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?
The A3 is a great communication tool. It can help tell a story succinctly and clearly making it easier for people to understand your thought process. An A3 will contain some background information, the current state, what the desired or future state is and an action plan to get there or measurements showing the success of the work.
Putting together an A3 can take some time. It isn’t actually putting the A3 together as much as it is truly understanding the issue and stating it clearly and concisely.
When your manager doesn’t understand the time it takes to truly understand how to put together an A3 it can be frustrating. As a lean learner, I encourage you to fight through that frustration and use the A3 to communicate with your manager or other managers. Show them the power of tell a good story on an A3.
The A3 won’t be perfect, but this is OK. If the others you are sharing it with understand your thinking then they can better add input. This better input leads to quicker high agreement and quicker resolution.
Think of using an A3 correctly as taking your time to do something right the first time, like setting up a machine. It may seem like it takes a long time but done right there isn’t as much rework because everyone understands quickly and you don’t have to have conversations over again because of the lack of understanding. Just like the machine being set up right the first time and not having to make tweaks over and over. In the long run, it is shorter to take your time upfront.
Eventually, others will see the benefits and the effects will spread.
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.
It’s that time of year again when I spend a day working at my kids’ school. It is always a lot of fun to be with the kids in their classrooms and help with activities. Every year I learn something new from a visual management perspective or from some other aspect of lean. The school is not “using lean” but there are always elements of it around.
This year I noticed some small improvements that were great ways to element small amounts of waste that would add up over time. One example was the placement of the silverware in the lunch line. It used to be the first thing in the line so every kid would grab one of each piece of silverware before choosing their lunch and knowing what they would actually need for their lunch. Now the silverware is the very last thing in the lunch line. The kids can choose their food and then pick the appropriate utensils. This eliminates the cleaning silverware that was never used, saving time in putting silverware away as well as possibly reducing the number of dishwasher cycles needed to clean the dishes.
A second small improvement I saw had to do with reducing food waste. As part of the lunch, students get milk in cartons, yogurt cups or other food items that are packaged. In years past, if the student didn’t want it they threw it in the trash. At the same time, other students might want an extra milk or yogurt and would have to pay extra for it.
Now the school has the “share table”. It is a small table where students that don’t want their milk carton or packaged food item can put it on the table for other students to eat. If another student wants an extra milk they can ask to go to the “share table” and pick an item. Less food in the trash and less cost to parents of kids who want a little extra. What a great idea!
It is amazing at all the learning that I still get every year I go into my kids’ school. We can learn ways to reduce waste and communicate visually anywhere. We just have to keep our eyes and minds open.
In the lean world we always stress how important a good process is to achieving results. One of my favorite graphics I have seen is the one pictured below. It shows the four outcomes of balancing process and results.
- Having a Good Process and Getting Good Results is the gold star. We know we have a solid process that will give us the good results we want.
- Having a Good Process and Getting Bad Results is half way there. We know the process works like it should. It just doesn’t give us the results we want so we need to go back and redesign the process.
- Having a Bad Process and Getting Good Results you are gambling. You got lucky to get the good results and it won’t be consistently repeatable.
- Having a Bad Process and Getting Bad Results is just not good. Nothing is working and you should start working on this right away.
I am one of the first to stress process, but as you can see it must be balanced.
When designing a process it must have the right mix of structure and flexibility because it is about understanding, learning and getting the results.
For example, when designing a manufacturing process you may be more prescriptive because of the need to get a particular assembly done correctly.
For a process around coaching or problem solving, there needs to be more flexibility. A determined process should be designed and used but it shouldn’t be as prescriptive as a manufacturing process. It allows for the person to be able to go where the problem is taking them but achieving the desired results is still extremely important.
The need to balance the importance of a good process and the getting good results is a key skill to have when teaching people about lean.
In an earlier post I mentioned the similarities in agile and lean from a problem solving perspective. Lean and agile are also the same when it comes to the learning cycle.
One of the principles of lean that I have learned is Create a Learning Organization through Learn-Apply-Reflect. This principle helps drive home the importance of reflection. Many people and organizations do a great job of learning something new and then trying to apply it. Where most people and organizations fail is forgetting to reflect. The reflection step is where all the learning and applying comes together to understand how what was learned can best be applied in the organization. What worked? What didn’t work? What should be kept? What should be changed?
A sign an organization is doing this well, is the reflection is planned and not a reaction because something went wrong. The reflection is part of the project plan and will is scheduled upfront with no agenda but to learn and improve.
Agile has a methodology and a term it uses for this reflection and learning. It is retrospectives.
