Monthly Archives: July 2010

Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (Part 3)

Four years ago, I read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  The book was very easy to read and insightful.  In the book, Andy and Jamie talk about the five Lean Priniciples which they teach.  I had already read “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.  I liked how Andy and Jamie only had 5 principles.  It made it easier to remember, but everywhere I went people refer to the 14 Toyota Principles in “The Toyota Way”.  In light of Toyota’s recent problems people are reluctant to mention Toyota as a high standard, because they don’t want the other person start to tune them out.

In order to help others see the value of five simple principles but not lose the tie to the 14 Toyota principles, I will have a three part series that will look at each of the 14 Toyota principles and examine how they relate to the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.”

The first question to answer is: What are the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”?  Here they are:

The Five Lean Principles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

  1. Directly Observe Work as Activities, Connections, and Flows
  2. Establish High Agreement of both What and How
  3. Systematic Waste Elimination
  4. Systematic Problem Solving
  5. Create a Learning Organization

As you read the comparison, I hope to give a better feel for the behaviors and essence of the five principles from Andy and Jamie.

Part 3 will focus on Principles 11 through 14 of the Toyota Way.

Toyota Principle #11: Respect Your Extended Network of Partners and Suppliers by Challenging Them and Helping Them Improve

A company’s partners and suppliers are a key aspect of the business.  The company should treat them as an extended part of their supply chain and respect them in the same manner all the internal employees are respected.  This creates a fully connected value stream from supplier to customer acting as one entity beyond just the physical walls of the company.  With everyone acting as one, high agreement on improvements and direction can be achieved to create a more efficient value stream (Lean Principle #2).

Once the improvements and the direction of the value stream are agreed upon, then the company can help the partners and suppliers to eliminate waste from their processes (Lean Principle #3).  By eliminating this waste from the entire value stream, the company can reduce its total cost.  This allows them to stay ahead of their competitors and also allows the partners and suppliers to become more profitable and stay in business, creating more respect and a better relationship.

Toyota Principle #12: Go and See for Yourself to Thoroughly Understand the Situation (Genchi Genbutsu)

“Directly observe work as activities, connections and flows” (Lean Principle #1) is stating the same philosophy as this Toyota Principle.    If leaders don’t directly observe work it will be very hard for them to thoroughly understand the situation and be able to contribute to solving the problem or improving the process effectively.

Toyota Principle #13: Make Decisions Slowly by Consensus, Thoroughly Considering All Options; Implement Decisions Rapidly

Developing a consensus can be hard to do.  An organization must gain high agreement on what options to implement and the how to implement the changes (Lean Principle #2).  To gain high agreement, an organization must have a common understanding of the situation through directly observing the work (Lean Principle #1).  This will enable people to have correct and updated information on all the options.  There must also be a common understanding on how to systematically eliminate the waste (Lean Principle #3) and solve problems (Lean Principles #4).  Without this common understanding it will be hard to get a consensus on how to close the gap between what is actually happening and what should be happening.

Toyota Principle #14: Become a Learning Organization Through Relentless Reflection (Hansei) and Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)

Reflection is a process that allows an organization to identify what the ideal outcome would have been and compare it to what the actual outcome was.  This allows the organization to learn (Lean Principle #5) from its current process.  Without relentless reflection on not only what went wrong but also what went right, it is extremely difficult to continually improve.  By reflecting and applying the learnings, the organization improves the process for the next time.  It also prevents the organization from making the same mistakes again, allowing more learning to occur the next time through the process.

Making reflection a normal part of the learning process establishes high agreement on what and how the organization can improve upon (Lean Principle #2).  Reflection is worthless if it is not used with the purpose of learning improvement.  The only way to truly improve is to reflect back to prior issues and integrate the learnings into the next processes.

Lessons from Toyota are very valuable, especially today.  An organization can learn from the lessons of Toyota over the last 50 years, but the organization must develop and travel down its own lean path.  The lean principles talked about in this article allow everyone in the organization to practice lean thinking on a daily basis.  Toyota can also serve as a good example of what can happen when an organization decides to get away from practicing the lean principles.

I hope many more companies can continue to learn and practice these lean principles.

Part 1 is posted here.

Part 2 is posted here.


