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Guest Post: Reasons Lean May Fail

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 been a part of  a handful of conversations lately with people in what I’ll call “non-lean” organizations.  Because of my background, these folks will tell me about how they have a Lean position or Six Sigma position or they know of someone trained in the toolbox.  The common laments that I hear break down as either “We have this person, but I don’ t know what they do” or “This person has the training, but doesn’t seem to do anything with it.”  This is certainly not the first time I’ve heard these type of comments, but they have come with an alarming frequency lately.  Being a self-described Lean Thinker, I can’t help but begin to ask Why this seems to come up so often.  Not only that, but what does it mean in the big picture for Lean and/or Six Sigma as movements.

Why do people perceive this situation?

I guess there are a few reasons why people could see things this way.  One of the first possible reasons is that people in the organization don’t know or understand what is going on could be trying to avoid contact with the individual(s) or the initiative.  I’ve seen this happen for several reasons.  Sometimes it is out of fear of what the initiative is intending to do.   (Not wanting to get too close to the perceived ‘axe’.)  Others could ignore it out of a ‘Flavor of the Month’ cynicism.  I can understand both of these mindsets blocking the message or the messenger.

Another reason the perception exists could be a company/system failure.  Maybe it IS a Flavor of the Month or a side project and not a true commitment from the organization.  Maybe it’s a pilot program that isn’t ready for mass communication yet.  Maybe the organization just stinks at communicating and this is symptomatic of other issues.

A third, and by far the least comforting to me, option is that some of the people in these roles just aren’t the right people.  Sometimes these roles get filled by people looking to add some training or a job title to their resume.  Sometimes they get filled by people who had some available time or were expendable from their current roles.  Maybe they aren’t either of those and are truly interested, passionate people who are missing a trait that helps them be effective in their role (i.e. communication skills, technical aptitude, ability to teach others, ability to influence others to change, etc.).  These aren’t the easiest jobs to do and sometimes it is difficult to define exactly what traits you are looking for, especially for new initiatives.  Sometimes these gaps can be filled as an individual grows and develops, sometimes they can’t.

What do these problems mean?

Aside from the avoiders and willfully ignorant group in my first possible reason, the other two causes should be real concerns for those of us in the Lean community.  The more people are exposed to bad views of Lean, the harder it becomes to sell the good stuff.  (As a side note: I am distinguishing between Mark Graban’s LAME and just flat out poor execution of Lean here.)  The less people are willing to buy in to Lean because of previous bad experiences, the more entrenched people become in the ‘old way’ of doing things and the more trouble industry as a whole will have working to compete.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clean solution here.   We can do the best we can and hope that our good outweighs some others not so good.  Either way, I find myself much more interested lately in failed lean initiatives than successful ones.  Maybe there are as many lessons for all of us in places that it hasn’t worked as there are in Toyota’s (and other companies’) successes.

Guest Post: Nature or Nuture

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 was thinking the other day about some of the people I know that work in and around Lean-type leadership positions and something struck me about them.  None of them were truly ‘transformed’ in to Lean thinkers.  All of them were people who had an inherent problem solving mentality or a passion to challenge the traditional way of doing things and found a tool box that furthered their natural tendencies.  The same held true, for my experience, of operations leaders.  Those that truly ‘got it’ and were the big drivers and implementers were people who were already looking for better ways and latched on to the different methodologies.

Taking that a step further, what does that mean for companies?  Are some companies, by their culture and DNA, more inclined to be successful converting to and maintaining a Lean environment?    Sure.  Some companies are more experimental or entrepreneurial and look for ways to become better.  Some are more likely to dig their heels 3 feet deep in the ground hanging on to their traditional methods for as long as they can.  The ones in the latter group that ‘try’ Lean are more likely to overlay the tools on their old ways and not get results they thought they might.  Lean becomes something that happens on an action sheet and not part of who they are.

Am I being a defeatist here, preaching “it is what it is” when it comes to company histories and Lean transformation?  Certainly not.  Companies are nothing without the people that do the work and lead the organizations.  Lean starts, builds and endures because of the people in the system.  It is the attitude and dedication of the leaders that determines that path of a company.  Whether any change is embraced or abandoned is determined by what people are doing right here and right now.  It is not determined by what happened 10, 50 or 100 years ago.  What this means is that when you look at your Current State when defining your Lean progress or setting up your road map you need to invest some solid time in understanding who and what your organization is made of.  Without the proper attention to those factors, you may find yourself backtracking a lot more than you ever thought possible trying to re-do what you thought was already done.

Learnings from a Kanban Implementation

A few years back I had the pleasure of setting up my first kanban system.  At least one that I was consciously setting up, unlike the one I blogged about in the pastJoe Wilson, my recent guest blogger, and I were tasked with developing a kanban system, train 550 people across 3 shifts using a simulation we develop, and implement all within 8 weeks.

(click on image to see larger version)

This was no small task as you can imagine.  The facility had 4 main process: injection molding, painting, electroplating, and assembly.  The processes were spread out over 450,000 square feet.  We also thought the only way anyone would have a chance to retain how to use the kanban system was to have all 550 people touch/participate in the simulation.

We designed the simulation using the actual kanban cards that would be used out on the floor so people would be used to seeing them.  The simulation also only used 6 people at time.  We weren’t dummies.  We knew how many sessions that meant and we were going to do it in one week.  We decided to train 6 people from HR on the process and the simulation.  They knew as much as we did at the time so why not.  We went over it with them several times until they understood it.

We were the only facility in the company that hit the mandated deadline for this task.  Yes.  It is one to this day that I am proud of.  Now that doesn’t mean the system worked all that smoothly.  It did allow us to jump into the learning cycle much faster than everyone else and start making improvements.  It was an AMAZING learning experience.

I did all this set up so I could share some learnings……OK and maybe toot Joe and I’s horn a bit for meeting the deadline 🙂

  • Small kanban cards (3×3) on big portable racks didn’t work too well – Our solution was to permanently mount the cards to the racks that were specifically designed for the parts.  We scanned the card when full and then when empty.  Another possibility is to make the kanban cards big (8×4) so a card can’t be stuck in a pocket easily or is easy to see if missing.
  • Transporting the cards large distances to put in the “Return To Supplier” bin did not work – Taking the cards across the department allowed people to stick them in pockets until they walked over there and also gave them more opportunity to drop cards on their way to the bin.  The permanently mounted cards helped with this because we went visually off the empty bins.  This forced us to create a visual management system to see them easily.  Another solution is have a “Return to Supplier” bin no further than 12 inches from where the card is removed.
  • Start with too much inventory instead of too little – When parts ran out because we sized the kanban too small people wanted to blame the new process and not bad math on our part.  In most cases, we sized properly or too large.  When someone argued the process was to blame we showed how it was working for the other parts and we just needed to add more kanban cards to the system.
  • The final one was timing of launch – We were an automotive supplier and we went go live with the process in the middle of June.  In automotive, almost all manufacturers shutdown for a week around July 4th to retool for the new model lines.  The suppliers do to.  So we were live for one week and then told everyone to violate the kanban because we had to build a bank of parts for the few customers that didn’t shutdown.  Whoops!  That was a hard pill to swallow but we did and we put a process in place of using non-replenishment kanbans (my next post will talk more about this) for building a bank of parts.

The list could go on forever on what we learned from this experience.  These were the highlights that spurred other learnings.  In the end, the system worked very well but it took us some time to get there.  I hope others can take from out learning and not have to make some of the same mistakes we did.

Guest Post: Pete Carroll

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’ve gone back and forth on this several times on what to write about a book I recently read.  I’ve settled on stripping most of what I had to say about it because of two reasons.  First and foremost, I absolutely hate the business as sports parallel.  I just can’t see how pushing yourself through to end of year performance is like fighting for a playoff victory or giving a big presentation is like shooting free throws with the game on the line.  Those situations always seemed to have enough levity as it is without adding a made up metaphor to put them over the top.  The second reason is that I’ve already written about a book by a football coach and, frankly, I couldn’t figure out a way to do it again without making it come off like a form letter.

