Monthly Archives: January 2015

Get Rid of the Email Distractions

Note: I want to give a big shout out to Dan Markovitz, author of A Factory of One.  It is an excellent book on how to gain efficiency in your personal work.  Dan outlines things you can do in regards to email that will help with efficiency.  While I have been doing almost all of the suggestions for a few years now, Dan did have one suggestion that was new to me and helped me with a problem I was having.  I have implemented the suggestion and it works very well.  I will point it out below.

On with the blog post.

email-logoWe all want to improve our efficiency and free up time.  In my personal work and in observation, one of the biggest culprits of causing inefficiencies is email.  Here are three things I have done to help eliminate some of the distractions and inefficiencies email causes me.

1. Turn off Email Notifications: In Outlook, I have turned off all notifications of incoming email.  Nothing popping up in the bottom corner showing a new email has arrived.

Result: When I am working on something I don’t catch the notification out the corner of my eye distracting me causing the back of my mind to have to know what the email was about.  I stay focused on my work and can finish what I was doing.

On my phone, I have turned off the lights, sound and vibration of new email notification.  There are two reasons: 1) if I am in a meeting and it is making noise or vibrating it is distracting me and others from the meeting and 2) if I am working at my desk is acts the same as the Outlook notification as it beeps or vibrates or flashes on my desk next to me.

Results: I am not distracted by incoming emails at all during meetings or while working at my desk.

2. Open Mail Software to Calendar: This was the new suggestion I found in Dan’s book.  Thanks, Dan!  When I open Outlook, it opens to my calendar.  Not my Inbox!  Most mornings, I have a quick email I thought of on the way into work that I have to send when I get in, but I was getting distracted by waiting email in my inbox.  I might even forget to send the original email I went to write.

Results: I am able to send an email from the calendar view by selecting New Items –> Email Message from the menu at top.  I always finish the email I intended to send out and I am not distracted by the other messages in my inbox.  I don’t check email first thing in the morning and get off on the email tangent.  I am able to complete something off my personal kanban board before checking email.  I feel more productive and less distracted.

3. Use the 4D’s: I have been doing this for a few years, but never had a name for it until I read Dan’s book.  When I decide I have time to process my emails I do one of four things: 1) Do it: reply back if it is a short reply or completed the action if it is less than 5 minutes, 2) Delegate it: delegate the work to someone that can help, 3) Designate it: for me this means if it is a larger task I add it to my personal kanban board or 4) Delete it: I have read it and don’t need it.

Results: My inbox is not cluttered with messages that I lose.  I know what I have to process when I go into my inbox.  I don’t loose track of requests made of me via email.

One last thing.  Just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you have to read and respond immediately so don’t feel like you have to be hovering over your email waiting for it.  If the person needs an immediate response, they can call.  That is what a phone is for.  We all have one in our pockets nowadays.  Note: I do know some jobs require constant monitoring of email, like an order processor. 

How have your improved your efficiency with your email practices?

One Man’s Lean Journey: Gain Respect and Deliver What the Customer Desires

I spent about a year working as an Industrial Engineer at Guardian before I got on opportunity to move into the Program Manager position. In this role, I was responsible for managing every engineering change that came through the facility. That could be a new paint color, new components or even a complete redesign with tool modifications. This covered over 5,000 part numbers and at least 10 customers.

Not only was there the external customers, but there were the internal customers. I had to work with the corporate design engineers and product managers as well as the facility’s engineers and senior staff. I had to make sure we were still profitable with the changes. It was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. This is where I learned how to listen to customers wants and combine them with our capabilities.

Being focused on the customer and delivering what they would like does not mean bending over backwards and just caving to every demand they have. It means have a respectful relationship and working together to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes it was easy. They customer would want a new paint color. I would work with the paint supplier to get the color developed, tested and approved. A pretty standard process and well within our capability.

Sometimes it was much more difficult. One customer wanted their grille of their flagship vehicle to have a “smoked chrome” look like it did in Japan. The look was very popular and they wanted to carry it over to the U.S. The issue was the paint they used in Japan was not legal in the U.S. because of the amount of VOCsNissan_Maxima. I worked with a team that sat down with the customer and understood what the “smoked chrome” look they were trying to achieve. It took over six months of development with our paint supplier and our process engineers to get the desired look.

All along the way the customer understood the effort we were going through and how complicated it was to get the desired look. Because of this, they agreed to pay a much higher than standard price for the grille. More importantly, a trust and a relationship had grown between our companies. One of respect and understanding. Our efforts to give the customer what they wanted but stay within our facilities capabilities made us a preferred supplier. Nothing was as complicated as that moving forward but when changes where needed, the customer took the approach of “this is what we are looking for. What can you do?”

It was a great lesson in serving the customer without bending on what your purpose and capabilities are in a way that benefits everyone.

