Monthly Archives: August 2012

Random Problem Solving Skills

I’ve been in a really reflective state lately as I try to weigh some different opportunities.  While I have come up with some really interesting topics for posts, most of them have turned too lengthy or incoherent to clog your Lean reading time.  One of the discarded themes has also come up a couple times lately in conversation and I thought I’d throw it out in print.   Here are three of the less obvious skills that have served me well in solving problems and working in continuous improvement activities over the years.

The first one is utilizing some sorta advanced Excel skills.  For all of you statistics nerds out there, I totally agree with you that Excel is not statistical software.  But it can be really, really helpful in sorting out piles of data in to something useable in a hurry.  For me, sometimes digging through the raw data can help highlight a pattern that I can’t see in aggregate.   Sometimes it can help put information in context and help people make better decisions faster.  I have used functions from Pivot Tables to conditional sums to writing macros (with some excellent assists from Matt) and so on.  It’s not sexy, but it is helpful.

The next skill that has served me well is another Office tool…PowerPoint.  I’m not talking about fancy slide transitions with animated gif’s and musical accompaniment.  I’m more referring to using the existing toolbox to tell concise, effective, clean stories.  You could argue that A3 reporting is much more concise and clean (and I’d agree), but PowerPoint is still massively used.  The ability to create a visually appealing communication is valuable for almost everybody.

Another skill that seems to be on and off the radar is the ability to filter information. Learning how to quickly separate signals from noise is a very underrated skill and one that needs your attention.  Every person and every idea deserves respect and consideration.  But not every idea needs to be implemented.  Abnormal situations should get due attention, but not every abnormal situation should be weighted the same in terms of response.  Developing the ability to say “no” or “not right now” with a reasonable justification can save a lot of inefficiency.

That was my quick list of unspoken skills (in no particular order).  For the record, I’m not propping these up because I consider them strengths of mine.  They’re just things that I do well enough to not do too much harm when I try to bust them out.  Mostly they’re things that I’ve picked up from others and tried to emulate.   What about you?  Do you think I overrated any of these?   Any other not-just-Lean traits that you use or seen others use effectively?

Guest Post: My First Kaizen Event

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

As an inspector at the end of a screen printing process, I’m was in charge of making sure we didn’t ship bad products. I had always enjoyed my job, but after taking part in a kaizen event I went home less tired and made fewer mistakes, ultimately making the customers happier and saving my employer money. Best of all, it felt like I actually made a difference.

Five days of improvement

We started with a training day. Jose, our Lean Director, asked six of us to meet in a conference room: Maria from engineering, A’isha from purchasing, Pete the controller, Ted from maintenance and Gerry, who ran the press that sent me finished parts.

Jose explained that a kaizen event is a concentrated five day effort to improve a factory process. A’isha said she didn’t know anything about the factory, but Jose said the point was to get new ideas from people who didn’t know the area. He called this being outside looking in.

Once we understood our goal – to improve my inspection operation – Jose had us make a plan. We decided to spend our first day gathering data. Then we’d go to the inspection area, ask questions and capture our ideas on flipcharts. At the end of day two, we’d put together a list of the ideas we wanted to try, then we’d implement as many as possible.

As-Is data

Between us we found out how many customer complaints came in each month, how many pieces were scrapped, the number of bad parts caught and our delivery performance. None of them were very good.

Generating ideas

Gerry and I showed the team how we did things on the press line, then people asked questions and made suggestions. Pretty quickly we’d filled a whole flipchart pad!

Back in the conference room we stuck the pages on the walls and made a list of the changes we could make. The quick and easy ideas we tried straight away; Maria worked on the harder ones with Ted.

We used the 5S system to arrange my tools on a shadow board so I knew where to find everything and to see if anything was missing. We labeled everything and cleaned up the area so was a nicer place to work.

One thing I asked for was to raise the inspection table. As it was, I had to bend over, which made my back ache, and I was putting a shadow over the piece I was looking at. Ted made the change in a couple of hours, and it makes such a difference!

Ted also installed a track lighting system over the top of the bench. This was really clever because it gave me the ability to vary the light, which helped me find the defects much more easily.

