Category Archives: Innovation

Dilbert – Google Kills Spirit of Inventing

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Click on Image to Enlarge

Has anyone ever had this happen?

I have.  I had an idea and was researching the materials when I found several links to a very similar product out there.  In fact, I have been able to find something on any thing I have thought up.

What does this do to people trying to create new inventions?  Does it kill the spirit?

What are your though

Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss Wants Innovation

This is a great Dilbert cartoon from Scott Adams earlier in January.

Cartoon by Scott Adams

Cartoon by Scott Adams

I have heard a lot of people or company’s say they need to act like a start up to get innovation.  I find this to be alarming.  At one time, the company had to be innovative or it probably wouldn’t be in business today.

Somewhere along the way, the company hit on a big innovative idea and migrated from innovation and trying new things to care and feeding of the big idea that put them on the map.  It is an easy trap to fall into.  It isn’t about acting like a start-up, it’s about never losing your roots as a start-up company.  Innovation and care and feeding must happening at the same time.  It isn’t one or the other.  It should be both.  The ones who do both well…win.

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!

Have a Purpose. Don’t Innovate.

One last blog post I read that I am way behind on.

Please, Can We All Just Stop “Innovating”? is posted at the Harvard Business Review Blog.  Bill Taylor tackles how companies are over killing innovation as a business practice.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which did not get nearly the attention it deserved, made the case that the word “innovation” has outlived its usefulness. “Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovations strategies, and even innovation days,” the hard-hitting piece noted. “But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.”

Innovation is used everywhere for everything today.  I agree with the WSJ article.  A lot of the “innovation” is a quite ordinary change.

Here are three examples in the post about truly innovative work.

Southwest Airlines never said, “We want to be the country’s most innovative airline.” Its leadership said, “We want to ‘democratize the skies’ and give rank-and-file Americans the freedom to fly.” They perfected a new way to be an airline by virtue of what they wanted to achieve as an airline. They did what made sense to them, even if their strategies made no sense to the legacy carriers.

Tony Hsieh and his colleagues at Zappos never said, “We want to introduce innovations to e-commerce and do a better job of selling shoes over the Internet.” They said, “We wanted to build the greatest customer-service brand in the world, a company whose mission is not simply to deliver products but to deliver happiness.” Thus Zappos created a special culture, a unique way of doing business, and an almost mythic status among its customers, who have given the company permission to sell all sorts of products above and beyond shoes.

Cirque du Soleil did not set out to make a few tweaks to the traditional three-ring circus, or market-test a few new acts as a way to offer innovations vis-a-vis Ringling Brothers. Rather, an immensely talented group of street performers set out to define a whole new category of live entertainment, a creative leap that made perfect sense to the artists who dreamed it up, but made no sense to circus veterans or to audiences who had never seen such shows before.

The common theme Bill points out is having a purpose.  In all three cases, having a strong purpose that was communicated and believed in led to the innovative thinking.  It was delivering to the customer that mattered.  Not being “innovative”.

Have a purpose you believe in.  Understand the customer.  Deliver to the need.  Innovation will come.

Domino’s Employee Creates New Product

Here is a Domino’s commercial that has been running lately.  I thought it was a good example of getting everyone in the organization involved in continuous improvement by listening to the customer.

The Parmesan bites were created by an employee at a local store.  He is someone who interacts with the customer everyday as well as works hands on with the product.  He is in the best position, even better than the test lab that is mentioned, to understand the customers’ needs and likes.  He can quickly try the new product and get it out to customers and hear first hand their reactions.

I also applaud the Domino’s leadership for listening to the idea and spreading the new product to all of their stores.

What other lean like behaviors may be present from the commercial?

Harvard Business Review Blog Talks U.S. Manufacturing

If you are a regular reader of Beyond Lean, you may know that I am a very big supporter of U.S. manufacturing.  I believe it is the foundation for economic prosperity for our country or any country for that matter.  Lean thinking and principles can help guide any business to success and overcome many economic and governmental situations.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review Blog has had posts talking about much of the same.  Here are a few of the posts.

