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More From The Fine Folks At Taylor

About a year ago, when I was merely a “Guest Post”-er, I wrote this little piece about some really interesting things I read about in a book called Guitar Lessons written by the co-founder and namesake of Taylor Guitars.  As a companion to both that post and the one earlier this week with some personal Lean inspiration, I wanted to share another link and story that fits both categories.

(As an aside, it was brought to my attention that I may have quoted an incorrect number in the previous post, but I wasn’t able to get confirmation on that.  If anyone with Taylor would like me to correct it and is willing to help, let me know.)

This really cool piece of information comes in the form of the most recent copy of the company’s magazine “Wood & Steel”  and is written by the other co-founder (and CEO) of the company, Kurt Listug.  (If you clicked on the file, I’m referring to “Kurt’s Corner” that shows up on the left side of the .pdf page 3 or magazine page 4).  In his ‘Corner’, Listug refers to a “Process Improvement Project” that sounds, as a whole, like it was build on some hardcore Lean principles.  I don’t pretend to know enough about what goes on at their facility to make a judgement either way on what or how they are doing what they do.   What I do know is that it excites me to read about companies using these types of concepts (whether built directly on Lean/TPS or not) to do things like 20% increases in daily production, improved quality, reduced queue times from weeks to next day, and growing employment built around value adding work.   These successes, whether I had a hand in them or not, remind me of why I chose to work in this field.  I have no idea what Taylor’s path looks like from here, but I do appreciate reading about companies that are working to try to be the best they can be.

I realize I sound like a fanboy for Taylor and that’s fine.  If I didn’t own a couple of their guitars, I wouldn’t have received the magazine to read in the first place.  But, in addition to the small piece above, I highly recommend at least 2 other pieces in that publication.  The first is a piece on Taylor’s involvement in Ebony supplying in Cameroon.  (It starts on magazine page 12, pdf page 7).  On it’s own, it’s a fascinating story about a company getting involved in its own supply chain, finding a way to work with existing government regulations, creating a better situation for the people and the forests in the area, and pretty much turning that in to a role supplying their competitors.  From a purely business standpoint, I’d read an entire book on the way this evolved, regardless of what company was involved.   The other small piece is from an ongoing bit they started called “What are you working on?” where they talk to people that work in their factories about their jobs.  (Magazine page 28, pdf page 15).  As somebody who is engrossed with manufacturing, I find it fascinating to see what people do in their plants.

I hope you enjoyed reading some of the pieces (if you were able).   I always enjoy seeing what other people are doing to make their business run better and I love finding little bits of inspiration in places where I’m otherwise looking for a distraction.

Have a great weekend!

Real Life Lean

I live in a part of the United States where houses are made of board siding which requires the siding to be painted every 5-7 years.  This is new to me because the parts I have lived in prior the houses were made of brick or aluminum siding.  Both do not require any regular maintenance.  So a few weeks ago, we had our house painted.

I had watched paint crews take a couple of days or so to paint neighbors’ houses.  The crew we hired painted the house in 1 day.  The process was amazing.

Most crews were 2 people.  This was a 4 man crew.  When they started, two men started taping off the windows and fixtures on the front of the house.  The main painter started mixing the paint and hooking up his spray gun.  The main painter started painting the house the base color and following the tapers around the house.  When the tapers finished, the main painter was on the back of the house and the front of the house was dry enough start painted the trim a different color.  The tapers started painting the trim while the sprayer was still working around the rest of the house.  When the sprayer finished the two working on the trim color got help from him.  Then one member broke off and started taking off the tape and then started doing the touch ups.

The fourth crew member was a runner.  He mixed paint, brought paper and tape to the tapers, relieved painters during breaks and anything else that was non-value added work.  He was the support system that kept everything going.

1 day.  10 hrs.  4 men. 1 custom painted house.

It was incredible to watch.  They get paid by the job so everyday can be a payday but not if you take more than one day to do the job.

What real life examples have you seen?

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.

Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma

I had a conversation recently with a very smart and talented consultant.  He is a Lean Six Sigma consultant.  He knows the tools of lean and Six Sigma backwards and forwards.  The consultant also talked ab out the importance of having leadership buy-in from the top all the way to the bottom to be the most successful at both lean and Six Sigma. Overall, he was a very astute about both lean and Six Sigma.

