Author Archives: Joe Wilson

The SMED-ing of Football

I was looking for a change of pace for the whole Pit Crew/Racing example used to illustrate the SMED process.   Maybe I just got frustrated with it because, although it does show an example of a fast changeover, I’m not sure how “Lean” the whole process is.   Luckily, with football season around, I have found a new example to talk about.  (For those who may want to stop now, I’m talking about “American Football”, not what most everybody else in the world calls football.)

Judging by ratings, more people watch the NFL and College Football than motorsports.  That’s kind of important if I want to come up with something other than the tried and true pit crew metaphor.  Chances are if you’ve watched a game over the past few years, the talking heads in the booth have spent some of their time talking about “hurry up” or “blur” or some other variance of a no-huddle offense that is the greatest thing since the forward pass.  This is likely to be a huge topic of conversation early in the NFL season as one of the most well known practitioners, Chip Kelly, has left the University of Oregon and is now performing some degree of his voodoo for the Eagles.  What does that have to do with Lean and changeovers?  Hopefully I can show you.

One of the perceived benefits of the no huddle offense is that you can run more plays in the same amount of time because you can run them faster.  How does that happen?  Well, it starts with looking at a huddle as a changeover.  If you can exchange in your head the whistle stopping the previous play for “last good piece” and being in place for the snap of the ball for “first good piece”, the process is actually quite logical.  Here is a typical huddle:

1

In a no huddle system, you identify the steps in the changeover that don’t add value.  In this example, the steps that don’t add value are the “running back to the huddle” and the “communication in the huddle” steps.  From there, the steps of going to line up in your position and coaches communicating the play have to occur in parallel, and add in speeding up the movement from the end of the last play to getting back to the line for the next play.  The diagram starts to look like this:

2

3Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but it’s not a bad start.  Plus, it makes both watching football and talking about SMED a little more interesting.  (For the sake of clarity, yes, I realize that no-huddle offenses aren’t a new development in the past 2 years.  Also, from a football standpoint the speed of the plays is mostly important because it allows you to constantly tweak the pace of plays being executed so you can outflank the defense…but that’s a topic for another time and place.)

Are there any other good parallels that are in use to talk about SMED or another Lean concept?  In the interest of space, I’ve condensed some of the “how” out of this post.  If you’re interested, post a comment or drop me a line (joewilsonlean at gmail dot com) and we can discuss this concept or your other examples further.

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Wasting Food

A couple weeks back one of the Lean folks that I follow, tweeted about cream being brought along with coffee even though it wasn’t wanted and called this waste.  It made me think about coffee and restaurants quite a bit more than I really wanted.  For the record, I’m pretty sure that the tweet was likely at some level sarcastic and I don’t intend to argue the specific point here so I didn’t bother to look back at who typed it or the exact wording.  If it was your tweet and you’re offended, please don’t be.  Or, if you want credit, let me know and I’ll go look it up.

I started to think about this and I wondered at what level bringing cream with coffee to a person that drinks black coffee is waste.  For the person drinking the coffee, it’s clearly wasteful because they aren’t going to use it and the container is likely in the way.  For the restaurant, you are paying money for ingredients that aren’t adding anything to the customer experience.  On a single point level, that seems to fit the definition of waste to a “T”…so we should form a six sigma project team or set up a 5 day kaizen event to address it, right?  Well, maybe the answer is a bit more nuanced than that.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that these made up facts describe the business condition for our dairy wasting enterprise for their breakfast service:

The restaurant serves an average of 100 customers every morning and each customer has an average ticket of $10 for their food and drinks.  Of these 100 customers, 90% order coffee and 20% like their coffee black.  For each coffee ordered, the input cost of the cream is $0.25.  Let’s add an efficiency loss of 1 minute for every time the server has to retrieve cream when the table wants it, but doesn’t have it.

