Category Archives: Improvement
Last week, I attended a lean forum with speakers and breakout sessions. It was done very well. I was very excited that I was able to attend.
One of the speakers was a General Manager at a distribution center. She told the story of how lean has evolved at her facility and where it stands now.
When listening to transformation stories I try to listen for a few different things to see if they are really getting it or just going through the motions and implementing tools.
I will say her story, I haven’t directly observed, is a very promising and exciting story. I believe they are doing things right and well. There were two bits of evidence that lead me to believe this.
First of all, she is holding the staff, managers and all employees accountable for learning about lean and taking action. Not a lean group or a someone else. Herself and everyone around her. In fact, they integrated the lean staff into manger roles and no longer have that crutch to lean on.
There were stories of the General Manger’s own learning and changes. How getting dissolving the lean group but expecting better results helped make everyone accountable.
While dissolving the lean group worked for her and her facility don’t go do this just to remove the crutch. This General Manager was a true believer in what lean could do for her and she partnered with other local companies that were doing lean very well. She had a support system but it was one that held her accountable for leading lean. Not supporting it.
The second piece of evidence was a video she showed of a great employee driven improvement. Great it was employee driven, but what really stuck with me was the General Manager promoting the small improvement. It was about a five to ten second improvement in a manually process. This one small improvement was going to save $40,000 in a $19 million target she was going after.
Most people look for the BIG improvement to get the whole chunk at once. They don’t understand the large gap is made of hundreds of small problems. They don’t have the patience to go after the small problems. This General Manger understood this concept. It was very refreshing to see.
The facility still has a long way to go, but they are traveling down the right path and that was invigorating.
I will share more from the forum at a later time.
There is a lot discussion around big changes and improvements from lean thinking. Usually, this discussion is around how to realign manufacturing processes in cells or value streams or sitting people across a value stream together for better communication in a business process.
I have taken a page from his book and done this with my routine at the gym in the morning. After working out, I get ready for work at the gym. I used to just grab everything out of my shaving bag and put it on the counter. Then I noticed I always brush my teeth first. I was taking my toothpaste out of the bag first, setting it on the counter, getting everything else out, then picking up the toothpaste, put it on my brush and then putting the toothpaste back on the counter. Later I would put the toothpaste back in the bag.
My 2 second improvement. I get everything out of my bag first. The second to last thing I get out is my toothbrush and the last thing is my toothpaste. I don’t set it down though. I get the toothpaste out, use it and place it right back in my bag. When I am done with my toothbrush, it goes right back in the bag too.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but combined with other improvements I have started to save significant time in the morning. It allows me more time to workout.
What 2 second improvements have you made?
It amazes me how companies will setup an accounting system this is designed to drive bad decisions.
Recently, I have been working with a client on improving an internal process to the team. During the direct observation with the order writer something very interesting surfaced.
The order writer can write orders to be processed one of two ways. The order writer said that method A costs $400 and only takes 1.5 hours to write the order. While method B costs $30 and takes 2 days to write the order.
I asked where the costs came from because the orders are processed by another internal group. The order writer said it is the cost of systems and labor time for that group and they charge back the order writing team the cost of each order.
The internal order processing group is managed as a Profit and Loss center. They are treated like a company.
Sadly, I have seen this accounting set up quite a bit. Even the support groups like IT, HR, etc… are setup as P&L centers.
This drives decisions to be made that are not in the best interest of the company.
In this case, the order writer is considered value added because they are changing the order to get product to customers. They help generate revenue. Half of order processing is non-value added (entering all the information they get from the order writers) while half is value added (executing the order).
Because the business gets charged back over 10 times more the cost per order for the more automated order, the value added order writers are asked to take 2 days write an order which then adds actual hard dollar cost because it takes more order writers to get the orders written and submitted.
What is wrong with being a support center, knowing it and accounting for it? Why does everything have to be a P&L center to “prove” it’s value?
The places who treat support areas like support areas and don’t worry about P&L centers for everything don’t typically make decisions like the one above. They understand how a supporting area adds value and don’t feel the need to quantify it in a P&L statement.
Have you encountered this in your work?
