Monthly Archives: August 2011

5S – There is No Such Thing as Too Far

Awhile back I talked about whether 5S is really foundational and does it need to be done as the first thing on a lean journey.

Once an organization decides to journey down the 5S path, it shoud involve the people in the area.  The area should be understand that 5S is there to highlight abnormalities so issues can be addressed immediately.

A question that I am asked frequently is, “How far is too far?”  What they want to know is, what is the minimum they can do to have workplace organization?  Is there a point of diminishing returns?

I believe there is no such thing as too far.  Get it as clean and organized as possible.  Spic and span.  Henry Ford was known for not allowing a spec of saw dust on the floors of his saw mills.  This is the mentality and goal an organization should have when implementing 5S.

I have a couple of reasons for thinking this way.  First of all, a by-product of doing 5S well is discipline.  If everyone is putting things back in their place and maintaining an organized environment, they are following the standard work.  This is a good thing and we should keep pushing it.

Secondly, if someone is asking what is the minimum to do they are not seeking perfection.  Perfection may not be reached but we should always be striving to get better.    Good enough conveys that once a level is reached we don’t need to improve.  Looking for what is good enough is not a mentality that lean organization should want.

There is a good example of a company in Japan from a tour summary on Evolving Excellence that some people might think is taking it too far, but I see it as being disciplined and seeking perfection.

5S done well does not mean the organization is lean.  Understanding why they do 5S and the benefits they have gotten from it can give clues about how they view lean though.

Don’t short cut the benefits and effort in implementing 5S.  You will end up back sliding in the long run.  Stay disciplined and seek perfection.

Bath Fitter Has Vertical Integration

The other night while watching TV I saw the commercial below for Bath Fitter.  Bath Fitter is a company that retro-fits new acrylic bathtubs, showers, and surrounds to give an updated look to your bathroom.  Can you pick out the things that caught my attention from a lean perspective?

I can’t speak to the quality of their product because I have never used them, but there two things that caught my attention.  The vertical integration of the supply chain and the lifetime guarantee.  The commercial is only 30 seconds that I checked out their website and it mentions the the vertical integration and lifetime guarantee also.

Bath Fitter has control of the product from raw material to installation.  This control allows them to better guarantee the quality by knowing exactly how it is made, not outsourcing it to someone that could take shortcuts to manufacture the product without Bath Fitter knowing.  Also, they control the measuring, installation, and customer facing representative.  By doing this, Bath Fitter would be able to get accurate and fast feedback about how the product is being used, quality issues, or the ease of installation.

This is very similar to Henry Ford controlling everything from the raw materials (mines for metals and saw mils for wood) to manufacturing to the first dealerships.  The tighter control over the supply chain allowed costs to be reduced AND quality improved.  Not just one or the other.

The lifetime guarantee Bath Fitter promises indicates the confidence in their quality of product and installation.  I know some companies (and Bath Fitters could be one, I don’t know) play games with the lifetime guarantee making it impossible to actually get a claim on the guarantee.  A reason they can make the guarantee and feel good about it is because they controlling the supply chain from start to finish.

What do you think?  Does Bath Fitter have some lean like qualities?

Standardization Enhances Innovation

Fast Company Design has a great article about the importance of standardization in leading to innovation.  The article mentions 5 ways that standardization can help.

One way is the standardization of processes.  Having everyone doing the same thing the same way.  Baptist Healthcare System in San Antonio, TX had physician led improvement councils around their hip and knee replacement procedures.

Where previously each one of the system’s 40 orthopedic surgeons had their own particular way of doing things, the Council developed a single model of care for all five of the hospitals in the system. New standards included everything from pre-operative tests, radiology, operating room instrumentation, supplies and other equipment, to post-surgery medication, food and nutrition, physical therapy and physician consults. Within a few months the results were dramatic; BHS cut its readmission rate in half, and infection rates dropped.

Standardizing the process led BHS to new and innovative care reaching quality levels not before acheived.

The article also talks about how Black and Decker’s tool division made a turn around by standardizing the parts used to make their various tools.

By 1970, Black & Decker’s consumer power tool portfolio was a hotchpotch of 122 different models, which between them had 30 different motors, 60 different motor housings and 104 different armatures. Each of these variants required separate tooling.

The results were amazing.

