Blog Archives

Doing Laundry Teaches Us About Flow

Flow is a concept that lean teaches about how a product/service moves from beginning to end.  When the product/service stops there is a disruption in the flow.  This is when inventory starts to build between two steps in the process.

With the functional mentality, people only worry about optimizing each machine, without regard to the flow.  The thought is, “I have to run this machine as fast as I can and get as much product out as possible.”

The hard part for people with this mentality to understand is the product/service will only move as fast as the slowest operation.  No exceptions.  Period.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Take a simple process like doing laundry at home.  My dryer is always slower than my washer, so when I have multiple loads of laundry to do nothing moves faster than the time it takes to complete a dryer cycle.

I move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer and start the dryer.  Then I add another load to the washer and start the washer.  The washer always finishes at least 15 minutes before the dryer.  Instead of taking the laundry out of the washer and piling the wet clothes in a laundry basket, I let them sit in the washer.  Knowing the dryer is the slow part of the process, it would do me know good to start another load of laundry in the washer because it still won’t end before all the other loads have finished in the dryer.

This is how we should look at the flow of our processes at work.  It does no good to buy equipment or change the process to speed up a part of the process that is not the slowest step.  In the end, the product/service is still being completed at the same rate.

What is the dryer in your process?

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Understanding Single Piece Flow

One of the first concepts that pops up when learning about lean is single piece flow.  This is a great concept and should be considered when it is appropriate.  Cooking my french fries might not be the time to use single piece flow, but downloading songs may be.

My wife runs a small business of her own.  She sells products online through her website and Etsy as well as events in our local area.  Selling online and brick-n-mortar poses problems from time to time.  One issue is wanting to provide a wide range of scents for customers, but not having large amounts of inventory on-hand because of the batch process of making the soaps in loaves.

mens_shave_soapAfter a year and a half, we think we find a solution to this issue.  Most of her requests for custom scents come through her online sales.  Typically, she has the fragrance available but can’t justify making 8 bars in a batch because the other 7 may sit for a year or longer.  She has found a mold that works very well and is the size she needs that allows her to make one soap at a time.  My wife can now fulfill the requests of her customers and offer more fragrances to her line in her online shop without the expense of carrying a year’s worth of finished product.

What about the live events to sell the inventory?

Good question.  The events are always in the Sept – Dec time frame.  So, if a customer orders a special scent in January, the rest of the finished goods would sit until September at the earliest.  She could have used the raw materials for other products.  The soaps that are high volume sellers and do well at the live events can be made in batches right before the event.  Any finished product that is leftover after the event season can be sold online.

It is a good mix of using single piece flow and batch processing when it best fits the situation.  It is about understanding your business needs and trying to meet those needs.  Not forcing everything to one solution whether if fits or not.

What makes sense for your business?

Counting Down the Top 10 Viewed Posts of 2012 – 5 Thru 1

2013 is now in full swing.  Before 2012 is too far in the rear view mirror, I thought I would recap the Top 10 most viewed posts on Beyond Lean for 2012.

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 2012.  Enjoy!

5.  Sportscenter Has Killed U.S. Manufacturing (June 2012) – Previous Year Ranked #3 – Manufacturing is fundamental.  The U.S. has lost it’s sights on the fundamentals and is just worried about the flashy.  The U.s. needs to get back to the fundamentals in order to get back on top.

4.  Need the Mental Toughness of a Navy SEAL (February 2012) – Inspiration of a Navy SEAL got me thinking about the mental toughness it takes to create change.

3.  5S in the Office (September 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #1 – 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.

2.  Keys to Sustaining 5S (September 2011) – Tips to help sustain (the 5th ‘S’) the gains made from implementing 5S.

AND……

1.  Why Are Lean People Seen As Lean People? (February 2011) – Previous Year Ranked #2 – Exploring the question as to why lean people are not seen as more than just lean experts.  Looking at a process from end-to-end seems like a good business practice no matter what the role.

I look forward to more posts in 2013!

Top 6 – 10 of 2012

2012 Lean Reading Conclusion

Earlier this year, I posted a blog about not reading any lean or business books this year.  Choosing to spend the year putting into practice more of what I have read already and trying to understand how it pertains to my work.  In June, I published what I had read to date to give people a flavor of what I have been reading.  I have accomplished my goal and read one non-work related book per month for the entire year.  I have listed all the books from the first half of the year below also along with the books from the second half of the year.