Reflections:

  • When working directly with the external customer, you must keep in mind your capabilities and core strengths and help deliver within those parameters. It can create some creativity.
  • Must focus on the external customer first but you can’t forget the internal customer as well.
  • Being firm, but reasonable can help garner trust and a strong relationship. When you give them everything not matter what it does to you, it doesn’t gain respect but one of dominance by the customer

Quick Lean Survey

A friend and fellow blogger, Tony Ferraro reached out to ask me to take a quick survey on lean.  It took me 3 minutes to complete.  In doing so, I thought it would be great if the Beyond Lean readers could help Tony as well.  The survey will take less than five minutes of your time.  He is going to share the results on his blog at Creative Supply.

Here is the link to the survey: Tony’s Survey

Thanks for your participation.

One Man’s Lean Journey: Discovering Lean for the First Time

My time at Thomson Consumer Electronics came to an abrupt end as the company went from 2,000 people in the U.S. to 250 people in a years time. I got a job with Guardian Automotive. The facility I was hired into specialized in exterior plastic trim. Guardian’s customers included almost everyone during the five years I was there: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Harley-Davidson, BMW, International and Freightliner to name a few.

The first few months was very frustrating. My manager and I were trying to make process changes that made since to us in order to reduce WIP. We wanted to move assembly next to the paint lines so there was no paint inventory, but people fought this at every turn.

Then a big change happened. Guardian got a new VP of manufacturing and he brought in his director of lean. We were going to be a lean company. After years of studying Shingo and using lean tools, this was the first time I had heard the term “lean”.

Everyone got pulled off-site for an intro to lean and a hands-on balloon simulation showing pull vs push. During the simulation, I leaned over to my manager and whispered, “This is what we have been trying to do for months with the paint lines.” I was anxious to see how things would go now. The couple hour simulation was the extent of our lean training. We were told to “go do”.

Talk about ‘deer in the headlights’ after that. No real training and being told to “go be lean”.

The first thing my manager and I did was re-establish the idea of connecting the assembly area to the paint lines. We discussed it with the plant manager and how it would be like the balloon simulation. We had his support and were able to complete the work within a few weeks.

Over the next few years, the facility became a lean playground for myself, Joe Wilson (who also blogs on Beyond Lean), and our manager. We learned something, tried it, screwed it up, fixed it and made huge progress.

Our time was a huge success in that the plant went from $500k in the red on $120 million sales to $8.5 million in the black on $90 million sales in three years. But it was a huge failure as well. We had phenomenal support to make the changes we did, but we didn’t change the leadership’s thinking. After we all left the plant was back in the red in about a year.

I don’t say that to too our own horn, but as a lesson in how important it is to change people’s thinking and behaviors in order to sustain the change.

I will be diving deeper into my experiences at Guardian moving forward.

Reflections:

  • It is critical to not only have the support of leadership but to change their mindsets and behaviors in order to maintain the changes during a lean implementation
  • Top down support makes an enormous difference in the work you can accomplish and the time to accomplish it

One Man’s Lean Journey: Simulation Helps to Fail Fast, Fail Cheap

In a previous post, I talked about learning a software package that allows people to model and simulate a factory before making any physical changes. After the building of the factory that failed to implement pull, my role was to model current production lines when changes were recommended and to model the proposed model lines for new products.

One of the new production lines that I modeled was for a new television technology. The Liquid Crystal on Silicone (LCoS) television sets. This technology was about a year ahead of LCD TVs and was cheaper to produce. It was only 18 inches deep which is laughable now but at the time was about half as deep as typical big scree projection TVs.

The manufacturing engineers came up with a design for the new production line. By all means, it looked like a line that would meet the production needs and on paper the number of stations and equipment needed looked perfect.

The model was built and simulated with actual unit testing data as well as workstation operation times. It was a great thing we did, because we could have had another fiasco if we didn’t.

The simulation showed the back of the line being severely starved and the front of the line being overwhelmed. The line would have produced at only 66% of the rate it needed to run. The animation of the simulation showed how many TV sets were being kicked out into the rework loop and the backup it caused. It was a perfect example of the Markov Chain in real-life.

We were able to redesign the production line to be 33% shorter and have the ability to produce at a rate high enough to meet demand and allow for growth with no investment.

This was a great example of fail fast, fail cheap. It took less than a month to build the simulation, test, analyze, rework and get approved. The company saved thousands of dollars and the product went to market on time.

I know simulation software packages aren’t cheap, but it was cheaper than building the production line seeing the failure in real-life and then scrambling to fix it or build a second line.

How does your company fail fast, fail cheap?

Reflections:

  • The value of prototyping and understanding before going full out is ALWAYS understated
  • Simulating with cardboard boxes to computer software is an important part of making changes, especially big changes.
  • Always better to fail early on with something that doesn’t cost much vs. finding the failure in full production mode. Doesn’t matter if it is a new marketing idea (test in an area) or manufacturing.