A lean thinker will always continue to push on boundaries whether it be around processes or how things are viewed. It isn’t an easy road to continually be pushing against the normal thought pattern but when it works out it is very rewarding. One big breakthrough makes up for many failed breakthroughs.
The automotive supplier I worked for specialized in plastic trim parts. The parts had three finishes: molded in the color, painted or chrome. The facility had 30 injection molding presses ranging from 500 ton to 3500 ton. In order to reduce inventory and shorter our lead time we had the hair-brained idea to actually connect four molding presses to the chrome plating line. It was hair brained for two reasons: 1) we needed to moved 1800 ton presses and they weren’t easy to move and 2) the chrome plating line racks were 10 ft x 15 ft so a pit would have to dug in the concrete next to the molding press so rack could be lowered to where operators could load the top of the rack.
Studies on paper showed the molding cycles and changeover times lined up nicely with our rack storage capacity for the plating line as it was. The savings was in the neighborhood of $250,000 or more per year in inventory, lead time and labor. The VP would not sign-off. He just couldn’t picture it.
Fortunately, the plant manager wouldn’t drop it. So, I got approval to purchase a computer simulation package I had a history with and model the before and after states of the areas. It took about three months to get refreshed with the program language and then create the base models. We then spent another couple of months tweaking and playing with scenarios. This allowed for a better estimate of the savings and to help visualize how the facility would work.
We were able to present the idea again to the VP and he started to see and move on his original opinion. It took a few weeks of the plant manager following up with the VP before he finally gave his consent.
From original idea to breaking ground was about a year. When it was done it worked very well. We reduced the lead time about about a week, freed up employees to work in areas where we had temporary help and saved approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of space.
Nothing like this had been done before and even people in the facility said it would never work. When it did it opened up the possibilities for so much more.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see the “more” because I left and took a position at another company.
* It can be hard and frustrating to not be able to get others to see the potential and just continue so squash ideas, but if you have just one or two of the right believers it can make all the difference in the world. For me, that was the plant manager in this case.
* Sometimes you have to be creative to get people to change their views. You have to provide them with new positive experiences. For the VP, we couldn’t spend the large about of money to just do it and show him. We had to come up with a different way. That was the computer modeling. It allowed him to see things and ask questions to have a good experience in the new world. For the plant staff and employees, it was seeing the new idea actually come to life and work.
* I learned how to be stubborn with my beliefs but to do it a positive manner and how to back up, regroup and take a different approach to get the message through.
I was at IKEA the other week and saw the best error proofing for cart safety. If you haven’t been to an IKEA store, it is massive. The parking for our store is ground level and the store is on the second and third levels. Elevators are used to help get the carts down to the ground level as well as an escalator. The shopping carts have suction cups on the wheels that engage as you get on the flat escalator.
For safety reasons, IKEA does not want customers to take the flatbed carts down the escalator. Products could slide off and cause an accident. In line with the traditional mindset, there are signs posted showing a normal shopping cart is OK to take down the escalator and the flatbeds are not.
In a lean error proofing mindset, IKEA made it impossible to take the flatbeds down the escalator.
There are two poles that are four foot high as you enter the escalator. The normal shopping cart fits through the poles with a couple of inches to spare. The flatbed cart is made to be angled out wider so it can’t fit. The poles are also positioned so neither cart can enter from the side.
It was a great system that a lean person can truly appreciate.
Following a structured problem solving approach takes fortitude and courage when the world around you wants to shoot from the hip and judge based on their emotions. I found this out when dealing with one of the automakers we supplied.
Our quality engineer (QE) got a call that our grilles were not fitting the front of the cars correctly and asked her to take a look into it. The QE asked me to help find the root cause. We first tested our gages at our facility and found they were certified and working properly. Our parts showed to be within the tolerances given to us by the automaker.
We decided a trip to the automaker was needed to see the process, talk with the operators and also run a couple of tests. The QE and I asked the automaker’s QE to pull two vehicles off the lot and save for us to test. One vehicle is a great example of how the part should fit and one vehicle where the part fits very poorly.
When we arrived at the assembly facility the first thing the QE and I did was go out to the assembly line and talk with the operators that assemble our grilles the the vehicles. The operators said our grille may not fit the first vehicle but would work great on the next one down the line. This was a big clue. Direct observation of the process was a huge help in understanding how our grilles were assembled to the cars. We ended up knowing the process better than the automaker’s QE.
Next we asked to see the two vehicles we requested to be set aside. Well, he only saved the bad vehicle and not the good one. This became a point of contention because we needed a good car to compare the differences and conduct a test. He argued with me for 10 minutes before I finally convinced him to pull one in from the lot outside.
