Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy New Year!!

It is the end of 2010.  It has been a great year.  When it started, I had no idea that I would be blogging.  It has been just over 6 months now and so far so good.  I want to thank everyone for their support.

I hope everyone has a safe and fun New Year!


Dilbert – Six Sigma and Lean

This is the time of year where everyone is (or just finished) planning for the new year.  One of the biggest topics, I hope, is what are the improvement strategies for the new year.  The pointy-haired boss is tackling that same issue.

(click on image to enlarge)

I hope it wasn’t a waste of time at your company.  Good luck in 2011!

Merry Christmas!!!

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!  I am looking forward to time with my family.  My kids can’t wait for Santa this year.  He does a nice job of “leveling” the expense by shopping all year.

Travel safe and give thanks.

FastCap – Improving the Filing System

Paul Akers is a great lean practitioner and advocate.  I really enjoy watching the improvement videos they place on YouTube.  Here is one that I liked because it was in the office.  It shows how improving the filing system can help become more efficient in finding files and free floor space.  What I like most is, the improvement is based off a suggestion from a tour group.  It is great to see all the small improvements add up like they do at FastCap.


J.C. Hall Put Service and Quality First

If a man goes into business with only the idea of making a lot of money, chances are he won’t .

But if he puts service and quality first, the money will take care of itself.

Producing a first-class product that fills a real need is a much stronger motivation for success than getting rich.

— J.C. Hall

This is a quote from J.C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards.  J.C. showed up to Kansas City with a shoebox full of postcards in 1910.  He had a desire to help people connect with one another.  That is still the case today.  Hallmark Cards is now run by his grandsons, Don Hall, Jr. and Dave Hall.  The Halls still believe in service and quality first and connecting people in an emotional way everyday.

The quote from J.C., in my opinion, shows the heart of lean.  Do what is right.  Build a quality product that people want and give great service.  The money will come.  It is a by-product of doing what is right.  This is what I take from Toyota when they talk about do whats right and fix the process.  The profit will come.

A good example of fixating on making money is most venture capitalist.  It is only about the money.  They don’t care about the people or the process.

I hope more companies are seeing the value of service and quality in the new economic climate.  Right now is the time that a company can distinguish itself through superior service and quality.

Full Disclosure: I work for Hallmark Cards.  It is a great company and the Halls are phenomenal people.  This quote hits home more because of me working for Hallmark, but I find relevant for any business.

Don’t Touch the Stove!

Have you ever had to tell a kid, “Don’t touch the stove.  It is hot.”?  Having two young ones myself, I know I have.  I care about my kids and don’t want them to get hurt.  I want to protect them.  Sometimes though they just don’t want to listen.  They want to fight me on everything.  I don’t like it, but there has been a time I had to just let them touch the stove.  They burned their finger, but they learned the hard way that I was trying to protect them.  They won’t ever touch the stove again.

Sometimes I feel this same way when I am teaching/coaching people at work on lean.  Someone is heading down a path of certain failure.  Failure I have personally seen many times.  I try to explain to them why the path they are taking will fail.  In the end, I have to let them experience it for themselves.  They need to travel down the path and reach failure.  In essence, let them touch the hot stove.

At first, this was very frustrating because I saw it as a waste of valuable time.  If they would have just listened, we’d be there already.

I have changed my perspective.  It isn’t a waste of time, but an invaluable experience.  The person has learned for themselves and will never forget that learning.  It has been internalized.  Also, as I am teaching/coaching this person, they become more open to my suggestions in the future.  Both of us burning our hands the same way, is like a passage into brotherhood and now we both have deeper understanding and trust in each other.

In order to be a good teacher/coach/parent, sometimes you have to let them burn their hand on the stove.  It isn’t easy because you want to protect them, but in the end they trust you more and your guidance is accepted more.

(Side Note: The hot stove is analogy.  I have never let my kids touch a hot stove.)   🙂

HR and Andon

Andon (or signaling) is a tool that is common to the manufacturing environment.  The most common version is a light and/or sound to signal when an operation is down.

An example that is studied quite often is the andon cord on the Toyota production line.  When an operator has an issue, they pull the cord and the team leader responds immediately.  The team leader responds with the questions, “What’s the problem?  How can I help?”

While andon is a tool that is associated with manufacturing, it is applicable anywhere.  A great example was a team from Human Resources that I facilitated during a kaizen event to reduce the amount of time from department request to candidate offer for a new hire.  During the Day One training, I explained the Toyota andon system in detail and the purpose behind it.  Two days later, the team, which had no lean exposure prior to the event, came up with an andon system for their hiring process.

The team discovered during the product-process mapping exercise that it only takes a few minutes to review a resume and give feedback by the hiring manager but they had a range of 4 – 20 days to actually get the feedback from the hiring manager.  The team decided on a reasonable reduced lead time for reviewing resumes and then designed a process to show when it was out of tolerance.

The process was as follows:

  1. The hiring manager had 48 hrs to give feedback on a resume when it was sent to them
  2. If no response in 48 hrs, an email was sent to the hiring manager and their HR representative with an additional 48 hrs to respond
  3. If no response after the second 48 hrs, an email was sent to the hiring manager, their HR representative, and the hiring manager’s manager with a response due in 24 hrs.
  4. If no response within 24 hrs, an email was sent to the same three people in step 3 stating the hiring process for that position has been put on hold and no more resumes or work will be done until they all meet on the current resumes in process

I thought this was a great way to show when a problem was occurring and when it was too far out of tolerance.  It didn’t mean they couldn’t take longer to review.  If HR sent the resume and the hiring manager replied that they were out of the office and would get to it by a certain date, that would be sufficient for HR.  They would be aware of an abnormal condition and would running the process for that condition.

