Blog Archives

Continuous Improvement for Me – Creating Time to Improve

As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

One of the biggest obstacles I have had is creating time for myself during the work day.  Time I could use to complete a project or work that needed a couple of hours or time to work on continuous improvement ideas for my work.  I was talking with a co-worker a couple of months ago about this and she shared with me how she handles it.  I took the advice and added to it and so far it has worked very well.

I work in a company that relies heavily on everyone’s calendar to schedule meetings and work time, etc…  The first thing I did was I blocked out every Friday, all day, as work time.  I spend most of the week traveling back and forth between our corporate office and our three manufacturing plants and one distribution center.  They are all are within an hour drive of our corporate office.  I use Fridays as my catch up day for travel expenses, some emails, reviewing material people asked for help on, networking, etc….

One of the new standardize work tasks I have for Friday is to look at my calendar for the following week.  Wherever I have large blocks of time, typically 1.5 hours or more, I block it off for work time.  I use this time to work on projects and tasks that are longer than 10 minutes to complete.

Because I have blocked this time off does not mean that I won’t add meetings during this time.  it just means that I have more control over it now.  If someone adds a meeting at the last minute, I now have the option and control to determine whether or not it is one I should participate in or if it is as important as the work that I have to do.  I have taken more control of my time.

The results: I have found that I am getting more things done during the week.  I am also more relaxed during busy times because I can see (visual management) the blocked work time and now that I have time coming up to complete some work that needs to be done at my desk.  I can also give a better due date to the person asking for the work to be done.

I hope this is something that can help others can more control over their time.

Redbox Produced In the U.S. Using Lean

As I continue to focus on manufacturing here in the U.S. this week, I thought I would combine two of my favorite things…..Lean and movies.  An international company, Flextronics, has a manufacturing plant in Creedmoor, NC.  This plant produces the Redbox movie dispensing machines that are popping up all over the U.S.  It is a small facility that is using lean.

The 250 employees led by general manager John Mainey use the Six Sigma Lean manufacturing techniques designed to cut waste, reduce excess effort, address defects and keep the assembly line moving.

Mr. Mainey seems to be a believer in keeping manufacturing in the U.S.

He contends that American manufacturing declined as firms compared production costs in the United States with production costs in locales like China and Mexico, couldn’t see how to reduce spending — much of it related to labor — threw up their hands and said, “We’ll just send it overseas.”

Instead, manufacturers need to “apply Lean and eliminate waste. Recognize that labor is just one cost, and that they must be flexible. If we can do this, then manufacturing will stay here in the U.S.,” said Mainey.

I’m glad to see that Flextronics sees the total cost picture.  The most intriguing part of Flextronics is they are an international company so doing the manufacturing overseas can be done very easily.  Instead, they see the value in producing the product where the product is used.  Therefore, the manufacturing plant is in the U.S. in North Carolina.

I can’t claim to know this is what they are thinking by deciding to producing the redbox units in the U.S.  But it seems like at least part of the equation, since the Creedmoor plant’s parent company is based in Singapore.

The Creedmoor plant is one small part of Flextronics, a massive Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) firm based in Singapore with 160,000 employees in 30 countries.

The plant is focused on reducing waste with the production of each individual redbox unit.    The unit is produced on an assembly that moves at 4 inches per minute.

Workers use the supplies in the cart to assemble their portion of the kiosk, constantly referring to a station video monitor that details steps for that station. While steps may be memorized over time, the monitor is necessary because workers shift from station to station and the process changes, says Mainey.

“The monitor reinforces the steps for me,” said Sharon Estes, an assembly line worker. “I’ve worked at seven stations in the last year. I couldn’t possibly remember all the steps for each.”

It sounds like the cart is a kitting tool to make sure the kiosk gets all the right parts.  The assembly line worker also states another great reason for standardized work…job rotation.  The Creedmoor plant rotates employees and the standardized work is there as a reminder as to what tasks need to be performed at that station.

“We’ve been doing the redbox for five years. We still look at ways to improve. There’s no end state,” said Mainey.

Sounds like Mr. Mainey is driving the plant to continually improve.  I hope Flextronics keeps with this thinking and lets the Creedmoor plant prove you can reduce total costs while paying higher wages.


Categorize Standardized Work Tasks

The basis for all continuous improvement is standardized work.  Without it there is no baseline.  Without a baseline, there is no idea of whether there was an improvement made or not.  The biggest debate in creating standardized work is around what is important enough to standardize and what isn’t.  The more basic question is, “How much should we control the process/situation/operator?”

When this discussion arises, I fall back on what I read in “Toyota Talent” by Jeffrey Liker and David Meier.  The book talks about how Toyota uses the Training Within Industry (TWI) methods.  One of the first questions to ask is, “Is this task critical, important, or not important?”

Critical means the task needs to be completed in a very specific way.  With a certain hand, in a certain order, in a very detailed manner because of safety, productivity or necessity (this must be done before that can be done).

Important means the task needs to be completed in a specific way but there is some structured freedom in how it gets done.

Not Important means that the task needs to be completed but how and when may not matter to the process.

The following example will help illustrate the definitions.

Critical would say, “Use your right hand and insert screw #1, then #2, then #4, and then #3.”  This may be because of a safety hazard that would arise if you do it in a different order or the ability to not be able to get to screw #4 if you do #3 first.

Important would say, “Insert screws #1 and #2 first.  Then insert #3 and #4.”  Implying it does not matter if the operator inserts #1 first or #2 first just do both of them before you screw in #3 and #4.

Not Important would say, “Insert the four screws.”  Implying it does not matter what order the operator puts the four screws in.

I recently worked with a group that did a good job of using this concept.  As they developed standardized work that would be applied to three separate sites one of the questions that came up was, “Do we have to be so specific as to say who does the tasks?”

In this case, it was not important who did the tasks, but critical the tasks were done in a specific order.  It was a good use of the definitions to come up with the standardized work that will have ownership.

Standardized work is important but we have to remember to keep it in context and apply the definitions of critical, important, and not important appropriately.