I conducted my test and proved with a 95% confidence level that our grille was not root cause of the fit issues. There were two possible causes: 1) the fender or 2) the fender’s interaction with our grille (the fender on one end of their specs mixed with a grille on the opposite end of our specs could cause the fit issues).
This was not received well at all. The automaker’s QE contested everything I did and wouldn’t believe the findings even though he watched me during the entire test. It took a second automaker QE to come over and see what was going on to get any agreement. The second automaker QE heard about the test and backed up my findings.
I even volunteered my help to conduct more tests to find the root cause. They agreed to the help and both the automaker and the QE from my company had action items to complete in the next two weeks in order to do further testing.
As we followed up with the automaker’s QE over the next couple of weeks, we found he was not living up to his end of the action items and was still trying to blame our grille. The QE and I had to escalate the issue to our plant manager who supported us and called their plant manager.
A compromise was reached. The test was conducted as I laid out but I was not allowed back into their facility. In the end, it was the fender that had issues.
It was hard to stick to the process when every obstacle was being thrown in the way. It taught me a valuable lesson about how strong emotions on a subject can be even with data and facts presented.
- A strong process is an amazing thing to be able to fall back on in times of stress. It showed exactly why people fall back into old habits when things aren’t going well.
- The right thing isn’t always the easy thing. It can be hard to standup for the right thing even when it is good for your customer.
- Having a leadership team that supports and encourages strong processes is critical when those processes are challenged
- Solidified my belief in the power of a strong process to get predictable and sustainable results
- Direct observation of the grille being assembled provided strong facts that no one that hasn’t seen the process could argue
One of the most valuable lesson I learned while working in the automotive industry wasn’t about the industry or people or even myself. The most valuable lesson I learned was having a great process will yield predictable results. I didn’t learn this from a manufacturing process. Instead I learned this from a problem solving process.
The automotive supplier I worked for was part of the Chrysler Supplier Quality Program. As part of that program, I got to learn different methodologies for problem solving. One was Shainin’s Red X methodology. I followed the methodology stringently. The benefit was repeatedly achieving great results.
One example was the with the electro-plating line. This is a large vats of chemical baths that produced a chrome finish on plastic parts. The line was operating at a 84% yield. Any defects that came out of the line had to be trashed. The parts could not be salvaged. We were throwing away approximately $40,000/week in scrap. I was asked to problem solve the scrap and get the yield up.
I knew squat about chemistry then and I still don’t know squat. In fact, I needed a tutor in college to get me through freshman chemistry. But that was my task.
Following Shainin’s Red X methodology and never wavering from the process, within in two years the plating line was running at a 96% yield. The line had never ran above 91%. Scrap dollars were down to $10,000/week.
I learned that I didn’t have to know anything about an area to achieve significant results if I followed a good process. It is something that is stated repeatedly in the lean world, but until you have the experience it is hard to truly understand the power of this.
I was accused of “always being right”. I never said anything of the sort but when I was accused of that I would say, “Yes, because I follow the process not because I know anything.”
Have you experienced a good process that is predictable and repeatable?
- A good process is more powerful than hero employees
- You don’t have to be an expert in an area in order to produce significant results
- It is easier to stick to a process when you are unfamiliar with the area, because you can’t rely on your “expertise”
Lean and safety go together like peanut butter and jelly. Safety should always come first. Whether the company is trying to implement lean or not. Safety is #1.
The automotive facility I was working at was one of the many places that claimed safety first in everything they did. It wasn’t until the management saw it ranked nearly last among facilities owned by the corporation. This is when the transformation took place.
Safety became a daily discussion in every area. A safety committee formed by employees. Safety bingo with a cash payout began. But the biggest change was came within the management team and how they handled safety concerns and issues. When an accident did occur all management was required to participate in understanding why it happened. Also, anytime there was a requisition making the facility a safer place it was signed…no questions asked. No ROI.
Within two years, the facility was in the Top 5 worldwide for the corporation for safety. The facility surpassed 2.5 million man hours worked without an accident. Employees were correcting other employees when it came to safety concerns.
Actions around safety were clear and concise. There was no room for misinterpretation. A 40 year veteran and amazing tooling engineer got sent home for one week with no pay because he did not lock out / tag out the machine before he went into it. It was shocking but sent a statement.
Contrast that to another facility I was in a few years later where the hearing protection rules were vague and unclear. When approached about this the management team was defensive and was more concerned about the inconvenience of dealing with hearing protection. Two years later the facility had four cases of hearing loss.
