Monthly Archives: July 2013

NDAs…Disrespectful?

I know that in today’s world there seems to be a lot more innovation happening.  If you are innovating you are dying.  At least that is what you are led to believe.  Companies now are requiring employees to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) just to work on a new project within the company.

How are we going to produce this new product?  Sign an NDA.

What new products are we working on? Sign an NDA.

How will we work as a new organization and what will it look like?  Sign an NDA.

NDAs are being signed for any significant work and it seems to be getting worse with the work environment today.

I find this to violate one major tenet of lean.  Respect for People.

The NDAs don’t allow for people to discuss the project internally with other members for the company.  This screams “We don’t trust you enough to let you know about this without reacting inappropriately.”

This counter productive to being transparent, which is discussed at great lengths with showing respect for people.

Imagine the scenario of developing a new product or program but it can’t be discussed openly until it is about ready to roll out.  Does the company truly not trust their employees enough that it won’t be blabbed all over the internet?

Rumors always swirl.  Rumors tend to lean towards the negative.  Why not get out in front of it?  Why not control it?  Explain the new product/program.  How the company expects it to help and why it came about.  This gets a good message out and reduces the rumors.  It shows the trust and respect for the employees.  It makes for a better work environment.

I understand there is a time and place for NDAs.  Just evaluate how often you are using them and really question yourself to understand if it is truly necessary.

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Two Second Improvements Daily

There is a lot discussion around big changes and improvements from lean thinking.  Usually, this discussion is around how to realign manufacturing processes in cells or value streams or sitting people across a value stream together for better communication in a business process.

What isn’t talked about enough is driving to the 2 second improvement every day.  This is something Paul Akers does very well at FastCap.  He even has a YouTube video of 2 second improvements at home.

I have taken a page from his book and done this with my routine at the gym in the morning.  After working out, I get ready for work at the gym.  I used to just grab everything out of my shaving bag and put it on the counter.  Then I noticed I always brush my teeth first.  I was taking my toothpaste out of the bag first, setting it on the counter, getting everything else out, then picking up the toothpaste, put it on my brush and then putting the toothpaste back on the counter.  Later I would put the toothpaste back in the bag.

My 2 second improvement.  I get everything out of my bag first.  The second to last thing I get out is my toothbrush and the last thing is my toothpaste.  I don’t set it down though.  I get the toothpaste out, use it and place it right back in my bag.  When I am done with my toothbrush, it goes right back in the bag too.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but combined with other improvements I have started to save significant time in the morning.  It allows me more time to workout.

What 2 second improvements have you made?

Employee Engagement Starting to Be Recognized

It looks like others are finally catching on to something the lean community has been talking about for years.  Employee engagement benefits companies in many ways.  The article talks about how employee engagement does more than just boost productivity.  It helps with absenteeism, delivering company results and turnover rate.

Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research explained what engaged employees do differently in an email interview: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  If you are engaged and part of the solution and the work then you pay attention and take it personally.

Harter also reiterates things the lean community has been trying to get people to understand for year.

Engaged employees “listen to the opinions of people close to the action (close to actual safety issues and quality or defect issues), and help people see the connection between their everyday work and the larger purpose or mission of the organization.” When engaged employee do this they create a virtuous circle where communication and collaboration nurture engagement and vice versa.

I appreciate the studies Harter has done, but why do we need studies to know and understand all of this.  Lean organizations did read a study and then engage their people.  Lean organizations engaged their people out of respect.  Looking at people as more than just ‘hands and feet.’  When they did they saw all these benefits.  Lean organizations have been trying to tell others this for years.

It is amazing that studies have to be done to understand this ‘phenomenon’.

So how can we engage our people?

One way to simplify it is to focus on purpose. Communicate the purpose of the organization, and how employees’ individual purposes fit into that purpose. When employees “clearly know their role, have what they need to fulfill their role, and can see the connection between their role and the overall organizational purpose,” says Harter, that’s the recipe for creating greater levels of engagement.

Well said.

How are you engaging your people?

Managers Are Crucial to Problem Solving Success

One of the fundamental differences in a lean company versus a traditional company is how they go about problem solving.  In a traditional management company, problems are hidden and managers want the problem “solved” and move on.  This usually leads to problems having band-aides being put into place.  Later the same problem surfaces again and another band-aide is put on again.

In a lean management company, problems are looked as a way to get better and are not hidden.  Managers want the root cause of the problem found so the issue doesn’t arise again.

In both traditional and lean mindsets, I do believe that managers want the issue resolved so that is never arises again.  It is there behaviors that truly dictate whether a band-aide is put on the problem or if the root cause is found.

A traditional mindset manager continually asks, “Is it solved yet?” or “When will it be solved?” or something very similar.  They are pushing for action to be taken without understanding anything about the problem.  It is a ‘just solve it and lets move on’ mentality.  Hurry up!