A concerted effort by the business over the next three years saw a massive reduction in variants, leading to just one motor, a huge reduction in space, facilities, resources and time needed to manage parts and equipment, faster production cycles and retooling times. Motor production labor costs were cut by 85%, armature costs by 80%, and failure rates fell from 6-10% to 1%. New products were introduced to the market in weeks rather than months and prices to the consumer were slashed by as much as 30% while maintaining 50% margins.

Not only the reduction in cost and space, but the standardization led to improved time to get new innovative products to market.  This breaks the dam open on innovation because ideas aren’t sitting around like they might have before because it took so long to get to market and out of the innovation pipeline.

Innovation can happen when parts become standardized like on a rifle.  The Picatinny Rail was part of the rifle that became a hot spot for rifle innovation.

The Picatinny (Pic) Rail allows soldiers to attach and detach weapon accessories like optics, lasers, bipods, and other hardware to the M-16A1 assault rifle. Since its introduction in 1995, it has helped to more than double the longevity and functionality of millions of the Armed Forces’ standard issue weapons. The common interface provided by the rail has reduced the costs and simplified the logistics of equipping and supporting 1.5 million soldiers and 1.5 million reservists, and increased the rate of innovation and growth in the small arms and accessory industries. For example, Aimpoint Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of high performance optics to the U.S. Army and Air Force, has seen a fifteen-fold increase in revenues since 1997, since the rail makes it possible for more soldiers to be deployed with, use and service advanced optics and other accessories in the field.

Without standardization these innovations may not have happened or may have not reached as many people as they have.

Standardization is not a bad thing, but like anything else when it is not used properly or with the right intent it can cause people to fear it.  Standardization is not put into place to turn people into robots.  They are there so we don’t have to waste our energy thinking or reacting to the basics.  We can spend our energy thinking about new and better processes, products and ideas to improve our company or our life.

Newt Calls for Lean Six Sigma

Newt Gingrich is promoting Lean Six Sigma for the federal government.  Newt is stepping up and saying what the whole lean community has been saying for years.  Cut the budget and reduce the deficit without raising taxes or cutting programs.  The article says:

Implementing Lean Six Sigma throughout the federal government could cut program costs as much as 25 percent a year, its devotees claim, ending the threat of Social Security benefit cuts for baby boomers and Medicare death panels for Grandma.

Knowing how much waste there is in our government processes, I truly believe this could be achieved.

The article defines lean and six sigma as the following:

It combines lean manufacturing processes that reduce waste with Six Sigma, a methodology used to cut defects and improve quality.

Lean is not just about waste.  It is about quality and reducing defects.  Defects is one of the 7 types of waste, so how can lean not be about reducing defects.

That aside, the important thing is trying to improve the processes to reduce the federal government spending.

Mike George is trying to get the presidential candidates to commit to using Lean Six Sigma.

Retired Texas business consultant Mike George, who claims to be the creator of Lean Six Sigma, is attempting to get all the presidential candidates (including President Barack Obama) to pledge to eliminate the U.S. budget deficit by 2017 using Lean Six Sigma practices.

They also would agree to attend a two-day Lean Six Sigma seminar and complete a waste reduction project prior to taking office.

Mike George understands they can’t just commit, they have to understand what LSS is about in order to truly get the candidates on board.  Getting the candidates to take a class and complete a project would be a huge step in the right direction.

So far Mike George has gotten Republicans Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, who has since dropped out of the race, to take the pledge with Texas Governor Rick Perry expected to do it also.  You can visit Mike George’s website Strong America Now to learn more about the pledge.

The media is not picking this up and talking about it.  Here is what the author of the article found in mainstream media.

The national media is mostly ignoring the issue.

In searching the websites of USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I found just one story addressing Lean Six Sigma in the presidential race.

One stinkin’ article.  One!?  Does the mainstream media not think there is any other way to eliminate the deficit but to either raise taxes or cut programs?  That is like manufacturing believe you can only have low cost or high quality, but not both.  Maybe this new article will be a start to more.

I am glad that someone is trying to get the presidential candidates attention.  With the U.S. economy the way it is, this may be the burning platform the government needs to change it’s ways. Maybe the U.S. government can lead the way for other countries as well.

PowerPoint Can Be Wasteful

Have I taken my lean thinking too far?  I don’t think so, but there are others that do.

PowerPoint is a useful tool for presentations, but is WAY overdone.  Everything needs to be done in PowerPoint in order to have any validity anymore.  People put things in PowerPoint that are seen once and never referred to again.  Most of the time the PowerPoint slides do not add any value to the conversation.

