Category Archives: Improvement
“If it’s not improving, it’s degrading”
This is a quote that I found a few years ago from someone at Toyota. I find this to be a very powerful quote.
The quote implies there is no status quo. As an organization, a process or a person, you are either improving or degrading.
Some will make the argument that their metrics are holding steady and haven’t moved; therefore, they are holding in a constant state or in status quo. And that may be true, but while you are holding there are others that are improving. This is degrading your status.
A great example of this is GM. The maintained what they were doing for years, while Toyota kept improving, slowly degrading GM’s status over time until Toyota passed them.
We should be working to improve at all times. Being satisfied with where we are at does nothing but cause problems down the road.
How are you pushing to improve everyday? Every year?
I have talked in the past about the importance of direct observation. The power in seeing the waste for yourself. It really shines a light on what is really happening and it also is the best way for a person to continue to learn.
The question is, “What do you do with those observations?”
Most often, I see people run out and try to eliminate or reduce the waste or even assign it to someone else to do. While not entirely a bad thing, if you are trying to instill a lean culture don’t just jump to trying to improve.
Stop and reflect about what you are trying to do as an organization and use the waste you saw as a way to further the lean culture.
Most organizations I have seen do not have a systematic way to eliminate waste. Usually, this is because waste is one of the first things people learn about lean. What happens is people just go out and attack waste (again not a bad thing) without any direction.
If your organization is early on in trying to implement a lean culture, think about how you can make the waste elimination systematic.
Is this a good way to engage employees in a kaizen event to start to build trust? Could be an easy win for everyone.
Should an improvement board to post the waste seen and how it is detracting a better option? Use the waste you saw as an example of how to use the board and go and eliminate it yourself or with the help of others, but be involved.
If you observed multiple areas, do you want to concentrate in one department? Make it a model for others in the organization.
Think about how you can make the waste elimination sustainable and systematic. This will benefit you and the organization in the long run.
Then I tried again. I had great success with the 2nd board. I used it for a year and a half.
With a new role where I have multiple desks, I am constantly in different areas of the building. I may not be back to my desk for several days or even a couple of weeks. I wasn’t able to keep my board up and I had work to do written in several places.
I wanted to find an electronic kanban that would work for me. I found one that worked well. It was a computer only board. I explain it more in this post here.
This new electronic kanban work well. I could take a note or email myself on my phone with what needed to be on it and then transfer it when I got to my computer. If I had my computer with my, I just added right then.
As a person always looking to eliminate waste, you can see where there was waste in emailing myself and then re-typing it for the kanban board. A friend of mine recommended Trello for me to try. It was web-based. I was able to download an app to my phone which I could open and enter the work and not send myself emails to re-enter.
Everything looked great so I gave it a try for the last 3 months of last year.
It wasn’t hard to use. It had plenty of features and it was setup very similar to the electronic kanban I was using. For some reason, I couldn’t get the flow of it. Trello was not working for me. I tried for three months and I couldn’t get into the flow of using it and making my life easier to manage.
I have no idea why it didn’t click with me but it was a disaster. I forgot some things that needed to be done. I felt disorganized and stressed.
So, to start 2014 I am going back to my electronic kanban board on my computer and not using Trello. I already feel more organized and less stressed since I switched back.
I’m not dismissing Trello yet. I need to reflect as to why it wasn’t working for me. Was it something truly with Trello? Or did it have something to do with the enormous project I was on and I just couldn’t keep up with trying something new at the same time?
The important thing is to understand what was happening because maybe Trello can work for me and help me reduce my waste in maintaining my kanban board.
Learning is important and not just living with a change because we need to change. The change needs to be given a fair chance and if it is failing then you can’t be scared to change back if necessary.
Does anyone else have any experiences with a change that totally failed?
Last week, I mentioned that I would talk more about the lean forum I attended. The theme of the forum was leading lean. Several speakers presented and they all did a fantastic job. One of the speakers was Jamie Flinchbaugh of the Lean Learning Center. Jamie outlined five leadership moves that demonstrate lean leadership.
- Apply Lean to Your Work
Over the next few posts, I thought I would share the message and how I personally have exhibited the behavior positively and negatively, because we all must learn from our mistakes.
Apply Lean to Your Work
As leaders it isn’t good enough to just talk about lean and how it can apply elsewhere. Leaders apply lean thinking to their own work in order to help themselves improve continuously. Structuring the day or week using standard work and learning ways to eliminate waste from their own work show a commitment to lean and how it can apply to anyone doing any kind of work.
Applying lean to my own work has helped me grow as a lean leader and gain credibility over the years. I had standard work that I followed when I was working in the manufacturing facilities that called for dedicated observation or waste walk time. This really allowed me to understand what work I was falling short in and make corrections.
Also, I have standard work for how I conduct lean improvement (kaizen) events. I have it down to the minute for each section. Because of this, I have been able to try new techniques to see if they allow me to reduce the time for a given section without sacrificing the quality of the event.
The biggest change was seven years ago when I added 45 minutes every Friday morning to reflect on my week. This has helped me better understand things I have tried and why they worked or didn’t work. Adding planned reflection time every week is probably the single most important thing I have done to learn.
With all the positives, I still don’t have standard work that I use for the week in an office environment. This has caused me to not be as effective in high work volume times. I have gotten so busy at times that I haven’t taken the time to reflect and improve. We should always create time to reflect and improve so during the next heavy workload maybe it isn’t so stressful.
There are plenty of opportunities to apply lean to our own work. We just have to take the time to do it as leaders.
How are you applying lean to your work?
Last week, I attended a lean forum with speakers and breakout sessions. It was done very well. I was very excited that I was able to attend.