Putting all of this together in simple Excel math, the restaurant earns $1,000 for the breakfast service and spends $22.50 of that on cream for coffee.   Not all of that $22.50 is waste because 80% will use it, putting the actual cost of the waste at $4.50 worth of cream that doesn’t get used.  That’s around 0.5% of your revenue, not an insignificant amount in the restaurant business.  But, let’s look a step farther…the servers will spend 72 minutes of customer service time retrieving the cream for the tables, impacting the service for at least those 72 diners.  Now, as a restaurant owner, you’re looking at saving $4.50 per breakfast and making it easier for 18 of your customers vs. spending that extra $4.50 and being more efficient for 72 of your customers.  I’d probably make the case that most of the 100 are influenced by the higher workload on the server, but I’m not going to run it through a simulation program to get a pattern.

Don’t like the original estimates, okay…let’s cut the number of customers to 50, assume all order coffee and half like it black.  That moves your wasted cost of cream to $6.25 and number of customers impacted to 25.  Your decision point seems a bit tougher here.

I guess what I’m trying to say through this simplistic example is that, in a lot of cases, the context of defining waste is a bit of a gray area.  Not everything fits in to the handy TIMWOOD’s the same way.  Ideally the cream/no cream quandary is able to be solved with no waste on either side.  I’ve never been a server nor have I ever owned a restaurant, so I’m not sure what the better solution might be in this case.  As a customer, it’s kind of interesting to look at situations like this and realize that just because I don’t want something doesn’t mean it’s wasteful for the provider.  I guess it’s kind of like buying a car where in order to get some feature you do want you end up with some you don’t because it’s more efficient for the manufacturers to build to standard levels of trim and features.

Data Collection Thoughts

One thing that seems to come up a lot in terms of continuous improvement activities is the need for data.  Sometimes there isn’t the right data, sometimes there isn’t enough context to the data, and sometimes there just isn’t any data recorded at all.   I’ve written about data in terms of metrics and measurement systems before, but this time I’m more talking about getting your hands on information that becomes clues to solve your production mysteries.  I don’t believe in substituting data for observation, just in using it narrow the observation lens.

So…what are some of my key thoughts for getting data to make sure you are working on the right stuff?

  • First, make sure your data tool can tell you what you need to know.   If it’s a log sheet of some sort, does it capture major sources of variation such as time, position, cycle, machine, tooling set, etc.?  If it’s a measles chart (or concentration diagram or whatever name you may use), can you really tell the difference in defect locations on it?
  • Next, be willing to sacrifice some clarity in some areas to get an overall picture of the process.  I like to start by targeting about 75% of the data that I’d like to have and adjust it from there if need be.  Most of the time I find that the extra detail I thought I needed wasn’t really necessary at this stage.  I can always build additional data collection if I can’t get what I want from the reduced set.
  • Also, try to make it as easy as possible.  If you can extract what you are looking for from existing shift logs or quality checks or some sort of automated means, go for it.  Adding a layer of work can sometimes lead to reduced data quality for everybody!
  • To go along with the previous item, remember data isn’t usually free.  If you don’t need the data collected indefinitely in the future, set an expiration date on the activity and free up the resources.
  • Lastly, to paraphrase myself, data isn’t a substitute for going to the gemba and seeing the problem for yourself.   Double check the data against what you are seeing with your own eyes to make sure that it can really help you.  This data won’t solve problems for you, but it can help you know which ones are the biggest.

I’m sure there are some other key points that I’ve left out, but there are a few for starters.

Now, I’m sure some of you are asking, “Why waste time on this and why not just go observe the process at the start?”  Good question.  I think this is more of a helping hand to make the best use of time for some operations.  If there are limited resources (and who doesn’t have limited resources?), deploying this in advance of a deep dive can help speed up the search for solutions.  If a process has a long cycle time or unusual frequency, something like this could help identify repeat issues vs one-offs.  I am always looking for the best way to use what I have at my disposal and sometimes it doesn’t fit the textbook methodology.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

Chicken and Eggs

This doesn’t have anything to do with poultry, but more with the age old question of which comes first.  (Although, if you’d like to talk about actual chickens, let me know.)  When pushing forward a continuous improvement mindset, one of the first obstacles is in understanding where your biggest problems are.  This is often an issue because the structure doesn’t exist to gather, compile, and filter data from the operation.  Using an A3 format as an example, it becomes very difficult to get past the first step if you can’t quantify where you are in relation to your ideal state.  Or, if you can’t quantify the relative impact of potential causes on the outcome you are measuring.