This was one of two main drivers to reduce the lead time on the process from 92 days to 43 days.

It shows how a manufacturing centered concept can be applied outside of manufacturing when the reason for the concept is understood and not just copied.

Lean Isn’t New

The last few months I have been a part of or given a lot of lean training around lean principles and/or behaviors.  The majority of  the responses to the training is very positive.  There is one response that I keep getting over and over, “There was nothing new in we heard.”

While I believe there is some new things in there, overall I don’t disagree with them.  In fact, I mention that Toyota has been doing if for 60 years and they learned from methods that date back 20+ years before they started learning.  Toyota gets the credit for the business philosophy and putting it to great use, but the roots come from Ford, Deming, the supermarket, and Training Within Industry.  There is a lot more material about principles and thinking that people can reference today.  Honestly, people have probably read or heard something before.

One question, I try to pose to them is, “You have heard this before and it seems to makes sense, so what behavior have you changed since learning this in order to get better?”  I usually get blank stares and red faces because I have not had one person answer that question yet.  I am not trying to be a jerk, but we have to ask the hard questions.  I’m still learning and I don’t follow the principles and behaviors all the time either.  Neither does Toyota.

I then explain the question is not a gotcha.  It is meant to show that while many people have read/heard of it and agree with it, there are very few to actually change, because changing is hard to do.  We have to make a conscious effort to do it and it will be hard at first.  The training classes are a mechanism to try and get the change to start to occur as well as educate others that may not have heard anything yet.

So overall, I agree the principles and behaviors are not new.  What is new is trying to get more and more people to actually change to exhibit these behaviors.

Want Things to Change? Then Give the Experiences.

This is my final post about things that really hit home with me during my second go ’round at the Lean Experience class that Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino, from the Lean Learning Center, put on at my company.

When discussing lean principles you naturally start to talk about behaviors to look for to understand if that principle is being followed or not.  The only way to get people to change their behavior is to change their beliefs (nothing religious just from a lean standpoint).  Such as a belief to manage by going and directly observing the work being done and not manage from behind a desk reading reports.

This makes a lot of sense.  The part that has always been missing is, how do we get them to change their beliefs?

That answer, as Jamie and Andy explained, is to give them the experiences demonstrating the new behaviors/beliefs and let them experience the difference.  In fact, the whole Lean Experience class is designed to set up and give experiences demonstrating the lean principles.  It starts the change process.  One experience does not change the belief.

While giving experiences may seem straight forward, it isn’t easy to remember to do.  This hit home because recently I completely abandoned this while trying to implement a kanban system for a component we use.  I have had multiple experiences of implementing a kanban, so I had the belief this was the right thing to do for our situation.  But some of our internal suppliers did not.  I got to a point of frustration that I told them to just do it and listen to me.  Well, I think we all know how that worked………not so good.  One of my partners kept building the kanban and did some compromising with the internal supplier and got the kanban up and running.  Over the last 2 months, a 20 year old problem that happened several times daily has only happened one time.  The internal supplier is ecstatic that we aren’t calling him all the time now begging for the components.

This is the internal supplier’s first experience he has been given with a kanban system.  He has now changed his view on it, but still isn’t all the way sold.  This is where we have to continue to give positive experiences to continue to change his beliefs.

As we continue to spread lean to more and more people, we have to remember to ask, “How do we give them the positive experiences?”

This concludes my reflections from the Lean Experience class.  Here are the links to all the reflections:

Solve Problems to the Generative Level

This is the second to last post about my reflection and learning from the Lean Experience class taught by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

On Wednesday morning, the class participated in the Beer Game.  It is a simulation showing the effects of processes on a system.  At the end all the teams had to chart their results.  A quick debrief showed how different teams used different strategies during the simulation.  The eye-opener was that all of the charts from the different teams showed the SAME pattern on every one of them.  That really struck me on how processes drive everything (something I have always believed but the example was powerful).

Jamie and Andy went into explaining their Iceberg model that is below.

As problem solvers we seem to talk a lot about being reactive versus proactive.  This is definitely better but we never seem to talk about problem solving to the generative level.  Jamie and Andy use the iceberg to show how we spend a lot of time reacting to what is happening now (fire fighting).  This is what we can see easily so it is shown sticking up above the water.

When we get below the surface, we start to see factors that are contributing to the results.  These factors create patterns and when we problem solve to fix the patterns is when we are being proactive.

Being proactive is good but it isn’t deep enough.  We need to solve a problem at the systems level so no matter what strategy we use we get the desired out come we are looking for (just like the Beer Game).  When we dig this deep and change the systems we are getting to the generative level.  This is the level that starts the generation of results we see at the top of the iceberg.

Lets look at a bearing going out on a machine as an example:

Reactive would be to wait until the bearing goes out and the machine shuts down to replace it.

Proactive would be to change the bearing before the machine shuts down when you notice a difference in the machine’s sound or it starts to vibrate.

Generative would be to understand how long the bearing typically lasts before it starts performing at a less then optimal level.  The have a maintenance program that replaces the bearing before it can even perform at a less than optimal level.

I know that I have done some of this problem solving in the past but I always looked at it as proactive.  I now have a new lens to look at it and ask better questions to make sure we are changing the system and not just addressing the pattern.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class: