Blog Archives

Always Keep the Door Open

Opportunities seem to present themselves when you least expect it.  Not when you are trying to seek out an opportunity.

That is why it is important to keep as many doors open.  It increases the possibility of an opportunity.

Network with people in new areas.  This can open the door for a career opportunity.  Or the opportunity for you or your team to do work in a new area, highlighting the capabilities your and your team bring to the organization.

The best way to know if you have an interest in something is to try it.  Taking job assignments in new areas on a trial basis or working on a project in a new area can lead to finding new passions and interests.

None of this is possible with an opportunity from a relationship or doorway you have kept open.

How many doorways do you have open?


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.

Small Change vs. Large Change

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.

Another Visual Management Example

There are examples of visual management everywhere.  Walk into a store and the departments are labeled so you know where to go.  Go to a Subway restaurant and the ingredients available to put on your sandwich are displayed right in front of you.   Or look all around the U.S. road system.  It is filled with visual cues and information.

This one is simple and can be handy.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Gatorade’s water bottle has a transparent stripe down the side that allows you to see how full the water bottle is.  This conveys a single message (how much fluid is in the bottle?) simply.  Sure you can pick it up and easily tell by the weight.  What if you are an equipment manager for a sports team and you have 10 more of these to manage during a game.  Instead of picking each bottle up several times to see if it is close to empty, a quick glance allows the equipment manager to know which ones to fill immediately.

It may seem like such a small improvement, but that is part of the essence of lean.  Improving everyday.  Saving even two seconds will amount to significant time as that process is repeated over and over again.  This is something Paul Akers stresses at his company, FastCap.

What have you done to save 2 seconds?

Guest Post: My First Kaizen Event

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

As an inspector at the end of a screen printing process, I’m was in charge of making sure we didn’t ship bad products. I had always enjoyed my job, but after taking part in a kaizen event I went home less tired and made fewer mistakes, ultimately making the customers happier and saving my employer money. Best of all, it felt like I actually made a difference.

Five days of improvement

We started with a training day. Jose, our Lean Director, asked six of us to meet in a conference room: Maria from engineering, A’isha from purchasing, Pete the controller, Ted from maintenance and Gerry, who ran the press that sent me finished parts.

Jose explained that a kaizen event is a concentrated five day effort to improve a factory process. A’isha said she didn’t know anything about the factory, but Jose said the point was to get new ideas from people who didn’t know the area. He called this being outside looking in.

Once we understood our goal – to improve my inspection operation – Jose had us make a plan. We decided to spend our first day gathering data. Then we’d go to the inspection area, ask questions and capture our ideas on flipcharts. At the end of day two, we’d put together a list of the ideas we wanted to try, then we’d implement as many as possible.

As-Is data

Between us we found out how many customer complaints came in each month, how many pieces were scrapped, the number of bad parts caught and our delivery performance. None of them were very good.

Generating ideas

Gerry and I showed the team how we did things on the press line, then people asked questions and made suggestions. Pretty quickly we’d filled a whole flipchart pad!

Back in the conference room we stuck the pages on the walls and made a list of the changes we could make. The quick and easy ideas we tried straight away; Maria worked on the harder ones with Ted.

We used the 5S system to arrange my tools on a shadow board so I knew where to find everything and to see if anything was missing. We labeled everything and cleaned up the area so was a nicer place to work.

One thing I asked for was to raise the inspection table. As it was, I had to bend over, which made my back ache, and I was putting a shadow over the piece I was looking at. Ted made the change in a couple of hours, and it makes such a difference!

Ted also installed a track lighting system over the top of the bench. This was really clever because it gave me the ability to vary the light, which helped me find the defects much more easily.

Gerry suggested I turn on a light whenever I find a defect. This would be his signal to stop the press and he’d be able to fix the problem right away. Jose called this an andon light.

The presentation

When we’d finished, Jose had us present everything to management. I was worried our ideas were too simple but they seemed impressed. Arnie, the Quality Manager, did say though that the proof would be in the numbers.


A month later we got new data and compared it with our “As-is” numbers. Complaints were down, we were scrapping almost nothing, I was finding more defects and our delivery performance was up.