A lean mindset manager asks questions also, but more to get an understanding of how your process is coming along and driving to complete the next step of the process.  Questions might be something like, “What have you discovered about the problem?” or “What have you learned?”.  The manager understands there will be a lot of time spent in the discovery mode investigating the problem.  The manager supports the process and helps the person through the process.

An example from my personal experience.  I was working on an issue that had been around for 40 years.  Everyday my manager asked, “When are you going to have that solved?”  Finally, I said “The problem has been around for 40 years and no one has solved it.  I think I get 3 months not a week.”  Not the smartest thing to say to your manager but in this case it gave me some room to find the root cause, which the team did.

Later that year there was another issue that we had to work 16 hour days to solve but we followed the process and we nailed it.

After that extremely hot issue, my manager saw the benefit of following the process.  He then would ask, “Where are you on that problem?  Are there roadblocks I can help with?”

It really changed the environment to problem solve.  In fact, the problem solving process started moving faster and he ended up getting the results he wanted faster.

The lesson was the manager’s mindset, attitude and support around problem solving creates the type of results gotten.

What is your mindset towards problem solving and supporting your employees?

JIT…A Failure Story

During the past weekend, I end up reflecting on how I have spent some summers of the past.  I don’t know why.  I just did for some reason.  There was one summer 17 years ago that ended sticking in my mind that I thought I would share.

I was working for a consumer electronics company that had manufacturing in the U.S. and in Mexico.  One fall, I was asked to help design a new manufacturing facility to be built in Mexico and they wanted it to be a Just-In-Time facility.  This was my first time hearing about JIT, so I read up on the concept.  Of course, 17 years ago almost all the material was about what it was and not how it worked.

The goal was to only have 2 hours of production materials at the production lines.  I made a super fancy spreadsheet that showed how much square footage was needed in each area based on line speed, shelving, component size, packaging, etc…

In July, I was approached again and asked if I would spend the month in Mexico straightening out what was going on.  The JIT system wasn’t working.  There wasn’t enough room for everything.

My boss and I went over the spreadsheet three times before we went on our visit and verified all the calculations and formulas.  It was all fine.

When we arrived the first day, we toured the plant.  We where horrified.  Televisions that were designed to stack 3 high were stacked 6 or 7 high.  Boxes were being crushed and leaning.  They looked like they could fall at any minute.  Areas that were not designed for storage were stuffed and there were approximately 100 trailers in the parking lot with materials in them.

This was a brand new facility.  It had only been open about 1 or 2 months.  It was a disaster.

The first thing I learned was there was no ramp up period.  On a Friday, one facility was closed.  The following Monday this facility was opened and expected to run at full capacity.  I had never seen any company do that before or since.  There is always a ramp up period.

The second thing we learned and more importantly was there had been no training on JIT, what it was or how it worked.  The facility was operating under old batch-n-queue mentality causing space to quickly fill up.

My manager and I were able to get the inventory under control through some strict inventory management processes and even get a more consistent delivery of materials to the assembly lines.

In the end, the company was not ready to run any differently.  It was a shame.  They ended up expanding the building and continued to run in a batch-n-queue manner.  I believe the facility has been closed in the last 3 or 4 years.

It was my first exposure to JIT and all that it takes to run a JIT system successfully.  I call it a system because it isn’t just about space and delivering parts.  It is the management mentality to reduce changeovers, run in much smaller batches and solve problems.  It really showed me how everything must work together.

Does anyone else have any horror stories from trying to implement a just-in-time system?

Guest Post: Can Lean be Taught to Children?

blogphotoToday’s post is from Tony Ferraro, on behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR (www.creativesafetysupply.com). Tony strives to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. His knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. Tony believes in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier employees.

Lean is something that is often associated with businesses and focuses mainly on reducing waste and adding value. However, lately I have been pondering the thought “Can lean be taught to children?” Wouldn’t it be great if children learned the concepts of lean at a young age? My mind literally boggles at the sheer possibilities. I’m not talking about sitting children down in a classroom and teaching them lean exclusively like reading or math, but instead just weaving the concepts of lean through life’s regular and everyday activities.

Imagine the Possibilities

The concepts of lean have been credited with high levels of success in the workplace, so why can’t the same concepts be beneficial in other areas of life as well? The truth is, they CAN! Creating a generation of innovative thinkers, ready to add value to society sounds like a pretty wonderful idea to me. Many of us have not been introduced to the concepts of lean until later in life, and unfortunately our minds have not had the opportunity to truly expand and grow with the concept. However, we can change that with the introduction of lean.

