Blog Archives

Discussions are What Is Value Added

Before anyone understood the thinking behind the tools used by Toyota, people copied the tools.  There are many examples of companies trying to copy the tools and not succeeding.

Today, many more people are starting to understand it is about the thinking and not the tools that makes lean successful.  Yet, because it is human nature we still rely on tools and templates.

Last week, Jamie Flinchbaugh had a great video post about focusing on the discussion and not the template when developing a lean strategy.  I would extend that thought to be the same same when creating value stream or process maps or A3’s.

Too many times I have caught myself as well as colleagues worrying about the format or template use of a map.  I would get questions like, “Why didn’t you follow the normal standards for the map?”  or “That doesn’t look like the A3 I was taught to use.”  These questions are missing the point.  The discussions we have around, “what is the problem and how did we fix it,” or “what is the lean strategy and how do we execute it” are what is important.

Discussions are where we can gain clarity and come to agreement on what is the issue and how to go about resolving it.    When you have an issue at home to you ever talk with your spouse about what template to put the information on?  I bet it is safe to assume no.  It is the discussion you are concentrating on.

Templates are tools to help facilitate and draw out the discussion.  Not hinder it.  Next time you use a template, make sure you use it to enhance the discussion, because the discussion is what adds value.

Forecasting is the Not the Answer

I have become cynical anymore when I hear people talk about forecasting.  It has gotten to the point of being laughable.  Have you ever sat in a meeting and listen to someone say that if the forecast was accurate we would have done well?

Really?  I am stunned that people will still utter those words.

I have seen people act like getting a forecast right shouldn’t be that hard and forecasting is the simple solution to all of our problems.

There are three things in life that are certain: Death, Taxes, and 100% of Forecasts are inaccurate.

Don’t get me wrong.  Forecasts can still be useful.  Forecasts can show changing trends.  Is there going to be a peak output time frame?  A low output time frame?  What is the magnitude of it the peak or valley?

Most companies seem to have people dedicated to determining the accuracy of the forecast.  This can help because it can give a clue as to how much the forecast might be off.  Now the company has a range but it is still a forecast.

The flip side to forecasting is pulling or replacing what the customer has bought.  In this case, your output matches your demand.  Now the focus can shift from a non-value added activity such as making an accurate forecast and focus on value added activities like adding value to the product or service in order to increase sales.

Lets stop talking about forecasting and start focusing on only producing what is sold.

Companies Trying to Target Customer Focus and Alignment

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

There were some great keynote speakers at the OpsInsight Forum.  The topics ranged from execution excellence to optimized S&OP process to transforming innovation.

What causes me to be optimistic about the potential success of lean progressing through companies is that almost all of them were talking about lean concepts, ideas, and thinking without knowing it.

In my opinion, the work does not have to be called out as being lean.  The most important part is the thinking and concepts becoming part of the company’s DNA.

The two concepts that were repeated over and over were focusing on the customer and the company being aligned to the work to deliver value.

Focusing on the customer.  This is the root of lean.  The very first seed that is planted.  The main focus is the customer or consumer that buys the product.  If what you are doing is not adding value for them we should ask, “Can we eliminate it?”  If not, then “Can we reduce it?”

In order to be the most effective in delivering value to the customer, everyone must be aligned.  Over half of the speakers brought up the issue of having everyone aligned to the business goals and clarity around the work that was needed to achieve those goals.  A few speakers specifically called out strategy deployment tool that could be used.  Others didn’t call out strategy deployment but talked about the catch ball process.  This is the process where Level 1 managers talk with Level 2 managers about how they can help achieve the goals and then Level 2 meets with Level 3 and so on and so forth.  The discussions go down and the back up the levels a few times to develop a comprehensive and achievable plan.

All of the speakers mentioned that lean was a way to support the work and help make it better.  These comments add data to my data set that lean still isn’t truly understood for what it is very widely still.  The good news is that people are trying to implement lean thinking and concepts.  They just don’t realize it.  That gives me optimism as I continue to implement lean thinking at the company I work for.

Look for areas where lean thinking is being implemented.  Don’t try to change the language.  Instead try to foster the thinking and help it grow.