Little did I know that Jose was so impressed with my performance on the kaizen team that he would ask me three months later to consider joining him as the Lean Coordinator in the company’s transformation process. I took his recommendation to apply for the position when it opened up and soon began my own transformation process into becoming a student of The Toyota Way.

Stay tuned to learn more about my personal journey in lean manufacturing!

Importance of Stepping Back

Continuous improvement and driving out waste is a fundamental part of lean.  The constant pursuit of driving waste out and not letting it creep back in sounds great.  We should all do it.

This weekend was a great case of why we forget about waste and a method to help focus on waste.  My wife and I decided to clear out the garage and get it better organized.  We don’t do a great job of 5S in our garage and it is really apparent after we do a major project.  We end up with tools not put back in the same place, plus the addition of new tools to do the project. In the last year we have completed 4 big projects (built our kids a swing set, replaced all the railing on our second floor deck, gutted and remodeled our master bath and installed cabinets for a craft area).  Our garage was a mess.

I have mentioned before that my wife runs her own business on top of us doing all this.  During the clean out, she asked one simple question, “Why can’t we move the business stuff up by the door for of the third garage?”  Brilliant!!  Here is a drawing of the third car garage and what is stored in it.

(click on image to enlarge)

This is brilliant because the truck you see part outside the door is used for her business outings.  Now I can just open the door and load her stuff into the truck with very little movement.  Before, I had to move my car out or squeeze by it and carry her stuff to the back of the garage and never opened the third car door.  It eliminates motion/transportation waste of me carrying and my back really appreciate it.

Two years of doing this and it never occurred to either one of us until we stepped back, observed the area and really thought about it.

As lean leaders, we ask a lot of people to drive out the waste in their work.  Make it a little better everyday.  But if we don’t give them time to step back, reflect and ask questions then this is not as easy as it sounds.  A process has to be established that allows the employees to do this.  we can’t make grand statements and just expect things to happen.

It may seem easy to just reduce/eliminate the waste but when you are knee deep in the work you need the time to step back.  Don’t undervalue it.

Learning A3 Downloadable Template

If you look at the page links above you will see a page that has been added labeled Downloads.

This page will have files you can download to keep and use. The initial thought is these will mostly be templates that can be used, but I am not limiting it to just templates.

My intent is not for it to be a template just to fill in but a way for people to learn. I want it to be a tool that can be helpful to understanding lean and facilitate conversations.

Here is the template. There are two worksheets in the template.

  • SWI – Intent of Use – This is meant to explain the best way I have learned to use the learning A3. It tries to answer the questions of what is the purpose of the learning A3 and how to use it. It also, gives a standard operating procedure to go about using it.
  • Learning A3 – This is the template to start with. It leads you through several discussions on what business need is the learning tied to, what is the purpose of the learning, what behaviors and concepts will be the focus on learning and actions to take to reach your targets in the upcoming year.

Please feel free to download and use it. Any feedback on the ease and clarity of use would be appreciated.

Breakout Groups During Improvement Events

A common tool in the lean world is the kaizen event.  This is where a cross functional team meets for 3-5 days all day to improve a process.

The days are long, not only for the participants but also for the facilitator(s).  Participants hate sitting around a conference room for multiple days straight.  It is difficult to concentrate and people become bored quickly.  It is hard for facilitators to keep the energy up during this time also.

This is where breakout groups come in handy.  Using breakout groups gets everyone engaged and can get the team up and moving around.  If there are participants who don’t like to speak to a bigger audience, the smaller groups give them a chance to give input without feeling uncomfortable.  Also, it can give the facilitator time to gather their thoughts and re-energize during the session.

Breakout groups can be used in different ways.  For an event focused around a business or transactional process that is hard to see, a rotating chart can be a good option.  Have everyone write their improvement ideas on a post-it note.  One idea per post-it note.  Give the team a few minutes to write them down.  Then have each person come to the front, read their idea and stick the post-it on paper hanging on the wall.  Group the post-its by similar ideas from individuals.  After you have all the ideas, split the large group into smaller teams and give each team an equal number of ideas to discuss.  Use a flip chart.  Have one idea per flip chart page.  List the idea at the top and then write the benefits on the left side and the challenges to the idea on the right side of the chart.  When all the teams are done, have them rotate to read what the other group wrote and write any additional thoughts they have on the idea.

This is just one way to get people up and more engaged.

