Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is going deep not going farther?

Last week, we did process training using the now-famous Toast Kaizen Video.  I've watched this video six or seven times now; it never ceases to amaze me with the adequate and oh-so-accessible approach to understanding waste. 
In particular, it struck me this time how important it is to make actual observations of the process in action.  There is no substitute to watching, with my own eyes, if I expect to make a contribution myself.  I learned something new.  It helped. A lot. 
This process of reviewing and going deeper is central.  The more I learn about Lean, the more I realize I don't know.  I have to catch myself, therefore, when I speak with others who have, perhaps, participated in one or two kaizen events and then moan about wanting to "move on" to the next topic.  I want to respect those people and accept their questions politely.  Yet a part of me has a tendency to say "NO" and then give an unrequested lecture on going deep, learning a single subject in all its substance rather than lightly skimming many subjects. 
I'll do my best to not do this to you.  so long as you remember going deeper IS going farther. 
Keep learning. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Just in time Discount for Just in Time Shoppers for Just in Time Books

Our good friends at the Lean Enterprise Institute passed along a nice discount offer to me today.  . 
All you need to do is head for the Lean Enterprise Institute's online Store at  and enter THANKYOU09 in the discount code field at checkout. Their offer is good through Jan 31, 2010. 
Just think of the romance and sparkle this will bring your special someone on Christmas morning!  "Oh, honey, you got me that book on Hosin Kanri!  And just in time for my strategic planning for next Christmas!"  Remember folks, nothing says "I love you" quite like a new X-Chart template on a CD in the back of a book.  
OK, so I exaggerate.  Yet maybe not...forward this post to that same someone who is completely stuck on what to get YOU this year.  Explain that this is simply an effective pull system for gift giving. 
Keep learning, keep smiling. 

Monday, December 07, 2009

Simple Inventory Control Example

We talk about limiting the amount of Work In Process (WIP) inventory, especially inventory at the point of use.  Here's an example which helped bring that home for me.
Mick is a friend and pays attention to Lean principles.  He described to me his method of keeping his file drawers both organized and under control. 
It seems he has about a drawer and a half which he can use in his cubicle for filing.  Company policy prohibits additional storage space in the cube.  While some whine about it, Mick adapted to it.  His system is simple:
  • All his files are labeled and placed alphabetically.  So, the file for "Kaizen Events" comes just ahead of the file for "Logistic Planning".  He does not try to put subjects together, unless he names them as such (so, he told me, "Vendors-Critical" would be next to "Vendors-Potential")
  • He creates new files as needed, such as when a new project comes up or a large file needs to be subdivided
  • When he creates a new file, he removes an old file.  He usually shreds or recycles the old file.   Thus, he never takes up more space in the file drawers.  And never needs to add space.  Knowing him, I suspect his cube is neater than others as well.
"What about the old files?" I asked.  "Don't you lose that stuff you pitch?"
"Ha!" said Mick, anticipating my question.  He described for me, at some length, how inevitably he'll find a file in the general alphabetical neighborhood of his new file which is irrelevant, old, or otherwise serving no purpose.  "It feels good to pitch the content and recycle the file folder." 
And he limits inventory in a very simple way.
Helped me...hope hit helps you as well.
Keep learning. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

5S for Company Activities

At its core, the Lean discipline of 5S is about having just what we need, at hand, uncluttered by that which I don't need.  While easy to see in a physical setting, it is harder to detect organizationally.
But maybe this metaphor will make it a little easier.  I read this uncredited "saying" earlier today:
If the horse is dead, dismount.
If the activity, meeting, program, newsletter, metric serves no purpose, adds nothing more than a dead horse would add, drop it. 
Keep on learning. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Mixed Messages

Was in a parking garage in Wheaton, Illinois this weekend and saw this:

Makes me wonder where I might be giving mixed messages. And, if I am, who will tell me? Is my organization robust enough to "see" the mixed messages and correct them?

Is yours?

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You go to "gemba"--then what??

