Monthly Archives: November 2010

Continuous Improvement for Me – Career Development Map

As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

In the last few months I have been thinking about moving on to a role out “in” the business.  One where I can practice what I have taught or coached others in how to apply lean principles and thinking.  The company I work for is large.  So as I started to think about where might be a good stepping stone for me to go a leader here asked me if I had a career development roadmap.  I didn’t have one, so he has worked with me to develop one.  Here is a recent version of my career development roadmap.

(Click on image for larger view)

As you can see, I am trying to document my current state at the left, ending with an ideal state on the right.  In the top left hand corner, I have stated my intent, so if anyone just picks up the document they would have a decent understanding of the work.  The top half of the paper shows what skills I would like to build over the time frame listed at the very bottom.  The bottom half of the sheet shows possible roles that exist today to help me develop the skills I want to sharpen on the top half.  I then tie the roles together with the arrows from left to right.

Like any good tool, it isn’t the road map that is helpful, it is all the discussions I have had with my manager and managers in other areas that have been a great benefit.  I am finding areas that I have interest in that I didn’t before and areas that I don’t have interest in now that I did before I started with the conversations.

The road map is subject to change over time and that is fine, but now I have a better grasp on my opportunities within my company.

Dilbert – Creating Less Fear to Experiment

I hope everyone had a great Turkey Day.  I had plenty of food and and football with my family.  It was great.  Now it is time for a sanity break from the Black Friday shopping.  What better way to do it then with Dilbert.

As lean leaders, we try to create an environment that rewards experimentation.  With experimentation comes failure and we want people to feel comfortable with failing if they try something new, as long as they are learning from it.  I saw this Dilbert strip a couple of weeks ago.  It seemed to nail the struggle between traditonal mindsets and lean mindsets.

(Click on image for a larger view)

Is this what you hear a lot at work?  Does you manager say he wants you to try new things?  Does your manager get upset when you try something new and it doesn’t work?  This is such a big mindset to break.  We have to provide them with experiences that show them it is alright to try something new and if it doesn’t work, that is OK.

Andon – Subtle Difference Changes Mindset

Last week, I got a refresher and a deeper understanding the lean principles as presented by the Lean Learning Center.  One thing deeper understanding I got was around andon (or signals).  We started the week off by doing a case study around Toyota.  The case study introduces the andon system that is on the production lines at Toyota.

A quick overview of the system.  When an operator has an issue, any issue, they pull a cord at the line.  The cord sets off music and lights telling the team leader their is a problem.  The team leader responds immediately and asks, “What is the problem?  How can I help?”

The first time I took the class, 3 years ago, I learned to use sound with the lights.  In case the team leader wasn’t looking in the direction of the lights, the sound would tell them the problem.  I have used this thinking in the last three years to install a few andon systems.

For three years, I looked at sound and lights as a way to get the team leader’s attention.  Here is the subtle difference that I learned this time. Use the sound to alert the team leader of a problem and the lights to indicate where the problem is.

I know this is very subtle, but had I taking this understanding in the past, I would have implemented some andon systems differently.  In some cases, I did you sound and lights to alert and tell where, but that was purely by accident.  In some cases, I used sound and light just to alert and the the team leader had to find out where.  Having this small change to my understanding gives me a whole new perspective on signaling when there is a problem.  It allows me to put in systems with even less waste now.

I know this may seem small, but it has caused me to go back think about the small things and WHY I do them.  It has me questioning things I haven’t question in a long time or ever before.  It re-emphasized the importance of why.

As lean thinkers, implementers, teachers, and coaches we should always be thinking about the why and gaining a deeper understanding.

Lean Experience

Last week I was fortunate enough to take the “Lean Experience” course from the Lean Learning Center.  It was my second time taking the week long lean principle immersion.  It was taught by Jamie Flinchbaugh, Andy Carlino, and Jim Sonderman.

I took the course for the first time 3 years ago.  At the time, I had been implementing lean for 7+ years.  The course helped organize the concepts and thinking I had been teaching and implementing.  It made it easier for me to be see what behaviors that fostered lean thinking whether someone called it lean or not.

Last week, I still got as much out of it as I did the first time.  It has been 3 years since the first time I took the course.  This time the course helped:

  • Reinforce the principles and get back to the basics
  • I was able to get a better and deeper understanding of some of the principles and rules
  • I learned things that I missed the first time

I plan to blog over the next few weeks with more that I learned last week.

Guest Post: The Tone is in the Fingers

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I am happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

A couple of years ago I decided to try my hand at playing guitar.  I still stink at it, so I can’t give you any shortcuts to musical genius.  I picked up a cheap guitar at the local guitar mart and immediately dug in, making some of the most painful noises in the history of sound.  Realizing I had no idea what I was doing, I harnessed the power of the internet and started searching around for resources, ideas, theories, practices, pretty much anything that would help me be slightly less terrible at this new adventure.  One of the things that stood out to me was how often people were asking questions about how they could sound like their favorite well known artist.  One of the more popular subject for these inquiries seems to be Eddie Van Halen (sort of the Toyota of Tone, if you will.)  The questions would usually end up with a handful of answers or guesses as to what model guitar he was using, what amp or amps he was playing through, or even what pickup model or strings or effects pedals were in the mix and what equipment he was recorded on.  Inevitably the question would always end up with someone saying that his tone comes from his fingers, not his gear.  The truth being that Eddie Van Halen (or anybody else for that matter) sounds like themselves no matter what gear they are playing on and no amount of gear collection is going to make you or me be able to duplicate every nuance of “Eruption” in our basement or the local open mic night.

