Monthly Archives: September 2012

Make the Routine Quick and Easy

I read a blog post from Dan Markovitz a couple weeks about about some of the practices Nick Saban has.  Being a college football fan and following Nick Saban since his Michigan State days, I found it very interesting to see how he saved time.

I do some of the same stuff.  I eat the same thing everyday for lunch.  It is a running joke around my workplace.  But I don’t have to think about what to make the night before and no decisions have to be made when it is time for lunch.  The nights I do make something different for my lunch the next day it takes over twice as long.  I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I want and if it is easily suitable for a packed lunch.

Free image courtesy of

Another thing I do, I lay out all of my clothes for the week including clothes for working out in the morning.  I spend a few minutes Sunday evening preparing for Monday thru Thursday (Friday can range to much based on what I have going on at work so I do that one on Thursday night).  My kids even got me a cubby-hole shelf to put my clothes into to be even more organized.  With two kids involved in everything under the sun, this saves me time during the week.  I don’t have to think about what I am going to wear.  I just reach for the cubby-hole and put the clothes in my gym bag and my gym clothes I lay out for the next morning.  It takes me less than 60 seconds to be prepared for the next day.

I know.  It seems anal-retentive (because I don’t make millions like Nick Saban, then it would be innovative or smart).  These two routines save me several minutes a day that I use to make sure I get the kids to where they need to be on-time and frees up time to spend with my wife at night.

What do you do to save time in your routine?


Who is Visiting Beyond Lean?

Recently, I have been wondering who comes to the Beyond Lean site and what do they like at the site.  In order to help me better understand more about you, the reader, I have created two very quick poll questions.

The first question asks about what level of your organization you work at.  There is a check box for consultant.  I did this so consultants would not get mixed in with respondents working in the business.  Sometimes a consultants interest may vary from someone working in the business and I thought it would be good to separate.

The second question asks what is it about Beyond Lean that you like.  You may check all that apply.

Thank you for your help.

Visual Management is Critical to Lean

Visual management is a concept that is a part of lean.  In my opinion, it is one of the top 2 or 3 concepts of lean.  Visual management is a concept that allows the lean principles to come to life more easily.  So, what is visual management?

Visual management is a workplace that is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving environment where what is suppose to happen does, on time, every time because of visual solutions.

From Gwendolyn Galsworth’s book Visual Workplace, Visual Thining.

Lets dive deeper into the definition.

Self-ordering means the environment or system continues to be in good order or orderly.  It is organized in such a way as to enable rapid absorption of information.

Self-explaining refers to the ability to answer questions such as “What is my next job?” or “How much work do we have?” or “What Waste do I see?”

Self-improving occurs when an out of standard situation is immediately obvious through use of visual indicators and people are able to correct it quickly. We all have a responsibility to keep improving.

How does visual management help bring the lean principles to life?

One of the first principles of lean is to directly observe the work as activities, connections and flows.  When the work is visual and clear it becomes much easier for someone to directly observe the work and know what is going on.  They should be able to understand if there is too much inventory in an area or if the work is being done under normal or abnormal conditions.  When visual management is done well, it becomes easy to see and understand the flow of work and how it is progressing.

Two other principles of lean are the systematic elimination of waste and systematic problem solving.  During the direction observation in a visual workplace a person will be able to see extra inventory or rework that is occurring or work stopping because of some problem.  When the waste or problem can be seen quickly and easily it can be fixed before it causes too big of a problem.

A fourth principle of lean is to establish high agreement on both the what and how (or standardization).  You can’t have a good visual management system without using this principle.  Our road systems are a great example.  All directional signs (in the U.S.) are on green signs while visitor site information is on brown signs and speed information is on a white sign outlined in black.  Everyone understands these visual standards which makes getting the information needed easier.

The final lean principle is create a learning organization.  If you can’t see something, you can’t learn about it.  Whether it is a process, data or anything else the best way to learn about it is to make it visual and to see it come to life.

Visual management can be used in many different ways for many different things like understanding the capacity of a project team, knowing the progress of a  major project, what is the status of a machine, do I have too much inventory and the list can go on and on.  When people can understand what is going on without having to dig and ask questions, they get engaged.  The employees gain an understanding and therefore can engage in the problem solving easier.

Understanding visual management and applying it can go a long way to kick starting or restarting your lean efforts.

