Monthly Archives: August 2010

Jim Womack Stepping Down

I know this post is a few days behind, but the news is big enough to warrant posts for several weeks.  Jim Womack is stepping down as the CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI).    Mr. Womack was the founder of LEI in 1997 and a integral part of bringing lean to the fore front in the United States.  Without Mr. Womack, who knows where the U.S. would be in regards to understanding lean thinking.  He has had such a enormous impact on lean thinkers.

Mark Graban posted about the announcement over at the Lean Blog last week.  I want to look at it from a different lens.

I am glad to see the change.  Not because I think Mr. Womack is “past his prime” or lean has “passed him bye” as you hear with coaches in sports or people in business.  I am glad to see him role modeling leadership traits that he has helped us come to understand.

The first is succession planning.  It wasn’t a hap-hazard plan that he was going to step down and now who to we put in his place.  “Oh look John Shook is here lets have him takeover.”   It was a two year process where Mr. Womack and Mr. Shook worked closely together, assuming so Mr. Shook could learn the ins and outs of LEI and “The LEI Way.”

The second trait Mr. Womack is role modeling is one you don’t see much from very top leadership.  Humbleness.  Mr. Womack sees it is time for change and understands that Mr. Shook can bring in the right change.  Not scrap everything and start over change like you see in a lot of traditional leaders, but understand “The LEI Way” and improve upon it type of change.  Too often you will see top leaders stay at the top until everything crumbles around them, then points fingers, and gets forced out.  Mr. Womack sees it is time to step down even when things are going well for LEI, expansion into health care is a good example, because it is best for LEI.

I wish Jim Womack all the best and I thank him for pushing all of our thinking to the limits.

I also look forward to the future of LEI and what John Shook will bring to the table.



Cape Coral, FL Uses Lean City Government

A link from the website for Reliable Plant, led me to this video promoting lean in the city government of Cape Coral, FL.

The City Manager, Terry Stewart, talks about the lean city government being the most important initiative in the city’s history.  Clip of Terry shows him talking about engaging people at every level to improve the work.  I have to give Terry some credit here because this point is essential to lean and he drives it home.

The video also calls it lean thinking.  The video does not mention tools (kanban, 5S, visual management).  It mentions continuous improvement.  In fact it says to improve, then improve, and when done…….improve again.  Seems to be driving home the mindset of fixing problems.  I would assume they have used some lean tools like visual management to help them get some of the work done, but that is not the focus.

One example they give is cutting the lead time to hire a new fire fighter from 66 days to 30 days.  May be just a hiring process, but the exhaustion that firefighters could gain from working OT to cover the shifts until someone is hired could be very dangerous.  The exhaustion could cause a fire fighter to lose concentration even if for only a second can lead to anything from someone being hurt to the death of someone.  I would think the fire fighters are very happy about this improvement.

Kudos to Cape Coral.  I hope the efforts continue and they are even more successful.

Now can we pass this along to our Federal Government?


Bad Processes Beat Good People

About 3 years ago, I had to take my wife to the ER when we were living in Texas.  That night really tested me on living up to the quote, “Good processes beat good people.”  This means we should always look at the process.  Don’t blame the people, blame the process and fix it.  Well, on this night, in extreme circumstances, I failed to live up to it.  Even getting upset with a nurse at one point.  Below is a recount of the night that I posted on the Lean Blog the week after it happened.

Can you see all the improvement opportunities that lean could help with in this hospital?

Saturday night, I had to take my wife to one of the local ERs. We got there at 9:40pm. When we got there, I filled out paperwork to register her with all the basic information (name, symptoms, SSN, address, etc…….). Then we had to sit there and wait……..and wait…….and wait. This was especially frustrating since wife was curled up in the fetal position in extreme agony and no one evened seemed to care.

The maddening part was there was no privacy (except chest pain). Everyone else in the ER had minor things (sprained ankle, minor headache, etc……..). After we checked in a mother with a baby that could not have been older than 1 came in. The baby was green! It freaked me out. It was the one person I thought should get bumped in front of us, but they didn’t. They waited in the FIFO line too.