The 8th Waste…is a Waste

Waste is a common term used in lean.  Taiichi Ohno categorized waste he saw in manufacturing into seven categories.

  1. Transportation – The movement of goods
  2. Inventory – The storage of goods
  3. Motion – Any motion that is not adding value to the product, such as walking, reaching, etc…
  4. Waiting – Machine or person or product not having value added to it while other products are having value added to it
  5. Overproduction – Making the product in quantities more than the customer wanted or before the customer wanted it
  6. Overprocessing – Adding more to a product than a customer values or extra steps that are not necessary to create the value
  7. Defects – Anything not done right the first time

These types of waste have been proven to be in the office, healthcare, distribution, or any environment.

I’m not a history major so I don’t who or when, but an 8th waste was added.

The waste of human Intellect.

I have worked at companies that use 7 and companies that use 8 types of waste.  My opinion, the 8th waste is a waste!

Here’s why I think that way.  If you study lean you will see that respect for people is a very big tenant.  If you are showing respect for people then you are engaging the work force.  The purpose of this engagement is tapping into the employees intellect in order to use it to benefit the company through improvement.

In order to engage the employees most companies train them on the types of waste.  That way they can use their intellect to see the waste in their work environment.  So how do you teach seeing wasted intellect?  You can go out and see the other seven types of waste during a waste walk.  Do you walk up to someone and say, “You aren’t giving ideas.  Wasted Intellect!  I found it!”? You don’t see intellect like you see the other seven types of waste.

Wasted intellect is implied in the other wastes.  If you are using employees to find and eliminate waste then you are not wasting their intellect.  If you are not using them to find and eliminate waste then you are wasting their intellect.

I have heard the opinion that by explicitly stating waste of intellect it brings into the forefront employee engagement.  Good opinion.  I just don’t buy it though.  Those same people are stressing employee engagement at the same time, so why not just do it there.

I am in agreement that employees need to be engaged and the company should be using their knowledge and intellect to help improve the business.  I just don’t think it needs to be called an 8th waste.

Quick Assembly of Pre-Fab Shelving Unit

A few weeks ago, I bought a shelving unit from Target.  The kind that comes needing a bunch of assembly and most people dread putting together because the instructions aren’t written very well.  I have done plenty of them and look at it as LEGO for big boys!

One reason people hate the assembly kits so much is the big bag of screws, washers, Dow rods, etc… that is always a nightmare to sift through to find parts for each step.  Well, not this time.  Apparently, the manufacturer must have had some customer feedback about how much of a hassle it is because this time all the hardware was pre-sorted for each step.  The front shows the hardware separated for each step and the back of the packaging tells what step the hardware is for.

All I had to do each for each step was open the appropriate compartment and use the hardware.  It was sorted and counted out properly.  This provided visual queues as whether or not if I forgot something.  If all the pieces were used, I should be alright and if there was a component still on the floor then I missed something.

I compare this to how some companies use material handlers to do the non-value added work to present parts to the value added operator so less time is taken by the value added operator to assemble the finished product.

The manufacturer took the non-value added task of sorting the hardware needed for each step and packaged it together.  This meant me, the value added operator, didn’t have to spend the time looking for the right hardware during each step.  I took less time to assemble this shelving unit than I have for any other unit in the last 10 years.  It was great.

One last thought on the manufacturer.  I would imagine they fought conventional thinking to do this, because it would be easier to package all Hardware A together and all Hardware B together in their silos and then throw that in the box.  Instead they probably had to get all the components into a common area before separating them.  Plus, the packaging I would assume cost more than a plastic bag that is heat sealed.

Over all, I liked this convenience.  It definitely added value for me.

Lean Is About Growth

I found a great article about growth.  I thought the author, Mike Collins, had a lot of very good information.  What caught my attention was the title of the article, “Lean Manufacturing Isn’t Enough.”

I had no idea the article was about growth from the title.  The article started out:

Top line growth will require a different kind of plan that should be developed in parallel with any process improvement projects. If not, the company will get to the end of its lean journey with plenty of new capacity and no new sales.