Gerry suggested I turn on a light whenever I find a defect. This would be his signal to stop the press and he’d be able to fix the problem right away. Jose called this an andon light.

The presentation

When we’d finished, Jose had us present everything to management. I was worried our ideas were too simple but they seemed impressed. Arnie, the Quality Manager, did say though that the proof would be in the numbers.

Afterwards

A month later we got new data and compared it with our “As-is” numbers. Complaints were down, we were scrapping almost nothing, I was finding more defects and our delivery performance was up.

Little did I know that Jose was so impressed with my performance on the kaizen team that he would ask me three months later to consider joining him as the Lean Coordinator in the company’s transformation process. I took his recommendation to apply for the position when it opened up and soon began my own transformation process into becoming a student of The Toyota Way.

Stay tuned to learn more about my personal journey in lean manufacturing!

Lean Construction

Over the last decade we have seen lean start to permeate many different industries.  Healthcare is one of the most prominent areas.  Another more publicized area lean is permeating is government work. A challenge was even given to all the Presidential  candidates.  This is a great start.  It shows that more and more people are starting to understand lean is about the way we think and see things.  It is not about tools such as: 5S, Standardized Work, Quick Changeovers, or level loading.

Picture from Quality Digest Magazine Article

There is one industry that has been slowly adopting lean, but rarely gets mentioned.  That is the construction industry.  More and more construction companies are trying to adopt lean principles and thinking into the work they do.  Lean construction is more than just the building phase of construction, but also includes the design phase.  Lean construction involves owners, architects, designers, engineers, constructors, and suppliers.   It is all inclusive from end-to-end.

There is even the Lean Construction Institute.  It was established in 1997.  This isn’t a new concept to the industry.  It just doesn’t seem to get well publicized.

There is a good article from 2007 about Lean Construction.  In the article it says:

Lean construction provides a solution that works for all three groups-the owner, the contractor and the worker-because it’s founded on collaboration, communication and mutual respect. Not only does the conventional design-bid-build environment not produce the best results for any of the three groups, it actually pits each of them against each other and creates a downward spiral of lose-lose. Lean construction works because it focuses on maximizing value and eliminating waste.

It is a win-win for everyone with a focus on what is important to the customer.

Therefore, lean construction focuses on identifying and delivering products or services on which the client places high value. A few things that clients often place high value on are:

  •     No change orders
  •     High quality-meaning conformance to requirements
  •     On-time delivery

It is great to see industries outside of manufacturing and healthcare understanding the lean principles and embracing them.

If anyone works for a lean construction company, I would love to hear from you and ask you questions about implementing lean in the construction industry.

 

Guest Post: Libby Zion

Today’s guest post is by James Lawther.  James gets upset by operations that don’t work and apoplectic about poor customer service.  Visit his web site “The Squawk Point” to find out more about service improvement.

On 4th March 1984 Libby Zion (an 18 year old known to be using anti-depressants) was admitted into a hospital in New York with a high fever.

That night, Luise Weinstein, a medical intern 8 months out of medical school, was on call. He discussed her case over the phone with a senior doctor, and then prescribed two drugs, a pain killer and a sedative.

The next morning Libby was dead.

The subsequent inquest found that a reaction between the two medicines and her anti-depressants was the cause of Libby’s death.

Why was she prescribed those drugs by the medic? Didn’t he know what would happen?

It transpires that like all medical interns he had been working a long shift. He was over worked and sleep deprived and made the wrong decision.

How long do you work?

How long can you expect somebody to work? In the UK and US there are laws that prevent lorry drivers from working more than 11 hours without a 10 hour break.

11 hours is also the time it takes to fly from London to Los Angeles. Would you get on a plane flying the return leg if you knew that the pilot had just flown the outbound trip?

That shift, Luise Weinstein had worked 36 hours.

A change in the law

Libby Zion’s father happened to be a journalist and he did what all good Journalists do. He created a story, a mass of publicity. In response the governor of New York set up a committee to look into the case and in 1989 the law changed in New York State forbidding Medical residents to work:

  • More than 24 consecutive hours
  • More than an 80 hour working week

Remember that plane trip?

Ten years later the New York State Department of Health conducted surprise inspections at a number of hospitals. They found that over half of surgical residents work in excess of 95 hours a week .