After 30+ minutes we got called into the triage room where half the questions that got asked were repeat questions that I filled out earlier. I found this frustrating since the data from our registration sheet was put into the computer and that is how triage got our name and called us in. Where did the rest of our data go? Why ask again? The triage nurse said this was part of registration.

Then we went back out into the waiting room and waited for another hour before they called us back. As they were taking us back they stopped me and said that I had to register to go back with my wife. I had to register at the same desk as the first registration an hour and a half earlier. So, my wife is in agony and can barely walk and I have to stay up front to have my ID scanned and a sticker badge given to me. Then I get let in and I have to search for her room. I finally find her and we wait for a third person to come in and ask the same registration questions again. She is even wearing a badge that says “Registration” on it. My wife asks why this wasn’t done in the waiting room where we have been for that last 1.5 – 2.0 hrs. The lady replies that “this is just the process.” We could’ve had all the registering done in the waiting room up front. This seems to be a little more batch (“batching all the paperwork up front”), but I would argue two points: 1. there isn’t as much batching as one might think because we are getting all the same questions over and over with a couple of new ones, and 2. this would be more customer focused because my wife is in pain and we wouldn’t be separated plus she wouldn’t be getting upset about answering all the same questions over and over again.

At this point, my wife looks up an me and says, “This isn’t very lean is it?” I was glad to see her smile through the pain.

We wait for a long time and finally see a doctor who orders a CT scan, so we wait for the scanner to be setup and then we wait for the results and then we wait for the doctor, etc………….. During all this waiting I speak with some of the nurses. At this point it is about 1 or 1:30am. The nurse tells me this is a real slow night. Usually the halls are lined up with patients. I notice that they can’t find their electronic thermometer and go borrow one from another area, the supply area is labeled but is very messy and can’t tell how much is supposed to be there. The nurses can’t find things and quite a few times are just sitting around talking about their lives outside of work. They spent a lot of time doing this. Not because they don’t care but because they are waiting on doctors and information and whatever they need to treat the patients.

The most disheartening thing I heard all night was about a computer. I heard that they had test results back on the baby that was green (and I literally mean green) but nobody has been able to view them for an hour. They were having problems getting the computer to work so they called IT. There was no manual override or way to get results so the baby couldn’t be treated until they got the computer working. WHAT!!!!!!!!!?????????? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I don’t know what happened to the baby and the test results but I hope everything turned out alright.

At 2:30am, we finally left the ER with pain medicine in hand nearly 5 hrs after walking in the door. I figure only about an hour was value added. This is being generous too because it includes the walk time to the CT scan and the 20 minutes we had to wait after receiving the pain meds before we could leave.

I was thinking about lean stuff all night and trying not to blame the people but at times I would even find myself getting upset with the people “just sitting there” and not helping. My emotions would just take over as I watched my wife in pain.

I have always believed that lean is for everyone and every place because it is the mindset. Saturday night was just one of those “hit home” experiences that brought it to light.

What do you see that the hospital could have done from a lean perspective?  Do you have a story to share?

It was a very enlightening experience that has still stuck with me today.  I try my hardest to always remember that no matter how positive the intent of the person is, if the process is designed poorly, eventually the process will beat the people.


OEE vs. Flow

A very common metric that is tossed around in the lean world is Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).  A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about clear and relevant metrics and used OEE as an example of how it is not very clear or relevant to the people doing the work.  There is another hang up with OEE.  People become so focused on OEE that it starts to hinder flow.

When transforming the thinking of an area, people can latch onto OEE very easily because it is very silo’ed or machine focused.  The metric focuses on how much the machine is up and how efficient it is with its time and materials.  On the surface, this is all great.  So how does this hinder flow?

When creating flow we want to eliminate/reduce the work-in-process (WIP) between processes.  Once the machines are reliable we might try to create a work cell with several machines.  When creating the work cell it may be necessary to slow one of the machines down to match the pace of another machine.

If the focus is on OEE and not flow, the report will show the machine that was slowed down not being very efficient and cause the OEE to drop.  When this happens a traditional thought process would be to insert more work in order to keep the machine running at full speed.  When this happens, the extra work inserted into the processes causes a jam up of the work trying to flow through the cell.  This will cause lead times to increase and WIP to build back up between the processes.