This right on.  As a company improves and becomes more efficient, then space, people, and equipment start to free up.  A company practicing good lean thinking does not lay off people due to improvements.  The company asks the question, “What value added things can I do with the freed up equipment, space, and people?”

This is a growth question.  It allows the company to produce more product which will generate more revenue using the same amount of people, equipment, and space.

More from Mike:

Several years ago I was doing a seminar in Orlando on growth planning. The audience was comprised mostly of consultants who sold lean manufacturing and Six Sigma services to manufacturing companies. At the end of the seminar, I asked them what measurements they used to tell if their clients had become lean. They told me that they were lean if the manufacturing company had excess capacity for more sales.

I am a little worried that “Lean Consultants” had such a narrow definition of whether their clients were “lean” or not.  I really like Mike’s question back to them:

I then asked them: If they had created this excess capacity, how did they ensure there would be more sales?

Mike’s explanation of the importance of a growth strategy was a great one:

My response to these people is that a marketing plan should be part of the CI process. Increasing top line sales and overall growth are not going to automatically happen because you are Six Sigma certified. Top line growth will require a different kind of plan that should be developed in parallel with any process improvement projects. If not, the company will get to the end of its lean journey with plenty of new capacity and no new sales.

I couldn’t agree more with Mike’s view on this.  Improvement and growth should be thought of in parallel.  That is what I talk about with the facilities I am working with.  The improvement part is fantastic, but now what are you going to do with the freed up people, space, and equipment?

I don’t know Mike’s understanding of lean, but when he mentions coming to the end of the lean journey.  I think he is referring to becoming efficient but having nothing to do with the freed up people, space, and equipment.  So now where does the company go?

Mike comes from a perspective of wanting to save American manufacturing.  The rest of the article goes on to explain some growth strategies.

It was a very good article.  The title does not convey the true message and makes me wonder if the person writing the title knew that Lean is about growth.

Continuous Improvement for Me – Staying Out of My Inbox

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.

At the end of August, Jamie Flinchbaugh posted a blog called “Stay Out of Your Inbox.” It is part of his First Steps Video Series.  The point was most people come in to work and the first thing they do is start with e-mail and it gets them off on the fire fighting trail right away.  The suggestion was to come in and do something that is value added first.  Even it if is just 15 minutes, to get the day started off on a positive note.

I had inadvertently discovered this on occasion.  If I had a meeting first thing in the morning and couldn’t get to my e-mail, I noticed how much I would get done in a day.  It wasn’t until I saw Jamie’s post that I put 2 and 2 together.  So over that last month, I have made a conscious effort to not start off in my inbox.  I took a task that I needed to complete or some documents I needed to review and I did that before I even opened my e-mail.   I did not open my e-mail anywhere from 30 -60 minutes after I got to work.

After a month of trying this out, I can say this is one improvement I plan to stick with.  I was able to get meaningful work done and was pulled into less fires.  Half the time, the fires were put out before I even saw the e-mail.  This meant I spent more time on more important tasks while fires still got put out.  At the end of the day, I felt like more got accomplished when I went home.  I also found out how important most of my e-mail really wasn’t.

Thanks to Jamie for connecting the dots for me.  I hope this can help others too.


Overlooked Waste Reduction of Kanban

Kanban is a very powerful tool when used properly.  It can lead to significant waste reduction.  Most people tend to think of the inventory waste reduction.  While kanban can lead to inventoryreduction, it could also lead to an inventory increase.  If a company is running so light on inventory and always creating shortages at the customer, kanban can help but it will most likely add inventory to the system.  Or if a company tries to use kanban on items that are not used but a couple of times a year, most likely the inventory will be increased in order to keep them in-stock year round.

No matter the circumstance though, if used properly, kanban will reduce the waste of information and material flow/transportation through the facility.

In a traditional environment, information flow is separated from the material flow.  The information comes from the office to someone out doing the work.  The person doing the work creates a schedule to be published.  When the schedule is published the material handler moves the material to the area to be worked on.  Then the material is processed.