Had a useful walk through our production areas today.  And it hit me, just what was I looking for?  Where were my eyes going?  What was attracting my attention? 
The physical setting items are obvious:
  • Is the area neat?  Is there any material here which should not be here? Is there something missing?
  • Are the visual controls operating? 
  • Is the flow of material obvious, unobstructed, smooth?
But there is more.  If we respect people, the human factor must also be present.
  • What is the mood?  I can only tell if I speak with people, asking open ended questions and listening carefully.
  • What are people saying about each other?  Teamwork is always key; healthy relationships are a key barometer.
  • Does anyone ask me a question?  If not, they may feel they can't ask someone "above them".  That's a problem.  If they do, the nature of their questions tell me more of real concerns.
In short, I must speak briefly and listen carefully to truly grasp the workplace, the place where we create value, "gemba".  It's not enough to merely observe. 
Keep learning. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kanban in a Resturaunt

For a couple of years now, my wife and I have enjoyed having lunch at McAlister's Deli, a line of resturaunts specializing in freshly prepared sandwiches, soups and salads served with exceptional levels of service.

A couple of weeks ago, we got a surprise while there. After our server brought us our food, she put a small red card on the table. "If you need a refill on your drinks, just flip this over," she said and walked away.

"This is a kanban card!" I exclaimed. My wife, a wonderfully patient woman, steeled herself once more for a monologue on pull systems and the beauty thereof.

Indeed, it was a pull system, in all its simple spendor but applied in a place not often expected to use such a tool.

The card is quite simple. If you are happy and don't need any attention, you leave the red side up, near the edge of your table. The server sees it and takes no action.

But once you are thirsty and need a refill (and those of you who have eaten with me realize this is often the case), you flip the card to green. Green means "go" and, in our experience, within 60 seconds a helpful server stops by, picks up the glass, confirms what drink you had, refills it, brings it back to the table and flips the card back to red.

It is just that simple.

Think about what this does for the customer. When you need service, you don't have to crane your neck, wondering if someone will stop by. Instead, you simply flip the card over and, soon, a person stops at the table. Conversation, the reason many eat out, continues uninterrupted. You finish explore topics in depth... you don't wonder when or if you'll get another Diet Coke. In Lean terms, the customer gets more value.

Think as well what this does for McAlisters. The eye can move much faster than the foot. So, a simple scan by a server of a group of tables says, in seconds, who needs service and who wishes to be left alone. This allows a single server to handle more tables, more efficiently. Yeah, productivity.

All while providing added value to the customer.

At vitually no extra cost. All for a few laminated cards.

It is amazing what simple systems can do. Where can you apply this?

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

How do we learn?

In a recent conversation with a deep-thinking friend, we grappled with the question of how we learn new things. He shared a viewpoint helpful in his industry and it struck a responsive chord with me.

Most of us have a mental image of learning derived from our experience in school. We view learning as a linear process.

We start out needing to know something. We learn it. We progress through several intermediate points and then finish, knowing the subject. In this view, we are relentlessly "moving on," wanting to satisfy the current learning objective and then anxiously getting after the next topic.

An alternate view, however, is more accurate, he surmised, and I think is right as we learn and teach about Lean. In this perspective, learning is circular.

Rather than going from point to point, the learner comes round to the same things, but at progressively deeper, more complex levels. When viewed from the top, the learner appears to be only going round and round. A side view, however, reveals a corkscrew, not a circle. The learner comes back to topic again and again, digging progressively deeper and deeper into the topic.

In the 10+ years I've been pursuing Lean, I see this as a better mental model for learning. For example, I know about single-piece flow and have seen it work. But I still miss batches, all around me. I have much more to learn. I would be foolish to put a "check mark" next to "Flow" on my "Lean Curriculum" and seek to move onto the next subject.

For the one learning Lean, this means a conscious openness to learning more about things I already know. It means a posture of humility, recognizing I always have more to learn.

For the one leading Lean, this means an awareness that repetition is something to practice and not apologize for doing. It means being very aware of the next level of depth to which the individual learner must go. It means the leader must also be learning.

Depth comes from repetition. Don't be afraid of it.

