Category Archives: Flow
My family and I had a nice day at Schlitterbahn waterpark a couple of weeks back. It was a lot fun and the rides were great. While waiting in line for each of the slides, I couldn’t help but think about the very poor value stream management for the rides.
For one set of three slides, the line was split in two. For two particular slides the line was to the right and for the third slide the line was on the left. When you got to the top the lines then crossed each other causing a ton of confusion and a park employee trying to keep the lines separate and correct. See the diagram below.
Also, if one of the first few didn’t want to ride one of the two slides from the line on the right then that slide would sit idle for a few minutes until the riders on the other slide unclogged the line. It was a waste of time and use of the one slide.
There was a second group of three slides at another part of the park. At this group of slides, two of them needed mats to ride down and the third needed a tube to ride the slide. They didn’t mark this line with two separate lines so people had to tell you there were two lines. Also, the mats for two of the slides were not stored at the entrance to the slides but at the exit. You had to fight people through the exit, get a mat, then walk back around to the entrance. All the tubes were stored at the entrance for the one slide. This caused over an hour wait for the one slide but only a 10 minute wait for the 2 slides with the mats.
The way the park handled the value streams for the slides caused unbalanced lines and confusion for anyone that had not been there before. It was a great lesson in making things visual and easy to understand in order to make a better experience for the customer.
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?
Flow is a concept that lean teaches about how a product/service moves from beginning to end. When the product/service stops there is a disruption in the flow. This is when inventory starts to build between two steps in the process.
With the functional mentality, people only worry about optimizing each machine, without regard to the flow. The thought is, “I have to run this machine as fast as I can and get as much product out as possible.”
The hard part for people with this mentality to understand is the product/service will only move as fast as the slowest operation. No exceptions. Period.
Take a simple process like doing laundry at home. My dryer is always slower than my washer, so when I have multiple loads of laundry to do nothing moves faster than the time it takes to complete a dryer cycle.
I move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer and start the dryer. Then I add another load to the washer and start the washer. The washer always finishes at least 15 minutes before the dryer. Instead of taking the laundry out of the washer and piling the wet clothes in a laundry basket, I let them sit in the washer. Knowing the dryer is the slow part of the process, it would do me know good to start another load of laundry in the washer because it still won’t end before all the other loads have finished in the dryer.
This is how we should look at the flow of our processes at work. It does no good to buy equipment or change the process to speed up a part of the process that is not the slowest step. In the end, the product/service is still being completed at the same rate.
What is the dryer in your process?
The city in the U.S. that I live in has started installing more and more roundabouts. The reasoning is it is “easier” for traffic flow. I don’t find that to be the case at all. I find them to be a pain to maneuver around and a hindrance to traffic flow. Many others that I have discussed this with believe the same thing.
But they are used in Europe to help with traffic flow is the argument I get back from time to time. “Who cares!” was my reaction.
Now imagine my chagrin when I discovered I was spending 2 weeks in the United Kingdom on business. My buddy and I spent a lot of time driving around the UK. To my surprise, the roundabouts were quite helpful and did help traffic flow.
Change in attitude? No. Change in reason. Yes.
In the U.S. for the most part the roads are set up in a grid pattern and most intersections crossed perpendicular to each other causing 4-way stops. In the UK many roads would come together with anywhere from 3 to 7 options of directions to go. When there were 4 choices the streets were almost never perpendicular to each. A stop sign or light would be very difficult so the roundabout was used. See the pictures below:
As I drove more and more in the UK, I noticed how the roundabout did help traffic flow when streets weren’t perpendicular. When streets were perpendicular stop lights were used with turn lanes just like in the U.S.
Cities are copying the roundabout as a solution for all traffic flow issues without understanding what it can be best used for. This is why it is best to understand why solutions or countermeasures are put into place so you know when and how best to apply that learning.
Don’t copy solutions. Learn from them.
A few weeks ago, Ultimate Factories on National Geographic premiered an episode about LEGO. My son is a HUGE LEGO fan and seems to have almost the whole LEGO City setup. So this episode really caught our attention.
My son loved watching the artist/builders design the new Police Station and seeing all the sets being made in the factory. What caught my attention were the things that seemed lean like.
Here is the full episode. It is 45 minutes long. Below are some highlights I picked out with time markers as to where they are at in the video.
(1:15 – 4:10 in video) Right off the bat, the show describes how the artist/builders go about designing a product. The product manager takes his team out to real life sites of what they want to build to study them. They look at what the site has and needs to feel authentic. It is truly direct observation of what the team wants to build.