The ideal state is to get the work flowing without stopping as much as possible.  Make the 80% of the work that is the norm flow and learn how to manage the other 20%.  If the 80% can flow with no effort, it means less work for the supervisors and managers because now they are not worrying about the 80% only the 20%, which is better than worrying about all 100% and managing the WIP it brings.

I know it sounds like I am against OEE but I’m not.  It can be a beneficial metric when used properly.  Like analyzing one single piece of equipment that is the constraint in a process in order to increase the capacity of the entire process or flow.

We shouldn’t focus on the equipment.  We should focus on the flow of the product.  The product should flow like a river.


Manufacturing Week in America Coming Soon

At the beginning of June, I posted a link to Evolving Excellence highlighting the Manufacturing Week in America.  It is Oct. 2 – 7, which is just around the corner.

I received a comment about that post from Gray Rinehart.  North Carolina State University is sponsoring a “Manufacturing Makes It Real Tour” the week before Manufacturing Week in America.  It is the week of Sept. 27 – Oct. 1, 2010.  The tour will be stopping at Thomas Built Buses, PolyChem Alloy, Elastic Therapy, as well as 7 or 8 other stops.

This sounds like a great two weeks for Manufacturing in the U.S.  Are there any other events like this going on this year?  If so, leave information about it in the comments.

I hope there is great participation as I believe manufacturing is foundational to our country and its strength.

Have a great weekend!


Vertical Integration of the Supply Chain

Kevin Meyer over at Evolving Excellence had a post earlier this week about about how some companies getting involved in vertical integration of their supply chains.  This gets back to the basics that Henry Ford started in the earlier 20th Century.  Henry Ford was very interested in creating a vertically integrated supply chain that he controlled.  He owned the forestry area to the lumber mills to the assembly that used the wood.  He controlled the entire supply chain.  Because of this he was able to use the waste in the lumber mills to create new and different products which generated more revenue.  Henry Ford saw that he could get a better product to his customer faster when he controlled the supply chain.

While this may not mean companies are bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., it does have the same principles as bring the “on-shoring” movement.  It is about getting the supply chain closer to the customer and having better control over it so the company can reduce lead time, waste, and cost.   The more integrated the supply chain is, the more important it becomes to have it location regionally where transportation isn’t a large factor in lead time.

Imagine if the fresh produce (tomatoes, lettuce) you bought at your grocery store was grown in Asia and shipped by boat over to the U.S.  I know that is on the extreme end.  So where do you buy your fresh produce?  My wife and I don’t buy much, if any, from Walmart anymore.  Why?  Because, it doesn’t really seem that fresh.  Walmart has contracts with farmers all around the country and it takes a lot of time to get through their supply chain.  We buy our produce from the local/regional chain, because they have contracts with local/regional farmers so it gets through the supply chain and to the store shelf quicker.  An even better way is to buy directly from the farmer at the farmer’s market.  That is just about as fresh as it gets, because the farmer picks it and that week brings the produce to the market to sell.  Typically, it isn’t any older than a week.

I, for one, am glad to see some companies start to get more vertically integrated.


Leveraging My Strength

On Friday, Jamie Flinchbaugh had a great post about leveraging your strengths or developing your weaknesses.  As he mentioned, there is no easy answer to this question.

I have been thinking about this exact question for the last few months.  I am looking to change roles in order to gain more experience and knowledge about the business I’m in.  I also want to exhibit how a change agent can “run the business” with the principles/concepts/tools I have been teaching for several years.

I have spent all of my professional life working in manufacturing.  I have a true passion for seeing manufacturing surviving and being a foundational part of our country.  I know I could go there and do very well.  Staying in operations can give me more a of a platform and security to do other things to help promote manufacturing in the U.S.  Plus, there is still plenty for me to learn about operations and manufacturing.

Yet, I still have a desire to learn about areas of the business outside of operations in order to grow and expand my knowledge.

