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.