(6:40 – 10:00 in video) LEGO takes full advantage of standardization as much as possible. The Police Station turned out to be a 700+ piece set, but none of the pieces are new and require tooling to be made. Because the designers were able to build the Police Station out of existing pieces they were able to use that budget to design a police dog that is brand new adding to the experience. My lean lens sees this as cost management in order to reinvest in innovation. The innovation leads to a better experience and more revenue.
(36:12 – 36:20 in vide0) The video does not talk about 5S but there is some evidence of it. In this clip, you can see the tape outlines on the floor for the staging of finished product.
(36:20 – 38:10 in video) In the 1990s, LEGO went through a period when sales were declining. LEGO decided to go and see why this was happening. They discovered their products were not meeting the needs of the adult customer, which is 50% of their market. People were hacking the Mindstorm systems and creating bigger sculptures with the robotics. They didn’t try to shut the hackers down. LEGO embraced them and created new products. They still invite customers to come in and help with designs. They are focusing on customers needs. Everything starts with the customer.
These are some of the quick examples I picked out. If you notice, nothing I saw focused on lean manufacturing although I believe I saw some lean like things in manufacturing and distribution too.
I would highly recommend watching the full video because it touches on every aspect of business. From customer focus to product development to manufacturing to logistics. It is very complete. If you are a LEGO fan, this video is a must see.
In the comments below, tell me what you saw from a lean perspective. What did I miss?
Last weekend, I encountered the pain of single piece flow during our master bathroom remodel. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard to do. This was one of those instances.
As my wife and I were tiling the around the tub and inside the shower we knew we would need a lot of cuts. We knew we couldn’t just measure and cut a bunch of pieces to fit because of the odd angles. This is where the single piece flow comes in. My wife would measure a piece and mark it out. I would run downstairs and out into the driveway, cut the piece and then bring it back up to her. When I got back she would have finished installing the previous piece and measure out the next piece. I would take the next piece and go cut it and bring it back.
The pain was physical. I have never climbed up and down so many stairs in a day. I felt like I was back in high school and the basketball coach had gotten mad at the team and told us to hit the stairs. Usually, I am at my standup desk. Not today! I am sitting in my chair.
As hard as that got to be, it was the right thing for this part of the project. We would have wasted more tile with bad cuts if we would have tried to forecast what was needed.
Understanding when single piece flow is necessary can be key. Sometimes people try to fit everything to a single piece flow as a first step in their lean transformation. Understanding the work being done and what waste may be created by doing batch vs. single piece is the first step to know how and when to implement single piece flow.
Off to heat my legs. There is still more tiling to do.
I have to admit this post is partly a rant and partly an example when single piece flow might have been taken too far.
This past weekend I was McDonald’s with my family. We all ordered burgers and fries. We were the only ones in restaurant in line. Of course, the register furthest from the fry bin was where we placed our order. After our burgers were made and put on the try the worker went to get our fries. I was glad he waited until the burgers were finished because it took a few minutes. I thought he was trying to keep our fries nice and warm.
Then it happened. I get hit with single piece flow.
The worker walked slowly over to the fry bin. I mean slowly. Filled ONE small bag of fries and then slowly walked back to the counter and placed it on the tray. Then he walked slowly back to the fry bin. Of course, there was someone from the drive-thru filling fries so he waited. Then he filled ONE small bag of fries and slowly walked back to the counter and placed the fries on the tray. He did this two more times. Each time waiting for the drive-thru worker to fill 2 or 3 fries.
I think I needed a clamp to shut my mouth it was open so wide in shock.
By the time I got all the fries and got back to the table the first two bag of fries were cold. There was no way I was going back up to ask for more.
There is a time for single piece flow and there is a time for a batch. The worker had a confirmed order and it was paid for. At that point, batching could be an acceptable solution to move the work through the process.
As much as I push for single piece flow, always be aware of the process and situation and understand what is best to meet the customers’ needs.
A few years back I had the pleasure of setting up my first kanban system. At least one that I was consciously setting up, unlike the one I blogged about in the past. Joe Wilson, my recent guest blogger, and I were tasked with developing a kanban system, train 550 people across 3 shifts using a simulation we develop, and implement all within 8 weeks.
(click on image to see larger version)
This was no small task as you can imagine. The facility had 4 main process: injection molding, painting, electroplating, and assembly. The processes were spread out over 450,000 square feet. We also thought the only way anyone would have a chance to retain how to use the kanban system was to have all 550 people touch/participate in the simulation.
We designed the simulation using the actual kanban cards that would be used out on the floor so people would be used to seeing them. The simulation also only used 6 people at time. We weren’t dummies. We knew how many sessions that meant and we were going to do it in one week. We decided to train 6 people from HR on the process and the simulation. They knew as much as we did at the time so why not. We went over it with them several times until they understood it.