Anything that does not add value is waste.  So why do people spend so much time creating PowerPoint slides?

I have gotten away from the waste of creating needless PowerPoint slides.  During kaizen events, the team has the maps on the way and we take the management group out to the floor to see the changes.  You can’t get that from a slide.  If it is information to digest, I make the original file (Excel, Word, .jpg) as readable and easy to understand as possible and use that to illustrate my point.  I love to use pictures to show people.

Unfortunately, not everyone I work with agrees.  More importantly the upper management doesn’t agree.  I have received feedback from a few that I nail the project deliverables, bring great data analysis to the table, do great work, BUT it doesn’t feel quite finished.  When I ask what is missing I get the prettiness factor, the PowerPoint slides.

Really?!  I get dinged for that?!

When I ask what value it adds I get the run around.

There are times when PowerPoint is very useful.  Training is a great example.  I am not encouraging to but a novel on a slide.  In should be some bullet points to highlight your point.  Adding a visual to re-iterate your point is powerful too.  People learn in 3 ways: reading (bullet points), visual (picture), or auditory (hearing the explanation).  There is the learning by doing, but there usually is an explanation before the doing and that is what I am referring to.

PowerPoint can add value if you are having to give a presentation in a large room where not everyone can see a flip chart or when you have to give the same presentation multiple times.

Whether you use PowerPoint or not always prepare for the presentation.  When you have the chance challenge the value of using PowerPoint slides to convey the message.  And if you do need to use PowerPoint, ask yourself if the slide is adding value to the presentation or not.

Discussions are What Is Value Added

Before anyone understood the thinking behind the tools used by Toyota, people copied the tools.  There are many examples of companies trying to copy the tools and not succeeding.

Today, many more people are starting to understand it is about the thinking and not the tools that makes lean successful.  Yet, because it is human nature we still rely on tools and templates.

Last week, Jamie Flinchbaugh had a great video post about focusing on the discussion and not the template when developing a lean strategy.  I would extend that thought to be the same same when creating value stream or process maps or A3′s.

Too many times I have caught myself as well as colleagues worrying about the format or template use of a map.  I would get questions like, “Why didn’t you follow the normal standards for the map?”  or “That doesn’t look like the A3 I was taught to use.”  These questions are missing the point.  The discussions we have around, “what is the problem and how did we fix it,” or “what is the lean strategy and how do we execute it” are what is important.

Discussions are where we can gain clarity and come to agreement on what is the issue and how to go about resolving it.    When you have an issue at home to you ever talk with your spouse about what template to put the information on?  I bet it is safe to assume no.  It is the discussion you are concentrating on.

Templates are tools to help facilitate and draw out the discussion.  Not hinder it.  Next time you use a template, make sure you use it to enhance the discussion, because the discussion is what adds value.

Separate Mapping Can Bring People Together

Mapping is a common tool used with many people whether they are associated with lean, six sigma, or just doing business.  There are all kinds of maps.  Value Stream Maps, process maps, flow charts, etc.

The difference is how people use the maps.  People with a lean lens use maps as a way to directly observe the process because somethings the process only happens on a rare occasion.  The lean mindset also uses mapping as a way to get everyone to have a common understanding of the current process.  The mapping involves every role that touches the process including the suppliers and customers.  It helps to ground everyone in what actually is happening.  When doing a future state of the process, it helps everyone go forward with a consistent message.

But, what if you can’t get everyone to agree on a future state map?  Then what?

I had this happen a few weeks ago when I was facilitating an improvement event.  There clearly were two factions of people in the room.  One that wanted to really stretch the new process and one that wanted to make a few changes.  The group was split almost 50/50.  The team spent 3 hours that afternoon debating and arguing points.  Consensus was not happening.  As the facilitator, I saw the group was getting frustrated and worn out so I called it for the day.  That night I regrouped with the project leader and we decided to split the group into two teams.  One would map out the stretch future state and one would map out the small changes future state.  Then we would debrief each other.

I didn’t notice a big difference in the concepts, but the group thought there was a huge valley between them.

The next morning, I split the group into the teams and have them 1 hour to map their future state.  One team had the stretch and one team had the small changes.  After the hour was up, the teams debriefed each other on their future state maps.  To the groups amazement, the maps came out to be the same!  A quick 40 minute debrief on the maps and both groups were on the same page and gained not only consensus but unanimous agreement on the future state.

