Working for the automotive supplier, I had moved from industrial engineer to program manager and now into the lean group. The lean group comprised of just myself and one other, Joe Wilson who has contributed here at Beyond Lean.
One of our first assignments was to implement a plant-wide kanban system in 4 weeks. It was a mandate that came down from our Vice President to all the plants. In that short time, Joe and I had to learn about kanban, devise a system, create a simulation to teach 500 employees and implement the system.
Good thing we were young and full of energy back then, because I don’t know how we did it but we did. We developed kanban cards by color signifying which department the card need to return to in order to place the order for more parts. We then created a very simple Lego simulation. The simulation was good for 5-6 people at a time and allowed each person to be hands in order to create better learning. We also used the exact kanban card that we were going to put on the shop floor for the simulation so the employees got used to seeing them and could give feedback on them. We then trained 500 people on the simulation, five at a time across three shifts.
One rule we stressed the employees was, “Do NOT violate the kanban!” If you don’t have a card, you don’t build. Even if you know cards are in the internal customer’s hand and haven’t been brought to you. That holds the customer accountable for “ordering” the parts from the supplying department.
Everyone was ready to go live on our due date and we nailed it. Not saying there weren’t problems, but we hit the date and people were trying their best to follow the new procedures.
Then it happened. Our go-live date was mid-June. If you are familiar with the auto industry, everyone shuts down for retooling for a week or two around July 4th. So one week into the kanban system, our management was telling everyone to violate the kanban in order to build the bank of parts for the few shipments we have during the two week shutdown.
Yep. Violate the Number 1 Rule right out of the gate. It caused Joe and I a lot of rework after shutdown to get the kanban system back up and running. In the end, it worked well thanks to the great employees and the management support, but the false start didn’t help.
- Building the bank of parts for shutdown was the correct thing to do at July 4th. What we need to be more conscious of is when we start something. It would have been better to start the kanban training after shutdown so we didn’t have the false start and have management telling everyone to violate the number 1 rule right off the bat.
- We made kanban cards that were small. 4 inches x 3 inches or so. Cards were get dropped and lost quite a bit. It is better to make larger kanban cards (8 inches x 6 inches). It is harder to lose these because they are easier to see and don’t fit in pockets without folding a laminated card.
- Creating a simulation that allowed everyone to be hands-on and using the actual kanban card from the floor really helped to create learning, understanding and good dialogue with the employees.
In the past, I have posted several times about my experiments with kanban boards for my personal work. Below are the links to past posts.
The last post shows my failed experiment using Trello. I kept hearing other people say how much they liked Trello and how it well it worked for them. It has been about a year since I last tried Trello, so I thought I would give it another shot.
First, I reflected on why Trello didn’t work the first time so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes. There were two things that caused me quit using Trello. The first was how I separated my work. I had a board for each project. I had three projects so that would put my total WIP at 6 (max of 2 for each project). I had a hard time prioritizing my work and I was flipping between boards constantly.
The second thing I couldn’t work out was a way to include my weekly blog posts. I got tired of writing the exact same kanban card every week (“Write Blog Post”).
If Trello was going to work for me, I had to be able to deal with these two situations.
In the end, I realized I was making it too complicated. One board and using the labels would work for me.
I create five columns to organize my work.
- Posts to Be Written: This is a list of blog posts with the idea for the post written on each card. I can move this over to my Doing column when I am ready to write. It is a visual reminder to mix in my blog posts with my other work.
- Queue: A list of work to be done. The color labels in the top left-hand corner signify the type of work or the project.
- Doing: This is what I am currently working on with a WIP limit of 2
- Pen: This is a kanban card that is blocked from moving because I am waiting on work or information from someone else. I put a WIP limit of 3 on this and it seems to work for me.
- Done: When the work is complete the kanban card goes in this column. I archive the cards at the beginning of every week.
It’s not fancy, but it is effective. I now have access to my board at anytime, either on my computer, phone or tablet. So, if I remember something I can add it right away.
Are you using personal kanban? If so, how do you have yours set up?
Many of you may know that I have experimented with personal kanban boards, traditional and digital. In fact, I will have another update in a few weeks.
Today, I wanted to share with you an idea I saw but have not tried. It is using the desktop screen on the computer as a kanban board.