We were the only facility in the company that hit the mandated deadline for this task. Yes. It is one to this day that I am proud of. Now that doesn’t mean the system worked all that smoothly. It did allow us to jump into the learning cycle much faster than everyone else and start making improvements. It was an AMAZING learning experience.
I did all this set up so I could share some learnings……OK and maybe toot Joe and I’s horn a bit for meeting the deadline :)
- Small kanban cards (3×3) on big portable racks didn’t work too well – Our solution was to permanently mount the cards to the racks that were specifically designed for the parts. We scanned the card when full and then when empty. Another possibility is to make the kanban cards big (8×4) so a card can’t be stuck in a pocket easily or is easy to see if missing.
- Transporting the cards large distances to put in the “Return To Supplier” bin did not work – Taking the cards across the department allowed people to stick them in pockets until they walked over there and also gave them more opportunity to drop cards on their way to the bin. The permanently mounted cards helped with this because we went visually off the empty bins. This forced us to create a visual management system to see them easily. Another solution is have a “Return to Supplier” bin no further than 12 inches from where the card is removed.
- Start with too much inventory instead of too little – When parts ran out because we sized the kanban too small people wanted to blame the new process and not bad math on our part. In most cases, we sized properly or too large. When someone argued the process was to blame we showed how it was working for the other parts and we just needed to add more kanban cards to the system.
- The final one was timing of launch – We were an automotive supplier and we went go live with the process in the middle of June. In automotive, almost all manufacturers shutdown for a week around July 4th to retool for the new model lines. The suppliers do to. So we were live for one week and then told everyone to violate the kanban because we had to build a bank of parts for the few customers that didn’t shutdown. Whoops! That was a hard pill to swallow but we did and we put a process in place of using non-replenishment kanbans (my next post will talk more about this) for building a bank of parts.
The list could go on forever on what we learned from this experience. These were the highlights that spurred other learnings. In the end, the system worked very well but it took us some time to get there. I hope others can take from out learning and not have to make some of the same mistakes we did.
The digital age has been here for quit some time. One industry that has be changed significantly is the music industry. For over 50 years the music industry was a batch industry. Musicians released music in batches to the public in the form of albums. Then batches of albums would be manufactured and sent to stores before finally a consumer would buy a copy of the album.
The digital age has made it possible for the music industry to go to a single piece flow. The middle man or seller has done taken advantage of it. Now you can go to iTunes or Amazon or other websites, pick what songs you would like and download them one at a time.
Why haven’t the musicians taken advantage of this though. Musicians are still releasing songs in batches (albums) even though the consumer is downloading just certain song off the album from the internet. Why don’t musicians create a song and then release it and not wait for batches of songs to release together? It might allow more songs of theirs to be downloaded because a song is getting played, the fans hear it, and then buy it. When done in batches, only a couple of songs get played and the rest of the album may be heard by the fans if they buy the whole album or it may not.
Leveling the release of the songs in a single piece flow seems like it would be beneficial to the musicians. Allowing more of their songs to be played on the radio, which I would think would lead to more downloads and more revenue for the musicians.
Just a thought in a way to use the digital music age to their advantage. What are your thoughts?
The other night I went through the drive-thru at Wendy’s. All the times I have gone through the drive-thru, I don’t know why it hit me this time….this is a great example of First-In-First-Out (FIFO). It struck me as to how well fast food restaurants execute this, some better than others.
An order is taken and it is produced in that same order and given to the car as they pull up in the same sequence their order was placed. I know this common, but what if a Fast Food restaurant operated in the same fashion a lot of our processes do. Say you pull up and order a value meal for you and a kids meal for your child. Then the next car orders only a soda and the third car only orders fries and a soda. What if the Fast Food restaurant told you to pull forward because they are doing the other orders first, because they are easier orders to process. We would get upset.
That is exactly what we do in most manufacturing environments. We skip jobs because the setup on another job is easier or it is a simpler job to run. Why? Usually because the setups are too long or complicated. Instead of working on the set up we just re-arrange the work.
I have been asked to pull up before. Not because they wanted to do an easier order but because there was a problem in the process of getting my order ready. The pulling up can be considered visual management for when something in the process didn’t go smoothly. Kind of like pulling an andon cord on a manufacturing line. I wonder if they measure how many cars they have to have pull up on a daily basis?
We don’t want to jump to FIFO just to be doing FIFO. The drive-thru made me think a little harder on it though.
What are your thoughts?