My wife helped me see that when I have ventured out of operations/manufacturing that I haven’t been as happy as when I was in operations/manufacturing…… far.

In my case, it seems to be more beneficial to leverage my strength than develop my weaknesses.


Are you McDonald’s or Burger King?

In any industry two companies can produce the same product but have very different strategies.  The fast food industry is a good place to see this at work.  McDonald’s and Burger King both make hamburgers, but their strategies are completely different.

McDonald’s takes the approach that you can have right off the shelf product.  If you want a double cheeseburger, it comes with onions, ketchup, mustard, and pickle.  If you want anything different you have to wait.  Because of this strategy they hold inventory in the finished goods state.

Burger King, on the other hand, has a strategy of “Have it your way, right away.”  This means they are into customization.  They will only put on the double cheeseburger what you tell them.  Each customer is unique in what they may want.  With this type of strategy they hold very little in finished goods inventory and more in the WIP inventory.

Neither strategy is better than the other.  Both have positives (McDonald’s is a little quicker if you don’t want special order, Burger King is more flexible) and both have negatives (McDonald’s not as flexible, Burger King not as quick).  The point is to understand what is your business strategy and select the inventory solution that best fits your strategy.  Don’t try to force the McDonald’s model of inventory if your business strategy is like Burger King or vice versa.

So which are you McDonald’s or Burger King or Neither?


Qualities of a Good Process Improvement Person

A few weeks ago there was a great discussion in the AME Group on LinkedIn.  The question asked was, “What are good qualities to have in a process improvement person?”  This is a great question as more and more companies are looking for process improvement people with the change in the business climate.

Based on my experiences, here is what I look for in a process improvement candidate.

A thirst for knowledge – a person who is also looking to learn.  Learn about a process, learn about the business, learn about themselves, learn about new techniques/concepts/tools that can help with process improvement.  A true learner does not use the phrase, “I already know that.”  They may know the concept backwards and forwards and have applied it in several places, but no one place is the same so they will learn about the situation that they believe the concept/tool needs to be applied before applying it.  The person will take time to reflect upon what worked and what didn’t work.  They never stop trying to improve themselves.

Ability to think and push outside the norm – It is not enough to just think outside the norm or “what they have always done”.  The person has to be able to influence ideas that are outside the norm.  The only way to get things to change is to get the idea out in the open and start to challenge people’s thinking.

Fortitude – Once the new idea is out in the open, there may be push back against it.  The person has to be able to present the idea in many different ways in order to get many different people to see and understand the idea.  The person also has to be ready to have their idea completely shot down, but not let that deter them from bringing up a new idea.  No matter how many times ideas are shot down or ignored, they have to keep presenting them.  Eventually, one will break through.  When that happens the next idea will be easier to breakthrough with and so on.

While, it might be good to have someone that already knows the tools and concepts, it isn’t high on my list.  If a person exhibits the first trait (thirst for knowledge), then they will learn the tools and concepts while they are doing the work.

What are some of the qualities that you look for in good process improvement person?

The Supermarket is the Customer

When an organization is focused on implementing lean, one of the first things that everyone talks about is focusing on the customer.  It could be the external customer or the internal customer.

Who the external customer is seems to be clear in most cases.  But when dealing with internal customers it isn’t always as straight forward.  In my experiences, the person says their internal customer is the next physical process that changes the product (or service).

What if you have implemented a pull system with a supermarket in between two physical processes?

The functioning of a supermarket is a process.  Product enters, waits, and then exits to the next physical process.  The product does not physically change, but the supermarket is a process.

Even in lean notation we over look this.  If you are familiar with Value Stream Mapping, the is a specific inventory icon for a supermarket.  It does not get notated with a process box.

Now if the mindset is the supermarket is a process, then it is the customer of the physical process upstream and the supplier of the physical process downstream.

This changes how questions are asked around creating a pull system.  Instead of asking, “How much does process 2 produce?  Or what is does process 2 need?” , the questions should be, “How much leaves the supermarket in X timeframe?  When does the supermarket tell me to produce?”

It is a slight shift in thinking, but it can cause a lot of different questions to be asked.