If the improvement event is in a manufacturing area, a typical breakout group is going out and actually moving the work area around to the improved design.  Simple, effective and the process is ready to run right after the event is over.

It is important to balance working as a group and breaking out into smaller groups.  When done well, it energizes the group and the facilitator and allows everyone a chance to give input no matter what their communication style is.

Book Review: Agile Kids

This is my first book review on the website.  I was contacted and asked to review the ebook.  It is a good book and a quick read with great visuals.

Name of the Book:  Agile Kids

Authors: Shirly Ronen-Harel &  Danko Kovatch

Publication Date:  May 2012

Book description: what’s the key message?

Shirly and Danko have spent several years working in hi-tech industry learning and implementing lean and Agile concepts.  They saw a practical use for these concepts at home with their kids.  Through their experiences, Shirly and Danko learned ways to implement these concepts with their kids in order to clearly define the work that needs to be done and show progress made towards completing the work.

Shirly and Danko discuss how to use visual task boards and daily update meetings as well as practical advice on how to get everyone involved.  They covers everything to make the process work; the tool, the roles and responsibilities of the parents and children, how conduct a daily meeting as well as a reflection (retrospective).  Shirly and Danko cover all three P’s (product, process, people) in describing the concept usage at home.

Shirly and Danko state they are not child psychologists.  This is a way they have found to positively engage their children in the work that needs to be done around the house.  They have found it to be fun, interactive and it drives responsibility among their children showing how lean and Agile can be used at home.

What are the highlights? What works?

Shirly and Danko do a great job of bridging lean and Agile concepts from the workplace to the home.  Even with no lean or Agile experience, the concepts can be understood.  The book gives great step-by-step instructions in how to go about implementing the task board, the roles and responsibilities of the parents and children as well as the daily meetings and reflections.

The pictures that are included as examples area a great help as she steps through the process.  Shirly and Danko give a true sense of what the outcome can look like and how it would work.  The reader can follow the process and implement the ideas they have outlined.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

Sometimes the book teeters between being for someone with a lean and Agile background and being for anyone.  A few times technical terminology is used.  Later Shirly and Danko give the reader typical everyday terminology for the same thing.  One example is using the term “backlog”, which is common computer and data terminology, to describe the list of “to-do’s” or “tasks to complete” that is easier for everyone to understand.

It would be helpful to have a Table of Contents to enable readers to find content in the book quickly.  There is good reference material but the reader will be flipping page-by-page through the book to find something specific.

This is an ebook.  I have a copy in .pdf format.  I transferred the file to my Kindle 2 in order to read easily at home.  It was very difficult to read on my Kindle.  The font was extremely small, the great summaries were not readable and the pictures are harder.  After three chapters, I had to read the file on my computer which was great.  The pictures and graphics were vibrant and easy to see and the font was very readable.  I know .pdf is not the normal format for a Kindle file, but Kindles are made to read .pdfs and this is the first time I had this trouble.  It may work very well on a Kindle Fire that has color.  I have not tried.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

If the reader is someone who has lots of lean and Agile experience, the concepts are basic and easy to understand.  It shows how the concepts can work at home and is easy to translate to work at the office.

If the readers do not have any lean or Agile experience, the concepts are laid out simply so anyone can understand and try to use them.  It can help a parent at home or be used to understand how to implement the concepts at work.

Create Superheroes Through a Strong Process

It is amazing to me the amount of confidence a person can have of producing a successful outcome when they are supported by a strong process.

“A bad process beats good people” is a quote I picked up from Jamie Flinchbaugh and Any Carlino.

The point of the quote is to stress that even good people will fail within a bad process so design the process so it will repeatedly deliver good results.

Let’s look at the same thing but in a different way.

“A strong process turns good people into superheroes!”

When a strong, repeatable process is designed and followed it will instill confidence of the people using the process.  The more the people use the process and the more they see successful results the more confidence is built.  The person looks like a superhero because they are delivering on results time after time.  Confidence can build to a point of almost arrogance because they know they can deliver the results wanted if they follow the process.

This is true of kaizen events and problem solving as well as day-to-day work execution processes.

This does not mean a strong process can’t be improved because you can always make it stronger, but understand if you have a strong process and use it to your advantage.

Turn yourself into a superhero as well as others around you by developing a strong process for something you do and following it.