Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Rich Bouquet with Oak Undertones

A rich bouquet with oak undertones

Overproduction is one of the seven wastes. Seldom, though, does it make news. Until we recently learned a surplus spurs French to turn wine into disinfectant.

This made news because it involves wine, France and is humorous. Lest we laugh too heartily, though, let’s pause to consider the difficulty of avoiding this waste. Wine, good wine anyway, takes years to mature. This requires prediction of demand well ahead of the actual demand. In most of our situations, we seek to remedy this by leaving raw materials in the raw state as long as possible, then relentlessly shortening the production cycle to its minimum required time. In so doing, we minimize the criticality of accurate predictions. I have no idea how a wine maker (a maker of good wines, anyway) could avoid this need to predict.

Avoiding the need to predict is one way to prevent the waste of overproduction. It illustrates, wonderfully, how very interconnected all of our systems are.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"To me" or "with me"?

“To me” or “with me”?

We talk in Lean circles quite a bit about “going to gemba”, the workplace. Jeff Liker calls it “go and see for yourself.” And, on a very practical basis, it means physically moving to the place where associates do the work.

Why is this seemingly simple thing so effective? I’ve said for years, both to myself and to others, “Something good always happens when I walk through the workplace.” But it has nothing to do with me; I’m no vibrant, charismatic person, much more the opposite. But why?

Does “going to Gemba” work in a Lean system because it allows a manager and associates to make improvements “with” each other and not “at” each other?

A memo or email feels “from on high” to the associates who have to implement it. A conversation in the workplace, however, feels much more empathetic, doesn’t it?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Down with Philosophy

Down with the Philosophy

I wrote yesterday about how critical it is for me to know and practice a consistent philosophy of Lean. And today I write about how I can’t spend all my time thinking about the philosophy.

After my lunch last Wednesday with Kevin, I got back to work and did my daily walkthrough of our production areas. Within 5 seconds of entering one set of workstations, three associates simultaneously pointed their fingers at me and said “There he is. Get over here!” I wondered what I had done; their commanad allowed no option.

Turned out a persistent production problem was continuing, despite a change we had made the previous week. The group was frustrated and quickly vented to me.

“So, let’s change the setting again,” I said after hearing their observations. The chatter suddenly stopped; “Change it again? We just changed it.” “Yeah, but that change isn’t working,” I replied. “You just gave me solid data as proof. It seems to me our earlier change didn’t go far enough.”

We did some quick calculations, there at the work station, and estimated how much farther we had to change the setting to improve yield. The four of us agreed it seemed reasonable. I took on the task of doing the necessary paperwork. They agreed to do it when we returned from Thanksgiving holidays. We all agreed on the outcome metric that would tell us if the change was effective or not.

The entire discussion took maybe three minutes. No meetings. No task forces. No donuts. There was intensity. There was data. There was passion. There was honest speaking and listening. There were clear, verifiable promises.

In those three minutes, I contemplated pointing out to this group the philosophical underpinnings of what was going on. It happened in the workplace, in gemba. It was driven by data. It valued the ideas of those working with the product. It happened quickly. Indeed, I thought about all these things.

But I didn’t make any of those statements.

No customer buys a product from us because we are attempting to implement a Lean system. No distributor gets excited about our mistake-proofing systems. No end user cares that we make small changes, driven by associates.

They buy our product because it is available. They buy it because it meets their specifications. They buy it because it works. They buy it because it delivers financial value.

If I spend all my time thinking about Lean philosophy, I’ll never get the work done to implement Lean. And it is in these actions that Lean happens.

Long live the Philosophy. Down with the Philosophy.

Long Live the Philosophy

Long Live the Philosophy

Had lunch with a friend from our church last Wednesday. I was tardy and apologized to Kevin, blurting out my reason for being late; “I had to sort out a philosophical misunderstanding of our manufacturing system.”

Kevin looked dumfounded. “You mean you have a philosophy of manufacturing?”

I tried to explain briefly. And it got me thinking; why is it important to have a philosophical framework for manufacturing? Why this framework Jeff Liker calls The Toyota Way?

