Category Archives: Improvement
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?
Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M. She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.
My friends said I worked in the Black Hole. In the lunchroom, people moved away because of the smell of solvents in my work clothes. Let me tell you how that changed.
Working in the Black Hole a.k.a. Screen Print Prepress
We were in the business of screen printing. My job was to get the screens ready, which means cleaning off the old stencil and applying the new image. I used quite a few chemicals and yes, it did get messy.
One time I was measuring out the emulsion remover when Greg moved into the room, and I didn’t hear him until he was close. I jumped, and the solvent went all over my shoes and the floor. And the fumes were so strong!
Another time I was carting off the old ink and I realized the waste tub was outside. By this time, I had both hands full, so I ended up using my foot to open the door and nearly tripped myself.
Bad for Business
Sometimes we’d run out of a chemical and I wouldn’t be able to clean any screens until new supplies arrived. Terry, the supervisor, would complain about orders being late, but there wasn’t anything I could do.
The delivery would eventually come in (often at high shipping costs for expedited delivery), but always in barrels so big I could hardly move them. I’d have no space to put them, either, so I’d pour the chemicals into smaller bottles. That was okay, so long as I didn’t spill much, but sometimes I’d forget to write on the side what was in them.
The other problem was I couldn’t tell how much was in each bottle, so I’d run out. And sometimes I’d mix up the wrong proportions so I had to throw it away and start again.
As you can see, things were pretty disorganized.
Terry had been taking a Lean Manufacturing training course when he came in and said, “Danielle, we need to make you lean.”
Well I knew I was carrying a few pounds, but really! Terry explained that if we organized the chemicals I use there’d be fewer stoppages, less waste, and I’d find the Black Hole a nicer place to work. He called it “visual management.” Here’s what we did:
- Installed a yellow “Point-of-Use Storage” cabinet. (The EPA has a lot of information about POUS on their website.)
- Labeled the POUS shelves so there’s “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”
- Stopped buying big barrels once in a great while and arranged for smaller, 1 gallon deliveries more frequently. This is called vendor-managed inventory, or a “milk run”.
- Used clear containers so I could see how much was left.
- John got special diamond pattern labels for the containers and showed me how to fill them in with the chemical name and date.
- Terry bought mixing jugs and put lines on them showing the appropriate fill level.
- John also set up a Safety Point. This has all the Material Safety Data Sheets in a binder along with a cabinet for safety equipment like goggles, a lab coat and gloves.
- We had the floor marked out to show where the waste containers should be. Now I can see at glance if they’re missing.
No more Black Hole
It took a while to get used to things, but it’s so much better. I don’t waste time looking for various chemicals. We never run out, so there are no stoppages. I don’t spill solvents and there’s less waste. Best of all, people don’t wrinkle their nose when I sit near them in the lunch room!
Email is a great thing. To be able to send a message instantly for free (sort of…I know there are charges for connection and data plans) is amazing. Now we can get email anywhere we are on smartphones, tablets or any other device. But, just because we can get a message instantly and anywhere does not mean we have to read or answer the message instantly anywhere we are.
I hear a lot of people talk about spending too much time with email. Email is keeping them from getting value added work completed. I spent some time looking at my own email practices and found it is very easy to get distracted by email. It is more of a hindrance than a help at times.
How many of you have your email notification turned on, so when you get an email you get a sound, a box in the corner pops up, a light flashes on your smartphone, etc…? I had notifications on everywhere. Why do we have them on? Because we want to read and answer the email as quickly as possible. Why don’t we turn off all of these audio/visual notifications? What percent of the emails you receive truly need immediate attention?
I experimented and turned off all audio and visual notifications of email on my PC. I turned off the audio notification on my smartphone, but left on my flashing light (which I am thinking about turning off). Since doing this, I feel less stressed about answering email and the need to jump right on it. I find that I am more productive also. I am not switching between something I am working on and email constantly. The thing I am working on has my full attention. I concentrate on the work and get it done and then check email. I have found that ZERO of my emails need my immediate attention.
My next step is to only open email at certain times of the day. Currently, I open it whenever I feel like it. Will this help me become even more productive? I don’t know if it will, but I won’t improve if I don’t try.
If you are not in a role where email is critical (i.e. order processor receiving orders through email or something of the like), I challenge you to turn off your notifications and not read/answer emails as they come in.
I’ve been in a really reflective state lately as I try to weigh some different opportunities. While I have come up with some really interesting topics for posts, most of them have turned too lengthy or incoherent to clog your Lean reading time. One of the discarded themes has also come up a couple times lately in conversation and I thought I’d throw it out in print. Here are three of the less obvious skills that have served me well in solving problems and working in continuous improvement activities over the years.
The first one is utilizing some sorta advanced Excel skills. For all of you statistics nerds out there, I totally agree with you that Excel is not statistical software. But it can be really, really helpful in sorting out piles of data in to something useable in a hurry. For me, sometimes digging through the raw data can help highlight a pattern that I can’t see in aggregate. Sometimes it can help put information in context and help people make better decisions faster. I have used functions from Pivot Tables to conditional sums to writing macros (with some excellent assists from Matt) and so on. It’s not sexy, but it is helpful.
The next skill that has served me well is another Office tool…PowerPoint. I’m not talking about fancy slide transitions with animated gif’s and musical accompaniment. I’m more referring to using the existing toolbox to tell concise, effective, clean stories. You could argue that A3 reporting is much more concise and clean (and I’d agree), but PowerPoint is still massively used. The ability to create a visually appealing communication is valuable for almost everybody.
Another skill that seems to be on and off the radar is the ability to filter information. Learning how to quickly separate signals from noise is a very underrated skill and one that needs your attention. Every person and every idea deserves respect and consideration. But not every idea needs to be implemented. Abnormal situations should get due attention, but not every abnormal situation should be weighted the same in terms of response. Developing the ability to say “no” or “not right now” with a reasonable justification can save a lot of inefficiency.
That was my quick list of unspoken skills (in no particular order). For the record, I’m not propping these up because I consider them strengths of mine. They’re just things that I do well enough to not do too much harm when I try to bust them out. Mostly they’re things that I’ve picked up from others and tried to emulate. What about you? Do you think I overrated any of these? Any other not-just-Lean traits that you use or seen others use effectively?