During his presentation, there were two misinterpretations that stuck out to me.  I found them to be quite a difference in thinking.

1. Six Sigma is focused on the customer while lean is focused on elimination of waste.  I find this to be a significant difference in thinking.  Lean’s #1 tenant is to focus on the Customer first and foremost.  By focusing on the customer, an organization can learn what the customer finds of value.  What is not of value can be considered non-value added (waste) or non-value added but necessary (government regulations).  These should be eliminated or at least reduced.

Most people focus on the elimination of waste and miss why eliminating the waste is important.  It is because it is of no value to the customer which is the main focus.  Once the waste is eliminated it frees up resources allowing an organization to grow the business without having to invest in more resources.

Thanks to Mark Graban. This picture was borrowed from the Lean Blog.

2. Six Sigma focuses on making the product right while lean just focuses on making the product.  The consultant mentioned the 7 types of wastes.  One of the 7 types of wastes is directly solely at making the product right.  That is the waste of defects. Not to mention the concept of building in quality (jidoka).

As mentioned above, when a company focuses on the customer first it will recognize quality is very important.  This is why building in quality is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System.

After the presentation, the consultant and I had a very good discussion on these points.  I admitted to being raised in the Lean House.  I wasn’t arguing that Six Sigma was wrong or companies can’t benefit from it.  Just that I have a different perspective of lean on the points mentioned above.

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.)

Tailoring the Message

I was paging through some comments and found this one about a post I wrote a while back.  I was going to reply directly to the comment, but my response tended longer than the comment section and I thought I’d post it by itself.  The intent of my original post was how to work in Lean with people who were against it. The response was that I might have been asking the wrong question in asking how to sell Lean.

I totally agree with the idea that everyone wants higher quality, lower costs and better delivery.  However, the willingness or individuals and groups to try ‘new’ ways to get there is at the very heart of why there are thousands of lean resources out there.  It’s like saying lots of people would like to climb Mt. Everest, but not many are willing to put in the time, money and physical effort to prepare for the climb.  The disconnect between an interest in the destination and a willingness to undertake the journey is often huge.  That’s before even getting in to the many corporate cultures that smother or punish the different, regardless of results.

The other aspect of this that I have found over time is that not all areas are interested in the same benefits, at least on the early part of a Lean journey.  The point that excites the plant manager may not have the same weight with a front line supervisor.  The benefits that an accountant might find would be mostly irrelevant to the team members on the shop floor.  Or, put a slightly different way, what group of people are directly affected by reduced lead times through the plant or reduced inventory?  Those things as stand-alone benefits don’t really provide much interest for many people.  The side effects of these like the reduced inventory allowing the existing inventory to be better organized and easier to store/find/retrieve are what a lot of people will actually feel.  Just as the solution has to be right for the problem, the message has to be tailored to the audience.

The comment did make me reflect on the overall delivery of my message.  It is a great point to make sure that the overall business value of the effort is clear.  I’m sure that I can lose sight of bringing concepts back to the big picture when I’m working on some of the finer points.

I do appreciate the opportunity for dialog that this outlet creates.  Hopefully we can all continue to help each other think more deeply or more broadly.

Standardized Work Lessons Learned

This week Beyond Lean is focusing the discussion on standardized work.  There will be four posts throughout the week from different bloggers.  Joe and I will post a blog as well as Tim McMahon from A Lean Journey and Christian Paulsen from Lean Leadership.  The purpose is to look at different aspects of standardized work from several perspectives all gathered in one location and within the same time frame.  We hope this spurs thought, reflection and action for our readers around standardized work.

I’m not going to lie.  Writing about Standardized Work makes me a little anxious.  For me, there is a huge gap in what I internally understand about Standardized Work and what I can articulate or explain.   So with that as my background, here’s a list of my lessons learned about Standardized Work.

