Lean thinking is about creating flexibility in the manufacturing process in order to deliver the value that customer wants at that time.
In agile, this is also true. The beauty of using agile to develop software is the work can be prioritized on a daily or even more frequent basis. As the development team completes a requirement and it moves to the “complete” pile, the product owner can determine which of the remaining requirements is the most important to complete next. The product owner is closely linked with the customer of the software so they are the voice speaking directly for the customer.
If new requirements come up during development, no problem. Add that requirement to the back log on the kanban board. The next time it is time to pull a new requirement the product owner can prioritize the new story at the top or not.
This creates a lot of flexibility in the development process that a waterfall process does not. Usually, with a waterfall development process all the requirements have to be determined up front and then frozen because adding any after that can cause issues. Then the customer doesn’t see anything until the development is completely done. The agile process allows to release pieces of functionality as it is ready.
This increased flexibility allows the team to deliver more value sooner to the customer, creating a happy customer. Which is what lean is about. Customer first.
Visuals really help people understand the information. Everyone sees the same visual and it starts a good conversation allowing people to gain high agreement. The issue is all the visuals I listed are tools and as with any tool you need to understand when to use it.
To be effective with using visuals, you need to understand what information the group is trying to understand. What is the purpose of the visual? Who is the audience? What do they need to learn from it?
Most of the time the standard visuals will be perfect. You can use them and get everything you need. That is why those tools are well known, because they are used all the time and work. But sometimes, they won’t.
Don’t be afraid to make up a visual tool to present the right information in an easily digestible manner.
Here are a couple a colleague and I came up with for a recent event:
This one shows the % of time people spent doing different tasks throughout the day. It helped the group better understand who was doing what and for how long.
This one shows the frequency of tasks. Daily, Weekly or Monthly? What was the task done on? Who many times on that day?
In both cases, the different colored post-its represent different areas of the company doing the work.
As you can see, the standard visual tools would not have shown this information in a easy manner to understand. We designed this for the group and it worked very well.
We can’t always rely on the tools we have and know in our toolbox. Sometimes we have to think outside the toolbox. It is important to understand what your customer/group is trying to accomplish and design the visual accordingly. Don’t meet the needs of the tool. Meet your group’s needs.
Have you ever sat in a meeting where the discussion is about the high (sometimes low) inventory levels? Do you frequently hear the answer of, “Once we get our better forecasting tool in place our inventories will be better.”?
This is a strong sign the company has not fully embraced lean thinking.
A lean company would not even have a discussion where forecasting tools are the solution. A lean company is closely connected to their customers. The goal is to make one product when one product is bought by the customer. I know this isn’t easy for all companies, but the discussion would be around how to move in this direction. Not how a better forecast can be generated.
There is one thing I can guarantee about a forecast. It is WRONG!
I have never heard anyone say, “Man, I nailed that forecast! I hit it right on the nose!”
Don’t misunderstand me. I do believe there is a use in looking forward and understand what is coming. A company would like to understand if a peak or a valley of the product sales might be coming. This can help set and adjust maximum kanban levels for that period of time.
A forecast is good to understand directionally where volumes are heading. Forecasting is not a good basis for your entire inventory strategy.
It is a difficult mindset to change. When you do and act on that new mindset, the dividends it pays are enormous.
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?
Through the years of learning and implementing lean, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Toyota. At first, it is easy to get really excited about the tools (kanban, 5S, flow) and how well they use them. After the initial excitement the understanding of how to use the tool with people systems starts to gain clarity. This is great, but it is still what is best for Toyota and not necessarily what is best for someone else.
Dig deep enough and what Toyota is really good at is problem solving. Toyota really understands where they are and where they want to go and develop a countermeasure that helps them close that gap. Toyota looks at both the technical and human side of the system when solving the problem.
Toyota didn’t develop 5S to straighten the place up. They realized by putting things in a designated place they could see and understand the problems they were having at a glance. This allows them to address the problems quickly.
Kanban was not put in place to reduce inventory. Toyota had a problem of not enough cash or space for lots of inventory, but wanted to be able to have enough inventory on hand to build what the customer wanted when they wanted it and also make visible any problems in flow they were having. The kanban was a countermeasure for this.