The U.S. Needs to Make More Jobs More Creative

The authors break jobs into two categories.

But we were able to classify all jobs as either creativity-oriented or routine-oriented. And within the routine-oriented classification, there are three distinct types: routine-physical (e.g. an auto assembly plant worker); routine-service (e.g. an accounts payable clerk); and routine-resource (e.g. a coal miner).

The authors explain that creative-oriented jobs pay more and pose a great question.

…the real challenge for the U.S. economy is what to do with routine-oriented jobs in dispersed industries.

And their response to this:

There is no quick fix for this problem. But my view (and Richard’s) is that we have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy.

…But I believe that America can influence the slope of the line of increasing creativity-oriented jobs by leaning toward creativity; giving workers the encouragement and space to innovate; utilizing the most of their brain, not the least of it. That would be the grass-roots way out of America’s economic doldrums that everyone is looking for.

I interpret this as engaging everyone in the organization, even those doing what is considered a routine-oriented job, in innovating the business.  Innovating is also about how to change the process to be better.  Engage the minds and hearts of the employees not just the hands and feet.

Unglamorous Freelance Manufacturing Could Boost U.S. Competitiveness

The U.S. competitiveness debate too often devolves into a cry for more Apples and more Ciscos on American shores, when what the country really needs is more Hospiras.

More what?

Hospira is an advanced contract manufacturer.

The author talks about the importance of manufacturing for innovation.  Something I believe to be true and how we must open our mind to what the definition of innovation can mean.

In the U.S., “innovation” typically means just one thing to people: novel gadgets. Few policy makers realize that much of the innovation that has propelled China’s economy, for example, is of the incremental or process type. Many of us admire Apple for its originality but tend to forget the importance of its power-supply innovations, all of which were done in China by a Taiwanese company.

When it comes to process improvements, American companies are stagnating at best, and in many cases slipping backward. Policy makers need to appreciate the value of keeping incremental and process innovation in the United States.

I don’t agree that the U.S. needs policy makers to give tax breaks and help U.S. companies realize the importance of manufacturing to all types of innovation.  There are U.S. companies that have realized that on their own.  I’m sure even Apple has realized the importance of the innovations from their suppliers.  It is the companies that need to realize the benefits of this and make the effort to change their thinking around this.

It’s Time to Bring Manufacturing Back to the U.S.

A growing number of executives of U.S.-based companies are repatriating their manufacturing capabilities — moving some production operations back from overseas.

Many companies have been moving manufacturing back to the U.S.  In fact, enough have done it the movement has a name…reshoring or onshoring.

The post talks about governmental help to support this movement.  While, the governmental help would be nice it is not necessary.  There are plenty of companies that have made the move without help from the government.

Here are three bullet points the author says the governmental help recognizes:

  • Companies compete on cost and responsiveness, and this balance shifts dramatically when labor costs rise and the locus of demand shifts.

Labor cost has nothing to do with responsiveness.  Quick lead times and location has to do with this.  When total cost is looked at from end-to-end companies usually find that cheap labor really isn’t lowering their cost either.

  • Local talent and skills are essential to productivity and innovation. Long-term depletion of manufacturing skills will make it hard to reverse the trend.

I think this is right on.  It will be hard to reverse the trend but I think with more companies bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. this is helping to keep the skills from depleting.

  • Research and development incentives provided by the U.S. government must be tied to manufacturing operations. Otherwise, whatever is developed with taxpayer money could easily be moved to other regions associated with low-cost manufacturing.

I don’t agree with this.  This comes down to a company’s morals and beliefs.  If they want to move some innovation out of the country they will do it.  Their are companies innovating and manufacturing in the U.S.  It just may not be the high profile company like Apple.

It is great to see more and more discussion about the importance of manufacturing in the U.S.  That was not the case just a couple of years ago.  Especially on a high profile site like HBR.  The authors there are still spouting off too much about how the government needs to change regulations.  They need to start asking how all the companies that have already moved manufacturing back to the U.S. did it.  If they did, they might start writing more about Lean and end-to-end value stream thinking.