Lean or not the automotive facility was truly dedicated to safety.
- Safety first is a mindset. It isn’t just something you do. It is something you believe.
- Being safe and believing in safety are different things.
- The actions of a leadership team give true insight into their belief around safety.
Everyone is familiar with visual management. A concept lean utilizes to quickly show if the condition is normal or abnormal. Recently, I had a situation where visual management wouldn’t work and I had to use tactile management. I used the feel of something to no if that was the correct object or not.
I go through spells where I get horrible headaches in the middle of the night. When I get them, it happens for several nights in a condensed time and then won’t happen for months. I have to sit up and close my eyes without my head leaning against anything because it would cause it to hurt so badly.
I hate turning on the lights in the middle of the night. I don’t want to wake others. Plus, it makes my headache worse when I flip on the lights and my eyes have to adjust rapidly to the flood of light.
I would search the medicine drawer in the dark looking for the right headache medicine. It would take forever and most of the time I would end up turning on the lights.
Finally, a solution for searching for the medicine came to me. I taped a cotton paid to the outside of the bottle so I can quickly find the medicine without turning on the lights. Sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact.
Visual management wouldn’t work in the dark, but tactile management would. It is something the blind deal with everyday. They use feel to read braille.
Are there ways you could use tactile management?
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is the importance of employee involvement in creating improvement within an organization. Working for the automotive supplier to create standard work instructions was time in my learning.
I have an industrial engineering degree. I had been certified in Ready-Work Factor and MTM motion-time analysis tools. I was taught how to analyze every slight movement a person makes and how to determine the amount of time it should take. I was the snot-nosed, arrogant, young engineer telling employees how to do their work quicker. I can count on one hand how many of the work instructions I wrote were actually followed for more than one day.
At the automotive supplier, my manager and I took a different approach. When going to an area to document the work standards, we pulled several people off the floor across all shifts to help. The teamwork between everyone was fantastic and my eyes were opened in three ways: (1) How common it was for a job not to be done the same way by multiple people, (2) the incredible dialog created to combine ideas and determine a better process, and (3) how the new work process was being followed by everyone weeks and months later.
Lean implementers will talk non-stop about the importance of employee engagement in everything that is done. There is good reason for this. Every problem has a countermeasure. Those countermeasures mean a work process WILL BE changed. It may be for one person or many. It may be a small, simple change or it may be a large, complex change. But there will be a change to the standardized work.
Getting people involved early helps to expedite adoption of the new process and helps to ensure adherence.
- Working with employees to create standardized work is critical to creating adoption and adherence to the new process
- It is extremely common that no one does the same job, the same way and standardized work is needed
- Standardized work is the foundation of improvement because it provides a baseline AND it DRIVES EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT.
Working for the automotive supplier, I had moved from industrial engineer to program manager and now into the lean group. The lean group comprised of just myself and one other, Joe Wilson who has contributed here at Beyond Lean.
One of our first assignments was to implement a plant-wide kanban system in 4 weeks. It was a mandate that came down from our Vice President to all the plants. In that short time, Joe and I had to learn about kanban, devise a system, create a simulation to teach 500 employees and implement the system.
Good thing we were young and full of energy back then, because I don’t know how we did it but we did. We developed kanban cards by color signifying which department the card need to return to in order to place the order for more parts. We then created a very simple Lego simulation. The simulation was good for 5-6 people at a time and allowed each person to be hands in order to create better learning. We also used the exact kanban card that we were going to put on the shop floor for the simulation so the employees got used to seeing them and could give feedback on them. We then trained 500 people on the simulation, five at a time across three shifts.
One rule we stressed the employees was, “Do NOT violate the kanban!” If you don’t have a card, you don’t build. Even if you know cards are in the internal customer’s hand and haven’t been brought to you. That holds the customer accountable for “ordering” the parts from the supplying department.
Everyone was ready to go live on our due date and we nailed it. Not saying there weren’t problems, but we hit the date and people were trying their best to follow the new procedures.
Then it happened. Our go-live date was mid-June. If you are familiar with the auto industry, everyone shuts down for retooling for a week or two around July 4th. So one week into the kanban system, our management was telling everyone to violate the kanban in order to build the bank of parts for the few shipments we have during the two week shutdown.
Yep. Violate the Number 1 Rule right out of the gate. It caused Joe and I a lot of rework after shutdown to get the kanban system back up and running. In the end, it worked well thanks to the great employees and the management support, but the false start didn’t help.
- Building the bank of parts for shutdown was the correct thing to do at July 4th. What we need to be more conscious of is when we start something. It would have been better to start the kanban training after shutdown so we didn’t have the false start and have management telling everyone to violate the number 1 rule right off the bat.