I found I really enjoyed reading these other books.  There was almost always a leadership lesson to be gained from these books.  My interests grew as the year went on and I was amazed as to what there was to learn from fiction books as well biographies.  With the new year upon us, I must now learn how to balance reading books for work along with fun fictional and biography books.

Enjoy!

JanuaryLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – This is the autobiography and recount of the lone survivor of a S.E.A.L. team member that got caught in a fire fight deep in Taliban territory.  It is an amazing story.

February It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan – The autobiography of Guns-N-Roses bassist Duff McKagan.  GNR is my favorite band of all time.  Duff now writes for ESPN’s Page Two website.  He is a really good writer and the book is a great recount of his life and view of the GNR rise and fall.

March11/22/63 by Stephan King – This a fiction story about a guy who has a chance to go back in time and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy.  Long book, but very enjoyable.  A fun read.

AprilAmerican Sniper by Chris Kyle – Chris Kyle is a S.E.A.L. sniper that at the time of the writing was credited with the most confirmed kills in American military history.  This is his recount of his time in the S.E.A.L.s.

MayFifth Avenue by Christopher Smith – A thriller novel about two of the most wealthy mean in New York City and the extremes their grudge will go to.  Good book.

JuneLife by Keith Richards – This is the autobiography of Keith Richards the guitar player for the Rolling Stones.  I love the Rolling Stones and I was traveling the the UK for work…seemed like a good fit to read at the time.

JulyAbraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith – Interesting book following the true path of Abraham Lincoln’s life ans encounters but with a fictional vampire twist to Abraham’s reason for making the choices in life that he did.

AugustThe Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – What is the Holy Grail? I had seen the movie when it came out several years ago and decided to give the book a try.  It was excellent.

September In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This is a nonfiction novel.  It is the story of a brutal murder of a family of four in western Kansas in 1959.  Truman Capote does a great job of getting inside the heads of the killers.  It follows the family and killers from the day before the murders until the execution of the killers.  The book was written in the 1960s.  Living in Kansas now this true story captured my attention.

OctoberGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A twisted revenge novel.  This novel tells of a marriage gone wrong and the lengths a woman will go to to make it clear who is in control.

NovemberDark Places by Gillian FlynnGone Girl was so good that I tried the book Gillian wrote before it.  Dark Places is a great who dunnit book.  It keeps you guessing until the end.

DecemberThe Redbreast by Jo Nesbo – This novel is the first of the Harry Hole detective series.  Actually, it is the 3rd novel in teh series.  Jo is a Norwegian author.  The first two books have not been translated.  The 3rd through the 8th (just released in the U.S. this fall) have been translated.  Harry Hole is a police detective in Oslo, Norway.  He has taken to drinking but still gets the job done.  Very enjoyable detective novel.

What did you read this year?

Guest Post: The Importance of a Quality Management System

Today’s post comes from Alice Rose.  Alice is a freelance copywriter working for QMS International plc, a business certification company specializing in ISO 9001 http://www.qmsuk.com/iso-9001.php.

As the recession hit many businesses began to think of the best ways to cope and short-term solutions such as cutting staffing levels and reducing marketing costs were some of the most popular. But, as time has progressed and consumers are still being very cautious with their spending, I want to touch on some other ways that you can try and beat the big squeeze.

What is a quality management system?

A Quality Management system is the processes, procedures, organizational structure and resources that come together to ensure that a business provides a consistent and reliable service. It emphasizes different principles within a business such as leadership, continual improvement, staff involvement and different approaches to decision making.

It’s all about the consumer

The first thing to remember is that if you provide a great product or a brilliant service to the consumer then they are going to keep coming back. One way to check that your company is running a high quality business is to put a quality management system into place. Quality management systems often incorporate a ‘customer service’ element to them, ensuring that there are procedures in place so customers can record a complaint which means that issues can be addressed and reduced in the future.