In general, this leaves you with a couple of choices.  Choice A is to go forward with what you have and make changes based on what information you have available.  Choice B is to put the brakes on for a while and focus your improvement efforts on improving the measurement and reporting systems.  Both of these options have upside and downside.

If you follow the path of Choice A, you can start down the path of training people in the methodology and mindset of Lean problem solving.  Those are good things, plus you get the visibility of “implementing Lean”.  The downside of this path is that you really don’t have a good idea of the relative scope of issues and you risk working on something that isn’t that impactful or has to be undone when seen in better context.

Following Choice B, you will most likely end up with a more whole understanding of what you should be working on and why.  However, you run the risk of losing support as others don’t see anything happening and people start to question when the “real work” will start.

So…which comes first…the problem solving or the measurement system?  The short answer that I have come across is this:  It depends.  In theory, an effective measurement system highlights the problems that need to be addressed and is a must to have in place.  In practice, not all organizations are patient enough to build the core of the metrics system without pushing the ‘execution’ phase along quickly.  One of the skills involved in leading Lean (or, really, leading anything), is the understanding of where you may or may not have cultural (or individual) support to be patient or you need to “just do it”, building context of the picture on the fly.  As uncomfortable as it may be, your people, your culture, and your environment trump the textbook roadmap almost every time.

More From The Fine Folks At Taylor

About a year ago, when I was merely a “Guest Post”-er, I wrote this little piece about some really interesting things I read about in a book called Guitar Lessons written by the co-founder and namesake of Taylor Guitars.  As a companion to both that post and the one earlier this week with some personal Lean inspiration, I wanted to share another link and story that fits both categories.

(As an aside, it was brought to my attention that I may have quoted an incorrect number in the previous post, but I wasn’t able to get confirmation on that.  If anyone with Taylor would like me to correct it and is willing to help, let me know.)

This really cool piece of information comes in the form of the most recent copy of the company’s magazine “Wood & Steel”  and is written by the other co-founder (and CEO) of the company, Kurt Listug.  (If you clicked on the file, I’m referring to “Kurt’s Corner” that shows up on the left side of the .pdf page 3 or magazine page 4).  In his ‘Corner’, Listug refers to a “Process Improvement Project” that sounds, as a whole, like it was build on some hardcore Lean principles.  I don’t pretend to know enough about what goes on at their facility to make a judgement either way on what or how they are doing what they do.   What I do know is that it excites me to read about companies using these types of concepts (whether built directly on Lean/TPS or not) to do things like 20% increases in daily production, improved quality, reduced queue times from weeks to next day, and growing employment built around value adding work.   These successes, whether I had a hand in them or not, remind me of why I chose to work in this field.  I have no idea what Taylor’s path looks like from here, but I do appreciate reading about companies that are working to try to be the best they can be.

I realize I sound like a fanboy for Taylor and that’s fine.  If I didn’t own a couple of their guitars, I wouldn’t have received the magazine to read in the first place.  But, in addition to the small piece above, I highly recommend at least 2 other pieces in that publication.  The first is a piece on Taylor’s involvement in Ebony supplying in Cameroon.  (It starts on magazine page 12, pdf page 7).  On it’s own, it’s a fascinating story about a company getting involved in its own supply chain, finding a way to work with existing government regulations, creating a better situation for the people and the forests in the area, and pretty much turning that in to a role supplying their competitors.  From a purely business standpoint, I’d read an entire book on the way this evolved, regardless of what company was involved.   The other small piece is from an ongoing bit they started called “What are you working on?” where they talk to people that work in their factories about their jobs.  (Magazine page 28, pdf page 15).  As somebody who is engrossed with manufacturing, I find it fascinating to see what people do in their plants.

I hope you enjoyed reading some of the pieces (if you were able).   I always enjoy seeing what other people are doing to make their business run better and I love finding little bits of inspiration in places where I’m otherwise looking for a distraction.

Have a great weekend!