A huge take away from some of the studying of Toyota and case studies I have seen is that everything they do is considered an experiment. Every cycle on the assembly line. Every product development project. Every meeting. Everything is a test to see if they got the expected results from the process. If not, why?
It may seem excessive but it isn’t. If a process is designed to deliver certain results then we are doing ourselves a disservice if we aren’t stopping to ask if the process did deliver the expected results. If not, why? If so, why? What can we learn? Positive or negative.
This can be applied to all work. Many studies state that having an agenda and a plan for a meeting is important to making meetings effective. If that is the case (and it has been in my experience) then afterwards we should ask if we accomplished what we had on the agenda and did we stick to the timeline?
A person example is the agenda I use to conduct improvement (or commonly called kaizen) events. I have a detailed 3-day agenda that is my standard work. Each time I have timing information for every phase of the agenda. During the event, I note the time that I move on to the next phase. After the day is over, I reflect to understand if my experiment is working or not. If something took more time I try to understand why. If it went quickly I try to understand that too.
Approaching each improvement event as an experiment that is testing my standard process has allowed me to learn and create new ways to approach different phases of my agenda. I have discovered quicker and more effective ways to accomplish some of the tasks.
To truly learn and improve a person has to look at everything as an experiment testing our standards. People need to be open to learning with everything they do.
H&H Color Lab began in the basement of Wayne and Shirley Haub’s residence in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1970. Wayne and his brother, Ted Haub, owned a portrait studio that had just landed its first high school senior contract. With a background in and love for color printing, Wayne chose to install his own color processing equipment in the basement of his home.
Business increased, and so did the need for additional space and employees. What began with Wayne doing everything from his basement has grown to 165 people and 55,000 square feet of space over 40 years later.
H&H customers are primarily school/portrait/wedding photographers. The offer a wide range of products from photo prints to books to Leather bound albums and digital products.
In 1999, H&H Color Lab started is Lean journey led by Lee Gabbert. Lee had been with the company for 5 years at the time and was chosen to learn more about lean and teach others at H&H. They started by reading “Lean Thinking” by James Womack and Daniel Jones. H&H also decided to get a sensei to help them learn as they traveled the bumpy road down the lean path.
H&H Color Lab started by setting up work cells, going away from a department mentality. H&H moved to smaller batches, moving cells closer to the monuments (that they couldn’t move), standard work, and lots and lots of 5S.
Muda (waste), lead times, late work and quality all had improved. In fact, the gains from lean had now freed up space that was once occupied by manufacturing departments. It allowed H&H to take the space and use it as a training facility to help customers from all over the United States. Thus, H&H University was born. Roughly 3,000 square feet of space was now designed and transformed into a learning center, working photographic studio with equipment, mock up photography sales room, photography studio work area, kitchen to host all day training, library sitting room with sample products that H&H produce on the book shelves and restrooms. By providing training for customers (mostly free of charge), you truly can engage in a partnership that can grow.
All of this work allowed H&H Color Lab to make a success transition from the “Age of Film” to the “Digital Age”. Understanding their customers and providing training and education others companies do not, shows how the most important part of lean, focusing on the customer, helps you innovate, grow and thrive.
Here are results that H&H Color Lab have seen from their lean implementation.
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Small change vs. Large change is a debate I hear quite often within the Lean community.
The meaning of kaizen is to continuously make change for the better. Implied is to make small changes everyday and over time it will add up. Paul Akers at FastCap often talks about the 2 second kaizen.
Every improvement counts. This is small change.
The flip side of the discussion is large change. Transform the work into something new. Redesign the process, the layout, the flow. Act in a completely different way.
My opinion…they are both right and you should do both. The key is understanding what your organization needs and when.
If it is a traditional batch and queue organization (manufacturing or service), then as you start your lean transformation I would recommend large change. Create a pull system where the parts or service flow uninterrupted. Dramatically change the way you operate.
Once the large change is done, the improvement never stops. This is when you start looking for the 2 second improvements in the process. Everyday the process should be better. Keep making small changes.
This isn’t the only way to go about a lean transformation. It is just one way. If you want to be successful with your lean transformation take the time to really consider your strategy for going about the transformation.
All in all, some improvement is ALWAYS better than no improvement…small or large.
Last year I tried again. I had great success with the board. I have been using it for a year and a half.