What does this have to do with Lean?  Pretty much everything.  At one time or another we’ve all asked ourselves What Would Toyota Do?  Or, we’ve borrowed a concept from a book or a colleague or a benchmarking trip without fully understanding why something looks or functions the way it does.  Toyota manufactures cars like Toyota because that’s who they are.  Our companies make our widgets the way we operate because that’s who we are.  That’s not an excuse to avoid change.  It’s a challenge to all of us in the Lean/Six Sigma/Continuous Improvement/Whatever-Name-You-Choose community to understand who we are and what our environment is before we layer things in place that work somewhere else.  Our path should be about chasing greatness in our own world, not trying be like Toyota.

Unless, of course, you are in a Van Halen cover band.  In that case, happy searching.

Walking a Fine Line – Traditional and Lean Management

Becoming a change agent for lean is very difficult.  People expect you to model the behaviors all the time.  We aren’t perfect ourselves.  We are constantly learning new ways to get better everyday.  Because of this, change agents are expected to be ahead on the learning curve.

When I was hired in to my last couple of jobs, it was because I was ahead of them on the learning curve.  The companies asked me to come in and help them up the learning curve.  These were great opportunities.

This weekend, I did some reflecting on transitioning to new companies.  So far, I think they went well.  The one point that I did see in both cases is how fine a line we walk between trying to get others up the learning curve and exhibiting a old school controlling behavior.

While trying to bring people along the learning curve, I have found myself in situations that are the same from my past.  I can see people heading down the same path I once did.  It was riddled with setbacks and errors.  I try to tell them not to take that path and show them what I have learned.  They still want to make the same mistakes I did, when I can help them avoid the costs and the time of doing that.  At times, I have crossed the line of helping and became demanding.  “Don’t do that.  Do this, so you don’t make the mistake.”

What I have started to learn (but I’m not perfect) is more patience.  Let them make the same mistake, but be there to help them after they do.  I have seen where the person learning gets more from making the mistake and then seeing a better way afterward.  It is a lesson that is now etched in their memory.  This is still faster than letting them learn it all on their own.  It is really hard to do when you have seen the results before hand so you want to get there quicker, but the engagement is about ownership and sustainability.

As lean change agents we walk a fine line between showing new lean management skills and demanding lean management skills via traditional management of demand and control.  We won’t be perfect about it, but we should be conscious of it.

Interview with Ford’s Alan Mulally

One of the cover stories of the Kansas City Star yesterday was an article about Ford President, Alan Mulally.  It was a great piece on Mr. Mulally.  He is originally from Lawrence, Kansas and grew up dreaming of being an astronaut.

The article is more of a feel good piece, highlighting Mr. Mulally’s roots to Kansas City and Lawrence.  There is one section that highlights some things he did when arriving at Ford.

Mulally told his colleagues: “The most important thing is we pull together as a team. We’re going to get real clear about leadership. … We’re going to help each other.”

Scanning the conference room, he noticed team members fiddling with their BlackBerrys during meetings. That practice, and whispering to people next to them, would end.

“I think you should listen to the person talking,” he said.

This seems like basic respect for people.  As much as listening to people seems like common sense and the right thing to do, people just don’t do it.  As nice as Blackberries are they can be a curse too at times.

Here are other highlights:

He dropped in at dealerships to try his hand at selling Fords — and succeeded with at least two customers.

He asked: Why did we stop making the Taurus? (So the Taurus returned.) And why isn’t Ford moving faster to develop smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles? And, excuse me, must you keep saying things are fine when we’re headed for a $17 billion loss?

I like how he went to the dealership and tried to sell cars.  What a great way to ‘go and see’ what customers are saying about the product.  Mr. Mulally also asked the hard questions and didn’t sugar coat things.  I have heard the story several times about asking how things could be going well when they were losing money.  It was good to see the story directly from him.

It is great to see Ford turn down the government money and turning things around.  In a time when excuses are easy to come by, Alan Mulally won’t allow it.  I hope Ford can keep the turnaround going.

SMED Part 3 – Reducing Trials

A commonly used lean tool/concept in manufacturing is Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) or quick changeover.  By definition changeovers from one job to the next is waste.  It does not add any value to the product/service, nor is the customer willing to pay for it.  Since it is waste but necessary in many operations, the goal should be to be as quick and as efficient when changing over as possible.

Shigeo Shingo showed how getting changeovers done in just a few minutes can reduce the batch size that can be produced, which creates less inventory and increases the cash flow.  When achieved, a changeover that is done in less than 10 minutes will save a lot of money.  The ideal state is to get the changeover to instantaneous so no capacity is lost.