  • Standardized Work is not job instruction or a substitute for training – This is kind of a slippery slope for a lot of people.  I think there is something comforting about codifying the steps of a job at the level of Standardized Work that tends to make people think that we can pick up any new hire, hand them the document and they’ll be off and running.  Can it be an aid?  Absolutely.  But it shouldn’t be meant as a standalone substitute for skill development and teaching.
  • Standardized Work is a tool for Visual Management – Much like 5-S, the tools have value by themselves, but are much more valuable as pieces of a visual management culture.  The team members following the Standardized Work should be able to execute the job without referring to the document every cycle.  With that as the framework, the document helps observers to identify when issues exist that are keeping the work from being performed according to the standards.
  • Standard Work in Process Inventory (SWIP) is part of the tool – This was an interesting lesson for me on two fronts.  The first time I worked on rolling out SW documents, I didn’t include it.  Mostly that was a result of trying to satisfy folks who thought the document could be used in place of a trainer.  The second front that made it difficult is that it can be difficult to quantify what exactly the SWIP should be.  In an environment where you are transitioning from not at all Lean to kind of Lean, there may be process disconnects that mean different size batches in and out.  Or, put another way, there is no normal to become the standard.
  • There is no simple way to explain the concept of Standards that are constantly under review for improvement – I have found this to be one of the most difficult Lean aspects to teach.  The discussion seems to end up in circular questions about “how can something be standard if we want to change it” and “if we are going to continuously improve the processes why document all of the changes.”  It seems to be one of those concepts that you can only learn by seeing or experiencing.

That was my top lessons learned about Standardized Work.  Nothing really earth shattering, just some thoughts on things I wish I had known at the beginning that would have helped me out.  Maybe one of these click for you or you have a lesson learned that you would like to share.   If so, please add a comment below and we’ll add it to the list.

Other posts from this standardized work series:

The Best Leader

As I have kind of been on a kick of thinking about leadership this week, I wanted to share some thoughts on the person that stands out as the best leader that I have worked with.  I don’t think this person will ever read this, so this isn’t a kiss up, not is it a eulogy.  It’s just a bit of information that I can’t quite categorize.

I consider myself a Lean thinker, so I would expect to be able to tap back in my mind of a great Lean leader that has shaped my thinking and been my role model.  I can point to a bunch of individuals that have helped develop my thinking and taught me more than I can ever repay.  But the best leader that I have worked for frankly didn’t teach me much of anything.  I can’t point to more than a handful of things that I learned from this person either about the execution of my job or the industry of our business in general.  This person told me they wouldn’t support Lean and that they didn’t believe that it would work for our business.  But, at the end of the day, of the things that you expect from a leader, this person was the best.

There was a consistent vision and roadmap of where we were headed.  There was a clear expectation of behaviors and consistent feedback for those that didn’t meet expectations.  People were encouraged to create their own solutions and plans.  The leader offered support to execute the plans and was firm when those plans fell short.  It was the best example of leadership day in and day out that I have ever been involved with.

Now, how do I rectify these leadership behaviors with my Lean mindset?  Frankly, I have no idea.  Maybe this goes back to the understanding that not all combinations are the right fit for every person.  Just because I didn’t learn what I wanted to learn doesn’t mean this person was a bad teacher.  Just because we didn’t see eye to eye on some topics doesn’t mean either of us was right or wrong.  I like to think that what I learned about leadership outpaces what I may not have learned in other areas.  Leadership, much like Lean, is a much more complex topic than any simple outline can explain.

Coaching It or Allowing It

I was recently browsing around for information on Mike Leach, the current football coach at Washington State University and formerly of Texas Tech.  In my reading, I learned about a saying that he had in his office that said, “You are either coaching it or allowing it to happen.”  I’m not sure I’d claim that there is anything especially Lean about the phrase.  For starters, it seems to violate the Deming anti-slogan thinking.  The other arbitrary test that I apply is that it doesn’t sound like something I would see or hear at Toyota.  It also seems pretty convenient to have a phrase like this in an environment where you have a group of 18-22 year olds whose future prospects are more or less dependent on their ability to earn or keep a scholarship that you sign off on.

I still like the quote and I think the reason it stands out to me for the completeness of it.  There really isn’t any gray area at all.  If you are leading people or teaching them (or both), what occurs is often a result either of your action or lack of action.  A lot of what marks companies or facilities that are either starting or in the middle of a transition to Lean is the lack of a complete, consistent, compelling vision that people are following.  Navigating the gray area during a Lean transition sometimes doesn’t lend itself to everyone being on the same page.

To my frame of mind, questions like this go back to how deliberate you are in where you are going and how well people can understand the ‘True North’ vision.  Little checks like this are sometimes a stretch, but I have found that they help to keep me on track with what I am trying to do.

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.