Monthly Archives: December 2014

Root Cause vs. Containment

A typical response to problem solving is to contain the issue and consider getting to the root cause.  From my experience, this is because people don’t know the difference between root cause and containment.

It can be easier to see in a tangible manufacturing environment.

Problem: A group of products have a broken screw that will cause the product to fail

Containment: Sort all product to find the ones with the broken screws and replace the screws.

Root Cause: Find why the screws were broken in the first place.  Were the screws torqued too much?  Weak screws?

Most people understand the difference when an example like the one above occurs.  But in a business environment, people seem to miss this difference.

Problem: The numbers on paper say the budget is $10 million, but the manager says the budget is $6 million.

Containment: Get an answer to which budget is correct.  $6 million or $10 million?

Root Cause: What caused there to be a discrepancy between the numbers on paper and what is being said?

I see a lot of answers around poor communication or people getting the containment answer and believing they got to the root cause.  We should be finding a root cause to why there was a discrepancy so there isn’t another one in the future that causes delay in the process.

Just because you are able to move the process forward, does not mean you got the root cause.  Take the time and find the root cause.  It may take more time now, but it will save a lot of time in the future.

Happy Holidays from Beyond Lean

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2014 has been an awesome year.  I know the number of blog posts this year dropped and I will work on that next year.  I want to thank everyone for their support and loyalty to reading Beyond Lean.  It means a lot to me.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and a safe New Year’s.

My Continuous Improvement: Personal Kanban – 5th Revision a Success!

In the past, I have posted several times about my experiments with kanban boards for my personal work.  Below are the links to past posts.

The last post shows my failed experiment using Trello.  I kept hearing other people say how much they liked Trello and how it well it worked for them.  It has been about a year since I last tried Trello, so I thought I would give it another shot.

First, I reflected on why Trello didn’t work the first time so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.  There were two things that caused me quit using Trello.  The first was how I separated my work.  I had a board for each project.  I had three projects so that would put my total WIP at 6 (max of 2 for each project).  I had a hard time prioritizing my work and I was flipping between boards constantly.

The second thing I couldn’t work out was a way to include my weekly blog posts.  I got tired of writing the exact same kanban card every week (“Write Blog Post”).

If Trello was going to work for me, I had to be able to deal with these two situations.

In the end, I realized I was making it too complicated.  One board and using the labels would work for me.

New Trello Kanban Board

New Trello Kanban Board – Click image to enlarge

I create five columns to organize my work.

  • Posts to Be Written: This is a list of blog posts with the idea for the post written on each card.  I can move this over to my Doing column when I am ready to write.  It is a visual reminder to mix in my blog posts with my other work.
  • Queue: A list of work to be done.  The color labels in the top left-hand corner signify the type of work or the project.
  • Doing: This is what I am currently working on with a WIP limit of 2
  • Pen: This is a kanban card that is blocked from moving because I am waiting on work or information from someone else.  I put a WIP limit of 3 on this and it seems to work for me.
  • Done: When the work is complete the kanban card goes in this column.  I archive the cards at the beginning of every week.

It’s not fancy, but it is effective.  I now have access to my board at anytime, either on my computer, phone or tablet.  So, if I remember something I can add it right away.

Are you using personal kanban?  If so, how do you have yours set up?

One Man’s Lean Journey: Creating a Pull Factory…EPIC FAIL!

Let’s have fun with this post. See how many things we did wrong in starting this new manufacturing facility and circle them. Hint: circle the entire post.

To this day, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this work because of all the learning that I didn’t come to realize until years later.

I was a 21-year-old intern and had been selected by my manager to help design a brand new manufacturing facility in Mexico. There are only three people involved in this “top secret” plan. My manager, a consultant with an extensive computer simulation background and myself.

The goal was to design the first pull manufacturing facility in the company based on Demand Flow Technology (or DFT). DFT is one person’s interpretation of lean and how production lines need to be flexible enough to run every product at any time. Studying DFT would serve me well later in my career. I also gained a lot of experience in computer simulation of facilities.

I designed a spreadsheet that calculated the storage space required for every component and finished good across the facility based on production rates and size of components and product. This was an input into the simulation to help determine the size of the building.

We finished the design, ground was broken and I went back to school for a semester.

The new facility was opened a couple of weeks before I returned for another session of my internship.

(Pay attention here because this is my favorite part)

The Mexico facility was replacing a local U.S. facility. The company shut the U.S. facility down on a Friday and started up the new facility in Mexico on the following Monday. No ramp up for the new facility. It started it’s first production after the other facility was shutdown. There was no training of management or employees on what a “pull” facility meant and how it would be different. It was a “here is a new pull facility go run it like you ran other facilities.”