Saving time: How Visual Management Benefits Knowledge Work

Today’s guest post was written by David M. Kasprzak.  David has worked with all levels of management in large commercial organizations and government agencies on budget development, project planning & performance measurement. Over the course of his career, he has realized that it is the qualitative elements of work that determine success or failure.  Based on this realization, he began to explore the principles of Operational Excellence and Lean process improvement, and apply those concepts to other areas of both work and life.  In 2010, David created the My Flexible Pencil blog to share his ideas on these topics.

Time, as we’re all well aware, is our most precious resource.  When it is gone – it is gone for good.  It doesn’t change form or turn into some other less complicated element – it is simply gone.  When it is used well, we can say that our time was turned into some useful activity or tangible product.  When it is wasted, the shame is greatest, since the time is gone for good and nothing of value was created to take its place.  Yet, for some reason, wasting time seems to be, by-and-large, perfectly okay.

Think of this: What if you hired a group of people to plan, coordinate, and execute taking thousands of dollars from people.  The group you hired became so adept at it that they were able to take that money from people who were so duped they gave it willingly.  What’s more, those who took the money then lit it on fire.

Doing such a thing is, of course, both bizarre and criminal.  However, when we set hapless managers into an organization where they have little ability or willingness to work on the business and not just work in the business, time is taken from people at every turn without so much as an afterthought.  Boring, useless, meaningless drudgery that simply wastes time is so frequently the norm that it is not just tolerated, but expected.

How can this tremendous waste of time be prevented?  Take a look at the typical office environment and you’ll see an immediate answer.  Or, rather, you won’t see it – because you can’t see much of anything.  Most of the workers and, therefore, the work are both hidden behind rows and rows of neutral-colored cubicles.  While some of those workers are, indeed, wasting time by delving into any number of distractions while hunkered down in their fabric-covered boxes, this is not the norm in most places.  The greater shame is that the way they are going about their genuine work is entirely out of the line-of-sight of anyone who is trying to see the work progress through the organizations.

While the completely open office environment isn’t the answer, either (it’s much too distracting and too noisy for people to concentrate), there is a need to invoke some visual controls in the office environment too.  How is that new software development project progressing?  Is there a clear, visual roadmap that lays out the steps the project must go through and status boards to communicate progress?  How do you know who is working on what – and not just as a general assignment, but in terms of who is working on what for how long right now?  How do you know when that person is stuck, waiting on some input?  What’s the status of that input?

In most places the answer requires sending emails, calling meetings, or – heaven forbid – getting up and going over to talk to someone.  All of which leads to information standing still or, at best, travelling much too slowly.  If, however, more visual cues were invoked so that information was shared more openly, more quickly, and with greater appreciation of the need for immediate, intuitive understanding of how work is progressing (or not) – information would transfer faster.  Instead, things are typically thrown into a powerpoint presentation that is shared in a meeting once a week – which is the equivalent of a factory floor batch-and-queue process that builds up a bunch of widgets only to release them to the cell once a week – whether the cell is ready for the batch or not.

Committing to visual controls information moves faster.  The greater the velocity of information exchange, the greater the awareness of potential problems and ability to take action before those problems materialize.  By adopting better visual controls, knowledge work environments can greatly increase both the amount and velocity of information moving through the organization.  While this seems obvious, it is a bit daunting that the habits and practices that have been developed outside of the shop floor, such as hiding people and work behind tall cubicle walls, do more to hinder the flow of information than to facilitate it.

Managing Chemicals by Eye

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.

My friends said I worked in the Black Hole. In the lunchroom, people moved away because of the smell of solvents in my work clothes. Let me tell you how that changed.

Working in the Black Hole a.k.a. Screen Print Prepress

We were in the business of screen printing. My job was to get the screens ready, which means cleaning off the old stencil and applying the new image. I used quite a few chemicals and yes, it did get messy.

One time I was measuring out the emulsion remover when Greg moved into the room, and I didn’t hear him until he was close. I jumped, and the solvent went all over my shoes and the floor. And the fumes were so strong!

Another time I was carting off the old ink and I realized the waste tub was outside. By this time, I had both hands full, so I ended up using my foot to open the door and nearly tripped myself.

Bad for Business

Sometimes we’d run out of a chemical and I wouldn’t be able to clean any screens until new supplies arrived. Terry, the supervisor, would complain about orders being late, but there wasn’t anything I could do.

The delivery would eventually come in (often at high shipping costs for expedited delivery), but always in barrels so big I could hardly move them. I’d have no space to put them, either, so I’d pour the chemicals into smaller bottles. That was okay, so long as I didn’t spill much, but sometimes I’d forget to write on the side what was in them.