And keep on learning.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Four words to show "Respect for People"

Tom Peters recently blogged about his summary of important viewpoints in business.  Some good reading.
At the center is to simply ask the question "What do you think?"   Regularly. 
I've been trying this, intentionally, for a couple of months now.  It's kind of amazing.  Folks appreciate it. If you ask the question correctly.
Think about it...there are four ways to ask this simple question.  Your tone of voice makes all the difference.  Say these out loud:
  • WHAT do you think?
  • What DO you think?
  • What do YOU think?
  • What do you THINK?
Only the third version has the hope of being sincere.  The others can be quite demeaning or condescending. 
Yet, with the emphasis on the "you", followed by good listening and exploratory questions, it becomes an open door and a welcoming set of inputs from alternate views.
Try it...let me know what you learn.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Perfection the enemy of improvement

My colleague Kira was frustrated recently.  She was leading an improvement effort and was almost at an actionable point. 
When a well-meaning member of the team ratcheted up the ante, seeking to take "improved" to "perfect."
I can't get too upset on the one hand.  The other person did intend to help things. 
Yet, a crucial part of Lean leadership is to know when "good enough is good enough."  When do we accept an 80% improvement, let it sit and mature, then look to move it up another 80%.
It is not a science, it's not a checklist.  But Kira's gut feel in this case was right.  She opted out of the suggested change. Perfection had became the enemy of improvement. 
Keep learning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Maddening Effectiveness of Root-Cause Analysis

Dang, I wish it didn't work so well. 
The problem presented last week.  I gathered the objective data surrounding it.  I pondered the data. 
And then asked why.  Writing my question down.
I wrote the answer.  On a piece of paper.  In a complete sentence
I asked why again.  In writing.
And wrote the answer THAT question.  In another complete sentence.
I sat and thought.  And did it a third time. 
More thought...and a fourth written question and answer.
At that point, I got upset.  I had hit the root cause.  I knew it.  And I didn't like the answer.  Yet, it was undeniable.  It made incredible sense, explaining both the observed problem and several related issues.  All at the same time. 
The fact that I didn't like the root cause gave it added credence.  I was something I avoided because it was hard to fix. 
And I wonder:  how often this is a subtle blockage to individuals and teams doing good root cause analysis?  How often am I fearful of Really Knowing just what is at the root of some undesirable outcome?
Makes me think. 
Keep on learning. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MBWA, Micromangement and the difference between the two

Following a recent post entitled "Management by NOT Wandering Around", I received the following comment:
Results results results
The stress of the current economic reality is driving our lean program into the ground. The boss is being beaten up daily by his bosses to show some kind of ROI on everything we do. So, instead of patiently watching as we are learning, we run around looking for any signs of measurement that can relieve the pain. Frankly, I would just as soon have him go back to management by teleconference
Ouch. It hurts to hear this.
This got me thinking about the difference between simply being visible and available in the workplace (which should be encouraging) versus micromanaging (which is quite demotivating).  And, having been micromanaged myself on a particular issue in the past few days, I feel the pain. 
Available listens; micromanagement talks.
Available encourages improvement; micromanagement demands instant results.
Available shows up regularly; micromanagement appears only during crisis.
Available shapes; micromanagement pounds.
Micromanagement often gets the short-term results it wishes, much as the whining child will often get the ice-cream cone.  But that's no basis for raising a family nor for running a lean operation.
Keep on learning. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

When do email discussions lose value?

You know the drill.
You send an email to someone.  That person responds.
You go back and forth.
And nothing gets done except absorption of Internet bandwidth.
What is a rule of thumb to either call a meeting or pick up the phone and get something done??
I'm thinking three round trips of email, as a starting point.  But I could be persuaded it's only two round trips. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Management by NOT Wandering Around

Ohno said go and stand and watch one thing until you see it break and can understand it.  Management by NOT wandering around.
Tom Peters said go and see everything.  Management by wandering around.
Despite the seeming difference, I suspect both gurus would agree if they actually talked. 
Both would urge each of us to get to gemba, the place where value is added.
The difference?  Ohno would be for deeper and narrower.  Peters is more concerned for strategy and scope.
Yet going and standing is a central way to do things.  Better
See what you can see today as you keep on learning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Question to Discern Strengths

 Crucial in any Lean implementation is getting the right people in the right places, doing work they are well suited to do and do well.
In short, let people use their strengths and then get out of the way.
I recently came across a question Stephen Covey uses for this purpose:
"What do you love to do and do well?"
A simple, obvious question but one I seldom think to use.  When I do (and if I listen well to the answer), people light up and speak deeply. 
Try it as you keep learning.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Why is everything all lined up?