Years later others have the ability to learn from Toyota’s lessons. Instead of understanding the problem trying to be resolved, other companies just copy the solution from Toyota without understanding why or if it fits their needs.
Organizations need to become really good problem solvers and if needed learn from Toyota’s lessons, not copy them.
The other day I was having a conversation with a lean counterpart. Essentially, my counterpart mentioned they know all there is about a lot of the lean concepts and tools. This struck me as odd. I have been fortunate enough to have been studying lean for close to 15 years now. Even after implementing over a dozen pull systems using kanban, I have never felt like I knew everything there was to know about pull and kanban.
I asked my counterpart what lean meant to him. He replied it was about how a person thought and problem solved and to never stop learning. I tend to agree with this. I followed up by asking what never stop learning meant to him. My counterpart said it was to continue to learn new processes, tools, and ideas. This is where I only partially agreed with him.
Continuous learning is more than what he mentioned. It also means you never know everything about a topic, concept, or tool. In my example of pull systems and kanban I have to continue to learn. Would this work in this environment? What is the business strategy for product? Build-to-order? Off the shelf? Customized? Only one way to get it? How does the current business and world environment affect a pull system for this company or industry? Does a pull or kanban system even make sense for this business model? Or is it like and ER or seasonal crop growers?
I could go on and on with more questions. My point is, I may have done well (or not well in some cases) with a pull system utilizing kanban, but that is just a knowledge library to use to help me have better context of the current situation.
I never see myself as not learning even on something I have studied and implemented many times. Like anything else, if we aren’t learning and improving then we are regressing.
How do you answer the question of what continuous learning means to you?
People are enamored with kanban systems. This can be a good thing, but all too often they don’t understand kanban systems are there to help highlight make problems visual.
The first thing almost everyone jumps to is the calculation for the minimum and maximum levels for the kanban. I have seen some formulas that would make a mathematician with 3 PhDs blush. I don’t understand the need to have a complex formula. For years now, I have used what I see as a basic quick and easy formula to calculate the min and the max.
Min = Lead Time + Safety Stock
Max = Min + (Min/2)
Lead time is the time it takes from the moment the component is ordered until it is received and ready to be used.
Safety Stock is the amount of stock to hold because of something that could occur to delay the lead time. Base this on where you are getting the parts from, how often does something go wrong, etc… For example you might hold a little more safety stock for something you purchase from a company 300 miles away versus a component that is made in-house.
If the process is working smoothly, you will receive the component you ordered right as you get into the safety stock. When the minimum level is set properly, you will feel freaked out because you believe you will run out and right about that time the components will arrive. It is a weird feeling that you will adjust to, but makes you heartbeat fast the first few times until you get used to it and trust the process.
The maximum is something a friend and I completely made up several years ago. There is no reason it has to be this. I continue to use it because so far it has worked well for me over the last decade. I always round up to the nearest full day.
Min = 2 day lead time + 1 day of safety stock = 3 days
Max = 3 + (3/2) = 4.5 round up to 5 days
The only other number that is needed is the quantity of the product used per day. This is used to translate the number of days to a quantity of the component.
1 day usage equal 500 parts
Min = 3 days x 500 parts = 1500 part
Max = 5 days x 500 parts = 2500 parts
The point of the kanban min/max levels are to get you in the ballpark. It shouldn’t be an exact science because you will probably round to nearest full carton or order quantity anyway. Plus, min/max levels should NEVER stay static. They are dynamic and change.
I wold recommend on having what you might think is a little too much inventory to start. You can always adjust your kanban min/max levels down as you understand your process. If you start with too little of inventory, you will run out of parts and people will not have faith in the new process and give up early on before it has a chance to work.
Get rid of the waste in your kanban calculation and go and see your process to understand if your kanban min/max are appropriate.
A couple of years ago, I was working with a group to create a complex supermarket pull system. The supermarket was centered around a component that was manufactured inside the assembly facility and feed several assembly lines. A timed delivery system was going to be used to deliver components to the each assembly line every two hours. The deliveries were based on the orders the lines placed during the previous two hours. Only four hours worth of components would be stored at the assembly line and the rest would be stored in the centralized supermarket.
