Category Archives: Other

Defining Value as a Consumer

After reading this piece and this response, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Lean definition of value.  (For those who didn’t click the links, the first is an article from a NPR intern who claims to only have paid for something like 1% of her music library and the second is a response from someone who teaches about the music business discussing the damage of those choices.)

As a quick reminder, the “Lean” definition says that in order for a step to be value added the thing has to be done right the first time, physically change the thing, and be something the customer is willing to pay for.  It’s that last piece that has me hung up lately.  I have zero insight on the recording or distribution of music to understand how much the recording process qualifies for the first two.  I’m also not specifically speaking to music, although it makes a great basis because almost everybody has an opinion on music.

My line of thought overall goes something like this: Doesn’t the consumer bear some responsibility for paying a fair amount for something that they value?  How much responsibility does a consumer have?  And who defines what a “fair” amount is?

Almost anybody who has ever been involved in business can point to something they were involved in that was done well, but died because nobody was willing to actually pay enough money or buy enough of them to keep it alive.  In the case of music, does this mean that not paying for (or sharing or stealing, however you want to phrase it) has become so institutionalized in culture that we risk its survival?  Or does this mean that those who make the music are being treated like temp labor with the knowledge that if they won’t make it for a low price, someone else will?  Maybe it’s just an offshoot of the rest of a capitalistic society where only the best of the best do well enough to make a career out of it and the rest move on.

In the US where the popular notion is that we care about things like locally grown food, fair trade coffee, and what happens to the people that make our iPhones at Foxconn, I don’t think there is a lot of real thought about what is truly value added and how our behavior as consumers fits in.  I’m not saying that I do (or should) care whether or not everyone who built my truck, for example, is a self-actualized human being who is prospering in an encouraging and happy auto assembly plant.  Even I’m not as big of a dreamer as to think that could or should be a likely scenario.  Heck, I’m barely convinced that most of the people that I give my money to for their music even really enjoy what they are doing and are fulfilled by it.  I do believe that we, as “Lean” thinkers, can use our ability to focus on the definition of value a little better as both producers and consumers.   Maybe these are the kinds of discussions we can have with family and friends to help shape the way they look at their consumption.   I think our observations have to go beyond just pointing out waste and go towards quality feedback we could provide to the people we give our money to, giving them a better understanding of how to make their business work.


Pit Stops and Lean

As I continue my mini-series on NASCAR leading up to the Daytona 500, I am going to share some thoughts on  Pit Stops.   Just probably not in the same way you have heard it before.

Most people who have been involved with Lean for any length of time have been exposed to the Pit Stop and the Pit Crew as an example for a SMED/Changeover activity.  It’s a fantastic real world example of the value of planning, organizing and choreographing a changeover.  Honestly, I don’t know what I could write about that aspect of the pit stop that hasn’t already been written by somebody else better than I could.  I’m much more interested in a bit of strategic change that I’ve noticed in the races that has some applications as well.

The aspect of the pit stop that I have taken a big interest in lately is the strategy around multiple changes happening within the same stop.  There are really two main activities in a pit stop, changing tires and adding fuel.  All else being equal, newer tires will allow the cars to be faster and, at 4 miles per gallon or so there is a huge need for fuel.  It takes about 6 seconds to change tires on one side of the car and 13 seconds to change tires on both sides of the car.  It’s about 6 seconds to add half of the fuel capacity and 13 seconds to fill it completely.  It becomes visible pretty fast that the times match up closely to provide several combinations.  For example, If I know that I need a half tank more fuel to finish the race, then I can put 2 tires on and get two improvements in pretty much the same time.  Or if I know I have to replace the tires, I can make sure the gas tank is filled up at the same stop and maybe not come in to stop as many times.

As last season went on and I watched the different strategies play out, my mind began to wander back to the plant.  With changeovers being a necessary fact of life, it’s a given to try to minimize the amount of lost time for the change.  But, if the changeover window is getting about as small as your resources allow, maybe the question shifts from squeezing out time to doing more in the time that you are down.  Can you bring in additional resources to do smaller PM items?   Is there some opportunity to utilize that idle machine operator time for training, housekeeping, or administrative tasks?  I have been in plants before and asked what work the operators were doing or could be doing while machines cycled.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time asking what they could do when the machine isn’t running.  There is potentially a gold mine of options to design our processes as we take smaller steps towards the ideal of zero downtime for changeovers.

Great Industrial Engineer Passes Away

Professor James Barany passed away earlier this week.  A lot of people probably won’t know Prof. Barany, but if you passed through the Industrial Engineering School at Purdue University you did.

Professor Barany has been at Purdue since 1956 when he entered the graduate program.  Once he graduated he stayed on as part of the faculty and has been there ever since.  He influenced me as an undergraduate student as well as many others, including some of my mentors. He wasn’t just recognized by Purdue.  Prof. Barany was internationally know.

As a researcher, Dr. Barany gained international recognition for his studies of hemiplegic gait using a force platform of his original design, fabrication, and validation.