I walked past a work station last week and noticed something different. 
The base of the station had been rotated 45 degrees from the orientation it has had as long as I've worked here. 
"What's the story on the table shift?" I asked one of our associates.
She grinned and told me the story.  Bottom line was one of her colleagues had correctly and creatively observed that in the current work flow, rotating the table created more room.  "It really works like a top," she exclaimed, "much less congestion as we move material in and out."
Which got me thinking. 
We like things lined up.  Everything at right angles.  Evened off.  Matching. 
Usually, that's a good place to start.
But, once you see the vision of the value in a steady stream of small improvements (as this work team has), knocking something out of line makes even more sense.
Keep learning.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Structural Waste

The dome light went out on my car last week.  I headed to the car parts store, looked up the proper replacement bulb in the catalog next to the bulb section, found the bulb and then stopped.
I have one bulb in my dome light.  Every car I've ever owned has had only one bulb in the dome light.  Yet the blister pack hanging on the rack at the part store had two identical bulbs in it.  Not one. 
With no alternative and considering the $3.29 price for two bulbs to not be worth making a fuss, I bought two bulbs.  One went into my car and the other onto the shelf in my garage which captures all miscellaneous parts. 
And I'll forget it is there.
In three or five years, I'll need another dome light and do the same thing all over again, leaving me with two orphaned dome lights gathering dust on my garage shelf.
So why two bulbs on the blister pack? 
Probably a decision to "add value"...for the manufacturer.  Double the output, double the price, all with the same cost for distribution.  
Yet it is waste for the end user. 
What do we think of when we make these decisions?  The end user?  The one who will complain? 
It is not as trivial as it looks, in the rough-and-tumble of business.  It is also a measure of a firm's commitment to reducing waste.  But does someone inside the firm "speak for the customer" in such discussions?  And, if she does, does anyone listen?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Value-Added Data Entry

Customer service regularly gets a bad rap.  We seem to expect it to be bad, much like college dormitory food; no matter how tasty the dish, it must bad, just because it came from the dorm kitchen. 
So a good example of customer service deserves some kudos plus a chance to learn. 
A complex piece of family business required us to wire some money recently via Western Union.  I set up the transaction on their web site and received a preliminary confirmation number for the transfer.  But the web page instructed me to call a toll-free number to complete the transaction.  A little befuddled by this, I nevertheless dialed the number.  As I expected, a recorded voice greeted me and then asked me to punch in the confirmation number, which I did. 
To my surprise, after only 10 seconds of elevator music, a live person greeted me, by name, before I said anything.  She then explained briefly why I needed to call, which made sense in the context.  She asked a couple more questions and we were done. The business was completed the next day. 
How did this work well?  Western Union was prepared, technically and operationally.  Their systems took my simple confirmation number and tied it into the screen viewed by the person answering the phone.  It all flowed seamlessly, added value and was very prompt.  Someone thought that system through well.
Nice job Western Union.  You teach us a good lesson. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

So what DOES an engineer do?

My colleague April recently served on a panel presentation by practicing engineers for high school students and their parents at the engineering college of a nearby university.  Along with the usual questions about engineering education, qualifications and test difficulty, several wanted to know "What does an engineer do anyway?"
A Civil Engineer on the panel explained her job was "to make sure buildings don't fall down" which meant she spent all of her time at the computer, crunching equations.
An Industrial Engineer explained he too spent all of his day at the computer, making sure all jobs were well-planned for efficient use of labor.
Attention then turned to April, also an Industrial Engineer.  Ever the diplomat, she acknowledged there was technical work which required time on the PC.  "But," she added, "the great part of my job is the amount of time I get to spend on the shop floor with our associates, improving processes." 
The other IE bristled and shot back a comment to the effect "real engineers don't go on the floor." 
His company is also in deep financial trouble. 
Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But illustrative of a productive culture.
Keep on learning. .

