Monday, April 30, 2012

Just Hold the Relish

Why do we have the Hot Dog bun?

Because a guy instinctively wanted to stop waste and improve his business.

A soon-to-published new book  recounts clever innovation.  Here's how one reviewer described the humble beginnings of the Hot Dog Bun, as recounted in the book:

...the best story comes out of St. Louis in the 1880s, and there was a street vendor who was selling [hot dogs]. At the time they weren't called hot dogs, they were called either red hots or frankfurters. And while selling them, he would give out white gloves, because when someone would buy the red hot they wouldn't want to get their hands scalded or wouldn't want to get too greasy. The problem was that a lot of the patrons were running off with the gloves, and this was really hurting his bottom line. What he ended up doing was going to a brother-in-law of his and saying, look I have this problem, and he was lucky enough that his brother-in-law was a baker and suggested the soft roll.
The white gloves constituted over-processing waste, doing too much to the product.  Yet, he also had to keep the grease off the customer's clothes to prevent a waste of defects.  Thus, he integrated the protection with the product.

Explain this to your buddy next time you visit the ball park.  Or better, bring along some white gloves to make your point!

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Plan to Actual, with chocolate icing

On my way to work recently, I stopped by the bakery of our local grocery store to buy a celebratory-looking cupcake.  While making my choice, I spotted this sign on the counter. 

Plan to Actual.  With a was out there for all the customers to see. 

And I was surprised.  Why was the target so low?  And why was neither the store nor the bakery department hitting the goal?   And how did they get these numbers in the first place?   This is a well-run store and the bakery department in particular is very good...I've ordered any number of specialty cakes over the years and they always do a terrific job. 

"So how can I improve your score?" I asked.  The manager smiled, thanked me for noticing and told me I could find a link on the bottom of my receipt where I could give voice to my satisfaction. 

So I did.

And I figured out why the score was so low.

I went to the site indicated at the bottom of my purchase receipt and found:

  • A requirement to enter data from the receipt which was not so labeled on the receipt.  I took a guess and got in. This took a couple of minutes
  • The survey was long, at least 5 screens worth. I skipped a couple of questions and got an error message demanding me to go back and answer all the questions. 
  • Only deep into the survey did they ask about the actual bakery.  
  • Almost 8 minutes later, I finished the survey and then got this screen message:

Bummer.  All that work and it didn't even take.  I was a very satisfied customer.  And I couldn't make a clear, simple statement to the store of that fact.  And how did the store take 5 screens of data and boil it down to a single metric?  Did anyone know?  Did the bakery staff know?  Why was the bakery's score "47%"?  Percent of what??   I was willing and anxious to help bump up that score but was unable.


It's a good thing, a very good thing, to have visual, transparent tools.  It's a horrible thing, a very horrible thing, to have the method of making those measurements disconnected from the display.

Could my customers figure out a way to bump our score?  Can my employees figure out how to help our visually-communicated metrics?

Can yours?

Be aligned.

PS.  What was the celebration about?  The three of us die-hard baseball fans at our shop had a small ceremony to sing Happy Birthday on the 100th anniversary of baseball in Boston's venerable Fenway Park.  Yeah, we really sang.  Yaz would be proud.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tom Peters on Systems

I've long been a fan of Tom Peters.  Second only to Peter Drucker in business writers who have influenced me, Peters' often brash views have jarred and stretched me repeatedly ever since I read "In Search of Excellence" for the first time in 1982. 

I'm also a fan of systems...thus this blog about Lean.

So, when Peters published a short paper on the role of systems last week, I read it with interest.  While systems have a place, he says, it is SECOND place.

What is more crucial than systems??  He suggests two things:
  • Passionate local leadership
  • Corporate culture that supports superior quality work
In that setting, systems work.  Apart from these prerequisites, systems are inadequate. 

The paper is worth your reading.  It squares with my experience. 


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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Five things to do when you walk through Gemba

Look each person in the eye and greet them by name.

Observe the visual management tools in the area.  Note what is normal and what is not normal.