Within a month, there were over 115 tractor trailers on the parking lot storing components and finished goods. Inside the facility, finished goods were piled in any opening they could find. Television sets that were supposed to be stacked three high were six high and leaning over about ready fall. It was a complete disaster.

My manager and I were called to the floor. We were told our design and space requirements were wrong and we needed to go to Mexico and fix the problem.

I spent two days pouring over my calculations and could not find a single thing that was wrong. We got to the facility and spent a few days watching production, examining the inbound and outbound process and locating parts in the facility and in the parking lot. It became very clear that no management practices had been changed and the facility was operating in traditional batch push system.

We spent a month helping to change a few processes and get the inventory under a manageable control, but the overall solution from the high powered executives was to expand the building and keep operating as is. Not change the management practices and improve the processes.

I can’t understate what a disaster this was. Truly an enormous cluster. It was a few years later when I was leading a lean transformation in automotive that I realized how valuable that experience was.

Reflections:

  • Having only three people involved in the design of a new facility, especially going from push to pull, is a very bad idea. It should be a larger collaborative effort. This will even help with buy-in a when the changes are made.
  • Simulations are an incredible tool, but are useless when you simulate one set of assumptions and another is put into practice
  • Absolutely no ramp up time for the new facility…Really!?! I am still speechless on this one.
  • If you are switching from a push to a pull system, you have to train everyone from the plant manager down on how this is different and how to manage in the new system. This is crucial.
  • There must be knowledgeable support for the entire facility when going from push to pull. Help everyone work through the kinks of the new processes and not allow them to fall back on old ways.
  • Most important, when something goes wrong, learn and change to improve don’t fall back to old ways just because it is comfortable. In this case, it cost millions to expand the facility instead of learning new processes.

One Man’s Lean Journey: Respect People and They Will Fight for You

RCA_TVMy internship with Thomson Consumer Electronics (TCE) gave me a lot of learning opportunities. One of the biggest learnings I had was around people.

The assignment was to oversee the completion of rebuilding several hundred television sets. This was back in the day of picture tubes and rear projection TVs. The sets would be sold in discount shops across the country.

The manufacturing facility was well known for its union and their insanity to horn-swaggle the company. The assignment typically takes 7-8 weeks. I was given a union crew and the production area was set up a good 1/4 mile from the nearest production area.

The first week went bye with no problem. Then in the second week we started encountering hiccups in our production. The typical stuff. We didn’t have the parts we needed, there was no one to move the product for us and even some good old-fashioned infighting in the group.

I pulled the team together and we discussed not having the parts we needed. I asked them how we should be producing the TVs. What sequence would work best? They commented they had never been asked for their ideas before. The team came up with a sequence based on their knowledge and a process to get the parts. Every afternoon, one of the employees and I would look at what we have completed and look at what was next on the schedule and determine what parts we would need. I would drive my car over the main plant, gather the parts with the employee and help her carry them back to my car.

I addressed the issue with fighting employees as well. We had one-on-ones and worked through their issues of working together.

Our production rate sky-rocketed. It was almost double what I was told we would be able to do based on past history.

Then came the bombshell. One afternoon, a union steward showed up in my area and proceeded to yell at me in the middle of the production area so everyone could hear. Apparently, helping someone carry heavy boxes so they don’t get hurt and helping my employees move TVs is going to put the union out of a job. He was threatening to file a grievance against me.

Being 21-years-old, I didn’t take too kindly to the yelling, especially in front of the employees. So, I proceeded to yell right back about how I will do whatever it takes to help my employees get the work done and he could….well you can use your imagination for the rest.

It wasn’t 45 minutes later, my manager for this project was out there trying to cool me off and telling me to play the union game. I was shocked at how quickly he collapsed to the union. Ridiculous! Truly pissed me off. I told him that if he wanted me to stop then the union needs to stop delaying my work.

This is a lot of back story to get to this. The union employees on my team went to the union head and got the steward to back off. When I asked them why they would do that, the response was “Because we like working for you and you stuck up for us. We should stick up for you.”

My parents had always instilled in me to treat everyone with respect. And this was a moment where that lesson truly became ingrained in me forever.

We finished the project in 4.5 weeks. Almost half the expected time. As a thank you, I gave them a half day “off” where we hung out in our production area and I bought pizza for the team. It really was something I will never forget.

Reflections:

* People appreciate being treated with respect more than anything else you could give them
* Involve the people in improving the work and they will work hard to make sure it gets implemented properly
* Once people feel safe in giving ideas, then the floodgates will open