With that in mind, and with a goal of finding ideas that fit with lean without necessarily being from the lean world, I bring you what I picked up from the book, “Win Forever” by Pete Carroll**.  I’ll be honest, I had no interest in reading the book and only picked it up while I was waiting to meet someone at Borders and killing a few minutes.  When I picked it up, I opened to a page where he described his philosophy as, “Doing things better than they have ever been done before”.  I am a true believer in the concept of chasing a ‘True North’ and this struck a chord with me that was along those lines.  Since I had a good coupon and I was still waiting for the friend to show up, I plunked down a few bucks and figured I’d skim through it.

There was one point in the book that has stuck with me as extremely valuable.  One of the building blocks of his philosophy is for the individual coaches to “learn the learner”.  In his practical terms, it meant the coaches that work for him are responsible for understanding what motivates, de-motivates, and engages the players they coach.  That forces the coach to learn how to optimize their message to the recipient so that each person can be put in a position to be the best they choose to be.  It is such a simple and profound concept and one I had never come across before phrased this way.  Matt has made several posts lately that hit on training and coaching. I can’t help but wonder how much effort I have put forth over the years that didn’t make an impact because I spent a ton of time polishing the message and didn’t take enough time to understand how the person needed to receive the message.  Or how many initiatives or programs, lean or not, haven’t been fully realized because the human factor was left out.  It has been quite a point of reflection for me to realize where some opportunities have been lost and what I can do to improve in the future.  Or how best to present information to a large group with very separate motivations.

**As for whether or not you should get the book or not, it depends.  If you won’t be able to get past things like USC football, Reggie Bush, and his 7-9 team making the NFL playoffs this year, you will probably not get much out of it.  If you can ignore those things or don’t know anything about them, I’d recommend it.  It’s a fairly quick read about the path to creating a personal vision and the pieces that were important to him as he determined what he was passionate about.  There are some solid leadership tidbits that can apply anywhere people are striving for greatness.  It is, however, also a bit cheesy in parts…don’t say you weren’t warned.

Guest Post: The Tone is in the Fingers

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I am happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

A couple of years ago I decided to try my hand at playing guitar.  I still stink at it, so I can’t give you any shortcuts to musical genius.  I picked up a cheap guitar at the local guitar mart and immediately dug in, making some of the most painful noises in the history of sound.  Realizing I had no idea what I was doing, I harnessed the power of the internet and started searching around for resources, ideas, theories, practices, pretty much anything that would help me be slightly less terrible at this new adventure.  One of the things that stood out to me was how often people were asking questions about how they could sound like their favorite well known artist.  One of the more popular subject for these inquiries seems to be Eddie Van Halen (sort of the Toyota of Tone, if you will.)  The questions would usually end up with a handful of answers or guesses as to what model guitar he was using, what amp or amps he was playing through, or even what pickup model or strings or effects pedals were in the mix and what equipment he was recorded on.  Inevitably the question would always end up with someone saying that his tone comes from his fingers, not his gear.  The truth being that Eddie Van Halen (or anybody else for that matter) sounds like themselves no matter what gear they are playing on and no amount of gear collection is going to make you or me be able to duplicate every nuance of “Eruption” in our basement or the local open mic night.

What does this have to do with Lean?  Pretty much everything.  At one time or another we’ve all asked ourselves What Would Toyota Do?  Or, we’ve borrowed a concept from a book or a colleague or a benchmarking trip without fully understanding why something looks or functions the way it does.  Toyota manufactures cars like Toyota because that’s who they are.  Our companies make our widgets the way we operate because that’s who we are.  That’s not an excuse to avoid change.  It’s a challenge to all of us in the Lean/Six Sigma/Continuous Improvement/Whatever-Name-You-Choose community to understand who we are and what our environment is before we layer things in place that work somewhere else.  Our path should be about chasing greatness in our own world, not trying be like Toyota.

Unless, of course, you are in a Van Halen cover band.  In that case, happy searching.