Agile uses planned retrospectives, usually once a week, to take a time out and gather the team to understand what is working and they should continue doing. As well as what is not working and should be changed or thrown out. It takes a monumental act to cancel a retrospective. These retrospectives are ingrained in the methodology and help the agile teams continue to improve on their process and work.
This is a great of example of Lean-Apply-Reflect. The agile team takes the learnings from the week, apply them and then have a planned reflection time a week later. The agile methodology does a great job of fostering the principle of creating a learning organization.
Do you have any examples of planned reflection in your organization?
If you are a regular reader of Beyond Lean, you may know that my wife has her own small business. It is just her and I. She runs the business 24/7 and I help where I can on nights and weekends.
Both of us have learned about a wide range of business aspects over the last couple of years from her small business. My wife has a background in marketing, but has learned a lot about IT and web design, materials, costing, production of a consistent product, using data to determine what the customers like and a lot more.
I have been working quite a bit with display booth setup and teardown (quick changeovers), preparing raw materials for usage and investment decisions.
When owning and running a small business a person can see everything from end-to-end. How a packaging decision can affect sales? How does shelf life of a product have an effect on the quality? How do certain ingredients react when mixing for production? Do they cause immediate quality issues? Do they cause quality issues over time?
In our experience, we have seen how lean thinking can be more natural for a small business. There is more of a concern about inventory and cash on hand, so there are many decisions that go into building to stock or building to order. Using visual management to make things easier to see when work needs to be done or not. I have some examples from my wife’s business that I will post at a later date as well as examples I have posted in the past.
I have learned numerous things from working with my wife in her small business that I carry on to my other job as lessons to apply.
Owning a small business is very hard work. You have to learn about things that don’t necessarily interest you, but if you want to be successful you have to get it done. In the end, it can be very rewarding and extremely educational.
When creating change it is not always easy working with people. People are the largest variable in any change you want to create. Because of this, different people and situations have to be handled in different ways.
One way is through demonstration. Do the work on a project and show them the benefits of working in the new way. Either show them after the changes are made or have them work alongside you as you make the changes and work in the new way. This way the person gets first hand experience of the benefits.
Another way is coaching. Have them do the thinking and the work on an improvement. Learn by doing. Be there with them, side-by-side. Let the person bounce ideas off you. Ask questions back to them so they develop the thoughts around what actions to take and the benefits gained. This is usually very powerful, because most adults accept change and improvement when they completely understand it and what it can do. This is a great way to gain the buy-in and understanding.
A third way is giving a large learning zone. Give people the time and the freedom to make changes on their own without a ton of bureaucracy. They will make mistakes. It is important not to make it punitive for making a mistake. Ask what they learned and how are they going to correct it. It is amazing what people can accomplish and do when they have the comfort zone to learn.
There is not one way to help people learn. You have to understand the situation and the person to best develop a plan to help them learn. If it is something critical to running the business the learning zone may be smaller because you can’t afford to allow a mistake that shuts the business down, but coaching may be a good way. The next time expanding the learning zone may be better.
If a person has baggage that prevents them from wanting to do improvement then maybe the first way is best. Drag them along and let them see how it can benefit them.
People are our biggest variable to change, but they are also are most valuable resource.
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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Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are a new type of college or secondary education that are starting to pop up across the U.S. The Kansas City Star had a great article about MOOCs earlier in January.
What is a MOOC?
MOOCs — massive open online courses — have attracted millions of students from all over the globe to learn from top professors at elite universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Princeton and Harvard.The best part is that MOOCs are free. All you need is time, a computer and the Internet.
The courses are anywhere from 5 to 16 weeks long. A person can take whatever classes they like and pertains to what they may need in their career. Imagine…
A student could take one MOOC taught by an MIT professor, another taught by a professor at Harvard and yet another taught at Duke. In the end, the student could take a discipline-specific assessment, like a bar exam, to get something akin to a license to practice in their field.
We know that with a growing presence of education online the traditional brick-and-motor way of learning is going to have to adapt. A college education won’t be the same in 10-15 years. What if you could get your basic remedial class credits for free and have them transfer. Well…
The Gates Foundation recently put up several hundred thousand dollars toward grants for nine universities to develop remedial MOOCs.
Like anything new, there are still a lot of challenges to work out before it becomes mainstream.
Fort Hays State and Johnson County Community College are among campuses piloting MOOC-like programs and looking for solutions to problems such as how to test, how to grade thousands of essays and exams, and how to prevent cheating.
MOOCs cemented their prominence in the higher education conversation when a 2011 class on artificial intelligence, taught by former Stanford professors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, attracted nearly 58,000 students from around the world, more than three times the size of Stanford’s entire student body. Even though fewer than half of them completed the course, it was clear the MOOC’s reach dwarfed anything possible in a classroom or lecture hall.