Category Archives: Learning

When Standards are in Place, Everything is an Experiment

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.

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Balance Process and Results

In the lean world we always stress how important a good process is to achieving results.  One of my favorite graphics I have seen is the one pictured below.  It shows the four outcomes of balancing process and results.Process_Results_Grid

  • Having a Good Process and Getting Good Results is the gold star.  We know we have a solid process that will give us the good results we want.
  • Having a Good Process and Getting Bad Results is half way there.  We know the process works like it should.  It just doesn’t give us the results we want so we need to go back and redesign the process.
  • Having a Bad Process and Getting Good Results you are gambling.  You got lucky to get the good results and it won’t be consistently repeatable.
  • Having a Bad Process and Getting Bad Results is just not good.  Nothing is working and you should start working on this right away.

I am one of the first to stress process, but as you can see it must be balanced.

When designing a process it must have the right mix of structure and flexibility because it is about understanding, learning and getting the results.

For example, when designing a manufacturing process you may be more prescriptive because of the need to get a particular assembly done correctly.

For a process around coaching or problem solving, there needs to be more flexibility.  A determined process should be designed and used but it shouldn’t be as prescriptive as a manufacturing process.  It allows for the person to be able to go where the problem is taking them but achieving the desired results is still extremely important.

The need to balance the importance of a good process and the getting good results is a key skill to have when teaching people about lean.

Agile Retrospectives = Reflection

In an earlier post I mentioned the similarities in agile and lean from a problem solving perspective.  Lean and agile are also the same when it comes to the learning cycle.

One of the principles of lean that I have learned is Create a Learning Organization through Learn-Apply-Reflect.  This principle helps drive home the importance of reflection.  Many people and organizations do a great job of learning something new and then trying to apply it.  Where most people and organizations fail is forgetting to reflect.  The reflection step is where all the learning and applying comes together to understand how what was learned can best be applied in the organization.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What should be kept?  What should be changed?

A sign an organization is doing this well, is the reflection is planned and not a reaction because something went wrong.  The reflection is part of the project plan and will is scheduled upfront with no agenda but to learn and improve.

Agile has a methodology and a term it uses for this reflection and learning.  It is retrospectives.

Agile uses planned retrospectives, usually once a week, to take a time out and gather the team to understand what is working and they should continue doing.  As well as what is not working and should be changed or thrown out.  It takes a monumental act to cancel a retrospective.  These retrospectives are ingrained in the methodology and help the agile teams continue to improve on their process and work.

This is a great of example of Lean-Apply-Reflect.  The agile team takes the learnings from the week, apply them and then have a planned reflection time a week later.  The agile methodology does a great job of fostering the principle of creating a learning organization.

Do you have any examples of planned reflection in your organization?

Owning a Small Business is Very Educational

crimson_hillIf you are a regular reader of Beyond Lean,  you may know that my wife has her own small business.  It is just her and I.  She runs the business 24/7 and I help where I can on nights and weekends.

Both of us have learned about a wide range of business aspects over the last couple of years from her small business.  My wife has a background in marketing, but has learned a lot about IT and web design, materials, costing, production of a consistent product, using data to determine what the customers like and a lot more.

I have been working quite a bit with display booth setup and teardown (quick changeovers), preparing raw materials for usage and investment decisions.

When owning and running a small business a person can see everything from end-to-end.  How a packaging decision can affect sales?  How does shelf life of a product have an effect on the quality?  How do certain ingredients react when mixing for production?  Do they cause immediate quality issues?  Do they cause quality issues over time?

In our experience, we have seen how lean thinking can be more natural for a small business.  There is more of a concern about inventory and cash on hand, so there are many decisions that go into building to stock or building to order.  Using visual management to make things easier to see when work needs to be done or not.  I have some examples from my wife’s business that I will post at a later date as well as examples I have posted in the past.

I have learned numerous things from working with my wife in her small business that I carry on to my other job as lessons to apply.

Owning a small business is very hard work.  You have to learn about things that don’t necessarily interest you, but if you want to be successful you have to get it done.  In the end, it can be very rewarding and extremely educational.

Working With People

When creating change it is not always easy working with people.  People are the largest variable in any change you want to create.  Because of this, different people and situations have to be handled in different ways.

One way is through demonstration.  Do the work on a project and show them the benefits of working in the new way.  Either show them after the changes are made or have them work alongside you as you make the changes and work in the new way.  This way the person gets first hand experience of the benefits.

Another way is coaching.  Have them do the thinking and the work on an improvement.  Learn by doing.  Be there with them, side-by-side.  Let the person bounce ideas off you.  Ask questions back to them so they develop the thoughts around what actions to take and the benefits gained.  This is usually very powerful, because most adults accept change and improvement when they completely understand it and what it can do.  This is a great way to gain the buy-in and understanding.