The maps allowed a clear and concise message to be understood by all involved.  The group accomplished in 1 hr 45 min what they couldn’t do the previous day in 3 hrs.  This created a strong united team that went to the sponsorship with the recommendation.

In this case, having teams build separate maps was the remedy needed to bring this group together.  This method may not work with all groups, but it is one that might be able to help at some time.

Automating Daycare…Just Like Manufacturing

The other night while I was watching TV I saw this Geico commercial.  I thought this was very funny.

I couldn’t believe someone would think about using robots in a daycare setting.  Then it hit me why this was so funny.  I have seen this time and time again in manufacturing so it was something I could relate to.

Have we gone so far as a society with trying to automate our manufacturing plants, car washes, even a drink dispenser at McDonald’s that everyone can relate to the daycare scenario?

The commercial is funny because it is ludicrous.  We would never consider this a viable option.  We want a human to interact with our children so they can adjust to their needs and solve problems that come up throughout the day.  We value having the mind that is attached to the hands and feet of the daycare workers.

So, why don’t we value the minds attached to hands and feet in a manufacturing environment?  In my career, I have come across many people that want to develop a “lights out” facility.  I even worked for a manager that was driven by the idea of a “lights out” facility.

We should value the minds of workers in all industries, from daycare to manufacturing.  Without their minds, how do expect to come up with improvement ideas?  How can the company continue to get better if everything is automated?  Just because it is automated does not mean it isn’t wasteful.  The perfect example is a conveyor belt.  All a conveyor belt does is automate the waste of transportation.  That conveyor belt isn’t going to come up with any ideas on how to eliminate or reduce the waste of transportation.

Automation can be a good thing.  We should consider robots and automation in environments that are dangerous for humans to work in (e.g. a continuous running paint booth or handling hot steel).  Computer automation can help calculate something that is value added and may take days for a human to calculate in a matter of minutes or seconds.

Unfortunately, a lot of engineers feel they need to automate everything in site to prove their value.  Having an engineering degree from Purdue University, I don’t feel the need to do this.  My first thought is how should the process work and then would automation add any value to that improved process.

So the next time you are confronted with an opportunity to automate something ask yourself, “Is this a daycare situation?”

Stop Placing Blame and Understand the Why.

Leaders don’t worry about the who.  Leaders figure out the why and fix it.

When a problem occurs don’t worry about who did what or find fault.  The important thing is to figure out the problem, contain it and then determine why it happened.

Too often people are worried about covering their tracks and start looking to place blame elsewhere.  This is usually a learned behavior.  The person has gotten beaten up by their boss in the past for making a mistake.

When we start to justify our actions or argue that is not our fault it does not help the situation.  After all the arguing we are still right back where we started…dealing with the problem.  The only difference is now people are mad and may not be thinking clearly, the relationship is strained AND we have let the problem live longer than it should have.

One of the principles of lean is to focus on learning.  How does arguing about fault help the learning process?  It doesn’t.  If it adds no value then it must be waste.  Aren’t we trying to eliminate waste, not add it?

This is not something that is easy to change but it is something that we can start to practice right away and without permission, approval, or a capital request.  Next time remember it isn’t important who create the issue but it is important to understand why the issue occurred.

Forecasting is the Not the Answer

I have become cynical anymore when I hear people talk about forecasting.  It has gotten to the point of being laughable.  Have you ever sat in a meeting and listen to someone say that if the forecast was accurate we would have done well?

Really?  I am stunned that people will still utter those words.

I have seen people act like getting a forecast right shouldn’t be that hard and forecasting is the simple solution to all of our problems.

There are three things in life that are certain: Death, Taxes, and 100% of Forecasts are inaccurate.

Don’t get me wrong.  Forecasts can still be useful.  Forecasts can show changing trends.  Is there going to be a peak output time frame?  A low output time frame?  What is the magnitude of it the peak or valley?

Most companies seem to have people dedicated to determining the accuracy of the forecast.  This can help because it can give a clue as to how much the forecast might be off.  Now the company has a range but it is still a forecast.

The flip side to forecasting is pulling or replacing what the customer has bought.  In this case, your output matches your demand.  Now the focus can shift from a non-value added activity such as making an accurate forecast and focus on value added activities like adding value to the product or service in order to increase sales.

Lets stop talking about forecasting and start focusing on only producing what is sold.


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