Everyone knew him at Purdue and he told great stories.  He never was shy about how he felt and was never politically correct.  he just told you straight.  I can remember as a senior thinking I was going to take a couple of easy engineering electives to make my last semester easy.  I wanted to take Computers 100 which was an intro to computers.  This is a mouse.  This is the internet.  Click here.  Easy stuff.  Prof. Barany looked me straight in the eye and said, “Think again, son.  You are too smart and if you want to be successful you need to challenge yourself.  No skating.”

That was that.  I ended up taking an advanced human factors course instead.  I will never forget the conversation.

Professor Barany was a great man that influenced all Industrial Engineers at Purdue since the 1950s.

It was a sad day at Purdue.  Thanks for everything Professor Barany.

Happy Independence Day

Today is Independence Day in the U.S.  The day we declared our independence from Britain.  It took a few brave men to convince 13 colonies they would be better off creating a separate country united as one yet keeping the rights of the states.

These men had persuade their peers to take a risk on something that was better.  It wouldn’t be easy and blood shed was inevitable.  But, on the other side would be such a great reward that we would be foolish not to die trying.  John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin were leaders.  Leaders that looked at the world through a different lens.

Does any of this sound familiar?

As lean leaders, we look at business and processes with a different set of lenses.  Trying to show others how profitable it can be when the waste is eliminated from the business.  We are foolish for letting the waste exist in our process for as long as it has already.

Our struggles are definitely not anything compared to their struggles, but they are a source of inspiration for all of us was we try to set free our organizations from the waste holding them back.

Happy Independence Day!!!!

Guest Post: John Wooden Quotes Relating to Lean

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  

I have spent the first part of 2011 with my John Wooden “Page A Day” calendar taking up real estate on my desk.   It’s filled with quotes, stats, and other random info about  the former UCLA Men’s Basketball coach who was about as successful and universally liked and respected of a person as you will ever find.  (I’ll skip the full bio, but a quick Google or Amazon search will show the extent of his influence.)  Here are a few of the gems that have popped up so far:

“No matter how fine a person is at anything, he can always improve.  No one ever reaches maximum potential.”
“A good banker isn’t careless with pennies; a good leader isn’t sloppy about details.”
“What is right is more important than who is right.”
“A player who makes a team great is much more valuable than a great player.”
Wooden’s Four laws of learning:  Explanation, Demonstration, Correction, and Repitition

Pretty much any of those could have been just as at home in a Lean text.   In addition to the similarity in phrasing to lean texts, I’m struck by the similarities in those who emulate the behaviors.  There are bunches of companies ‘working’ on Lean, but very few approaching the level of success of a Toyota.  Similarly, you can find hundreds of coaches and managers who claim to utilize Wooden’s principles, without replicating his sustained success.  Some have tried to piecemeal add aspects to their own way of doing things without understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Some have tried to copy other people’s visible actions without the understanding of why things work.  Surely others have latched on to a ‘brand’ because it was a trendy thing to do.

I think there is another piece of the puzzle that seems to be left out.  Ultimately there can be no way to document everything that goes in to making someone or something successful.  There is also no way to codify the reasons for all of the visible aspects of a system.  There is no way to look in the rear view mirror and make sure you have accurately weighed the impact of the ‘little things’ that altered the paths.  Even if we think every aspect of a history has been written about, it still doesn’t mean that the right things were weighted correctly.  That is true no matter who’s story is being written.  The best we can do is study success stories like Coach Wooden and Toyota and use that knowledge as pieces of the puzzle as we set out to write our own story of greatness.

OpsInsight Forum

Last week I attended the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.  Here is the link to the website.  It was a two day conference addressing trends, opportunities, and thought leaders in operations.  Topics ranged from lean to logistics to software options.

It was a very good conference.  It was small.  Only about 80 attendees.  I found that I liked the small group because it allowed for good conversation even during the keynote speakers.

I plan to post some more of my thoughts and reflections from the conference over the next week or so.  Obviously, all will be connected to lean, but on subjects like software implementation, innovation, as well as other topics.

Overall, it was a very positive experience.

Follow Up to Japan Crisis and Lean Philosophy

Last week I wrote a post about how the earthquake was the cause for the supply chain interruption at Toyota, not lean (post here).  It was centered around an article I had found on Bnet.  Since then two other articles have been written regarding the Japanese crisis and lean.

The first was written by Margaret Hefferman (article here).  She starts out by saying:

Beyond the tragedy of the Japanese tragedy, the industrialized world is experiencing a profound philosophical aftershock. Much of our business theology about lean, mean just-in time manufacturing, about re-engineering, outsourcing and globalization is wrong.

Again, this quote makes you wonder about the understanding of lean.  This is the only mention of lean in the article.

But one of the reasons why the business impact of the natural disaster is so widely felt is because our supply chains are now so immense.

The rest of her article talks about how a supply chain spread across the world creates great complexity.  It also makes a company more vulnerable to natural disasters, political uprisings, and harder communication between people.