A third way is giving a large learning zone.  Give people the time and the freedom to make changes on their own without a ton of bureaucracy.  They will make mistakes.  It is important not to make it punitive for making a mistake.  Ask what they learned and how are they going to correct it.  It is amazing what people can accomplish and do when they have the comfort zone to learn.

There is not one way to help people learn.  You have to understand the situation and the person to best develop a plan to help them learn.  If it is something critical to running the business the learning zone may be smaller because you can’t afford to allow a mistake that shuts the business down, but coaching may be a good way.  The next time expanding the learning zone may be better.

If a person has baggage that prevents them from wanting to do improvement then maybe the first way is best.  Drag them along and let them see how it can benefit them.

People are our biggest variable to change, but they are also are most valuable resource.

 

H&H Color Lab – American Company Growing Through Lean

HHLogoH&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.

 

1999

2012

% Change

Late Orders

3,076

25

99% reduction

WIP

10,421

1731

83% reduction

Redo

5.3%

1.3%

75% reduction

% Shipped Late

49.3%

5.8%

88% reduction

Time in Plant

7 days

1.1 days

84% reduction

Sales

22% increase

 

Counting Down the Top 10 Viewed Posts of 2012 – 5 Thru 1

2013 is now in full swing.  Before 2012 is too far in the rear view mirror, I thought I would recap the Top 10 most viewed posts on Beyond Lean for 2012.

New followers of the blog can use this as an opportunity to read posts they might have not seen in the past.  While, long time followers can use this as an opportunity to re-read some of the top viewed posts.

This post will count down the 10th thru 6th most viewed posts of 2012.  Enjoy!

5.  Sportscenter Has Killed U.S. Manufacturing (June 2012) – Previous Year Ranked #3 – Manufacturing is fundamental.  The U.S. has lost it’s sights on the fundamentals and is just worried about the flashy.  The U.s. needs to get back to the fundamentals in order to get back on top.

4.  Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.

3.  5S in the Office (September 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #1 – Most viewed post for two straight years now.  A look at using 5S in the office.  What is going too far and how to use 5S in the office properly.

2.  Keys to Sustaining 5S (September 2011) – Tips to help sustain (the 5th ‘S’) the gains made from implementing 5S.

AND……

1.  Why Are Lean People Seen As Lean People? (February 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #2 – Exploring the question as to why lean people are not seen as more than just lean experts.  Looking at a process from end-to-end seems like a good business practice no matter what the role.

I look forward to more posts in 2013!

Top 6 – 10 of 2012

Best of Beyond Lean in 2012

I was looking at the Top 10 posts for 2012 and noticed that only 2 posts from 2012 made the Top 10.  Both posts were from earlier in the year.  I finally realized that a post from about May on in the year has very little chance to overcome posts that have a 5 month or more head start on gaining views.

I decided to highlight 5 of the most popular posts written in 2012.  Then in January I will post the Top 10 posts for the year.

Enjoy and have a Happy New Year!!!!

5.  Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma (April 2012) – How Six Sigma and Lean can be misrepresented in what their purpose is.

4.  Strategy A3 Downloadable Template (April 2012) – This is the post about the new downloadable template to help with strategy discussions.

3.  Visuals Used in the Office (October 2012) – A couple of visual management examples from the transactional workplace.

2.  True Mentoring (May 2012) – This is my take on true mentoring versus fake mentoring that goes on in business today.

1.  Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.

Have a Happy New Year!!!!

Failing a Test Can Be a Good Thing

Too often we look at failing a test as a negative thing.  The word fail has such a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be negative.  Fail can tell us what something isn’t or where we need to improve.

Failing part of a knowledge test can tell a person where their knowledge gaps are.  Knowing the gaps is the first step in gaining more knowledge.  Filling the gaps leads to better output.

Another way fail is look upon negatively is when testing a condition.  When trying to determine the point of failure or the root cause of something tests are run to verify the hypothesis.

Typically, when a test fails people are disappointed and can even get frustrated.  The assumption people make is they should know everything in their world.  Be the expert.  Being the expert means knowing where the point of failure or root cause is right away.  That can’t always be the case.  If it was, then a lot of the problems would be taken care right away or wouldn’t exist.

Taking the perspective of learning, failing the test and not confirming the hypothesis means you have a better understanding of what it is not.  That is valuable information to know.  Knowing what it is not helps to narrow the search.  Getting you closer to the answer.    Ruling things out is the next best thing to finding the point of cause or the root cause.

Like a doctor.  You go in sick so they test for the flu.  It comes back negative.  You are still sick but at least you know it isn’t the flu.

Concentrate on learning from all tests and failing won’t be such a bad thing.

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?