If I didn’t have a philosophy of process excellence, I’d have no way of making sense of the seemingly random events and stimuli that happen every day. I would never be able to exercise responsible leadership without a few key principles acting as anchors.

Thus, when I get a request, I ask myself; Does it contribute to single piece flow? Does it help mistake-proof? Does it decrease one or more of the seven wastes? Does it drive point speed or system speed? Does it conform with standard work? Does it help people speak and listen better?

A philosophy is the only way to make a system consistent. And is essential.

And it also has a downside. Listen more tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Why Toyota? Why always Toyota?

Why Toyota? Why always Toyota?

I read with interest Mark Graban’s Lean Blog entry yesterday on No Satisfaction at Toyota, an article in Fast Company. It is a terrific article and I recommend it highly.

And it got me thinking; Why am I so fascinated by Toyota? Why does my benchmark always come back to this one company? Am I narrow? Envious? Participating in a fad? Why always Toyota?

Our neighbors and friends for many years have a son who is a very talented musician. He plays the bassoon. When he was in Junior High, we’d walk past the house and hear him in his room playing scales. First in one key. Then in the next step higher key. Then a step lower key. Up and down. Scales, scales, scales. Later we’d hear him work on a particular piece of music. Over and over, on the same few measures, getting it just right. On the bassoon, for heaven’s sake.

That Junior High kid is now in his mid 20s. He earned major scholarships to study bassoon in the US and in England. He now works with a major eastern symphony orchestra. Contrary to what one might take from my description above, he is a very well-rounded man. He is very personable, charming and has also found a gift in fund-raising for this orchestra.

He did this by paying attention to the most excellent bassoonists he could connect with. He and his parents sacrificed much to travel and study the best, with the best.

And in so doing, he nailed the basics. The scales. The bassoon repertoire. And he hasn’t quit. And he has a fascinating job in an arena he loves.

Yeah, that’s why Toyota. I’ve toured their plants, read all I can on them and I see the results of all their products. Further, Toyota is willing to share, much as some world-class bassoonists were willing to teach my neighbor.

I need not apologize for a fascination with Toyota, no more than my friend will apologize for learning from his teachers. The issue is not Toyota; it is in the pride I would exhibit to think I cannot learn from the best.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Learning About Lean" takes a new direction

“Learning about Lean” takes a new direction

It has been over five months since I’ve posted to this blog. And now it is moving again. Here’s the scoop.

Through the late spring and summer, I went into the proverbial “writer’s block.” Not only was I phenomenally busy, I couldn’t come up with much to write about. Certainly nothing that struck me as interesting. And, if I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm, I was sure the boredom would come through in my writing. Waste, you know.

Recently, I had a new insight which got me back on track. I wrote the first entry to this blog in September, 2002. I intended to use the blog a mechanism to communicate with work colleagues and suppliers about basic Lean principles. Blogging was in its infancy at that time and there were few resources on the Web about Lean. Thus, it seemed like a good idea; educate and direct.

Four years and a major job change later, I see I can take a new direction with this blog. The educational hopes I had for this blog are now largely filled by other, more capable writers. Notable are the “Gang of Seven” writers I link to on the left side of this blog. These folks are outstanding thinkers and are worthy of your attention to learn about lean. And they regularly improve. For example, Mark Graban’s Lean Blog recently added a message board for discussions about Lean. Long-time blogging buddy Hal Macomber used his Reforming Project Management blog to write, live, from a recent Lean Construction conference.

With such excellent resources out there on the broad principles of Lean, I’m taking this blog to a more personal level. I’m deep into Lean every day and am responsible for implementing it in the very real world of a very real company. It is messy. We regularly see two steps forward and one (or three) steps backwards. We see people get it. We see hard work decimated by one silly decision. Yet, Lean never works if it only stays in the minds of the consultants and authors. Real people have to implement it in a real company. And I love what I do.

So I’ll write about my experience in doing just that. Much as one might write in a diary, I’ll try to describe what I see and feel in the grind of implementing Lean.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.