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Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (Part 2)

Four years ago, I read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  The book was very easy to read and insightful.  In the book, Andy and Jamie talk about the five Lean Priniciples which they teach.  I had already read “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.  I liked how Andy and Jamie only had 5 principles.  It made it easier to remember, but everywhere I went people refer to the 14 Toyota Principles in “The Toyota Way”.  In light of Toyota’s recent problems people are reluctant to mention Toyota as a high standard, because they don’t want the other person start to tune them out.

In order to help others see the value of five simple principles but not lose the tie to the 14 Toyota principles, I will have a three part series that will look at each of the 14 Toyota principles and examine how they relate to the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.”

The first question to answer is: What are the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”?  Here they are:

The Five Lean Principles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

  1. Directly Observe Work as Activities, Connections, and Flows
  2. Establish High Agreement of both What and How
  3. Systematic Waste Elimination
  4. Systematic Problem Solving
  5. Create a Learning Organization

As you read the comparison, I hope to give a better feel for the behaviors and essence of the five principles from Andy and Jamie.

Part 2 will focus on Principles 6 through 10 of the Toyota Way.

Toyota Principle #6: Standardized Tasks Are the Foundation for Continuous Improvement and Employee Empowerment

The term “high agreement” means that everyone is in agreement (not just the “high” level of the company) on what is to be accomplished and how it will be accomplished (Lean Principle #2).  In one word, this is “standardization.”  The standardization allows for a baseline when a problem arises.  If standards are being followed then the problem becomes easier to diagnose.  Once the root cause is discovered, allowing the employees the freedom to improve the standard so the issue doesn’t surface again promotes empowerment and respect for people.  This respect for their knowledge of the process will help to foster more improvement ideas from them.

Standardization allows for easier systematic problem solving (Lean Principle #4). When an issue surfaces, the first question should be, “Is the standard being followed?”  If not, then ask, “Why?”  If the standard is being followed then the question is, “What is wrong with the standard?”  These are simple questions that anybody can ask.  This doesn’t require any specialized training, which allows everyone in the company to participate in continuous improvement easily.

Toyota Principle #7: Use Visual Control So No Problems Are Hidden

In a lean system, the mentality is to make problems visible and covet the opportunities for improvement.  Scorecards, 5S, standardized work, and andons are some of the tools used to create visual controls and bring problems to the surface.  These visual controls make it easier for someone to identify if there is an abnormal condition while directly observing work (Lean Principle #1).  The easier it is to see the abnormalities, the more beneficial direct observation of work becomes in eliminating waste (Lean Principle #3).  Without visual controls, directly observing work is more difficult and creates waste by asking more questions in order to understand what the normal condition should be before determining if it is abnormal or not.

Once problems are discovered, then employees can solve them (Lean Principle #4).  A root cause can be found and countermeasures can be put into place to prevent the abnormality from resurfacing.  Countermeasures usually involve putting more visual controls into place or improving the existing visual controls in order to make the specific problem visible before it becomes an issue again

Toyota Principle #8: Use Only Reliable, Thoroughly Tested Technology That Serves Your People and Process

The first part of the Toyota Principle is to use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology.  In order to do this, an organization must be dedicated to extensive experimenting and learning (Lean Principle #5) about the technology before putting it into place.  Proper experimentation of the technology is critical to applying the technology correctly for the most positive business impact.  If it isn’t applied appropriately, more waste will be created in the system.

The second part of this Toyota Principle talks about using technology that serves your people and processes.  The best way to have a clear understanding of what an organization’s people and processes’ needs are is to directly observe the work (Lean Principle #1).  If the true needs of organization’s people and processes are not met, then the technology is creating waste.  People and processes may be doing work that is not truly needed or even worse, the technology could be not used at all..  The technology should be modified to fit the organization’s needs and not modify the organization’s needs to fit the technology.

The best way to know if a technology serves the people and process is to clearly define the problem that needs to be addressed by the technology.  It is very critical that a systematic problem solving methodology is in place in order to help with this task (Lean Principle #4).  A company would not want to invest in an automated storage/retrieval system to move parts, when the true issue is the waste of transporting the material across the plant.  In this case, the technology is not serving the needs of the process

Toyota Principle #9: Grow Leaders Who Thoroughly Understand the Work, Live the Philosophy, and Teach It to Others

In order for an organization to develop leaders who understand, live and teach the lean philosophy to others, the company must allow the people to learn within the organization.  This takes a dedication to being a learning organization (Lean Principle #5).  This involves allowing the leaders to directly observe work so they can learn the processes themselves.  Once a leader understands the work, it becomes easier for them to teach it to others.  This allows the organization to learn more about itself and continually improve.