The other problem was I couldn’t tell how much was in each bottle, so I’d run out. And sometimes I’d mix up the wrong proportions so I had to throw it away and start again.

As you can see, things were pretty disorganized.

Visual management

Terry had been taking a Lean Manufacturing training course when he came in and said, “Danielle, we need to make you lean.”

Well I knew I was carrying a few pounds, but really! Terry explained that if we organized the chemicals I use there’d be fewer stoppages, less waste, and I’d find the Black Hole a nicer place to work. He called it “visual management.” Here’s what we did:

  • Installed a yellow “Point-of-Use Storage” cabinet. (The EPA has a lot of information about POUS on their website.)
  • Labeled the POUS shelves so there’s “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”
  • Stopped buying big barrels once in a great while and arranged for smaller, 1 gallon deliveries more frequently. This is called vendor-managed inventory, or a “milk run”.
  • Used clear containers so I could see how much was left.
  • John got special diamond pattern labels for the containers and showed me how to fill them in with the chemical name and date.
  • Terry bought mixing jugs and put lines on them showing the appropriate fill level.
  •  John also set up a Safety Point. This has all the Material Safety Data Sheets in a binder along with a cabinet for safety equipment like goggles, a lab coat and gloves.
  •  We had the floor marked out to show where the waste containers should be. Now I can see at glance if they’re missing.

No more Black Hole

It took a while to get used to things, but it’s so much better. I don’t waste time looking for various chemicals. We never run out, so there are no stoppages. I don’t spill solvents and there’s less waste. Best of all, people don’t wrinkle their nose when I sit near them in the lunch room!

My Ode to Visual Management

As we go through Visual Management week here at Beyond Lean, I was asked to kick it off.  I haven’t been able to see the other posts, so I hope I don’t step on any material coming later.

Looking at the Lean ‘Toolkit’, I think that Visual Management concepts are fundamentally the most important.  That’s pretty easy for me to say when you could bucket almost all of the tools in some way or another under a visual workplace umbrella.  But, I think my affinity for it comes from a more altruistic place.  The underlying keys to effectively utilizing Visual Management are built on things like trust, respect, and honesty.  As a shop floor operator (or your workplace equivalent), there needs to be a trust that what you are responding to, what you are reporting, and what you are following will be used productively by “the management” and not as a bigger hammer to hit you with.  As a “manager” effectively utilizing the tools means you have to treat people with respect, dignity and honesty in order for the data to mean anything past the initial kick off.  As business leaders, we have to be willing to share an honesty and transparency and trust with our suppliers, customers, managers, and front line workers.

(Case in point on the last one…  Last week I toured a factory that I am a customer of.  In a WIP queuing area, they had skids of product that they charge premium prices for labeled as “OVERSTOCK”.  I couldn’t even be mad because they were so honest about how their product flow worked that they were willing to show anybody that walked in the door what was going on and how they viewed their operations.)

Pretty much anybody who has worked in a continuous improvement situation can point out failures of visual management tools.  But when they are working well, they are a clear signal of a different kind of workplace.  The openness, honesty, and trust that they reflect are the difference between workplaces where people trade their time for money and workplaces that are built on something more.  That something more is a collaborative spirit where all of the parties build something greater than they could separately.

So, as we read through the thoughts of some really bright people this week, I hope we can all pick up some great ideas we can take back to our own workplaces.  I hope that in the long term we can also use these to help build and/or strengthen the cultural differences that make a Lean workplace truly special and unique.

Lean Series on Visual Management Next Week

Back in March, Beyond Lean hosted a week long series on standardized work.  Joe and I posted about standardized work (Lessons Learned and Foundational to Continuous Improvement).  We also had guests post from Christian Paulsen from Lean Leadership (SW and Your Packaging Line) and Tim McMahon from A Lean Journey (What It Is).

The week went over very well with readers so next week we are bringing the series back.  The lean series will be focused on visual management.  Joe and I will have our contributions as well as new guest bloggers Danielle Look and David Kasprzak.

The lean series is a way to get a concentrated dose of information on one subject by only having to go to one site.  I hope you enjoy it.

Turnoff the Email Notifications

Email is a great thing.  To be able to send a message instantly for free (sort of…I know there are charges for connection and data plans) is amazing.  Now we can get email anywhere we are on smartphones, tablets or any other device.  But, just because we can get a message instantly and anywhere does not mean we have to read or answer the message instantly anywhere we are.