Why do the hospitals flout the law? Simply because it would cost them a lot of money to obey it.

The problem with focusing on cost

Lean thinkers talk about purpose, they say you should always focus on purpose first and foremost. If you do that efficiencies and cost savings will come as a by-product.

Hippocrates is often quoted as saying “first do no harm”.

Perhaps that would be a good purpose for the hospitals to focus on.

James writes about process improvement at www.squawkpoint.com

Controlling the Message

Are politics eating away at the ability of businesses to be competitive?  I don’t mean capital P Politics and elections, just cultural office politics.  I wonder if we have gotten so good in so many cases at “controlling our message” within our walls that we lack the ability to discuss what our true Current State really is.

(Don’t worry.  I learned my lesson quite clearly when I brushed past the pool in my post inspired by the music business not to mess with the holy trinity of Politics, Religion, and Free Stuff on the interwebs.  I tried and failed to come up with a different word than politics for this post…Sorry)

So much of the Lean philosophy and toolkit is built around either highlighting the gap between the current state and the ideal state or following a process to move closer to the ideal state from the current state.  These are only effective if you’re willing to talk about your true current state.  I don’t know of many businesses that are willing to have these conversations.  In many cases, the ability to interpret what is happening in the most palatable way possible far outweighs the ability to identify what is really happening.  The narratives that are created have become the currency that keeps the operation rolling and keeps everyone happy.

Here’s the thing about ‘messaging’…it rarely stops.  The people delivering become incentivized to keep the message on the same path for risk of losing credibility, job security, or recognition.  The people receiving want to believe the message, if for no other reason than it seems pretty silly to reject the communication of the people you are trusting to keep you up to date.

How does this culture impact Lean leaders?  The biggest obstacle comes in getting people to recognize the existence and scope of a problem.   It can be extremely difficult to get resources, time, and commitment when key players are invested in making sure that the problem area continues to be spoken about in glowing terms.  Data helps, but not always.  In some cases your best bet is to find ways to create a bridge from the narrative to the reality.  Yes…that means that you may need to become engaged in a system of politics that you despise, but these waters are tricky and need to be navigated somehow.  Sometimes it may mean that you have to go covert and work on the project “off the record” to improve something you know needs help.  (That one falls under the umbrella of being easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.)

I guess what I’m getting at is that sometimes the reality of our cultures gets in the way of doing the right thing.  It doesn’t mean that people are intentionally doing the wrong thing, just that it’s not always clear how to get people aligned and rowing in the same direction.  Use what you have at your disposal and make a difference.

Granddaddy of Them All

If you are a Big Ten or PAC-10 college football fan, I am not referring to the Rose Bowl.  I am referring to Over Production.  The granddaddy of all types of waste in the lean world.

Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over Production, Over Processing and Defects.  These are the 7 types of waste.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why is Over Production the granddaddy of them all, because Over Production can lead to more of each of the other 6 types of waste.

Transportation: If you are over producing then you are transporting more product then you need to transport.  This could lead to paying for more trailers then you need affecting the bottom line directly.

Inventory: This is the direct result of over production.  If more is produced than needed, the extra product goes into storage and sits and waits until it is needed if ever.

Motion: Storing all the extra product in inventory takes up more room.  This means a bigger space is needed to do the same amount of work which leads to all the extra motion around the inventory.  If you put 10 skids between two machines instead of two skids then when the operator moves between the two machines there is an extra 8 skids of distance to walk.

Waiting: If the product is not needed, it goes into inventory where it sits and waits.  Waits to be sold.  Waits to be finished.  Waits to be thrown out.

Over Processing: The excess product can be reworked into a similar product with a few modifications.  This over processing what is needed to get the product right would not have happened if there was not excess product to modify.

Defects: Storing inventory can lead to crushed boxes destroying product or product that becomes outdated and must be thrown out.

Over production is the worst of the worst.  As hard as it might be to shift the mentality, it is better to see people standing around than it is to watch them produce more than is needed in order to look busy.

Importance of Stepping Back

Continuous improvement and driving out waste is a fundamental part of lean.  The constant pursuit of driving waste out and not letting it creep back in sounds great.  We should all do it.