Failure Taught Me a Lesson

Recently, I had an experience where I thought I had everything thought through and designed.  I even ran my idea by a friend of mine that I trust.  Everything was a green light to go.

I designing a soap cutter.  My wife buys raw soap materials in 12 in x 12 in x 7 in blocks.  The soap has to be cut down to small chunks so it can be melted and poured in to molds.  Currently, it takes me an hour and a half to cut a block into the desired size chunks.  It is not fun but it has to be done.

In the name of continuous improvement, I wanted to design a cheap way to cut the soap quickly and more easily.  I also wanted to design and test in stages so if the design was not working it was not costing more and more money.

The first step was to get the tool to cut the block into 1 in. strips with one cut.  I made a wood frame and then threaded steel wire through the frame.  The idea would be to  push the frame down through the block using the wire to cut the soap.  The picture to the side is of the tool.

Building went well except the wire broke so I only threaded it three quarters of the way through pulling the wire tight.  I went to give it a try and needless to say, I only cut maybe an 1/8 of an inch through the soap.  The wire was being stretched and even standing on the darn thing, I did not have enough force to push it through the block of soap.

It was almost a complete failure.  I didn’t get through the soap but I learned quite a bit.  For one, I am glad that I was building the device in stages.  I had planned to cross thread the wire which would have taken another hour do to form something that didn’t work.  The last stage was to add a mechanical way use the device.  Now I know I have to move the mechanically driven portion up in the timeline in order to get enough force to drive the wire through the soap.  I also figured out I will have to weave the wire to make it stronger when I add the crossing the wire.  Think of stringing a tennis racket.

This is just a small home project but by breaking the design up and not spending a lot of time building it to complete specification, my feedback loop was quick and added learning to designing the device quicker and at a much lower cost.  I spent less than $5 on the first version and about 3 hrs including my trip to Lowe’s (what’s a project without a trip to Lowe’s).  If I would have built the entire think as I picture it in the end, it probably would cost around $100 and taken me a good 25 hrs plus to build.  I would have been severely discouraged if that didn’t work and who knows if I would have tried again, because i wouldn’t want to make that invest twice.  Now I shrugged off the failure, took the lessons learned and will apply them to a second version.

When designing a product or device, take quick less costly iterations and test and make but do it with a long term vision in mind.  Streaming TV is a good example.  It started with DVDs on the computer.  Then slow choppy video over the internet that got faster and smoother and then to HD.  Then boxes where designed to connect to your TV to receive an internet signal and view video on your TV.  Now TVs are built with internet connection built in and apps to watch video from Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, etc…  Next will be selecting a menu of things you want to watch and subscribing to it and watching live over the internet eliminating Cable TV.  Pick NBC and FOX and pay $10/month and the shows stream to your TV.

What failures have you learned from?

LEGO Showing Lean Like Behaviors

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?

Lean Hoops

I am on record as saying that I’m not a fan of sports metaphors being used in business.  I really have no rational explanation for not liking them.  Even though I’d rather not see them, I still use them in conversation when I’m trying to teach or make a point.  The simplest reason is that sports are so popular that they can create a common starting point to connect from.  I see the same upside in using other popular culture aspects like music, TV and movies.  They create a framework that people can relate to.  As a way of sharing some of what I find, I’m going to add some pieces here that I’m calling Pop Culture Lean.  The danger here is that I’m going to stretch too far and point out to something that doesn’t really relate, but hopefully I can share some things that may be off the beaten Lean path and draw some insights in different areas.

The first example I’m going to use on this topic is a fantastic article by Chuck Klosterman on the Triangle offense in the NBA.  Anybody who has even marginally paid attention to the NBA over the last 20 years has heard of the offense.  As Mr. Klosterman points out, 11 of the last 20 NBA champion teams ran the offense. Outside of referring to man to man or zone defense, it’s probably the only ‘strategy’ that a casual fan would know by name.   If this happened in football, 8 other pro teams and a couple dozen college teams would already be running the offense.  But for this strategy, nobody in the NBA or major college basketball is on the bandwagon.