I hear a lot of people talk about spending too much time with email.  Email is keeping them from getting value added work completed.  I spent some time looking at my own email practices and found it is very easy to get distracted by email.  It is more of a hindrance than a help at times.

How many of you have your email notification turned on, so when you get an email you get a sound, a box in the corner pops up, a light flashes on your smartphone, etc…?  I had notifications on everywhere.  Why do we have them on?  Because we want to read and answer the email as quickly as possible. Why don’t we turn off all of these audio/visual notifications?  What percent of the emails you receive truly need immediate attention?

I experimented and turned off all audio and visual notifications of email on my PC.  I turned off the audio notification on my smartphone, but left on my flashing light (which I am thinking about turning off).  Since doing this, I feel less stressed about answering email and the need to jump right on it.  I find that I am more productive also.  I am not switching between something I am working on and email constantly.  The thing I am working on has my full attention.  I concentrate on the work and get it done and then check email.  I have found that ZERO of my emails need my immediate attention.

My next step is to only open email at certain times of the day.  Currently, I open it whenever I feel like it.  Will this help me become even more productive?  I don’t know if it will, but I won’t improve if I don’t try.

If you are not in a role where email is critical (i.e. order processor receiving orders through email or something of the like), I challenge you to turn off your notifications and not read/answer emails as they come in.

Trying Harder

Have you ever questioned why you are in the Lean/Six Sigma/Continuous Improvement field of work?  I know I sure have.  Usually it’s after I arrogantly ask myself why I have to re-explain something I feel like I’ve explained a dozen times.  Or it’s after rolling my eyes and walking through why you can’t just ignore the points on the control chart that are outside the limits because that’s where the interesting stuff might be.  Those type of things happen for me and mostly because of my own limits in skill, patience or energy.  This past week I seriously questioned why I’m doing this for a completely different reason.
I was talking with a group of friends when one started a dissertation on this awful consultant led “kaizen” event they “had” to be involved in that week.  Normally when that happens, I just let the person finish and try to loop the conversation back to some sort of positive.  You know…something was better out of it or they learned something.  This time, I didn’t even get a chance to interject when a second voice, then a third followed with similar horror stories taking place in other companies with other parties.  These are people that know what I do and have sought my opinion on different improvement related topics over the years.  At that point, I had no idea what to respond with and I wasn’t sure I had a defense in me for the stories that they were telling.

Now, I’m not bashing these consultants (I didn’t even ask who they were) or any consultants in general.  I’ve been able to learn a ton either first or second hand to know that some are very good at what they do.   I also know there are a lot of hacks out there, whether as consultants or in internal facilitator roles.   I really wonder sometimes where I fit on that continuum.  Do I leave people interested to learn more and strive to be better…or do I leave them exhausted and frustrated?  I’ve always felt that one of the ways that I can tell I’m making an impact is by listening to the questions that people are asking of themselves and each other.  When I hear the language start to change, I feel like I’m leaving a positive impact on those around me.  Maybe that’s a terrible measuring stick…I’m not really sure.  I am sure that I don’t want people to walk away from working with me with the same stories and outlook as my friends have of the people they worked with.  Although I can’t make everyone feel the same about the improvement process, maybe I can try to be a little bit better myself and leave others with better impressions and better stories to tell.  Questioning my career path probably won’t help me get there, but continually striving to be better at what I am trying to do might.

Failing a Test Can Be a Good Thing

Too often we look at failing a test as a negative thing.  The word fail has such a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be negative.  Fail can tell us what something isn’t or where we need to improve.

Failing part of a knowledge test can tell a person where their knowledge gaps are.  Knowing the gaps is the first step in gaining more knowledge.  Filling the gaps leads to better output.

Another way fail is look upon negatively is when testing a condition.  When trying to determine the point of failure or the root cause of something tests are run to verify the hypothesis.

Typically, when a test fails people are disappointed and can even get frustrated.  The assumption people make is they should know everything in their world.  Be the expert.  Being the expert means knowing where the point of failure or root cause is right away.  That can’t always be the case.  If it was, then a lot of the problems would be taken care right away or wouldn’t exist.

Taking the perspective of learning, failing the test and not confirming the hypothesis means you have a better understanding of what it is not.  That is valuable information to know.  Knowing what it is not helps to narrow the search.  Getting you closer to the answer.    Ruling things out is the next best thing to finding the point of cause or the root cause.

Like a doctor.  You go in sick so they test for the flu.  It comes back negative.  You are still sick but at least you know it isn’t the flu.

Concentrate on learning from all tests and failing won’t be such a bad thing.