When leaders are cultivated from within the company, the transition from one leader to another becomes much easier.  There is already an understanding and high agreement on the philosophy and direction of the company (Lean Principle #2).  When an organization has established common thinking and common direction with all the leaders within the organization, the company becomes more stable and there is no ground lost in continuous improvement or a change in the company’s direction before, during or after the transition.

Toyota Principle #10: Develop Exceptional People and Teams Who Follow Your Company’s Philosophy

This is an extension of Toyota Principle #9.  If the company doesn’t develop leaders who understand the work, live the philosophy and teach it to others, then exceptional people cannot be developed who will follow the company’s philosophy.  This correlates to Lean Principles #5 and #2 from above.

Part 1 is posted here.

Part 3 is posted here.


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Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (Part 1)

Four years ago, I read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  The book was very easy to read and insightful.  In the book, Andy and Jamie talk about the five Lean Priniciples which they teach.  I had already read “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.  I liked how Andy and Jamie only had 5 principles.  It made it easier to remember, but everywhere I went people refer to the 14 Toyota Principles in “The Toyota Way”.  In light of Toyota’s recent problems people are reluctant to mention Toyota as a high standard, because they don’t want the other person start to tune them out.

In order to help others see the value of five simple principles but not lose the tie to the 14 Toyota principles, I will have a three part series that will look at each of the 14 Toyota principles and examine how they relate to the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.”

The first question to answer is: What are the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”?  Here they are:

The Five Lean Principles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

  1. Directly Observe Work as Activities, Connections, and Flows
  2. Establish High Agreement of both What and How
  3. Systematic Waste Elimination
  4. Systematic Problem Solving
  5. Create a Learning Organization

As you read the comparison, I hope to give a better feel for the behaviors and essence of the five principles from Andy and Jamie.

Part 1 will focus on Principles 1 through 5 of the Toyota Way.

Toyota Principle #1: Base Your Management Decisions on a Long-Term Philosophy, Even at the Expense of Short-Term Financial Goals.

At first glance of the 14 principles, the first one seems to be the hardest to tie to the lean principles, but with deeper thought the connection can be made.  If an organization creates a clear vision of their ideal state, it dedicates the organization to being a great learning organization (Lean Principle #5).  Otherwise, the organization will not make strides towards the ideal state and will never reach its full potential.  An organization may have a goal to improve their processes whether it is the near future or several years down the line, in order to make gains towards the ideal state.  Take the example of designing a new product platform, the future may be three to five years down the road. If the organization learns from the successes and failures of the current product platform design, as well as conduct trials on designs with the future in mind, the company dedicates itself to the long-term future.  A short-term company doesn’t emphasize learning.  Their interests lie in trying to make the current platform a success and they do not document and spread learning for future platforms.

Also, if an organization truly observes its business, market place, and customers (Lean Principle #1) it can more deeply understand what the customers expect.  By continuing to strive to satisfy the customers’ needs, the organization adheres to long-term thinking.  An example would be Zappos.  If a customer calls, Zappos and they don’t have the shoe they customer wants in stock, they will refer the customer to a different company that has the shoe and size wanted.  Zappos is more concerned about the long-term relationship of having the customer come back because of the excellent customer service.  They are not just focused on that one time sale.

Toyota Principle #2: Create Continuous Process Flow to Bring Problems to the Surface

The Toyota Principle says “Bring Problems to the Surface”.  The underlying message is that continuous flow is a great concept/method/tool to help make problems visible so an organization can systematically solve them (Lean Principle #4).  With continuous flow, the process is like a well-oiled machine.  When something goes wrong, it becomes apparent quickly and the best way to keep the process running smoothly is to solve the problem down to the root cause so it won’t affect the process again.

Making problems quickly visible through continuous flow helps enable observation of the current reality (Lean Principle #1).  The continuous flow stops and attention is brought to the issue so managers, team leaders, and operators can directly observe the work and gain a better understanding of the process and enable better problem solving.  In order to achieve continuous flow, waste must be driven out of the process systematically (Lean Principle #3).  If not, the process will build up waste between value-added activities and continuous flow will not be achievable.

