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Asking Why 2 Times

A couple days ago I was reminded of a problem solving aspect I hadn’t personally dealt with in a while.  I guess being engaged in other things, I kind of forget one of the fundamental questions in problem solving.

By now there probably aren’t a lot of people unaware of 5-Whys.  But, what about the 2 Whys?  No this isn’t an attempt to be clever by turning 5-S into 8-S or “8 Minute Abs” in to “7 Minute Abs”.  It comes down to addressing the two fundamental paths of how defectives get to the customer.  “Why Make?” and “Why Ship?”.   In simple terms, “Why Make” is pretty self explanatory in terms of understanding why the defect was produced in the first place.  “Why Ship?” becomes a much more nuanced question about why defects were allowed to be passed along to the customer (internal or external).   It brings along questions about how you build quality at the source or at the least how you detect it and prevent it from being shipped.

I used to get these questions asked all the time by a friend who worked in Quality at Toyota.  I guess back then, much like now, I spent much more time on the “Why Make?” question than on the “Why Ship?” one.   Part of that is that I work in a different industry where product is less likely to be shipped anyway.   The other big part of it is that I just find it much more interesting to chase the kind of problems that follow “Why Make?” questions.   That is kind of unfortunate because looking in to why your systems didn’t prevent, detect, or reject bad stuff sometimes offers some holistic views of the operation that you may not always see.  It was kind of fun to have the reminder to ask “Why Ship?” more often.

Hopefully this can be a little kickstart for those who hadn’t heard that or a reminder for those of you who may have put that on the back burner.

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Lean Positivity

In my previous post I wondered about wasted human potential within a pretend Lean system.  Today, I want to share a second hand story of the exact opposite.

I have a colleague that has had the opportunity to be a part of a pretty successful Lean journey.  As I talked to him, I became less interested in the mechanics of the change to Lean and more interested in his personal story.  The things I’ve heard from him reaffirmed my faith in the Lean process and reminded me why I am so passionate about it in the first place.

At first glance, this guy normally appears to be a bit on the grumpy side.  But, when talking about the effect of Lean on him and his workplace, his face literally lights up like a kid at Christmas.  When he tells his story, he talks about how the process changed him from being frustrated to loving his job.  And about how much fun he had coming up with new ideas to solve problems.  He spoke with optimism, not despair, about how to continue finding the waste and savings opportunities after the initial activity took care of the “low hanging fruit” we all talk about.  I heard his story about being involved in his first kaizen report out and having Jamie Flinchbaugh in the room.  He told of being initially intimidated by Jamie, but then being excited about sharing what he had done and learning from what Jamie said.  He spoke of the challenge and commitment involved and of the lasting impacts that being a part of the whole process made on him.

It was in this conversation that the light bulb flickered back on for me.  I enjoy being a part of making a business more successful and solving complex problems.  But, the real deep down motivator for me is that someone may be able tell a story of the impact that a Lean journey has had on them and that I may have had a part in that process.  At our best, we aren’t just transforming processes or balance sheets.  We are transforming people.  I’d like to thank my new colleague for reminding me of that.

(For the record, I have no connection to Jamie Flinchbaugh or LLC other than owning his book.  I was just really impressed by his role in this story.)

Self Directed Work Teams?

I wrote earlier about one of the Lean lessons that was learned when I read Toyota Kata.   I had another interesting epiphany later in the book that I thought I’d share.

This revelation was about the dismantling of the autonomous worker myth in TPS.  There are a lot of resources touting suggestion system data and the concept of the team members on the line making the improvements to their process.  I’ve heard or read variations of this narrative dozens of times and, frankly, never gave it much thought.  Although, I have been around people that were completely taken in by the thought and invested a lot of effort trying to figure out how to make it happen.  I hear people from time to time asking what has to be done to develop self directed work teams that manage themselves, make process improvements and don’t need an ‘indirect’ employee like a lead or a supervisor to be a part of the process.

The thing about this misconception is that it doesn’t make any sense at all.  If you have an area staffed with the correct amount of team members working to takt time, where is the excess labor capacity to make improvements?  Who responds to issues that fall outside of the standardized work?  Who is looking at the bigger picture needs as well as upstream and downstream impacts?  Those are all logical (some might say obvious) questions that I had never asked myself before.  Author Mike Rother points out that there is involvement from the front line workers, but not at the level that some resources may lead you to believe.

I had been involved with and studying Lean for over a decade before I gave this concept any thought at all.  I didn’t blindly accept it, it just wasn’t anything that I invested time or energy in to.  Looking back, that’s kind of unfortunate.  Had I taken a bit of time to understand this point, I could have helped save some of the effort spent working towards this goal and redirected it to where it would be more beneficial.

Lean Epiphanies

As part of joining up a little more permanently here with Matt, I am going to be switching gears on the way I approach things.  Hopefully, I can continue to find different ways to approach some topics that I find engaging and contribute to the overall dialog.  As I’ve said before, I love that he named this place “Beyond Lean”.  It provides both of us a pretty big window on how we can observe and comment on our experiences and the world around us.

With all of that being said, I’d like to introduce a recurring episode I’m going to refer to as “Lean Epiphanies”.   I’m going to highlight some smaller points, quotes, or ideas that I have picked up in my ongoing studies or in my everyday life.  These are going to be those little “Aha” moments where you find a concept explained slightly differently than you’ve heard it before or small reminders of details of lean enterprises that suddenly click better than they have before.

One of those epiphanies came while reading the book “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother.  Some others have written some very good reviews and I have no desire to match their words.  My only ‘review’ is to say that I can’t recommend the book highly enough.  While Rother is describing the Improvement Kata , he goes in to some detail on the planning of improvement and describing how to find the first step.  In discussing the delays associated with trying to find the biggest obstacle or the right place to start, he writes, “such delay is easy to avoid, because it matters more that you take a step than what that first step is.”  With that phrase, pieces of a Lean culture fell in to place in my brain more completely than ever before.  Framed against the background of a big picture Value Stream Mapping activity that I was working on at the time, the contrast of this phrase stunned me.  Not that the VSM wasn’t valuable, but I immediately started thinking about how many lost opportunities there were waiting for a clearer signal for what the biggest problems were.

Sure…I understood what Kaizen meant  and what it entailed.  Sure…I understood and had executed the what’s and how’s of PDCA cycles.  For the first time in my personal journey, I began to put those two pieces in context.  They weren’t just pieces of an executed Lean culture.  They were the culture.  If I had people willing to make small steps every day (Kaizen) and knew their business well enough to know where they should try to make changes and how to measure the impact (PDCA), any other pieces would fall in to place as solutions learned through this process.  The end result of those efforts would be orders of magnitude more “Lean” than all of the effort spent on tail-wagging-the-dog activities like premature Kanban boards and 5-S blitzes and so on.  This becomes the answer to the how question that hangs over every Lean effort.  I recognize that there are a some other aspects that are mandatory and I don’t mean to oversimplify.  But, for me, this changed the way I think about the Lean.

Epiphanies are by definition personal events, so I don’t expect that everyone (or even anyone) got the same inspiration from the original chapter or the original book.  But I do believe that these little nuggets are out there for everybody to find as long as we’re open to them.  I don’t expect that my epiphanies will become your epiphanies.  I just hope that as I add to this, you might be able to find some new moments that refresh your thoughts and your journey.