This weekend was a great case of why we forget about waste and a method to help focus on waste.  My wife and I decided to clear out the garage and get it better organized.  We don’t do a great job of 5S in our garage and it is really apparent after we do a major project.  We end up with tools not put back in the same place, plus the addition of new tools to do the project. In the last year we have completed 4 big projects (built our kids a swing set, replaced all the railing on our second floor deck, gutted and remodeled our master bath and installed cabinets for a craft area).  Our garage was a mess.

I have mentioned before that my wife runs her own business on top of us doing all this.  During the clean out, she asked one simple question, “Why can’t we move the business stuff up by the door for of the third garage?”  Brilliant!!  Here is a drawing of the third car garage and what is stored in it.

(click on image to enlarge)

This is brilliant because the truck you see part outside the door is used for her business outings.  Now I can just open the door and load her stuff into the truck with very little movement.  Before, I had to move my car out or squeeze by it and carry her stuff to the back of the garage and never opened the third car door.  It eliminates motion/transportation waste of me carrying and my back really appreciate it.

Two years of doing this and it never occurred to either one of us until we stepped back, observed the area and really thought about it.

As lean leaders, we ask a lot of people to drive out the waste in their work.  Make it a little better everyday.  But if we don’t give them time to step back, reflect and ask questions then this is not as easy as it sounds.  A process has to be established that allows the employees to do this.  we can’t make grand statements and just expect things to happen.

It may seem easy to just reduce/eliminate the waste but when you are knee deep in the work you need the time to step back.  Don’t undervalue it.

GE Appliances Going Lean

I have not been very high on GE as a company.  I have dealt with too many command-and-control managers that came from GE and Jack Welch I think is the single most overrated CEO in history.  He destroyed GE’s manufacturing to gain his golden parachute.

It has taken awhile but GE seems to be making strides in a great direction.  A year or so ago, GE announced the building of a manufacturing complex in Louisville, KY dedicated to building their appliance lines using lean manufacturing.

An article last week highlighted some of the reasons and the results from the first venture in GE’s new dishwasher plant.  My favorite heading in the article is “Washing Away Decades of Outdated Manufacturing Practices”.  AMEN!!!

So what did GE hope to accomplish by investing $150 million in the new facility?

When planning to make GE’s newest dishwashers, the manufacturing leaders had several challenges: to build new production lines in a space-constrained factory where existing lines would keep providing about one in every five homes with a dishwasher; to create a process that would leverage Lean manufacturing principles to reduce the time it takes to make each dishwasher; to reduce operational costs and unnecessary work for employees to improve productivity while increasing quality.

They needed to reduce cost and delivery time and increase quality.  Something lean can help improve all of.  Not one while sacrificing others.

How was lean going to help?

Relying on a new culture of continuous improvement and a collaborative work environment, fostered by Lean manufacturing principles, GE took employees from every discipline needed to design, build and operate the new lines and co-located them in one location so communication could be instantaneous and fluid. Each member of the team had a voice and a role–from engineering, to advanced manufacturing to the operators who assemble the products – all were on one team with a common goal – to improve the processes and products.

Great ideas and they seem to be working very well.  The results listed in the article are incredible.  Here are just one bullet point listed as a result.

Included production workers in the designing of work stations and processes, improving efficiency and ergonomics by reducing parts inventories and movements to complete tasks; in developing new job instructions to help eliminate quality issues and improve safety; and in improving the timely supply of parts to work stations. As a result, the overall production time per unit was reduced by about 65 percent.

Great to see the employees doing the work involved in the improvement process.  With all the great results this is what I was the most happy to read.

Now, their dishwashers will be loaded with more U.S. parts than ever before. In fact, about 85 percent of the parts in GE new dishwashers will be made in the U.S. — including an increased number made at Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky

It shows that manufacturing close to the consumer in a “high cost” country can be competitive in any industry.  Kudos to GE for attempting to change their manufacturing ways.

Asking Why 2 Times

A couple days ago I was reminded of a problem solving aspect I hadn’t personally dealt with in a while.  I guess being engaged in other things, I kind of forget one of the fundamental questions in problem solving.