Toyota Principle #3: Use “Pull” Systems to Avoid Overproduction

Overproduction is the worst of the seven wastes, because it creates much more waste in the system.  The product must be stored (inventory waste), handled multiple times (transportation waste), thus allowing for potential defects from handling and storage (defect waste), and so on.  By using pull systems as a concept/tool, the processes become connected, which gives the customers an effective tool to communicate with the suppliers.  This communication alleviates overproduction of materials, which eliminates waste from the system (Lean Principle #3).

Toyota Principle #4: Level Out the Workload (Heijunka)

Most people work at an uneven pace.  Some days, employees are overloaded and working all hours and then a few days later the same employee has barely enough work to fill a day.  This can happen within the same day or even hour.  The unevenness in work, whether it is on the line or in the office, creates more work between processes.  Leveling out the workload consists of balancing the work amount amongst employees on the shop floor and in the office.  The object is to have everyone working at an even pace everyday.  Leveling the work will help the company easily spot waste that is causing the unevenness and eliminate it from the process (Lean Principle #3).  Leveling the workload not only helps eliminate the seven types of waste (transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, and defects), but also the overburden of people and resources.  Identifying and eliminating waste is key to continuous improvement.

Toyota Principle #5: Build a Culture of Stopping to Fix Problems, to Get Quality Right the First Time

Stopping to fix problems puts an organization in a systematic problem solving method (Lean Principle #4) so that bad quality is not passed on and variation is reduced from the system.  Reducing variation in the system creates a more stable process that helps prevent passing on bad quality to the customer.  This creates more waste in the system, because rework or reprocessing is then needed to correct the issue or the product may be scrapped.

In order to build a culture of stopping to fix problems, there must be high agreement on what the system will do and how it will work (Lean Principle #2).  If there isn’t high agreement on the what (stop the process to fix problems) and the how (the system/standard work in place to do that) then the culture will not change.  Once high agreement on the how is in place, a leader would come to the area and observe the issue in order to fix the problem (Lean Principle #1).  The best example of this is the Toyota assembly lines.  When an operator passes their 70% mark and they are not 70% complete with their work, they pull the andon cord.  The team leader comes to the station immediately and asks what the issue is and how they can help.  If the team leader can help resolve the issue they pull the andon signal again which turns it off.  If they can’t fix it, when the vehicle hits the red line, the assembly line stops.  This sends another signal and the group leader comes immediately to see what the issue is and how they can help.

Part 2 is posted here.


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Just Say No….the Right Way

I know that in my last post, it was about saying “Yes….if….”  That post was referring to getting mindsets to change around ideas.  The object was to get people involved in the improvement process with a positive can-do attitude.

In order to get some things done well, sometimes you have to say ‘No.’  Jeff Hajek had a great post about it over at the Leanblog (and check out his blog too) a few weeks ago.  Jeff discussed saying no to barriers, excuses, projects, complacency, variation and barriers.  I couldn’t have agreed with Jeff more.

As I reflected on the post, the two that really hit home with me are saying no to projects and saying no to excuses.  It is important to be able to say no to projects, because if you are overloaded with work, then either nothing will get done or if it does get done, it won’t be as thorough as you might like it to be.  So the question is how do you say no to projects to your boss?  I have had to do this several times over my career.  The two ways that have worked best for me is using data or using the long term strategy plan.

There would be times when my boss would come to me in a complete emotional state about a problem and tell me to solve it.  I would wait a couple of hours (so he could cool down) and I would approach him with the data.  I would mention his problem that he brought to me (based off complete emotion) might only save the company $5,000 while the current problem I was working on could save the company $100,000 (actual example).  He would agree for me to continue working on the current $100,000 problem and forget the $5,000 problem.  Resources are limited and I don’t know of too many managers that want to minimize the use of those resources.

Another way I have said no to my boss, is by using the management staff’s long term strategy plan.  If I see the issue is something that doesn’t align with the long term plan or this year’s short term plan to make gains on the long term plan, I would ask about it.  After some discussion (sometimes even taking it to the entire senior staff) we would come to a resolution.

What about the manager who says do it all?!  They don’t care about the workload.  Two things here: first in most of my experiences a workload discussion with my manager upfront about what taking on too much might do has resulted in very good dialogue and a resolution that we both could live with.  Second, if your manager does not want to have a discussion and just commands and controls the situation, that is not showing a respect for people and you might need to ask if this a repeated behavior because it might cause you to think about things differently.  I had a manager like that before and I had to make the decision to switch positions so I didn’t report to him anymore.

