Category Archives: Principles

The Power of Direct Observation in Retail

All to often people make changes based on data without taking the time to observe what is really happening.  This can lead to decisions that are not in the best interest of the business.

Recently, in our retail shop the data showed that we had some product that was not selling.  If we would have gone strictly with the data, we would probably clearance out the product and not carry it anymore.  But, we believed the product was something that people truly wanted.

Instead, we observed people as they perused the shop.  What we saw was people weren’t even seeing the product with the way they were shopping the store.

We decided to re-merchandise the store and almost instantly, as in the next day, we had sales on the product that wasn’t selling.

Data didn’t tell us the problem, but it did point us in the direction of a problem.  That is were data is very helpful, but the power came in observation.  Observation helped us see what the problem truly was so we could take appropriate action.

Do you take the time to observe the problem?  Or do you just manage by data?

Open for Business

I have had a hard time keeping up with the blog this year for a very good reason.  Regular readers may know that my wife has had an online business selling handmade soaps and bath and body products that she makes.  Over the last 4 years revenue has continued to grow at an incredible rate.  So much so, that we out grew out house a year ago and have been searching for a space outside the house to make the products.

Everything finally fell into place.  On Saturday, July 5th, 2014; Crimson Hill Soapworks and Gift Market retail soap opened for business.

Grand Opening Collage

It took almost a year and a half to find a place, negotiate the build out and rent, get the work done to the space and then set up the retail space and the kitchen.  The opening went better than we could have hoped for and now we are fully open for business.

Are we using lean in the business?  You bet.  We aren’t perfect and we have a long way to go, but we have always applied the biggest tenant of lean from the start.  Focus on value for the customer.  We believe the customer sets the market price for the product and our profit is that price minus our cost without suffering quality.

We know our target market and that is who we aim to please.  Our products may not be for everyone but for our target market we want to drive a high value proposition.

Here’s to new adventures!

Sponges

There is nothing more invigorating than a sponge.

Not the type of sponge you clean with, but a person that soaks up everything and is eager to learn.

I recently have been working with a facility on implementing lean thinking.  At this facility is an operations manager that is trying to take in everything she can.  It is amazing to watch her.  Everything that is said and talked about is taken in, absorbed and thought about how it applies for her staff and herself.

One walk on the floor to spot issues in 5S and questions about if it is important to her whether it is maintained or not turns into a maintained 5S effort over the last month.  She didn’t just go out and demand it be done.  She asked the employees in the area if it was still needed and if so, what needs to be done to meet their needs.  The employees wanted it and now are maintaining it.

The next time more in-depth questions on maintaining material levels led to thinking and study of a process to be sure the material levels are maintained.

In the short time I have been working with the group, I can list of more examples of taking the learning and turning into action than the past year of efforts in other areas.

Seeing others start to soak up the lean thinking like a sponge and grow is an invigorating feeling that gets the blood pumping.

Are you a lean sponge?

Jumpping to Improvement

I have talked in the past about the importance of direct observation.  The power in seeing the waste for yourself.  It really shines a light on what is really happening and it also is the best way for a person to continue to learn.

The question is,  “What do you do with those observations?”

Most often, I see people run out and try to eliminate or reduce the waste or even assign it to someone else to do.  While not entirely a bad thing, if you are trying to instill a lean culture don’t just jump to trying to improve.

Stop and reflect about what you are trying to do as an organization and use the waste you saw as a way to further the lean culture.

Most organizations I have seen do not have a systematic way to eliminate waste.  Usually, this is because waste is one of the first things people learn about lean.  What happens is people just go out and attack waste (again not a bad thing) without any direction.

If your organization is early on in trying to implement a lean culture, think about how you can make the waste elimination systematic.

Is this a good way to engage employees in a kaizen event to start to build trust?  Could be an easy win for everyone.

Should an improvement board to post the waste seen and how it is detracting a better option?  Use the waste you saw as an example of how to use the board and go and eliminate it yourself or with the help of others, but be involved.

If you observed multiple areas, do you want to concentrate in one department?  Make it a model for others in the organization.

Think about how you can make the waste elimination sustainable and systematic.  This will benefit you and the organization in the long run.

Buying New Equipment? Use What You Got.

During some recent blog reading, I was spurred to think about a past situation when a company I worked for was buying new equipment and how WRONG this decision was.

I had been with the company for about four weeks when I heard about a capital expenditure my director had just approved to buy nine more of a patented machine.  My company owned the patent.  That would give us a total of 99 of these machines.

First question I asked, “Why are we buying more of these machines?”