Manufacturing industry

If you are manufacturing a product there are certain steps that you can take to ensure that the final product will arrive with the consumer in a high quality state. This can start at the beginning of the production chain, in the factory for example. Simple tasks such as ensuring your workplace is clean will lead to the creation of a better final product. As the product progresses along the chain if simple manufacturing tasks are conducted in a more streamlined fashion the consumer is more likely to receive a high quality product – which will also lead to less waste on your part, reducing costs.

Service industry

The services industry is not immune to the economic downturn and there are simple changes that your company can take to ensure that the customers are still happy. One of the simplest ways to find out if you are providing a good service is by encouraging customer feedback – if you know where you are falling down it’s easier to pick yourself back up.

Setting an example

It is important that quality management systems are considered as a priority by business management who have the facility and knowledge to implement these systems and who, leading by example, will encourage greater productivity and performance across the board as well as locating new areas of the business for growth.

Twinkies GONE!!

Hostess is filing for bankruptcy and going out of business.  There will be no more Twinkies.  I know this news is over a week old now.  I am behind.

My first thought when hearing the news was, “No Twinkies! No Cupcakes! No Ding Dongs! Ahhhhhhhhhh!”  I absolutely love all of those.  My daughter was distraught because the mini-donuts are a staple for our family as we travel on vacation.

I will miss those snacks.  I’m sure someone will buy the rights to the recipes and the brand names.  All will be good probably sometime next year.

My second thought was, “That company must have been horribly mismanaged!”

The Hostess brand of snacks were consistently much more expensive in the grocery store than comparable snacks.  Yet, people bought them up…me included.  Every time I went to the cash register to pay for some Twinkies I thought, “Wow!  They have got to be making a ton of money.”  Then to find out they aren’t.  What a shame!

With the brand recognition and the price they charged, how could you not make money.  I was going to dig into it a little bit but before I could I read Anatomy of a Twinkie by Bill Waddell over on Evolving Excellence.  It was a great post and answered a lot of questions.

From the post:

  • 57% of their costs: Administrative, Overhead, Selling, Distribution, Depreciation, Other
  • 28% of their costs: Ingredients, Packaging
  • 15% of their costs: Factory Labor

I think that answers all the questions about mismanagement.  It is a shame.  Cut out the waste and leave what only adds value for the consumer and I bet they would have made a ton of money.  I bet whoever buys the recipes will be more efficient and make a great profit from Hostess’ demise.

Guest Post: The Manufacturing Institute

Today’s guest post is written by The Manufacturing Institute, an independent charity in the UK. They deliver a wide range of high quality education, training and consultancy services to build operational excellence in manufacturing companies – whether its through innovative thinking, lean transformation or skills enhancement. They also deliver charitable campaigns such as Make It and Fab Lab which help to improve the image of manufacturing amongst young individuals and drive grassroots innovation. You can visit their website at www.manufacturinginstitue.co.uk.

Typically, I don’t have guest posts promoting a business or organization. This one I felt was a good fit because it is a non-profit organization focusing on developing manufacturing. It is UK based, but I think what they are doing could be used by other countries to help their manufacturing efforts as well.

Companies Can Inspire, Educate and Develop Their Workforce with the Manufacturing Institute

The manufacturing industry is one which obviously demands a strong work ethic from its members, with some tasks being extremely laborious and highly skilled. With dangerous machinery, long hours and a hazardous environment all playing their part in many areas of the sector – it is of paramount important for employers to find staff who are motivated, inspired and proactive.

Training Programmes

With this in mind, the Manufacturing Institute plays a key role as an independent charity established to aid this process via a system of courses and programmes. Their work has been instrumental for firms across the United Kingdom as they look to improve, inspire and appropriately educate their workforces. The comprehensive range of training programmes available build operational excellence by encouraging pragmatic thought process, lean transformation, skills enhancement, the improvement of process and leadership development.

Make It and Fab Lab

In addition to this the Manufacturing Institute promotes operational excellence through a number of charitable campaigns such as Make It and Fab Lab. These encourage skilled youngsters to help improve the image of manufacturing as a vocation and promote grassroots innovation.