Guest Post: Tony Dungy and Lean Leadership

I thought this post was appropriate after Coach Dungy was inducted into the Ring of Honor Monday night in Indianapolis.

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I am happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

One of my favorite books is Quiet Strength by former NFL coach Tony Dungy.  If you’ve read the book or heard Dungy talk he’s huge on the phrase, “Do what we do”.  Whether he’s talking about following his vision on how to build a championship team, his demeanor in preparing and dealing with his team, or as a battle cry of sorts for his players, the thought is the same…”Do what we do”.

How does that relate to Lean Leadership?  In my mind it’s one of the most perfect metaphors for how to lead in a lean environment.  From a strategic standpoint, you set your philosophy and methodology and stick to it.  From a relationhip standpoint, you are a steady, consistent personality always trying to teach and develop the people you work with.  You develop the standard work, follow the standard work, and gauge people vs their performance to a standard.   That doesn’t mean the standard never changes (hence kaizen) just as the game plan changes slightly week to week or season to season for a football coach.  However the underlying principles remain the same.

At all levels of your operations, do you know how to “do what you do?”  Is it clear who is supposed to do what, when and how?  If you told your people to go “do what we do” in a pre-shift meeting, would they know what that means?  If your plant/site/division/operations management told the team to go “do what we do,” how many people would be rowing in the same direction?

Guest Post: Pace Not Speed

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I am happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

A few days ago, I had one of those random day-dreaming thoughts that spurred me to go look up something in a book that I haven’t read in a few years.  When I opened the book, the bookmark was a heavily scribbled on piece of notepaper from a series of Lean classes I took.   Among a handful of otherwise barely readable comments was these three words, underlined and circled:  “PACE…NOT SPEED”.

Those 3 words stood out as a turning point for me in my lean education.  Those words drove an understanding of what the huge pile of lean phrases and tools I had bouncing around my head really were all about.

You really can’t implement things like pull systems/kanbans/heijunka, standard work, or even 5-S programs until you can define what your customers want and when and how they want it.  It is extremely difficult to determine how many people should be doing the work in your workplace or how much equipment you need to do the work if you don’t have a true understanding of how much work needs to be done.  What this also means is that your distribution, purchasing, and planning/scheduling functions are absolutely critical to the success of your success in lean.

Where do you take this from here?  Start by getting as deep as you can in what the market is for your plant/company’s output and what your customers need.  Get as deep as you can in how your suppliers bring things to your door and how you handle those.  Those things aren’t exactly the most interesting or flashy pieces of the pie to work on, but without a clear understanding of what you need to do, you can’t solve the problem of how you get there.

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Guest Post: Beyond Lean?

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

Beyond Lean…

My first thought upon seeing the title of this site was, “What the heck does ‘Beyond Lean’ even mean?”

At first in conjures up images of the ‘next big thing’ in trendy manufacturing lingo and training classes.  It seemed like it was going to be a super hybrid manufacturing system that encompasses Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Kepner Tregoe, Red X, DOE, TQM, VORP, WHIP, PER, QB Ratings, and some ninja stuff mixed together.  All of which can be outsourced to the lowest possible labor cost country and managed remotely by an iPhone app.  Knowing Matt, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t where he was headed, but I was still struck by the name and what he meant by it.

Without asking for his reasoning behind the name, I’ll offer up my take on what it has come to mean to me.  I think ‘Beyond Lean’ is a way of stripping off the extra baggage of the names or origins of what we are talking about and looking at why something does what it does and what it would do for you.  I think it’s about pointing out where lean principles exist in the world around us without stretching to see it in places that it isn’t.  I think it’s also about looking past the words in a book (or from a video) and knowing that your path to greatness is going to be different than somebody else’s path.  Ultimately, I think ‘Beyond Lean’ is a mind set of sorts that reminds us that there is no such thing as achieving lean.  There are always opportunities to be found, problems to be solved, quality to improve…and the only way to chase that greatness is to be willing to look and reach beyond where the map tells you to look.

Then again, maybe Matt just thought it sounded good….

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