I think Margaret makes some great points that actually support the lean philosophy on complexity in supply chains and supplier relationships.

The second article was written by Jeff Haden (article here).

You absolutely should learn from what is happening in Japan — just don’t overreact.

Jeff is right.  We should use this as a learning experience but don’t overreact to this crisis.  Jeff gives some good advice on what companies should NOT do during this time.

  • Increase inventory. Running out of supplies, materials, and finished goods could cripple your business.  So can the carrying costs involved with maintaining excess inventory “just in case.”  Maintain inventory levels based on more likely risks:  Spikes in demand, late deliveries, or production/quality problems.
  • Add suppliers. Some Japanese firms are unlikely to resume production for months, so some businesses are scrambling to find other sources.  Still, don’t create multiple redundancies in your supply chain. You will only add administrative costs, additional complexity to your purchasing systems, and pay incrementally higher supply costs since smaller order quantities typically mean higher prices.  (If you are largely dependent on one supplier for a key supply, definitely establish other sources.)
  • Fatten manufacturing. Lean manufacturing practices are under fire in some circles, sometimes due to a lack of understanding of lean manufacturing.  Lean manufacturing isn’t complex; it’s simple.  Simple is good.  Adding buffers and additional WIP and redundant capacity and crewing typically decreases productivity and increases cost.
  • Stop outsourcing. Working with freelancers or outsource partners in other countries exposes your risk to service interruptions.  Bringing those functions in-house exposes your business to higher costs.  Treat outsourcing like you do your supply chain:  Don’t rely on a sole source.  Have backups in place.  Know who to call in an emergency.  While it may be tempting, bringing every function in house could result in a financial disaster for your firm.  (Bottom line: If it made business sense to outsource before the earthquake, it makes business sense to outsource now.)
  • Change because you think you have to. Your ability to adapt is what makes you a successful business owner.  Make changes to your business model based on logic and foresight, not because you feel you have to do something in response to a crisis that may never impact your business.  Sometimes the best response is no response, especially if you’re already doing most things right.

This all sounds like it is right in line with the lean philosophy and not in contradiction to it.

Jeff ends with what companies should do.

What should you do in response to the Japanese crisis?  Take a close look at inventory levels, at the strength of your supply chain, at potential weaknesses in your manufacturing/shipping/sales processes, and at how you manage any outsourced functions.  Look for glaring weaknesses.  Just don’t work to create plans and systems that will mitigate every possible risk.

Pause, reflect, make smart changes where necessary, and stay focused on what made your business successful in the first place.

Sounds like good advice to me.  Companies shouldn’t overreact and add inventory and suppliers because a giant “What If”, but we shouldn’t ignore what happened either.  We should learn from it and apply changes that make sense to mitigate risk without the company getting away from what made it successful to begin with.

Be smart…don’t react without understanding.

Guest Post: What is Lean?

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

If you are asked to explain Lean in simple terms to the uninitiated, how do you do that?  Here’s my take:

As a tookit, Lean is about establishing methods to define and solve problems in your business.

As a business philosophy, Lean is about providing your customers the best possible value for their money (Quality, Cost, Delivery) while maximizing the company’s profitability (or viability for a NFP) for the short and long term.

As a mindset, Lean is about constantly striving to (or believing that) you can be better at everything that you are doing than you are right now.

What do you say?  Am I oversimplifying this or leaving something out?  Is this straightforward enough to make people want to learn more or at least not reject it out of hand?

My Continuous Improvement – How to Improve the Blog

Changes are coming

I have been blogging for around nine months now.  During that time, I have seen some things that I would like to improve with the site.  For instance, the font size on the page seems a little small making it not very easy to read.

I also have, with the help of my wife, come up with a logo option or two that I would like to add to the site.

Before I make any changes, I wanted to ask those of you who read the blog if there are any improvements or changes you would like to see?

In the spirit of continuous improvement, I would like the opinion of my customers, the readers, on what I can work on.  Layout?  Information in the columns? Topics?  Anything you can think of.

I haven’t decided when the changes will take place, but changes are coming.

Why are Lean People Seen as Lean People?

For close to 15 years now, I have been doing lean work.  My learning has mirrored that of most of the U.S.  I started out studying Shingo and implementing tools.  Then I learned about the people side.  As I worked with Toyota, as a supplier, I started to see it all come together as a system.  Now I see the thinking that is the basis of everything we as Lean people talk about.

That is the thing that bothers………lean people or lean thinkers.  Why are we just seen as lean people?  Why aren’t we seen as good business people?  People that can help a business sustain, grow, and become stronger.  That is what we do.  We just do it in a way that is seen as different from the standards that have been laid out generations before us.

Call it lean.  Call it whatever you want.  To me it is good business practice.  Unfortunately…….or fortunately for my career, a vast majority of people can’t see it the way we “lean people” can.

My goal isn’t to be known as a lean expert, but a business expert.  Someone strong in leading, transforming, and growing a business.  How about you?