Manufacturing Careers

The Manufacturing Institute website contains a wealth of information for any individuals interested in their work and training. Whether this is youngsters looking to get into manufacturing as a career or existing manufacturers wanting to develop their already existing skillsets – the videos, documents and content at http://www.manufacturinginstitute.co.uk will make an enthralling read. One such news item which has been gaining a lot of exposure of late is the Six Sigma Green Belt, a hands on course focused on eliminating waste and increasing efficiency across the whole operation and along the supply chain.

Shingo Model & Prize

TMI are also the only UK educational partner for the Shingo Model and Prize. This outfit provides manufacturing companies with a blueprint to achieve the best possible operational excellence and also promotes the drive lean transformation, going hand in hand with the wider Manufacturing Institute ethos.

Further background to the kinds of work undertaken at The Manufacturing Institute can also be followed via the site’s comprehensive news section. This is updated on a regular basis with up to date news on the goings on at the charity as well as wider news in the manufacturing industry across the United Kingdom. Manufacturing enthusiasts can also subscribe to the TMI newsletter to ensure they do not miss a single news item.

This article was written on behalf of independent charity The Manufacturing Institute from the UK.

Apple Will Fail if Manufacturing is Moved to U.S.?

Last week, I caught a blog Why Apple Has to Manufacture in China.  I read hoping to find some practical reasoning as to why it was critical that Apple manufacture in China.  I read the post twice and I couldn’t find any reason it was critical for Apple to manufacture in China.

The post does say labor cost is not a reason to manufacture in China.

It is not an issue of labor costs. In fact, labor costs play a very small role in the equation — both for Apple and for Timbuk2.

The post compares Apple to Timbuk2, a company that makes custom bags.  Two different business models, Timbuk2’s custom production versus Apple’s mass production.  Here is what the post has to say about this.

Timbuk2 manufactures in the US because it produces custom-made bags, orderable through its handy web site, and customers ordering custom bags cannot wait for weeks for a bag to come from China by boat, while shipping by air is expensive and there would still be some uncertainty due to customs clearance. A very similar logic lies behind fashion retailer Zara’s choice to manufacture in Europe, also an expensive location in terms of labor costs. Of course, Timbuk2 does also produce many bags in China but these are mass-produced, non-customized bags, sold wholesale at a fraction of a price of a custom bag, and they are not time-sensitive.

Apple does not produce custom products and so it does not need to deliver quickly — all of its products are standard and mass-produced; just like the standardized bags for Timbuk2, so there is no reason to stay close to end-customers. Moreover, Apple does not change its assortment often — the new iPhone will probably be for sale for another year or two.

There is no need for mass producers to be close to the end-customer?!  Really?  So it is OK to spend a couple of months to get new phones to the U.S. or pay for air freight (which is quite expensive), if there is a defect in a batch of phones?  Not in any business model I know of.  That delay risks the loss of customers and costs the company more money than is needed because of the big batches that may have to be reworked or thrown out.  Also, when the life-cycle of a product is coming to an end it may cause more phones to be thrown our or discounted because of the large batches.

The post is contradicting itself because it says cheap labor is only a small part of the total cost, but then does not take total cost into consideration when looking at all the freight and inventory and possible obsolescence costs.

So why else is it important for Apple to manufacture in China?

Apple is a huge company and as a New York Times article published in January this year details, its production volumes and often unpredictable engineering changes require manufacturing flexibilities and engineering capabilities on a scale that is simply unavailable in the USA.

Exactly my point about inventory above.  The post goes on…

In China, by contrast, manufacturers can deploy thousands of collocated engineers to introduce needed changes overnight, and large supply of labor allows to ramp up and ramp down capacity quickly. There is simply no factory capable of employing 250,000 workers day and night in the USA, surrounded by flexible and capable suppliers. So the location decision isn’t really about labor costs — it’s about manufacturing risk and where that risk is best managed.

Because Apple has bad processes upstream, it is OK to disrupt the lives of thousands with no regards downstream to fix the problem.  Reminds me of the saying, “A mistake by you, does not necessitate an emergency by me.”  Again, raising the cost to produce.

To summarize:

  • Mass producers don’t need to be near the end-customer
  • Disrespect for people is OK when fixing a problem you created

Apple may be on top of the hill today, but 2-5 years from now they won’t be.  As competitors, like Samsung, close the gap managing cost is going to grow more important. Fixing your processes so engineering changes are not needed overnight and locating close to your end-customer so when you do have an engineering change you don’t have tons of inventory to dispose of is a great way to manage your cost.