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trimming Value at the Margins

About four years ago, I wrote about my "jugban" system, a simple container-kanban system I use to replenish the distilled water with which I clean my contact lenses each morning. 
This evening, I stopped by the local grocery store to refill the recently-emptied jug in two-jug system.  I put my money in the water dispensing machine and it fed a gallon into my jug.
Well, almost a gallon. 
Well, actually, only about 90% of a gallon.
I've used this same machine for a couple of years.  Yet, over the past six months, I find that I gradually get a little less than what I got the previous time.  To the point now it is quite noticeable.  The price has stayed the same.  But is this just a drift in the controls in the machine?  Or is the machine operator trying to improve his/her margin by dialing back the volume?  The machine stated it had been serviced just a week ago.  But did anyone check the calibration??
The water is not a big deal.  But the simple drift, the simple loss of value made me wonder if the owner was also cutting corners on the filtration system or the reverse osmosis membrane. 
What I could see (volume of water) made me wonder about what I couldn't see (microscopic quality of water). 
Am I doing any of the same things?? 
Made me wonder.  I hope it makes you wonder as well. 
Keep on learning. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

What price sophistication?

A guy in our local network of Lean companies told me of an interaction he had recently with an exec at his company.  In short, he was tracking the short-term status of one inventory item which had been giving them fits.  To do this, he checked the inventory level at the close of business each day and wrote it down on a sheet of paper to see the trend.
The exec saw this sheet of paper and became quite agitated, bewildered why he didn't use a particularly unwieldy piece of software the company had.  My inventory-tracking friend didn't know quite how to respond and the awkward interaction concluded, unsettled. 
This story reminded me, strangely enough, of Occam's razor.  A 14th century philosopher and friar, William of Occam is said to have first postulated this "razor" (olde-speak for "rule of thumb") to guide decision making.  Translated in numerous ways, it essentially says "when confronted with multiple solutions to a problem, choose the simplest one."  
We have more tools for data and communication than any generation has ever had.  Properly used, they are awesome and speed good decisions. 
Properly used.
Often, a simple pen and paper is all we need to solve a problem.  That's what William of Occam had.  And we're still talking about him. 

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Chain

An overnight storm caused a power outage which really messed up our network server recently.  As the IT guys scrambled to restore digital sanity as people arrived at work the morning after, I was surprised at the resultant atmosphere. 
Folks emerged from office and desks disoriented, even angry, frustrated.  The network, the email, the Internet connections; all so ubiquitous and seemingly necessary that their removal fundamentally altered the work environment.
Fascinatingly, people began to talk.  Even this seemed hard, though.  The face-to-face discussions, unplanned and unplugged, were all new.  And strange.  Some adapted poorly.  Some adapted well. 
The effective found the day invigorating.  A gear-shift, one which stimulated creativity.  The less-effective made excuses behind it, even began finger pointing.
Are we so chained to our laptops we are unable to function without them?  Are our collective conversational skills so dulled by our addiction to keyboard we can't talk?  Is our ability to make good business decisions blunted by this dependence to spreadsheets?
It all made me wonder. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The psycology of going to gemba

I've seen two useful examples in the past week of being, or not being, in gembathe place where work gets done.
A good friend on the west coast vented about a phenomenally frustrating meeting he had in his company.  In short, it seemed some folks in a related but politically-higher-status department produced a chart, fully color-coded and arrowed, telling his department how to run things.  All with no warning. You can imagine the annoyance and insult he felt.  When someone who does not see or connect with your work area tells you something without either observing or listening, you feel defensive.  And hardly interested.  It feels like a power play instead. 
Here in our fair city, Jerry told me of a consultant visiting a work cell at his plant.  Fairly quickly, the consultant sensed serious discord between the team leader and the associates.  There had been earlier reports of this, yet they had been ignored.  You see, the Plant Manager had not been to the actual the work cell; he had only reviewed reports, prepared by the Team leader.  Why did the PM avoid the cell?  On discussion with Jerry it seemed that organizational structure, history, the PM's busy-ness and lack of deep interest all contributed.  To the consultant, the problems (and possible solutions) were crystal clear...largely because he physically sat in the work cell for 90 minutes and observed.  Will it improve, Jerry wondered?
There's no substitute for direct observation.  Go walk to the some work area, any work area, today.
Keep learning. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Making a go from batch to flow