- We made kanban cards that were small. 4 inches x 3 inches or so. Cards were get dropped and lost quite a bit. It is better to make larger kanban cards (8 inches x 6 inches). It is harder to lose these because they are easier to see and don’t fit in pockets without folding a laminated card.
- Creating a simulation that allowed everyone to be hands-on and using the actual kanban card from the floor really helped to create learning, understanding and good dialogue with the employees.
Recently, my wife had an experience with supplier that wasn’t focused on us as a customer and it created great waste for the supplier.
The shop was low on a particular candle that we buy from a local handmade supplier. The product is great and it sells really well. My wife emailed the owner to order more candles. In the email, she asked if the owner could send a list of spring related scents as we phase out the holiday related scents, so we could pick out what we think our customers would like.
We didn’t hear from the owner for about a week or more. Then the owner shows up with the candles we ordered plus three new spring scents. We didn’t like one of the scents. We said we wouldn’t take that one and discussed other possibilities to choose from. A different scent was picked and a few days later the owner returned with the new scent.
When the issue of not responding was brought up to the owner, the reply was they were so concerned that we needed the candles right away that they just made them as quick as possible and brought them over. My wife explained that we don’t need things immediately, especially after the holidays and if there is ever any question to just ask.
The owner wanted to please us, but didn’t focus on what was truly important to us which is the scent selection. The owner ended up causing waste of defects/rework (making new candles she hadn’t made), waiting (us waiting longer to get the order filled) and transportation (driving to our store twice).
Have you or your company ever rushed a product or service to market because YOU thought that was what the customer needed and then if failed? What were you focused on?
If you aren’t sure what your customer needs are…ask. Be clear and focus on what they need, not what you think they need.
Note: I want to give a big shout out to Dan Markovitz, author of A Factory of One. It is an excellent book on how to gain efficiency in your personal work. Dan outlines things you can do in regards to email that will help with efficiency. While I have been doing almost all of the suggestions for a few years now, Dan did have one suggestion that was new to me and helped me with a problem I was having. I have implemented the suggestion and it works very well. I will point it out below.
On with the blog post.
We all want to improve our efficiency and free up time. In my personal work and in observation, one of the biggest culprits of causing inefficiencies is email. Here are three things I have done to help eliminate some of the distractions and inefficiencies email causes me.
1. Turn off Email Notifications: In Outlook, I have turned off all notifications of incoming email. Nothing popping up in the bottom corner showing a new email has arrived.
Result: When I am working on something I don’t catch the notification out the corner of my eye distracting me causing the back of my mind to have to know what the email was about. I stay focused on my work and can finish what I was doing.
On my phone, I have turned off the lights, sound and vibration of new email notification. There are two reasons: 1) if I am in a meeting and it is making noise or vibrating it is distracting me and others from the meeting and 2) if I am working at my desk is acts the same as the Outlook notification as it beeps or vibrates or flashes on my desk next to me.
Results: I am not distracted by incoming emails at all during meetings or while working at my desk.
2. Open Mail Software to Calendar: This was the new suggestion I found in Dan’s book. Thanks, Dan! When I open Outlook, it opens to my calendar. Not my Inbox! Most mornings, I have a quick email I thought of on the way into work that I have to send when I get in, but I was getting distracted by waiting email in my inbox. I might even forget to send the original email I went to write.
Results: I am able to send an email from the calendar view by selecting New Items –> Email Message from the menu at top. I always finish the email I intended to send out and I am not distracted by the other messages in my inbox. I don’t check email first thing in the morning and get off on the email tangent. I am able to complete something off my personal kanban board before checking email. I feel more productive and less distracted.
3. Use the 4D’s: I have been doing this for a few years, but never had a name for it until I read Dan’s book. When I decide I have time to process my emails I do one of four things: 1) Do it: reply back if it is a short reply or completed the action if it is less than 5 minutes, 2) Delegate it: delegate the work to someone that can help, 3) Designate it: for me this means if it is a larger task I add it to my personal kanban board or 4) Delete it: I have read it and don’t need it.
Results: My inbox is not cluttered with messages that I lose. I know what I have to process when I go into my inbox. I don’t loose track of requests made of me via email.
One last thing. Just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you have to read and respond immediately so don’t feel like you have to be hovering over your email waiting for it. If the person needs an immediate response, they can call. That is what a phone is for. We all have one in our pockets nowadays. Note: I do know some jobs require constant monitoring of email, like an order processor.
How have your improved your efficiency with your email practices?