Joe:  (I finally answer a question...)  Sure. 



Several observations about teaching using the Socratic Method.


Like swimming, you don't learn how to do this by reading blogs or thinking about it.  You have to try it.  Jump in and try it. 


It's hard to teach by questions a topic you don't know yourself. 


The reason is that you never really know what series of questions will resonate with the other person.  So, you have to be very alert to what is working and what is not.  And be willing to shift gears, several times.  If you don't know the subject, you won't be able to make the gearshifts.


It seems slower.   But it lasts longer.  Why?  Because the questioning technique gets the learner deeply involved in learning.  In this example, Matt himself came to the realization that "mutual benefit" was the core of the answer.  He'll likely remember that a lot longer than had he endured yet another rambling lecture from his Dad. 


And this is at the key of any lean system.  Substance and stability trumps speed. 


I hope this is helpful.  Rather, I should say; Do you find this helpful?