 

GE Appliances Going Lean

I have not been very high on GE as a company.  I have dealt with too many command-and-control managers that came from GE and Jack Welch I think is the single most overrated CEO in history.  He destroyed GE’s manufacturing to gain his golden parachute.

It has taken awhile but GE seems to be making strides in a great direction.  A year or so ago, GE announced the building of a manufacturing complex in Louisville, KY dedicated to building their appliance lines using lean manufacturing.

An article last week highlighted some of the reasons and the results from the first venture in GE’s new dishwasher plant.  My favorite heading in the article is “Washing Away Decades of Outdated Manufacturing Practices”.  AMEN!!!

So what did GE hope to accomplish by investing $150 million in the new facility?

When planning to make GE’s newest dishwashers, the manufacturing leaders had several challenges: to build new production lines in a space-constrained factory where existing lines would keep providing about one in every five homes with a dishwasher; to create a process that would leverage Lean manufacturing principles to reduce the time it takes to make each dishwasher; to reduce operational costs and unnecessary work for employees to improve productivity while increasing quality.

They needed to reduce cost and delivery time and increase quality.  Something lean can help improve all of.  Not one while sacrificing others.

How was lean going to help?

Relying on a new culture of continuous improvement and a collaborative work environment, fostered by Lean manufacturing principles, GE took employees from every discipline needed to design, build and operate the new lines and co-located them in one location so communication could be instantaneous and fluid. Each member of the team had a voice and a role–from engineering, to advanced manufacturing to the operators who assemble the products – all were on one team with a common goal – to improve the processes and products.

Great ideas and they seem to be working very well.  The results listed in the article are incredible.  Here are just one bullet point listed as a result.

Included production workers in the designing of work stations and processes, improving efficiency and ergonomics by reducing parts inventories and movements to complete tasks; in developing new job instructions to help eliminate quality issues and improve safety; and in improving the timely supply of parts to work stations. As a result, the overall production time per unit was reduced by about 65 percent.

Great to see the employees doing the work involved in the improvement process.  With all the great results this is what I was the most happy to read.

Now, their dishwashers will be loaded with more U.S. parts than ever before. In fact, about 85 percent of the parts in GE new dishwashers will be made in the U.S. — including an increased number made at Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky

It shows that manufacturing close to the consumer in a “high cost” country can be competitive in any industry.  Kudos to GE for attempting to change their manufacturing ways.

2012 Lean Reading Update

Earlier this year, I posted a blog about not reading any lean or business books this year.  Choosing to spend the year putting into practice more of what I have read already and trying to understand how it pertains to my work.  I have been pretty successful so far although I have read three ebooks (1 was a group study at work and 2 I was asked to review).  I still have read one book per month that has not pertained to lean or business.  I thought I would share them with you at my half way point reflection.

JanuaryLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – This is the autobiography and recount of the lone survivor of a S.E.A.L. team member that got caught in a fire fight deep in Taliban territory.  It is an amazing story.

February It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan – The autobiography of Guns-N-Roses bassist Duff McKagan.  GNR is my favorite band of all time.  Duff now writes for ESPN’s Page Two website.  He is a really good writer and the book is a great recount of his life and view of the GNR rise and fall.

March11/22/63 by Stephan King – This a fiction story about a guy who has a chance to go back in time and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy.  Long book, but very enjoyable.  A fun read.

AprilAmerican Sniper by Chris Kyle – Chris Kyle is a S.E.A.L. sniper that at the time of the writing was credited with the most confirmed kills in American military history.  This is his recount of his time in the S.E.A.L.s.

MayFifth Avenue by Christopher Smith – A thriller novel about two of the most wealthy mean in New York City and the extremes their grudge will go to.  Good book.

JuneLife by Keith Richards – This is the autobiography of Keith Richards the guitar player for the Rolling Stones.  I love the Rolling Stones and I was traveling the the UK for work…seemed like a good fit to read at the time.

I think the list gives a little flavor of my interests.

Here are the three ebooks I have read for work during this time:

What have you been reading this year?