Imagine my amazement to see a great example of Lean from our state government!! 
It happened last week when the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles mailed out the renewal notice for our automobile registration.  As long as I can remember, we've renewed our plates in April; last name begins with "E", so you renew in April.  And, the BMV has been notorious, also for years, about being THE place to avoid on the last day of any month, as people from the same section of the phone book all thunder in at once to get their renewal, just in the nick of time. 
No more.  And there is a lesson here.
Beginning this year, the BMV spread out their deadline dates, to typically be on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.  And, in one policy decision, the move from the monthly "batch" to a much more even flow.  Given the workarounds for certain holidays, they went from 15 to 49 due dates.  They estimate the maximum number of vehicles coming due on any one date will drop from 625,000 to 398,000.  Lower stress for employees, shorter waits at the BMV, lower likelihood of errors, much more even volume, easier scheduling of employees; all flowing from the move to cut the batch size radically.
Look around you...what was happening monthly which can happen weekly?  Cut the batch size!! Surely you can do as well!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

On being nimble vs visionary

With the Dow closing below 7000 for the first time in 12 years yesterday, a local financial manager, just back from an appearance on CNBC, sent out an email last night capturing his view of the investment free fall.  His central observation:

"We stand resolved that the ability to react is now more important than the ability to predict."

As I read this, it hit me as very applicable to any setting in which we seek to deliver value to a customer.  Customers change their mind.  The worlds in which our customers work change, constantly, in ways we can never predict.  Clearly, the current economic downturn is creating more uncertainty than we have seen in a generation. 

So why would we attempt to "predict" the future?  Why not focus instead on being able to react more rapidly than ever?  To be more nimble, more versatile, more flexible?  To build systems and people to be responsive?  To build systems which do not depend on being clairvoyant?

The answer is obvious. And is the Lean leader should be spending time.

Keep on learning.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Two Golden Geese

The longer I work in and study Lean systems, the more I am drawn to the amazing applicability of a few basic practices. It's as if I own a goose that lays golden eggs; it takes only half a brain to realize I'd best nurture this goose well.

And in this case, it is not one goose but two.

The first goose is the daily start up meeting.

Taking only six to eight minutes, a work-group leader gathers all of her team members at the start of the shift. She then does a very short and prescribed thing each day. Standing next to a visual display of work group information, she greets the team, sincerely. She briefly discusses the previous day's work, how the actual results compared to the planned results. She then describes this day's plans. She asks the team about any schedule issues which might affect their work that day. She answers any questions or makes a point to answer them later. She then wishes everyone well at the start of the day.

Every day.

Why does this work? It sets the tone. It answers the most basic of questions about the work day. It resets the minds and expectations of the team members from the chaotic world outside of work. It is a point of daily contact.

It's an egg of gold, at the start of each shift in each work group.

The second gold-producing goose is the simple workplace walk through.

I've done this for years and it simply never fails to improve something; either a question answered, an insight I gain, an improvement to be made. And it costs nothing but time.

The walk through is exactly that. A leader getting to the place the work happens. Literally. To a place he can touch the work and, literally, have his elbow touch the elbow of the person doing the work. If elbows don't touch, it isn't close enough. When that close, the leader must see, hear and sense the reality of the work place. And, once doing that, things improve. Always.

What is really amazing here? Both geese are free. Public Domain, baby. No intellectual property rights violated. Both can start now. No seminar to go to. No consultants to pay. You decide...and the goose is yours. From that point, you just feed and care for the critter. And daily get a gold egg.

I'm talking to myself. And to you.

Go enjoy the gold.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Make mine sausage with extra cheese

My colleague April came up with an excellent illustration last week which I'd like to share.

While training some new associates on the use of kanban cards, she discovered some misunderstandings. Some felt that they needed to take the card, walk over to the supply crib, get the supplies and walk back to their workplace. They didn't grasp the use of the kanban post and the role of the water spider to come by at prescribed times, take the cards and replenish the supplies.