The response was a typical one, “We they need more capacity because we are meeting the demand.”

I didn’t ask anymore questions at that point.  I decided to go and see for myself.  This was easy because the corporate offices we were in was part of the main manufacturing building.  I had to walk about 100 yards.

During my observations I found two things:

  1. The overall OEE of the 90 machines was around 35-40% when it was running.
  2. At anytime I never saw more than 50 of the 90 machines running.  This was because we never had enough people to run all the machines.

SAY WHAT?!?!!

After a few hours of direct observation, it was clear there was no understanding of what was really going on.

First, attack changeovers and downtime to get the OEE of the machine up to the 75% range.

Second, why buy more machines if we can’t staff them?!

By my calculations, if the OEE was raised to the 75% range, not only would we not have to buy more machines we could get ride of about 20-25 machines we already had.  That would mean our current staffing would be pretty close to what we needed.

I presented this to my new boss and the director, but by this time it was too late.  The money had been cut and were pretty much crated and on the road to our facility.

This is why companies should question any new capital expenditures.  Companies should be maintaining and using what they have first.  The OEE should be at least 70% if not higher before considering adding more capacity through spending.

Do not make any decisions about capital expenditures until the current state is thoroughly understood.  The best way to do that is to go and see for yourself.

Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2013 – Lean Blitz

At the end of the year, John Hunter does a great job of facilitating an annual roundup of business and lean blogs at Curious Cat Management.  The roundup is a review of blogs by other bloggers.  This year I have the honor of participating in the Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.

Lean_Blitz_logo

A blog that I discovered a couple of years ago was Lean Blitz written by Chad Walters.  I like Chad’s unique way of relating lean and continuous improvement to the sports world, because there are plenty of examples throughout sports to do this.

Take the respect for people as an example.  The NFL was ripe with instances of disrespect this year, from the Miami Dolphins’ handling of the bullying in their locker room to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ unclean locker room leading to three players getting MSRA infections.  Not only in the NFL but in college also.  This post talks about Coach Kelly at Notre Dame not listening to his players when something was wrong with the gauntlet machine.  Chad tackles the issue head on in his posts.

Another topic on the blog is error proofing.  Chad talks about how Clemson and Notre Dame handled a color out night at their school for a football game.  Clemson was a huge success while Notre Dame not so much.  He shows some of the differences.  Another favorite is how sprinklers popped up in the middle of an NFL game at the end of last year.

Chad has created a unique blog at Lean Blitz.  It is a fun and different way to demonstrate lean principles in action in any environment.

When in Doubt…Go and See

On a recent project, some senior leaders were asking for an update on the development of an app the team was building.  The team is using the Agile methodology, so there is progress and changes every day or two to the app.

Instead of trying to explain the progress, the team invited the senior leaders to the work space for a demo.

The demo went incredibly.  As soon as they saw the app, there was great understanding of how it worked.  Everyone was able to see not only the customer interaction, but also the aesthetics of the app.

The senior leaders asked some really great questions about the customer experience and how the app worked.  Because the team is using the Agile methodology, they were able to quickly add the changes to the app for a better customer experience.

If you want to understand something, go and see it.  It seems so simple.  Yet, that is not the first instinct of most.

By the team asking the senior leaders to come and see, they are setting an example of this behavior.  Hopefully, the senior leaders left with a sense that it was great they saw the app and the work environment and next time they have questions they just go and see.  Then it starts to carryover to other projects.  Slowly, the behavior starts to change because the benefits are seen.

Next time someone asks you for an update, take them to the work and show them.  Help change the behavior.

Lean In Project Management

Like so many that started learning and implementing lean in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I started applying lean principles and concepts in manufacturing.  I spent nearly 15 years applying lean thinking in a manufacturing environment.  I absolutely loved seeing the immediate change in material flow or the feedback from operators that someone listened to them and they were able to make things better.

It is no secret.  A manufacturing environment is a tangible environment to see the improvements and get quicker feedback back on how you are applying lean thinking because of the immediate visual results.

A couple of years ago, I moved from the manufacturing environment to the office/project management environment.  This was quite a change and one I looked at as a new challenge.  I took it on.  I have worked with product development and retail management teams.  Not even thinking twice as to what I was doing…until recently.

This summer I took on the role of project manager.  I am managing the deployment of technology to our retail environments.  The changes are not as immediate and not as visual as a manufacturing environment.  After a while, I questioned whether I was still applying lean principles to my work.  Finally, I took a step back to have a serious reflection and what I discovered is my previous 15+ years have engrained the thinking and principles without realizing it.

