Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Eliminating waste by paying attention to the waist

Eliminating waste by paying attention to the waist

You can learn a lot by looking in unusual places.  My current favorite unusual place is Kathleen Fasanella's excellent blog Fashion-Incubator.  Not that I'll ever figure out how to dress well.  But Kathleen writes about how she makes clothing.  She has a marvelous feel for how things are made.  Plus she is a great writer. And I learn a lot from her. 


Today's post is titled yet another pet peeve: Waistbands.  She describes in wonderfully clear language how a manufacturer can design in value for the end user by simply paying attention to design.  In this case, by merely moving where on the piece of fabric the manufacturer cuts the waistband of the pants with respect to the legs of the pants, the pants can then respond to repeated washings with the waist "moving" in direct proportion to the rest of the pants.  Simply put, the waist won't shrink any faster than the rest of the garment.  All by how the waistband is cut. 


If you are familiar with sewing it will make sense.  If you are not, like me, you will appreciate that Kathleen proposes more value for the end user is there to be had with some simple thinking and tinkering.  Even on something as mundane as a pair of jeans.  And when the user says "Gee, this brand just fits better!" every day when she/he puts them on, guess what brand will be at the top of the list at the next shopping trip?



Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Kaizen Event for the Holidays

A Kaizen Event for the Holidays



Between Christmas and New Year's, we snuck in a two-day Kaizen event.  Pretty cool, in that our team got into it.  Results were impressive.  By simply removing non-value added activities, we took a process that had an 11-minute cycle time with three people and modified it to an 8 minute cycle time with only two people.  In addition, we eliminated one external activity that fed this process that required one person for six minutes. 


Simply watching, timing, talking, trying, testing and trying again, we saw this in two days.  These things are not hard to do.  The discipline to do it is. 


This kaizen event also points out another important fact:  our marketing team is central to achieving kaizen success.  Why?  By keeping a growing backlog of work for our team.  Thus, our team members were not the slightest bit concerned about cutting one person out of a process.  That team member had more than enough to do on a related process.  If the business isn't growing, kaizen won't work. 


This is a point seldom discussed and crucial.  A lean transformation is a system-wide effort.  Not just in operations. 


Go hug a marketing person today.  It's good for improvement. 


Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Good, the Bad and the (your eyes are) Ugly

The Good, the Bad and the (your eyes are) Ugly


Got an email earlier this week from Kevin Rutherford who writes the blog silk and spinach (what a great name, why can't I think up picturesque words like that??!).  Picking up on practical applications of lean principles, Kevin writes here on the British Post Office's efforts to standardize passport photos:  your eyes are too high, sir.


What's intriguing here was that the BPO's initial efforts at mistake-proofing were well conceived; they told the user precisely how to position the head in the photo.  They botched the effort with subsequent requirements, invisible to the user.  In short, they did not achieve rapid error detection and correction, also known as Jidoka (with thanks to Mark Rosenthal for this terrific article which I've used for years). 


Kevin's brief and funny write up explains this better than any sleepy PowerPoint presentation; enjoy it.


Upon further review, we are also pleased to report that Kevin's eyes are fine and he's on schedule for his holiday. 


You're looking good, sir. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

How Kanban Breaks Down

How Kanban Breaks Down


Last summer, I wrote here about everyday examples of Lean.  In one entry, I described my Jugban system of keeping distilled water in the house for my contact lenses.  A simple container Kanban system, it just works. 


Or so I thought until I saw how kanban breaks down.


My clever system for refilling the empty container involved a nearby grocery store having a distilled water dispenser that worked.  Alas, the dispenser was out of service recently.  So, I went to another grocery store nearby which also had a dispenser.  That helped me out for a few weeks.  And then IT broke down!  I was in a pickle and ended up having to buy a new gallon at a drug store. 


Kanban works marvelously so long as the supplier can and will consistently supply the requestor with the exact amount requested at the time requested in the quality required.  When the supplier breaks down or becomes unreliable, you have three choices.  Fix the supplier.  Change the supplier. Increase your buffer inventory. 


Or else your vision really clouds. 


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Project Kaizen Site is Up

Project Kaizen Site Is Up


In December, we ran a series on improving project performance, called Project Kaizen.  Hal Macomber has compiled most of these posts onto a new site, Project Kaizen.  We'll add material there from time to time.  It will serve as a reference for all of us. 


Thanks, Hal, for your work on this!


Monday, January 09, 2006

Check your Assumptions at the Door

Check your Assumptions at the Door

My colleague Mike solved a tough problem last week.  A really tough problem.  One that had vexed us for the past five months.  One that was important to our company.  And when he fixed it, he not only fixed it, but he laid the groundwork for it staying fixed. And he fixed it with no capital investment and only a few hours of thoughtful work on his part. 


It is worth examining what Mike did.


Mike has the basic understanding of the context of the problem.  He cared passionately about it, to the point it was causing him to lose sleep.  He kept telling himself, correctly, "This isn't magic, it is physics.  We can figure it out."  Yet we couldn't.


Then, over the New Year's weekend, he had an insight.  He questioned a basic assumption we had all made about the situation.  Amazingly, that assumption was false.  Patently false.  Outrageously false.  He then verified the very falseness of that assumption.  Upon verification, the solution was both obvious and easy.  He reversed the error (this was the few hours of thoughtful work).  And, bang, in less than a day, the problem we could not solve was solved.  For good.


Perceptive readers will recognize this as a key component of evaporating cloud analysis of tough conflicts.  Central to this is asking "What assumptions am I making about the cause which triggers the effect I observe?"  (My blogging buddy Frank Patrick goes deeper on this topic here.)  It is a mental discipline that forces one to think deeply and question assumptions.   Because, when we can find a false assumption, we make a leap towards finding the root cause.  And finding root cause is the only way to rid the problem, completely. 


Mike challenged the assumption instinctively.  Could we have solved the problem in two months, not five, had we employed a more formal problem solving technique sooner??  I suspect so.  That too is a discipline.  We're not there yet. 


Try this today with a difficult assumption.  Finish the sentence "You know, this situation really oughta work if (state assumption) was true."  Make a list.  Put at least seven assumptions on this list (yeah, its it anyway).  Then verify, one by one, if each assumption is in fact true.  You might surprise yourself.


Thanks, Mike.  You da man!