By now there probably aren’t a lot of people unaware of 5-Whys.  But, what about the 2 Whys?  No this isn’t an attempt to be clever by turning 5-S into 8-S or “8 Minute Abs” in to “7 Minute Abs”.  It comes down to addressing the two fundamental paths of how defectives get to the customer.  “Why Make?” and “Why Ship?”.   In simple terms, “Why Make” is pretty self explanatory in terms of understanding why the defect was produced in the first place.  “Why Ship?” becomes a much more nuanced question about why defects were allowed to be passed along to the customer (internal or external).   It brings along questions about how you build quality at the source or at the least how you detect it and prevent it from being shipped.

I used to get these questions asked all the time by a friend who worked in Quality at Toyota.  I guess back then, much like now, I spent much more time on the “Why Make?” question than on the “Why Ship?” one.   Part of that is that I work in a different industry where product is less likely to be shipped anyway.   The other big part of it is that I just find it much more interesting to chase the kind of problems that follow “Why Make?” questions.   That is kind of unfortunate because looking in to why your systems didn’t prevent, detect, or reject bad stuff sometimes offers some holistic views of the operation that you may not always see.  It was kind of fun to have the reminder to ask “Why Ship?” more often.

Hopefully this can be a little kickstart for those who hadn’t heard that or a reminder for those of you who may have put that on the back burner.

Guest Post: 5S-ing: The First Step to Safety

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

We are always looking for ways to reduce costs and increase productivity. Maybe it’s time to grab a broom and clean up our act! The 5S methodology is one way to organize your facilities to get the most out of your space. Japanese manufacturing created this method to reduce shop floor and manufacturing accidents and waste, and increase productivity.

The five points on which 5S focuses are:

  • Sort
  • Set in Order
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

While it’s obvious to most that an organized environment is a “better” environment, in practice, we don’t do this very often. The 5S method is based on the simple premise that an organized (shop floor, factory, construction site, etc.):

  • is more productive
  • is safer
  • meets deadlines
  • generates fewer defects
  • is less chaotic

Each of the 5S steps contributes to improving the safety and productivity of the physical environment. So grab your broom and trash can and let’s get started!

Keep Only What You Need – Discard the Rest (Sort)

This is the opposite of the “pack rat” who saves everything because “we might need it some day.” The result is a shop floor or warehouse cluttered with items you can’t use and are just taking up space. We waste time looking for what we need in the middle of all the junk we’ve accumulated. Boxes of lose parts sit in the aisle and block exits creating safety hazards. Prioritize all that stuff. Keep what you need and get rid of the rest.

Create a Home for Everything (Set in Order)

Once the clutter is gone, put everything in its own place, mark it properly and document where it is. We take care to put customer products in their proper bins with the correct SKU, but tools, equipment and supplies don’t get the same attention. Hardware retailers often set up their inventory based on the type of equipment the user is looking for; this type of methodology also carries over to the workplace so that workers know or can learn where equipment is at all time. Every time someone has to search for something because it’s not in the right place is lost productivity. The new guy is always asking where something is!

Keep Things Clean (Shine)

Work and storage areas all need to be clean. It’s not just cosmetic; things work better when they’re clean and well maintained. While it may be the last thing employees do at the end of the day, keeping things clean is still a priority. Leaks and spills can be dangerous and create a safety hazard. Create a standard of cleanliness for an area and make sure it gets that treatment everyday.

Create Repeatable Processes (Standardize)

As your efforts to implement 5S produce results, document this and create procedures to be followed each shift to keep things that way. Be as organized with your documentation as you were with your shop floor/warehouse. Your procedure manual puts the broom in the hands of your employees to do their part.

Creating discipline in the work place means giving your employees the same procedures, same tools and same work spaces in which to be productive. Productivity is easier to measure when everyone is working from the same page. Make sure that page is clear to everyone!

Evaluate and Make Needed Changes (Sustain)

A key to the 5S methodology working is continual evaluation and improvement. Where are there still code violations, employee safety hazards or other impacts to productivity? Change what’s not working and modify what is working to make it work better. There are many procedure manuals just sitting on the shelf collecting dust because they are outdated. Don’t let yours join the clutter!

Using the 5S method means taking a few simple steps to get the most out of what you already have. Create a leaner environment in which employees are safer and more productive. The broom is in your hands!

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