During my time I have seen what I call three levels of the SMED concept that can help depending on where you are with implementing quick changeovers or lean.  This is the third of three parts explaining the different levels I have seen.  I hope this will help others with their SMED efforts.

The last topic in this three part series is about reducing the number of trials at start up.  The definition of a changeover is from the last good piece of the current run to the first good piece of the next run.  So any trials to align or purge or anything else in order to get a good piece is considered part of the changeover.

Here are a few suggestions to get the thinking started on how to reduce the number of trials during a start up:

  • Pre-set adjustments – This is where you can adjust your machine quickly to a pre-determined setting that should be very close if not exact for the job you will be running
  • Offline fixturing – Create a fixture offline that simulates the functionality of the machine.  Then set up the press to receive the pre-positioned die just like the fixture does.  This should help on the accuracy of the process.
  • Set pins – Build pins that would allow a fixture (such as a screen) to be set in the same place every time.  This will help with pre-set adjustments and sliding in a fixture that was aligned offline to be accurate each time.

The three things I have discussed about SMED are not the only parts of SMED.  There is a lot more to SMED and quick changeovers that can help.  Learning to become very quick with changeovers can really help drive the business in reducing inventory and increasing cash flow.

SMED Part 1 here

SMED Part 2 here

SMED Part 2 – Quick Releases

A commonly used lean tool/concept in manufacturing is Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) or quick changeover.  By definition changeovers from one job to the next is waste.  It does not add any value to the product/service, nor is the customer willing to pay for it.  Since it is waste but necessary in many operations, the goal should be to be as quick and as efficient when changing over as possible.

Shigeo Shingo showed how getting changeovers done in just a few minutes can reduce the batch size that can be produced, which creates less inventory and increases the cash flow.  When achieved, a changeover that is done in less than 10 minutes will save a lot of money.  The ideal state is to get the changeover to instantaneous so no capacity is lost.

During my time I have seen what I call three levels of the SMED concept that can help depending on where you are with implementing quick changeovers or lean.  This is the second of three parts explaining the different levels I have seen.  I hope this will help others with their SMED efforts.

Another big concept in SMED that I have seen help many times, is the quick release and tool modification concept.  Too many times, I have seen examples of turning screws or bolts that are 2 inches long in order to secure something.  Quick release clamps give the functionality of holding something in place without the need to screw something in.

(click on image for larger view)

The example above shows a screw with a knob that was used on 4 corners of a screen to hold it in place.  A team changed this to 4 lock down clamps that take less time to secure than one of the screw knobs.

Another concept is trying to find ways to modify tools that are used in order to prevent wasted movement during the changeover.  I worked with a team one time that needed 2 different size wrenches to do the changeover inside a piece of equipment.  Everything they needed the other size they would have to get out of the equipment, get the wrench and then get back in to work.  The team decided to cut the two wrenches in half and weld the sizes they needed together in order to make things quicker.  Here is another example:

(click on images to see a larger view)

On the left the operator has to scoop the powder and then strain it into a container and then pour it into the machine.  The modification on the left had the strainer built right into the pour slot for the powder on the machine.

Getting quick releases and modifying tools may be something that can help your SMED efforts.

SMED Part 1 here

SMED Part 1 – 5S Will Improve Your Changeover Times

A commonly used lean tool/concept in manufacturing is Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) or quick changeover.  By definition changeovers from one job to the next is waste.  It does not add any value to the product/service, nor is the customer willing to pay for it.  Since it is waste but necessary in many operations, the goal should be to be as quick and as efficient when changing over as possible.

Shigeo Shingo showed how getting changeovers done in just a few minutes can reduce the batch size that can be produced, which creates less inventory and increases the cash flow.  When achieved, a changeover that is done in less than 10 minutes will save a lot of money.  The ideal state is to get the changeover to instantaneous so no capacity is lost.

During my time I have seen what I call three levels of the SMED concept that can help depending on where you are with implementing quick changeovers or lean.  This is the first of three parts explaining the different levels I have seen.  I hope this will help others with their SMED efforts.

The most basic level of SMED I have seen is organization.  The lean tool/concept that comes to mind is 5S.  Knowing when to use 5S is the key.  If the area where the changeover occurs is not organized or operators and technicians spend a lot of time looking for the proper tools/parts for the changeover then 5S is a good tool/concept to pull out of the lean toolbox.  Operators shouldn’t leave the area to go look for the tools/parts that should have been in the area of the changeover.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started in thinking about how to use 5S to help reduce changeover time:

  • Have everything that is needed brought to the area and ready before the last good piece of the run comes off the machine (some of this may be brought to an area on an organized cart)
  • Have the tools/parts needed within reach of the physical location from where it will be used (no walking, even in the area, to get what is needed)
  • Think about organizing the tools in the order they will be used (this can also help make visual where someone is in the changeover process)
  • Be sure to have plenty of tools (you have a wrench but if it is being passed between two people why not buy a wrench for each person so they can work at the same time)

I have seen changeover times drop by 50+% just from implementing good 5S practices around changeover tools/parts.

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