Have one conversation of at least three minutes with one associate.

Explain "why" to one person. 

Have a hearty laugh with someone. 

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Control Charts

The more I use them, the more I'm amazed at Control Charts. 
These simple, visual tools have been around for a long time.  And, I've observed, those with keen numeric skills have made them more and more complex. 

Yet the simple is good.  And handwritten is even better for communicating the state of a process to those involved in that process. 

Think about it.  It is a simple graph.  Time is plotted along the bottom.  It can be hours/shifts/days/months.  It doesn't matter what but the period needs to be appropriate for the data.  Then, each period, a person places a dot to measure the parameter in that period. 

The 3 horizontal lines are a mean or target level for the paramater and upper and lower control limits (UCL and LCL).  Typically, these lines are placed 2 standard deviations above and below the mean.

This recognizes that there is inherent varability in a process.  If the varability stays within bounds, the process is working.  If a point exceeds the bounds or shows a trend within the bounds, there is un-natural variablility. 

In the first case, we say the variation comes from common causes.  In the second, we call is special cause.  To mess with common causes is called "Tampering".  To ignore special causes is called "Neglect".  Don't tamper.  Don't neglect.

It's that simple.

Yet, the beauty of the control chart is not the dots or the lines or the statistics.  It is in the conversation the chart data provokes.  The chart focuses attention on the right the process stable?  If not, what causes the instability and how do we fix it so it stays stable, longer?  It allows the group to avoid finger pointing and talk about issues that matter. 

It happened again for me this morning.  It never gets old. 

If you are not using this simple tool, try it. 

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Environmental Fees

One of my jobs is final checkoff on all our invoices before payment.  And I've noticed a trend over the last year.

More companies are adding small fees to the bottom of invoices called "Environmental Fees".  These fees tack on $5 to $20 to each bill.  I'd expect that from chemical companies getting rid of some waste products. Perhaps from others with difficult disposals.  Yet that's often not the case.  On fully 3/4 of these invoices the companies offer no clear explanation why this fee is appropriate.

Which makes me wonder.

Are these fees valid?  Or are they just surcharges, adding no value, disguised in a manner to which our green-oriented society cannot object?

Much of it feels like a different type of waste.  Which lowers value.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Explaining Single Piece Flow

Try this next time you try to explain flow. 

A system with single piece flow is like a domino chain.

Think about it.
  • The entire system is stable when not acted upon
  • A single event provides the stimulus to start the flow
  • After that event, the flow is predictable by step and time
One stimulus brings about predictable results. And this applies to physical flow as well as information flow. 

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Slow Drawing Stops Fast Talking

The vendor had hardly sat down when the deluge began.  We had asked his company for a proposal on a modestly-priced piece of equipment.  When we met, however, it was as if he felt he had to blurt his entire proposal in 90 seconds or it would somehow evaporate.

But it wasn't 90 continued, unabated, for 10 full minutes.  My head hurt.  I wondered what I could do to gain some clarity.

"Can I draw a picture of what I think you are saying?"  I finally asked, pretty much interrupting the spiel.  He wasn't quite sure what to say.

I flipped a page over and sketched a bell curve based on data he presented.  I slowed my pattern of speech and asked some short, specific, yes/no questions.  We finally got clarity.


The simple drawing altered the communication pattern.  It stopped the talking.  The drawing helped sort reality from hype.  It slowed the mind well enough to ask good questions of the essential facts.

Our eyes are keen sensors.  Fast talking only uses the ears.  Better to use both. 

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Orbits of PDCA

We just passed through the end of a calendar month.  That brought several reviews of metrics with colleagues.

Which reminded is easy to remember the short term Plan-Do-Check-Act.  The kind that happens in a day or two.  We try something, quickly, then see if it works.

Yet PDCA happens in concentric circles, widened by longer time intervals.  Did our bigger plans work last month?  Last quarter?  Last year?  Over the past five years?

The longer time frames require  us to write something down, then pull it out to review.  It's a stronger discipline.

And more valuable.

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