How to Start the Lean Mindset

The first thing we have to remember is that children are just children. We cannot expect them to act like adults. However, one of the benefits of starting lean concepts early is that when children are young their minds are very malleable. If children are taught to reduce waste and participate in value added activities early in life, that mindset will usually follow them through into adulthood. The key is to really start out simple and introduce the obvious and most tangible ways to reduce waste. This may include engaging in activities such as reusing and recycling. Instead of simply throwing out old clothing that does not fit, teach children that it can be reused and given to places such as the “Goodwill” or “The Salvation Army” so other children can wear the clothing, thus adding value for another person. Engaging in activities such as this puts the act of reducing waste into terms that children can understand. Furthermore, children can also be involved with activities such as household chores to practice lean. In fact, lean can be weaved into even the simplest task such as dish washing. For example, loading a dishwasher by putting all forks in one compartment and all spoons in another takes less time to unload since the flatware has already been separated. Doing this reduces wasted time.

The possibilities are limitless when it comes to the lean mindset. The truth is that lean can be implemented anywhere and everywhere; it is not just strictly for business use. When lean concepts are implemented and practiced at an early age they become just a normal part of life. Providing children with the tools necessary to be independent thinkers, who are capable of seeking improvement and reducing unneeded waste, will help to create a society of endless possibilities and opportunities.

Accounting Systems Can Drive Bad Decisions

It amazes me how companies will setup an accounting system this is designed to drive bad decisions.

Recently, I have been working with a client on improving an internal process to the team.  During the direct observation with the order writer something very interesting surfaced.

The order writer can write orders to be processed one of two ways.  The order writer said that method A costs $400 and only takes 1.5 hours to write the order.  While method B costs $30 and takes 2 days to write the order.

I asked where the costs came from because the orders are processed by another internal group.  The order writer said it is the cost of systems and labor time for that group and they charge back the order writing team the cost of each order.

The internal order processing group is managed as a Profit and Loss center.  They are treated like a company.

Sadly, I have seen this accounting set up quite a bit.  Even the support groups like IT, HR, etc… are setup as P&L centers.

This drives decisions to be made that are not in the best interest of the company.

In this case, the order writer is considered value added because they are changing the order to get product to customers.  They help generate revenue.  Half of order processing is non-value added (entering all the information they get from the order writers) while half is value added (executing the order).

Because the business gets charged back over 10 times more the cost per order for the more automated order, the value added order writers are asked to take 2 days write an order which then adds actual hard dollar cost because it takes more order writers to get the orders written and submitted.

What is wrong with being a support center, knowing it and accounting for it?  Why does everything have to be a P&L center to “prove” it’s value?

The places who treat support areas like support areas and don’t worry about P&L centers for everything don’t typically make decisions like the one above.  They understand how a supporting area adds value and don’t feel the need to quantify it in a P&L statement.

Have  you encountered this in your work?

Happy Independence Day!!!

fireworks_in_dcToday is independence day in the U.S.  A day to celebrate our freedoms that make this country wonderful.  Because of my freedom of speech I can start a blog on the internet and babble about anything I want.  It is nothing to take lightly.

It is a great time to take a break and reflect on our country’s freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.

I hope everyone enjoys the day.

Asking the Data Geeks to Use Good Problem Solving

The other day I was catching up on reading some blogs.  I came across one on the Harvard Review Blog titled “Seven Questions to Ask Your Data Geek.”

The title drew me in because I can be a data geek myself sometimes.

The seven questions caught my eye very quickly.  When you read them you can see they are related to what good problem solvers with lean thinking ask.

  1. What problem are you trying to solve?  You want to be sure there is a problem to solve and not just a band aide or a just going and implementing something the customer wants.  You want to truly understand what is needed.  This is the first question to ask because it helps to define the problem.
  2. Do you have a deep understanding of what the data really means?  Read between the lines and it says to get off your rump and go and see what is really happening.  The data is a good directional start, but how are people gathering the data?  How are people using the data?  The person needs to understand what is really happening.
  3. Should we trust the data? Now that you have gone out and seen how the data is really gathered, can we use the data to help with the problem we are trying to solve?  Do we need to gather different data to better understand the problem?
  4. Are there  “big factors”, preconceived notions, hidden assumptions or conflicting data that could compromise your analysis?  This is still getting at drilling deeper and understanding the current state for the data.  During the problem solving process you should be spending about 75% of the time just understanding what is really going on before looking for solutions.  As you can see the first four questions are about understanding the current state.
  5. Will your conclusions standup to the scrutiny of our markets, moderately changing conditions, and a “worst-case scenario?” Now that you have deeper understood the current state, you start looking for solutions.  Will the solution hold up?  Are you getting to the true root cause of the problem?  Will the problem be eliminated?
  6. Who will be impacted and how?  Now that you understand the problem and have a solution you need to know how this will affect the business.  Change management should always be a piece of the problem solving process, because changes always affect people.  Sometimes they embrace the change it if helps them a lot.  Sometimes they don’t embrace the change, so always be aware.
  7. What can I do to help?  Always be willing to help fix the problem.  Don’t always leave it to someone else.

These are seven great questions to ask anyone when problem solving, not just your data geek.