Saying ‘No’ is key to having success, but so is how you say no so you don’t destroy relationships.

Yes…if

One of the hardest things to do during a lean transformation is change the mindsets of the employees.  Usually for good reason.  In the past, the employees have probably not been asked for their ideas or when asked for ideas they were never acted upon or told those weren’t the type of ideas they are looking for.  During a lean transformation one of the top priorities is to get the employees engaged in problem solving.

How many times have you heard, “We have done that before and it didn’t work.”  Or “That won’t work, because…..”  I spent years hearing those type of comments.  Then about 3 years ago I came across a great idea to change the mindset.  People are not allowed to say “No…..because…….” they have to say “Yes…..if……..”

I have made this one of the rules of every improvement event that I facilitate.  It is a subtle change that adds a positive spin on the whole event.  I have to point out when someone might need to flip their statement but it works really well.  You go from “That won’t work because we can’t see what work is coming to us.”  To “That can work if we can see the work that is coming to us.”  That slight flip in thought then spurs other questions about how the group can see the work coming to them and before you know it, they have come up with a countermeasure and something to try.

Give it a try and see how it works for your groups.

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Manufacturing Can be Competitive in the U.S.

I came across this article about how manufacturing can be competitive in the U.S.  It was very well written and seemed to capture that lean is more than just waste reduction and continuous improvement tools.  It highlights how companies are going against conventional thought and turning to cheap labor overseas.

An increasing number of domestic manufacturers are countering the notion that one must turn to cheaper labor to reduce their expenses. Instead, they have turned to lean manufacturing, which has increased their productivity, strengthened customer relationships and most importantly, kept jobs at home. To top it off, they don’t have to worry about paying the skyrocketing transportation costs that come with shipping those foreign-made parts back to the United States

While transportation costs are rising, due to oil prices as well as technology that is being used to decrease the water travel time, it is not the only cost that improves by “on shoring”.  Other benefits are improved quality, increased productivity, and lead time decreasing due to better communication of issues and opportunities.

Lean manufacturing is effective because – when done right – it can make a business flexible and integrate its supply chain, which streamlines production flow and assists just-in-time delivery. But we should remember that although the continuous improvement philosophy behind lean manufacturing has seemingly limitless potential; it is not an immediate fix-all. Businesses must make holistic and long-term commitments to these principles to stay on a profitable course. Companies who have truly embraced lean manufacturing have incorporated it into their culture by focusing on improving cash flow, enhancing their organizations through leadership and continuous improvement, driving out operating waste and building a profitable sales pipeline.

This is one of the best paragraphs I have seen in the media about lean.  The author makes note that when lean is done right, showing an understanding that organizations are doing it wrong.  It is mentioned that lean manufacturing “assists just-in-time delivery.”  I read this and believe the person has some understanding of how the lean principles and thinking get to solving problems that allow JIT practices.  The author also understands lean is not a silver bullet and while limitless in potential is not going to fix everything right away in one swoop.  He also talks about improving leadership and continuous improvement.

When reading so many articles written by people you can tell have no understanding of lean, it s very refreshing to find one where you can tell they have a strong understanding.

Here is a good example of when going overseas is a good idea.

For example, a Switzerland-based supplier of measuring instruments with U.S. headquarters in Greenwood, Ind., has exemplified this focus. Ninety percent of its products are manufactured in the United States and the company are currently expanding its Greenwood facilities. The manufacturer credits much of their success to its commitment to lean principles.

This is a good idea, not because it came to the U.S., because the company moved manufacturing to where the consumers are.  There was one time I was pushed to build a new plant and move manufacturing to China.  The plant would service our customers in Asia.  It was closer and we could eliminate shipping a boat to China from Wisconsin.  It just made sense.

If we are talking about serving the U.S. market, the manufacturing should be done here.  The U.S. was built on the backs of strong manufacturing labor.  We can rebuild the strength of the U.S. by getting back to our roots as I mentioned in a previous post.

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Nissan – L.A.M.E. or Lean?

Nissan has recently had an issue with production.  They are running short on one of their engine-control chips as they ramp up in production and their supplier is not able to keep up.

There is an article about it in the Wall Street Journal (here).  The Wall Street Journal is know for its understanding of lean and it shows.

