Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Plan vs. Actual -- Part 5

Plan vs. Actual—Part 5

Attention. It’s crucial. When we give attention to something, we start noticing it in other places. Have you ever shopped for a new (to you) vehicle, with a particular model in mind? And find that you then “see” that model frequently while on the road. Yeah, attention.

So, it is with my current attention on Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (PDCA), or Plan vs. Actual, that I start seeing it more. I gave a presentation on it last week to our entire staff and have been talking about it a lot.

And, this morning, I note that no less a light than Tom Peters writes a very concise (for him) piece on implementing after planning. Execution of the idea and its absolute criticality.

That’s where most of us live. Tom speaks strongly to the subject.

Go get something done today.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Plan vs. Actual -- Part 4

Plan vs. Actual--Part 4

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"But I can't reach the kanban rack!"

“But I can’t reach the Kanban rack!”

In our Kaizen event earlier this morning, the team was clicking, creating some visible tools to manage a process that, due to its technical requirements, happens out of sight. The tools were wonderfully clear and simple, flowing from the team, implementable with electrical tape and magnetic clips.

With one exception.

One of our associates, a quiet woman of small stature, pointed out our initial proposed location of the kanban rack made for a difficult reach for her. I looked at the rest of our team…she was the only “vertically challenged” member of this particular kaizen team. Yet, without her comment, we would have plunked the rack 6-10 inches higher than where it ultimately landed.

Is 6-10 inches a big deal? Yes, it is, if it makes it difficult for an associate to do standard work easily or it adds a silly annoyance. And, had we not had a representative kaizen team, all of us taller members would have missed this.

Small things matter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Seeing the familiar for the first time

Seeing the familiar for the first time

We kicked off a kaizen event this morning. After welcoming the participants, the kaizen leader pointed out that we always do kaizen events in the workplace, not in a conference room, because that’s where the operators and the ideas are.

As he talked, I looked around the group. Four of the six participants had been in kaizen events before but this was a new experience for the other two. And when he explained why we were in the workplace, the eyes of these two lit up, along with bright smiles and nodding heads. This resonated for them.

Watching their reaction was a marvelous reminder for me. It is a radical concept to most people that we would attempt to improve a process quickly and do so entirely in and at the workplace, with the people actually doing the work, while they are doing the work. It hit these two team members radically.

And positively.

I can’t forget the radical nature of the Lean paradigm. I can’t get too comfortable or cozy with it and forget just how drastic and far-reaching it is. It would be like visiting the Grand Canyon and blandly calling it a “large ditch.”

I hope you can have some sense of awe today. I sure did.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Plan vs. Actual -- Part 3

Plan vs. Actual—Part 3

So why does Plan vs. Actual work? Why is it imbedded in Lean applications so deeply we almost take it for granted?

Primarily, it is a simple application of the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (PDCA) which is fundamental to Lean. In fact so fundamental, we have to remind ourselves of its profound impact from time to time. And is was in failing to either check or act that I botched it so badly, twice, this fall.

This reason Plan vs Actual works makes even more sense to me, though, when I examine it linguistically. In setting a plan, I make a declaration, naming a future state. By measuring the actual condition, I make an assertion, a statement of facts for which I am willing to provide evidence.

But it is in a third linguistic action that the power happens. It is when I make an assessment, an opinion based on a goal. And it is only in making powerful, well-grounded assessments that we trigger effective action, action that triggers a system of requests and promises.

It is in this system of five linguistic actions (declarations, assertions, assessments, requests, promises) that we flesh out lean leadership. We spend much of our time speaking. Do we do it effectively? I sure have botched it recently. I find going back to the basics very helpful.

I’m deeply grateful to my long-time friend Hal Macomber for originally putting me onto the work of Fernando Flores in this area. Hal has written much about a Language Action Perspective, of which I only scratch the surface here. It is not a well-known area but deserves attention in the nitty-gritty of a Lean implementation.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Plan vs. Actual -- Part 2

Plan vs. Actual – Part 2

My second big botch of this simple concept of Plan vs Actual occurred this fall in a financial setting.

We had a problem with one key manufacturing issue, which, fortunately, had a simple, reliable metric with which we could measure progress. I set out a plan and began to execute it. My measuring the input, I figured we were on our way towards the target.

What I failed to do was to calculate just long it would take to achieve the goal.

This is as if I had worked out a diet and exercise plan to lose one pound a week, yet never did the simple math to see how many weeks it would take me to get from 205 lbs to the desired 190 lbs.

Multiple weeks into the effort, a fellow manager asked me the obvious question: “Joe, if you are losing a pound a week and we’re 8 weeks into this, why do you still weigh 203 lbs?”

I never did the math. I didn’t watch the metric closely. I assumed I “knew” that the pound a week was coming off and everything else would be just fine.

As it turns out, the input was wrong. To continue the analogy, my weight loss system took off less than a half-pound a week, not a full pound. By not measuring it more frequently, I didn’t have the info that would have alerted me that something was wrong.

Pretty lousy performance. And looks even worse as I put it into black and white. I’ve thought a lot about it and have instituted some changes. I’ll write about that next time.

And, I hope you can learn a lesson from my mistake!!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Plan vs. Actual -- Part 1

Plan vs. Actual- Part 1

A common tool in Lean is to talk about “Plan vs. Actual.” While not exclusive to Lean, it is the simple concept of stating, ahead of time, what you think the outcome of a particular action or improvement will be. Then, you compare the actual with the plan. It is a great tool for learning, if used properly.

And I botched this in the last few weeks. Royally. Twice.

Earlier this fall, we ran into an unexpected production problem. (Come to think of it, that problem was the result of someone else NOT doing plan vs. actual…but that’s another story.) Fixing it required some new capital equipment. We worked very quickly through the specs of the equipment, got approval to spend the money, ordered it, pushed the vendor, set up the equipment, and started using it.

And it didn’t fix the problem.

The ultimate solution turned out to be in our hands already. It was a different, though lower-cost, capital improvement. We could have had THAT solution in hand weeks earlier. But we didn’t.

All because I didn’t force the plan vs. actual discussion early on.

This is a common story. You could say “Yeah, Joe, big deal, welcome to the real world.” But if every mistake is an opportunity to learn, we have to learn from this one.

In this case, I allowed others to force a technical assumption about the solution. In a spot where we needed some very specific technical information about an input to this piece of capital equipment, I accepted a vague statement. I did not press, asking “You say that input is fast enough. Just how many furlongs per fortnight can it go?” Had I demanded specificity about the one crucial parameter, we might have avoided the expense and loss of time and all the scrap we made in the interim.

Good leaders have an ability to distill a complex issue down to a few important questions. THEN, they actually ask those questions, to the right person, at the right time.

At least I learned from it.