You can save a .jpg file of a kanban board as your Desktop background. This creates a permanent background to move Post-Its around on to show your flow of work.
You can then use the Post-It program that comes on Microsoft PCs now as your kanban cards and move them around, like you would on a physical board.
If you are a person who likes to have a lot of shortcuts on your desktop, then this can present an issue, because the Post-Its will cover up your shortcuts.
Another pointer I got from a different person, was to use the color of the Post-It to signify if you have completed a weekly task for this week.
For the first week, you can have the Post-It in blue and move it across your board. When it is time for the second week, you can change the Post-It color to green and move back to the queue.
If someone has tried this or does try it, I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment below or email me through the Contact page.
On my Downloads page, you can download the .jpg file of the kanban board pictured above.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour a local company that does sheet metal work. The company does not advertise being lean, although they are a part of our lean consortium. When you walk in the manufacturing facility you would be surprised at what you DON’T see. There aren’t 5S markings or visual production boards or kanban levels anywhere to be seen.
What the company is doing is the hard work. The are working to change their culture. They are focusing on it everyday from the leadership down to the floor.
The company is Webco Manufacturing.
What they have done is come up with The Webco Way. Thirty-one fundamentals for everyone to focus on improving. Here are just a few:
- Do the right thing
- Check your ego at the door
- Take ownership
- Practice blameless problem solving
- Be process oriented
- Continuously improve everything you do
- Embrace change
These are just a few. I encourage you to visit Webco’s website to see the complete list and a description of each.
You might think 31 is a lot to remember. I did too, but it is working for them. They focus on one fundamental every single day.
A fundamental is chosen for the week. A member of the leadership team sends out their perspective of the fundamental for the week every Sunday night to everyone with e-mail in the company. During the week, every meeting consisting of more than 2 people is started by reading the quick description of the fundamental and giving an example of how it is brought to life.
This includes meetings with supplier and customers. The meeting could be 1 Webco employee and 5 suppliers but they will start the meeting with the fundamental of the week. This is to let customers and suppliers know what they are trying to do and helps to drive the same expectations from their customers and suppliers.
Webco may not claim to be lean, but the culture they are driving and the way they are going about it sure seems like a lean culture to me.
What are your thoughts?
Then I tried again. I had great success with the 2nd board. I used it for a year and a half.
With a new role where I have multiple desks, I am constantly in different areas of the building. I may not be back to my desk for several days or even a couple of weeks. I wasn’t able to keep my board up and I had work to do written in several places.
I wanted to find an electronic kanban that would work for me. I found one that worked well. It was a computer only board. I explain it more in this post here.
This new electronic kanban work well. I could take a note or email myself on my phone with what needed to be on it and then transfer it when I got to my computer. If I had my computer with my, I just added right then.
As a person always looking to eliminate waste, you can see where there was waste in emailing myself and then re-typing it for the kanban board. A friend of mine recommended Trello for me to try. It was web-based. I was able to download an app to my phone which I could open and enter the work and not send myself emails to re-enter.
Everything looked great so I gave it a try for the last 3 months of last year.
It wasn’t hard to use. It had plenty of features and it was setup very similar to the electronic kanban I was using. For some reason, I couldn’t get the flow of it. Trello was not working for me. I tried for three months and I couldn’t get into the flow of using it and making my life easier to manage.
I have no idea why it didn’t click with me but it was a disaster. I forgot some things that needed to be done. I felt disorganized and stressed.
So, to start 2014 I am going back to my electronic kanban board on my computer and not using Trello. I already feel more organized and less stressed since I switched back.
I’m not dismissing Trello yet. I need to reflect as to why it wasn’t working for me. Was it something truly with Trello? Or did it have something to do with the enormous project I was on and I just couldn’t keep up with trying something new at the same time?
The important thing is to understand what was happening because maybe Trello can work for me and help me reduce my waste in maintaining my kanban board.
Learning is important and not just living with a change because we need to change. The change needs to be given a fair chance and if it is failing then you can’t be scared to change back if necessary.
Does anyone else have any experiences with a change that totally failed?
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 2013. Enjoy!
5. Making Leader Standard Work Visual (June 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #9 – An example of a visual board from a group I worked with. The board makes the tasks and if they were completed by the managers visual.
4. Don’t Over Complicate the Formula (October 2011) – Talks about simplifying formulas to get you directionally correct especially with calculating kanbans.
3. Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Previous Year Ranked #4 – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.
2. Keys to Sustaining 5S (September 2011) – Tips to help sustain (the 5th ‘S’) the gains made from implementing 5S.
1. 5S in the Office (September 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #3 - 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.
I hope 2014 is a great year!
At the end of the year, John Hunter does a great job of facilitating an annual roundup of business and lean blogs at Curious Cat Management. The roundup is a review of blogs by other bloggers. This year I have the honor of participating in the Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.
A couple of years ago, I read the book Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. It is a great book that helped me along my personal kanban journey. From the book, Jim and Tonianne create a blog called Personal Kanban.
There is a great series of posts to help with managing your kanban boards. The topics include how to categorize your backlog to make it easier to understand what work there is left to do, but before you categorize your backlog you should clean it out. Clean out what is needed and what isn’t needed any longer. And how to clean up the done column on the board. The series has some great advice and hints to improve the use of your kanban board.
There are pointers on how to focus the work on a more important project. This post discusses using a larger post-it note for the focus project and the team members being instructed to pull work from here first.
No matter if your a novice or been using kanban boards for a very long time, Jim and Tonianne have great pointers and examples to help everyone improve upon their usage of kanban boards.
Today I am highlighting the five most popular posts written in 2013. Then in January I will post the Top 10 posts for the year.
Enjoy and have a Happy New Year!!!!
5. Visual Management at Home (February 2013) – A great example of a visual board used at home of a friend of mine.
4. Hoshin Planning – Catch Ball (April 2013) – A great video explaining the process of catch ball during the strategy development process.
3. My Continuous Improvemnt: Personal Kanban 3rd Revision (January 2013) – The latest update to my evolving personal kanban for work.
2. Guest Post: Moneyball – Hoshin Kanri (March 2013) – Chad Walters does a great job explaining strategy deployment using the movie Moneyball
1. When Standards are in Place, Everything is an Experiment (May 2013) – Talks about the importance of setting standards and using them to understand your processes.
Have a Happy New Year!!!!
Lean thinking is about creating flexibility in the manufacturing process in order to deliver the value that customer wants at that time.
In agile, this is also true. The beauty of using agile to develop software is the work can be prioritized on a daily or even more frequent basis. As the development team completes a requirement and it moves to the “complete” pile, the product owner can determine which of the remaining requirements is the most important to complete next. The product owner is closely linked with the customer of the software so they are the voice speaking directly for the customer.
If new requirements come up during development, no problem. Add that requirement to the back log on the kanban board. The next time it is time to pull a new requirement the product owner can prioritize the new story at the top or not.
This creates a lot of flexibility in the development process that a waterfall process does not. Usually, with a waterfall development process all the requirements have to be determined up front and then frozen because adding any after that can cause issues. Then the customer doesn’t see anything until the development is completely done. The agile process allows to release pieces of functionality as it is ready.
This increased flexibility allows the team to deliver more value sooner to the customer, creating a happy customer. Which is what lean is about. Customer first.
Visuals really help people understand the information. Everyone sees the same visual and it starts a good conversation allowing people to gain high agreement. The issue is all the visuals I listed are tools and as with any tool you need to understand when to use it.
To be effective with using visuals, you need to understand what information the group is trying to understand. What is the purpose of the visual? Who is the audience? What do they need to learn from it?
Most of the time the standard visuals will be perfect. You can use them and get everything you need. That is why those tools are well known, because they are used all the time and work. But sometimes, they won’t.
Don’t be afraid to make up a visual tool to present the right information in an easily digestible manner.
Here are a couple a colleague and I came up with for a recent event:
This one shows the % of time people spent doing different tasks throughout the day. It helped the group better understand who was doing what and for how long.
This one shows the frequency of tasks. Daily, Weekly or Monthly? What was the task done on? Who many times on that day?
In both cases, the different colored post-its represent different areas of the company doing the work.
As you can see, the standard visual tools would not have shown this information in a easy manner to understand. We designed this for the group and it worked very well.
We can’t always rely on the tools we have and know in our toolbox. Sometimes we have to think outside the toolbox. It is important to understand what your customer/group is trying to accomplish and design the visual accordingly. Don’t meet the needs of the tool. Meet your group’s needs.