The pitfalls of lean manufacturing methods, a hallmark of cash-rich and efficient companies, arise when parts either prove to be faulty or in short supply. Production delays or stoppages are a common occurrence in the electronics and car industries.

WOW!!  Lean went from people not understanding it completely to being a hallmark of cash-rich and efficient companies.  I didn’t know lean and cash-rich were synonymous.  This quote also shows how the authors view problems……….definitely not in the “No problem is a problem” light.  If you are truly practicing lean thinking you are asking, Why did we run out?  What in the process caused us to run out?  Did we not see the jump in demand coming?  Why?  Etc…..

Also, I worked in consumer electronics for 3+ years and for an auto supplier (supplied Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Ford, Chrysler, GM, and Harley) for 5 years.  Production stoppages were NOT common occurrences (unless at Toyota).  Mostly because they had enough inventory around to build cars for several months.  Even when we supplied Toyota, they rarely stopped the line due to stock shortages, but again they look at that as an opportunity and not a negative impact on the business.

So how is Nissan reacting?

In the early 2000s, Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn streamlined the company’s supply chain by slashing the number of suppliers as part of the company’s turnaround from the brink of bankruptcy. However, Nissan is now expanding its supplier base again for some parts after being burned in recent years by hiccups in procurement.

This sounds like L.A.M.E. (Lean as Misguidedly Executed as coined over on the Leanblog by Mark Graban) and not lean.  If you had hiccups in procurement, lean behavior would ask questions around what are the hiccups in procurement and why is Nissan having this hiccups.  Then Nissan would solve this problems, not arbitrarily start to add more suppliers “Just-In-Case” they have a similar hiccup in the future.  From the tone of the article, it sounds like it is one particular part and this usually doesn’t happen.  So why this part?  Why now?  Nope.  Just add another supplier.

It sounds like Nissan was heading in the right direction.  Scaling back on suppliers and building relationships with them.  I hope they don’t let what sounds like one incident shake them so much they revert back to their old ways.

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Dilbert Leading Transformation

I sorry if from time to time I publish too much Dilbert.  I could run a blog just on the Dilbert cartoon.  The one from this past Sunday was just too good.  I imagine this would hit home for a lot of change agents.  Here it is:

(Click image to enlarge)

As a change agent for lean, haven’t we all wanted managers and leaders to exhibit the qualities that the point-haired boss is trying to exhibit?  Employee engagement to take ownership of the change, clear roles and responsibilities, leadership engagement and clear communication, and lead by example.  This is what we would all want all leadership to aspire to do.  Have you ever seen the reaction from the employees like that of Dilbert and his co-workers?  I have (not to the boss’ face though).  How do the employees get over that reaction?  One simple answer………….the leadership must live up to the standards set and actually change their behaviors and live it day-to-day.

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Technology Supporting a Process

Have you ever bought technology because it’s cool, whether it be for home or work?  You look at it and think, “Wow!  Cool!  Look at all the features it has and the things it can do.  This will be great!”  Six weeks, six months, six years later you look back and realize you didn’t even use half of it’s capabilities.  I would be a rich man right now if I just paid for the part of the technology that I did use.  Maybe sitting on a beach somewhere warm.

Truth is we get enamored with the neat stuff.  Myself included.  What we end up doing is trying to fit our life (or process) into the technology.  We go out of way to use it and then over time we realize it is more hassle than it is worth and we stop using it.  Instead we should be looking at our life and seeing how the technology can support or enhance it.  The technology is something that fits right into our life so well that it almost seems seamless.

This happens a lot at work too.  The most common example is software.  The IT department buys a software package with 100 different functions that could possibly help with work that is getting done.  The found the software package because 10 of the functions fill a need that was asked by someone to go and fill.  Then they find this wonderful product and the other 90 functions will save the rest of your world too.  The department likes it too and so the software is bought.  One year later, an audit is done.  It shows only the 10 functions that were originally needed are being used, while the other 90 just sit. The company has wasted the money they spent on all these added features.  Eight years later, someone needs to have a new feature.  Everyone has forgotten about the extra 90 features the current software has, so IT goes out and finds another software package to add the new feature but it also, comes with all kinds of wonderful add-ons and so the cycle starts again.  While all along, the original software had the feature and the company just needed to use it.