Below is a quick presentation I gave to the leadership to help them understand how the system would work. Slides 5 -15 show the specifics for this supermarket delivery system.
This is a specific example of how to use this supermarket system. However, the concept is the same no matter what supermarket you use. There should be:
- Centralized storage location for the components
- A small amount of inventory at the point of use
- A signal to replenish the point of use inventory
- A signal to replenish the supermarket inventory
- Replenishment triggers should be based on lead time to receive inventory from supplier
A well designed supermarket system can be a very powerful tool to help reduce inventory and simplify operations.
For the last couple of weeks I have debated whether I should write this post or not. I feel the topic of role modeling is important but writing about myself in this manner seems arrogant. The topic won out and I decided to write the post. Please understand my intent is to illustrate how role modeling can influence people, not brag or pat myself on my back.
Over the last few months, I have posted blogs about my own continuous improvement that have been inspired by others. Some of the topics have been reflection, stand-up desk, and personal kanban (here and here). I tried some of these things out to improve and change my work. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was role modeling behaviors of continuous improvement that others at work were noticing.
People started asking me about things I was trying out. It wasn’t long before I noticed a couple of more people with stand-up desks. Then others with personal kanban boards being tried. Lastly, seeing others doing more reflection at the end of meetings or at the end of the week.
It felt good to see others trying new things because of what they saw me doing. My intent wasn’t to change others but to improve my own work. As I did, others picked up on it little by little and started trying some of the same things.
It re-enforced the need to always be aware of my actions because you never know who is watching and will pick up on them. As leaders, we want to send the right message.
Yesterday, I was a guest blogger over at A Lean Journey blog hosted by Tim McMahon. The blog post is about my second iteration at a personal kanban board to understand the flow of my work. I have re-posted the blog below, but I encourage everyone to check out Tim’s blog if you haven’t already.
As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers. I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me. I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.
I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better. It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else. I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.
About three months ago, I posted a blog about my first attempt at a personal kanban. It was not successful at all. With some encouragement from fellow blogger Tim McMahon, I reflected more on why it didn’t work and then learned more about how to apply personal kanban. “Personal Kanban” by Jim Benson and Tonianne Barry was a helpful resource for me.
At the end of my previous post, I talked about digitizing the my kanban board. I almost fell prey to a common error…..looking for a technology solution when a process has not even been established. I was tempted by the dark side, but resisted. A digital format may be what I need in the future but first I must establish a process that works.
The second try at a personal kanban board has been very successful. Here is a picture of my board. It isn’t very clear, but I think it will help with the discussion.
My value stream is Ready (my queue of work), Doing (what I am working on), Pen (items I have worked on but waiting for input), and Done. I have set my max for Doing and Pen at 3 items. I move items for Ready to Doing after I have moved all items from Doing to Done or Pen. This prevents one thing from sitting in the Doing column for a long time because I move the other two items and avoid the third.
Down in the bottom right-hand corner I have a color key. The color of the Post-It notes is related to a specific area of work.
Also, I have blog posts that I do weekly. It doesn’t matter what day the posts are written but I would like to write 3 a week. It would get monotonous if I used Post-Its for writing three blog posts every week. Instead of using Post-Its, I put up three check boxes. I put a check after in th box after I finish a blog post. The section below it is a place I can put an idea for a blog post. When I want to write a post, I can grab one of the ideas from that section.
The board has helped me keep track of my work and made it visual to my boss all that I have going on. It has helped my boss understand where I am spending most of my time.
One of the keys is to choose the correct work chunk to put on a Post-It. Too small of a item is a quick to-do. An example of something too small would be to send an email or make a call. Too big of a chunk and nothing will ever move. XYZ Project would be too big. There is a middle ground. Breaking the XYZ Project into smaller chunks has helped me. Create charter for project. Study the current state of the process. Update action item list. These are examples of the middle ground that I have found.
I hope this helps others looking at trying a personal kanban. It isn’t easy, but when it works it feels good and keeps the work flowing. Now I get to go check a box for blog posts!