"Think of it this way," April started in. "You're at home and want some pizza. You have two options, right? You can get in your car, go to the pizza place and bring it home. Or you can call the pizza place and have it delivered."

Everyone nodded, their mouths salivating slightly for some tomato paste on thin crust.

"Well, the kanban card is like the pizza delivery guy. You place the card in the post and that's the 'order' to be delivered later."

Lights came on. The kanban card is the order. That's all I need to do.

April then used the opportunity to show waste: "Further, you don't want to make all those trips to the pizza joint. That's just wasting time and gas." Everyone nodded.

"And, you know the best part of our 'delivery' via kanban?" She had some puzzled looks and she knew she had the audience. "You don't have to tip the driver!"

She made the point, and made it memorable, with a clear, simple example from everyday life.

Feel free to use it!! And don't forget the bread sticks!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Discerning Leadership Potential

We're interviewing folks over the next several days for an open first-line supervisor position.  All internal candidates, there is quite a bit of interest.
What have you found to be useful questions to ask in such situations?  What observations might you advise us to make? 
Thanks for any help!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Generating Waste via email--an example

The concept of "Just in Time" not only applies to presenting a manufacturing process with the correct material just when required.  It applies to information as well.  And too much information is waste. 
Here's an example you may recognize.
A project leader emails a request to a group of people.  "Please do this task by the 20th of the month."  The leader can then monitor which persons have completed the task. 
On the 19th, the project leader sends out another email, perhaps even a copy of the first email only with a more emphatic subject line, to the entire mailing list she sent it to originally.  "Please, please, please do this task by the 20th!!!!  Dire consequences await if not completed!" 
In so doing, the sender creates waste.
Each of the recipients who correctly did the original request, before the 19th, are now interrupted.  "Did I do it?  Did I do it correctly?" each asks.  She has to check to see if indeed she did it correctly.  Why, yes, she discovers, she did do it correctly.  "Then, why did I get this second, more frantic, email?"  More waste.
The principle of "Just in Time" would ask the original sender to contact only those individuals who had not completed the task correctly by the 19th.  Why doesn't this happen?  It is simply easier for the sender to re-send to the original mailing list.  A minute saved by the sender costs hours of waste by the receivers. 
If you do this, stop. 
If you see it done to you, find some way to raise the question. 
And, if you can't raise the question safely, find someway to influence the culture so you can.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Doing Lean: Remember the Basics

I don’t know about you but the past week gave me some mental whiplash. The two weeks over the Christmas and New Year holidays went sleepily here in the US. Work was calm, I took some vacation, things seemed to flow with a happy, easy drift.

Monday, January 5 was a startling wake up. Like a race car coming out of a series of slow, easy turns onto a long straightaway, the sudden acceleration was alarming this week. It’s easy for me to lose my perspective in this sudden change; I suspect I’m not alone.

So, I’m reminding myself to pay attention to Lean basics this week, just to keep myself in the habit.

Make it flow I’m looking for anything that gets in the way of a product moving smoothly from start to finish, with no interruption. Evidence includes piles of stuff, people waiting, people in panic, wanting to “expedite”.

Cut the batch size A seldom-talked-about tool in Lean is to simply cut any batch size in half or thirds. Almost without question, just cut the bath size closer and closer to a single unit. But not just in a production setting. Have a monthly review meeting? Make it bi-monthly or weekly. Have a weekly status update? Do it on Monday and Thursday. It’s amazing to me but almost without exception, cutting the batch size improves customer service and speeds flow. I’ve got some work to do here.

Make the plan; measure the actual Assessing plan to actual shows many forms of waste and is so very, very easy to do. When actual is either better or worse than plan, I need to ask “Why” five times. This drives understanding and is a huge, almost free, source of improvement targets. But it assumes a) I have a plan and b) I can measure it. Both are easy. Both require a habit.

Local Improvements These three should unleash for us (and for you) a steady stream of improvements. Remember, world-class companies have 2 improvements per employee per month. Yes, per month. Find it, write it up, make it stick.

Here’s hoping for a very productive 2009 for all of us.

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