This is all waste.  Waste of time, money, resources, and on and on.  The technology we use should be Just-In-Time just like our material.  Get what we need, when we need and at the time we need it.  No more, no less.  When the technology is bought, we need to ask how this technology will help support and enhance what we are doing AND make it easier for us to do.  In other words, the technology needs to support our process and work.  Don’t buy technology and then build the process or work to fit it’s capabilities.  If the technology does not support what you are doing, then it probably isn’t something you want for your process.

ERP systems can be a great example of buying technology and then fitting your process to support the buying of the ERP system.  Most companies doing lean well are taking the decisions an ERP system is making and make it visual out on the floor so anyone on the floor can make the same decision.  Why?  Because the ERP system does not support the process the lean company is trying to implement.  (Side note: Who is going to be the first ERP system to go away from ERP and build a great lean software tool to replace ERP?  Or does a software tool even need to be built?).

I’m not against technology.  That is a bad rap that lean can get.  I am against buying technology that does not support the process or the future state of the process.  It must be proven and it must enhance and make easier what we are already doing.

Why do you think people still technology for the sake of buying technology?  Have you seen this where you work?

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Basics of Problem Solving

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have been certified/trained in many different methods of problem solving.  Some of them include Shainin Red X, Kepner-Tregoe Is/Is Not, the basics of Six Sigma and DMAIC, PDCA, SPC, and the list goes on and on.  Quite frankly, I have lost track of all the problem solving methods and tools I have used.

After many years of using all of these techniques, I have boiled problem solving down to just 4 basic steps that can be used/seen with any of the methods I mentioned above.

1. Identify Current State

2. Identify Ideal State

3. Analyze the Gap between Current and Ideal States

4. Attack!

Identify Current State: I firmly believe that you have to know where you are and what is happening before you can think about improving.  I have seen people throw everything out and just do step 2 and 4.  I don’t understand this, because they have almost always re-created some of the same headaches that they currently have or had in the past and then have to re-fix these issues.  You have not gotten where you are because everything was bad or wrong.  So what is good?  What is value added?  What is non-value added?  How does the process work?  Understand these things about your current situation and you will learn a lot about the process.

Identify Ideal State: I see some people want to identify the future state instead of the ideal state.  That can work, but I prefer the further sighted ideal state.  You won’t necessarily get to the ideal state by solving just this one problem, but you want to make sure you are heading in the direction of the ideal state.  You don’t want to create a countermeasure to a problem that is heading in a different direction than your ideal state.  Have you ever had a future state that isn’t aligned with your ideal state?  Do you want to start working in one direction only to be redirected later?  Define the ideal state, even if it is just bullet points, so you know that any countermeasure you put in place is directionally correct.

Analyze the Gap between Current and Ideal States: Now you must understand what it will take to get from where you are at to where you want to get.  How do we close the gap?  It may not fully close the gap but we are making progress towards the ideal state.  Sometimes you may find that you have to do a major process redesign or a big project.  Sometimes you may need to do smaller more manageable tasks to get there.  It is OK to not close the entire gap in one jump.  Just make progress.  If you make progress and have a plan, my experience has shown that you will get a lot of understanding.

Attack!: Now it is time to implement.  By implementation, I mean try out the countermeasures, verify the results, and make adjustments base on what was learned or make the new countermeasure part of the standards.  Basically, the Check and Act of PDCA.

This approach can work for simple problems like needing to reduce walking in a process.

1. Identify Current State – I walk 10 steps between my desk and the fax machine, 20 times per day = 200 steps.

2. Identify Ideal State – I don’t want to walk at all to the fax machine

3. Analyze the Gap – 200 steps per day is the gap, I can’t get a fax machine for my desk (not in the budget), but I can move the fax machine closer but I need to talk with others to make sure I’m not making more work on them.

4. Attack – Others are OK with me moving the fax machine.  I move it.  I am now walking 5 steps per trip, 20 times per day = 100 steps.  50% reduction.  That is the new standard now.

It also works for complex problems like creating single piece flow

1. Identify Current State -  A common tool used here is a Value Stream Map

2. Identify Future State – Create a future state Value Stream Map

3. Analyze the Gap – What projects and kaizen events do I need to do to reach my future state.  Develop an action plan.

4. Attack – Implement action plan.  Reflect on results and process of implementing and make adjustments as necessary.

I know this boils it down very simply, but there is a lot of work that has to happen in each step.  There are many tools/concepts that can be used to complete these steps, but remembering these four steps is a great start.

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