One of the speakers was a General Manager at a distribution center. She told the story of how lean has evolved at her facility and where it stands now.
When listening to transformation stories I try to listen for a few different things to see if they are really getting it or just going through the motions and implementing tools.
I will say her story, I haven’t directly observed, is a very promising and exciting story. I believe they are doing things right and well. There were two bits of evidence that lead me to believe this.
First of all, she is holding the staff, managers and all employees accountable for learning about lean and taking action. Not a lean group or a someone else. Herself and everyone around her. In fact, they integrated the lean staff into manger roles and no longer have that crutch to lean on.
There were stories of the General Manger’s own learning and changes. How getting dissolving the lean group but expecting better results helped make everyone accountable.
While dissolving the lean group worked for her and her facility don’t go do this just to remove the crutch. This General Manager was a true believer in what lean could do for her and she partnered with other local companies that were doing lean very well. She had a support system but it was one that held her accountable for leading lean. Not supporting it.
The second piece of evidence was a video she showed of a great employee driven improvement. Great it was employee driven, but what really stuck with me was the General Manager promoting the small improvement. It was about a five to ten second improvement in a manually process. This one small improvement was going to save $40,000 in a $19 million target she was going after.
Most people look for the BIG improvement to get the whole chunk at once. They don’t understand the large gap is made of hundreds of small problems. They don’t have the patience to go after the small problems. This General Manger understood this concept. It was very refreshing to see.
The facility still has a long way to go, but they are traveling down the right path and that was invigorating.
I will share more from the forum at a later time.
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.
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?
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?
A huge take away from some of the studying of Toyota and case studies I have seen is that everything they do is considered an experiment. Every cycle on the assembly line. Every product development project. Every meeting. Everything is a test to see if they got the expected results from the process. If not, why?
It may seem excessive but it isn’t. If a process is designed to deliver certain results then we are doing ourselves a disservice if we aren’t stopping to ask if the process did deliver the expected results. If not, why? If so, why? What can we learn? Positive or negative.
This can be applied to all work. Many studies state that having an agenda and a plan for a meeting is important to making meetings effective. If that is the case (and it has been in my experience) then afterwards we should ask if we accomplished what we had on the agenda and did we stick to the timeline?
A person example is the agenda I use to conduct improvement (or commonly called kaizen) events. I have a detailed 3-day agenda that is my standard work. Each time I have timing information for every phase of the agenda. During the event, I note the time that I move on to the next phase. After the day is over, I reflect to understand if my experiment is working or not. If something took more time I try to understand why. If it went quickly I try to understand that too.
Approaching each improvement event as an experiment that is testing my standard process has allowed me to learn and create new ways to approach different phases of my agenda. I have discovered quicker and more effective ways to accomplish some of the tasks.
To truly learn and improve a person has to look at everything as an experiment testing our standards. People need to be open to learning with everything they do.
H&H Color Lab began in the basement of Wayne and Shirley Haub’s residence in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1970. Wayne and his brother, Ted Haub, owned a portrait studio that had just landed its first high school senior contract. With a background in and love for color printing, Wayne chose to install his own color processing equipment in the basement of his home.
Business increased, and so did the need for additional space and employees. What began with Wayne doing everything from his basement has grown to 165 people and 55,000 square feet of space over 40 years later.
H&H customers are primarily school/portrait/wedding photographers. The offer a wide range of products from photo prints to books to Leather bound albums and digital products.
In 1999, H&H Color Lab started is Lean journey led by Lee Gabbert. Lee had been with the company for 5 years at the time and was chosen to learn more about lean and teach others at H&H. They started by reading “Lean Thinking” by James Womack and Daniel Jones. H&H also decided to get a sensei to help them learn as they traveled the bumpy road down the lean path.
H&H Color Lab started by setting up work cells, going away from a department mentality. H&H moved to smaller batches, moving cells closer to the monuments (that they couldn’t move), standard work, and lots and lots of 5S.
Muda (waste), lead times, late work and quality all had improved. In fact, the gains from lean had now freed up space that was once occupied by manufacturing departments. It allowed H&H to take the space and use it as a training facility to help customers from all over the United States. Thus, H&H University was born. Roughly 3,000 square feet of space was now designed and transformed into a learning center, working photographic studio with equipment, mock up photography sales room, photography studio work area, kitchen to host all day training, library sitting room with sample products that H&H produce on the book shelves and restrooms. By providing training for customers (mostly free of charge), you truly can engage in a partnership that can grow.
All of this work allowed H&H Color Lab to make a success transition from the “Age of Film” to the “Digital Age”. Understanding their customers and providing training and education others companies do not, shows how the most important part of lean, focusing on the customer, helps you innovate, grow and thrive.
Here are results that H&H Color Lab have seen from their lean implementation.
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Small change vs. Large change is a debate I hear quite often within the Lean community.
The meaning of kaizen is to continuously make change for the better. Implied is to make small changes everyday and over time it will add up. Paul Akers at FastCap often talks about the 2 second kaizen.
Every improvement counts. This is small change.
The flip side of the discussion is large change. Transform the work into something new. Redesign the process, the layout, the flow. Act in a completely different way.
My opinion…they are both right and you should do both. The key is understanding what your organization needs and when.
If it is a traditional batch and queue organization (manufacturing or service), then as you start your lean transformation I would recommend large change. Create a pull system where the parts or service flow uninterrupted. Dramatically change the way you operate.
Once the large change is done, the improvement never stops. This is when you start looking for the 2 second improvements in the process. Everyday the process should be better. Keep making small changes.
This isn’t the only way to go about a lean transformation. It is just one way. If you want to be successful with your lean transformation take the time to really consider your strategy for going about the transformation.
All in all, some improvement is ALWAYS better than no improvement…small or large.