Now, I have a new role where I have multiple desks. I am constantly in different areas of the building. I may not be back to my desk for several days or even a couple of weeks. I wasn’t able to keep my board up and I had work to do written in several places.
I went searching for an electronic solution that may help me. I wanted a solution that would be portable and I could add tasks at any location that I was at. I wanted to be able to move my tasks from stage-to-stage when needed and not try and keep up when I got back to my regular desk.
I discovered Portable Kanban by Dmitry Ivanov. It is a free downloadable software for your computer. It allows you to setup the board with the columns you desire. Each column has the capability of putting a limit as to the number of tasks allowed. Below is a snapshot of my physical board and below it my portable kanban board.
(Click on images to enlarge)
The portable kanban allows you to color code your “post-its” as well as assign a priority and a completion date. There is a reporting function also.
This software from Dmitry is meeting my needs very well. I am back on track with using my personal kanban again.
If you are a team looking for a portable kanban board online so many people can see it and use it simultaneously, this is not the software for you. There are some good online options.
If you are an individual that needs a board that you can have just about anywhere, this is a great tool.
Are you using a personal kanban?
Before I start, technology is a wonderful thing. It has helped to make processes more efficient and work to be done much easier.
With that being said, before technology is used or put into place, the processes that technology will support should be examined. Take the time to create a value stream map or a process map and examine the process for waste. Design the future state of the process. Then define what are the changes where technology is not needed and what changes where technology is needed.
The technology should be designed to support the process. Not the process designed to support the technology. This is an issue that occurs quite often.
Improving the process first creates a better understanding what is truly needed from the technology. A company can save a lot of money by improving the process first because technology may not be needed at all or fewer components may be needed than originally thought. Also, if your put technology into a bad process all you have done is make a bad process go faster. That means you are throwing away money faster than you before because of the waste in the process.
The key to remember is the technology should support the process. We shouldn’t be putting in technology as a substitute to better the process.
Technology is here to stay. We should use it to our advantage, but we should use it correctly to support our processes, not to define them.
There are examples of visual management everywhere. Walk into a store and the departments are labeled so you know where to go. Go to a Subway restaurant and the ingredients available to put on your sandwich are displayed right in front of you. Or look all around the U.S. road system. It is filled with visual cues and information.
This one is simple and can be handy.
Gatorade’s water bottle has a transparent stripe down the side that allows you to see how full the water bottle is. This conveys a single message (how much fluid is in the bottle?) simply. Sure you can pick it up and easily tell by the weight. What if you are an equipment manager for a sports team and you have 10 more of these to manage during a game. Instead of picking each bottle up several times to see if it is close to empty, a quick glance allows the equipment manager to know which ones to fill immediately.
It may seem like such a small improvement, but that is part of the essence of lean. Improving everyday. Saving even two seconds will amount to significant time as that process is repeated over and over again. This is something Paul Akers stresses at his company, FastCap.
What have you done to save 2 seconds?
I read a blog post from Dan Markovitz a couple weeks about about some of the practices Nick Saban has. Being a college football fan and following Nick Saban since his Michigan State days, I found it very interesting to see how he saved time.
I do some of the same stuff. I eat the same thing everyday for lunch. It is a running joke around my workplace. But I don’t have to think about what to make the night before and no decisions have to be made when it is time for lunch. The nights I do make something different for my lunch the next day it takes over twice as long. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I want and if it is easily suitable for a packed lunch.
Another thing I do, I lay out all of my clothes for the week including clothes for working out in the morning. I spend a few minutes Sunday evening preparing for Monday thru Thursday (Friday can range to much based on what I have going on at work so I do that one on Thursday night). My kids even got me a cubby-hole shelf to put my clothes into to be even more organized. With two kids involved in everything under the sun, this saves me time during the week. I don’t have to think about what I am going to wear. I just reach for the cubby-hole and put the clothes in my gym bag and my gym clothes I lay out for the next morning. It takes me less than 60 seconds to be prepared for the next day.
I know. It seems anal-retentive (because I don’t make millions like Nick Saban, then it would be innovative or smart). These two routines save me several minutes a day that I use to make sure I get the kids to where they need to be on-time and frees up time to spend with my wife at night.
What do you do to save time in your routine?