I have been directly observing the work as activities, connections and flows by sitting with the teams developing and testing the technology.  I see how the work and how the product works.  I have gone to a few retail stores to see the technology being used so I can bring those observations back to the team.  I also went to other retail stores using similar technology and talked with the store managers about what is working and what isn’t working for them.

The principle of systematic problem solving comes to light with using visual boards to status the project and highlight the problems that need to be worked on in the next 24-48 hrs.  We are trying to surface the problems quickly, so they can be resolved.  We have broken the issues down into categories to know which are the highest priority.

Systematic waste elimination comes from defining new processes that will continue once the project is launched.  We are working to improve and make them as efficient as we know how today.

Each day at standup, we are establishing high agreement on what we are going to be working on and how we will go about working on it.  This establishes clear ownership of the work and an expected due date.

Finally, we are learning about the product, the technology and our processes with every iteration.  Getting feedback incorporated into the product as quickly as possible.

The reflection helped me understand how I am using the lean principles everyday even if it is not in a tangible manufacturing environment.

How about you?  In what type of environment are you using the lean principles?

Gaming the System – MLB HGH Testing

There was an interesting story a couple of weeks back about the use of HGH in Major League Baseball (MLB).  It took years but there is finally testing for performance enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone (HGH).

The part that was most interesting from a lean and metrics standpoint was about the base lining of HGH.  Instead of using baseline data for the amount of HGH a person should have established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), MLB is establishing their own baseline.  What is even more incredible is the MLB is telling players when they will be tested for the baseline.

A MLB player can load himself with HGH in preparation for the test.  This would be no different than a department manager saving some of the extra production from the week before and print the finishing tickets the next week so both weeks look good.  MLB’s baseline procedure would allow players to skew the baseline to the high side.  Players could continue to take HGH as a performance enhancing drug and still “be within the baseline.”

This is gaming the system to your benefit and missing the true intention of what is trying to be accomplished.  This is why the principle of directly observing the work is so important.  When you go and see what is actually happening gaming the system becomes harder because you see the finished product on the floor waiting for tickets or that players might be juicing up for the baseline test.

A balanced scorecard and direct observation can help prevent gaming the system.

Guest Post: Can Lean be Taught to Children?

blogphotoToday’s post is from Tony Ferraro, on behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR (www.creativesafetysupply.com). Tony strives to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. His knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. Tony believes in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier employees.

Lean is something that is often associated with businesses and focuses mainly on reducing waste and adding value. However, lately I have been pondering the thought “Can lean be taught to children?” Wouldn’t it be great if children learned the concepts of lean at a young age? My mind literally boggles at the sheer possibilities. I’m not talking about sitting children down in a classroom and teaching them lean exclusively like reading or math, but instead just weaving the concepts of lean through life’s regular and everyday activities.

Imagine the Possibilities

The concepts of lean have been credited with high levels of success in the workplace, so why can’t the same concepts be beneficial in other areas of life as well? The truth is, they CAN! Creating a generation of innovative thinkers, ready to add value to society sounds like a pretty wonderful idea to me. Many of us have not been introduced to the concepts of lean until later in life, and unfortunately our minds have not had the opportunity to truly expand and grow with the concept. However, we can change that with the introduction of lean.

How to Start the Lean Mindset

The first thing we have to remember is that children are just children. We cannot expect them to act like adults. However, one of the benefits of starting lean concepts early is that when children are young their minds are very malleable. If children are taught to reduce waste and participate in value added activities early in life, that mindset will usually follow them through into adulthood. The key is to really start out simple and introduce the obvious and most tangible ways to reduce waste. This may include engaging in activities such as reusing and recycling. Instead of simply throwing out old clothing that does not fit, teach children that it can be reused and given to places such as the “Goodwill” or “The Salvation Army” so other children can wear the clothing, thus adding value for another person. Engaging in activities such as this puts the act of reducing waste into terms that children can understand. Furthermore, children can also be involved with activities such as household chores to practice lean. In fact, lean can be weaved into even the simplest task such as dish washing. For example, loading a dishwasher by putting all forks in one compartment and all spoons in another takes less time to unload since the flatware has already been separated. Doing this reduces wasted time.

The possibilities are limitless when it comes to the lean mindset. The truth is that lean can be implemented anywhere and everywhere; it is not just strictly for business use. When lean concepts are implemented and practiced at an early age they become just a normal part of life. Providing children with the tools necessary to be independent thinkers, who are capable of seeking improvement and reducing unneeded waste, will help to create a society of endless possibilities and opportunities.

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