Why isn’t this proven strategy much more widely implemented?  I think part of the answer lies in Phil Jackson’s thoughts in the article.  Success depends on a dedication to teaching “very, very basic fundamentals”.  It requires individuals to function within the flow of the system as opposed to the standard of seeking individual glory.  It is also a system that outsiders ignore because they may not like the person giving the message.  It all sounds way too familiar to me.  I almost feel like I could strip the basketball statistics out and use the ‘Find and Replace’ function a few times in Word and make a story asking why so few companies truly practice Lean as well as Toyota and TPS have shown it to work.

I don’t really think that the answers are exactly the same for the lack of widespread adoption of the two different systems.  But I do think there is enough of a parallel there to give me more than a short pause.  I also think that there is enough common ground in that article that I have already printed off a couple copies to hand out.  Maybe it won’t help, but I have to be willing to try to look in different areas to find new ways to communicate.  I can’t keep the Triangle offense alive, but I can try to keep the Lean journey alive.

Standardization Enhances Innovation

Fast Company Design has a great article about the importance of standardization in leading to innovation.  The article mentions 5 ways that standardization can help.

One way is the standardization of processes.  Having everyone doing the same thing the same way.  Baptist Healthcare System in San Antonio, TX had physician led improvement councils around their hip and knee replacement procedures.

Where previously each one of the system’s 40 orthopedic surgeons had their own particular way of doing things, the Council developed a single model of care for all five of the hospitals in the system. New standards included everything from pre-operative tests, radiology, operating room instrumentation, supplies and other equipment, to post-surgery medication, food and nutrition, physical therapy and physician consults. Within a few months the results were dramatic; BHS cut its readmission rate in half, and infection rates dropped.

Standardizing the process led BHS to new and innovative care reaching quality levels not before acheived.

The article also talks about how Black and Decker’s tool division made a turn around by standardizing the parts used to make their various tools.

By 1970, Black & Decker’s consumer power tool portfolio was a hotchpotch of 122 different models, which between them had 30 different motors, 60 different motor housings and 104 different armatures. Each of these variants required separate tooling.

The results were amazing.

A concerted effort by the business over the next three years saw a massive reduction in variants, leading to just one motor, a huge reduction in space, facilities, resources and time needed to manage parts and equipment, faster production cycles and retooling times. Motor production labor costs were cut by 85%, armature costs by 80%, and failure rates fell from 6-10% to 1%. New products were introduced to the market in weeks rather than months and prices to the consumer were slashed by as much as 30% while maintaining 50% margins.

Not only the reduction in cost and space, but the standardization led to improved time to get new innovative products to market.  This breaks the dam open on innovation because ideas aren’t sitting around like they might have before because it took so long to get to market and out of the innovation pipeline.

Innovation can happen when parts become standardized like on a rifle.  The Picatinny Rail was part of the rifle that became a hot spot for rifle innovation.

The Picatinny (Pic) Rail allows soldiers to attach and detach weapon accessories like optics, lasers, bipods, and other hardware to the M-16A1 assault rifle. Since its introduction in 1995, it has helped to more than double the longevity and functionality of millions of the Armed Forces’ standard issue weapons. The common interface provided by the rail has reduced the costs and simplified the logistics of equipping and supporting 1.5 million soldiers and 1.5 million reservists, and increased the rate of innovation and growth in the small arms and accessory industries. For example, Aimpoint Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of high performance optics to the U.S. Army and Air Force, has seen a fifteen-fold increase in revenues since 1997, since the rail makes it possible for more soldiers to be deployed with, use and service advanced optics and other accessories in the field.

Without standardization these innovations may not have happened or may have not reached as many people as they have.

Standardization is not a bad thing, but like anything else when it is not used properly or with the right intent it can cause people to fear it.  Standardization is not put into place to turn people into robots.  They are there so we don’t have to waste our energy thinking or reacting to the basics.  We can spend our energy thinking about new and better processes, products and ideas to improve our company or our life.

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