The genius of kanban is taking the information flow and the material flow and combining it into one.    When the kanban is returned to the supplier, it triggers the work to be completed and when to be completed by.  It becomes the scheduling and the inventory control, as well as directing the where and when for the material to flow.  The kanban travels with the matieral and describes what the material is, the quantity to produce, who ordered it, and when it is due.  All in one package.

This reduces a lot of transactional waste of transportation and can eliminate non-value added work done by some people, freeing up time to do more value added work.

This is often missed because many people focus solely on reducing inventory through kanban and not reducing inventory through flow.  So, in cases when the inventory is increased, and rightfully so, due to a kanban system then kanban gets a bad name because “it isn’t lean.”  As Mark Graban would say, that is more L.A.M.E. then Lean.


Technology Supporting a Process

Have you ever bought technology because it’s cool, whether it be for home or work?  You look at it and think, “Wow!  Cool!  Look at all the features it has and the things it can do.  This will be great!”  Six weeks, six months, six years later you look back and realize you didn’t even use half of it’s capabilities.  I would be a rich man right now if I just paid for the part of the technology that I did use.  Maybe sitting on a beach somewhere warm.

Truth is we get enamored with the neat stuff.  Myself included.  What we end up doing is trying to fit our life (or process) into the technology.  We go out of way to use it and then over time we realize it is more hassle than it is worth and we stop using it.  Instead we should be looking at our life and seeing how the technology can support or enhance it.  The technology is something that fits right into our life so well that it almost seems seamless.

This happens a lot at work too.  The most common example is software.  The IT department buys a software package with 100 different functions that could possibly help with work that is getting done.  The found the software package because 10 of the functions fill a need that was asked by someone to go and fill.  Then they find this wonderful product and the other 90 functions will save the rest of your world too.  The department likes it too and so the software is bought.  One year later, an audit is done.  It shows only the 10 functions that were originally needed are being used, while the other 90 just sit. The company has wasted the money they spent on all these added features.  Eight years later, someone needs to have a new feature.  Everyone has forgotten about the extra 90 features the current software has, so IT goes out and finds another software package to add the new feature but it also, comes with all kinds of wonderful add-ons and so the cycle starts again.  While all along, the original software had the feature and the company just needed to use it.

This is all waste.  Waste of time, money, resources, and on and on.  The technology we use should be Just-In-Time just like our material.  Get what we need, when we need and at the time we need it.  No more, no less.  When the technology is bought, we need to ask how this technology will help support and enhance what we are doing AND make it easier for us to do.  In other words, the technology needs to support our process and work.  Don’t buy technology and then build the process or work to fit it’s capabilities.  If the technology does not support what you are doing, then it probably isn’t something you want for your process.

ERP systems can be a great example of buying technology and then fitting your process to support the buying of the ERP system.  Most companies doing lean well are taking the decisions an ERP system is making and make it visual out on the floor so anyone on the floor can make the same decision.  Why?  Because the ERP system does not support the process the lean company is trying to implement.  (Side note: Who is going to be the first ERP system to go away from ERP and build a great lean software tool to replace ERP?  Or does a software tool even need to be built?).

I’m not against technology.  That is a bad rap that lean can get.  I am against buying technology that does not support the process or the future state of the process.  It must be proven and it must enhance and make easier what we are already doing.

Why do you think people still technology for the sake of buying technology?  Have you seen this where you work?


Basics of Problem Solving

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have been certified/trained in many different methods of problem solving.  Some of them include Shainin Red X, Kepner-Tregoe Is/Is Not, the basics of Six Sigma and DMAIC, PDCA, SPC, and the list goes on and on.  Quite frankly, I have lost track of all the problem solving methods and tools I have used.

After many years of using all of these techniques, I have boiled problem solving down to just 4 basic steps that can be used/seen with any of the methods I mentioned above.

1. Identify Current State

2. Identify Ideal State

3. Analyze the Gap between Current and Ideal States

4. Attack!

Identify Current State: I firmly believe that you have to know where you are and what is happening before you can think about improving.  I have seen people throw everything out and just do step 2 and 4.  I don’t understand this, because they have almost always re-created some of the same headaches that they currently have or had in the past and then have to re-fix these issues.  You have not gotten where you are because everything was bad or wrong.  So what is good?  What is value added?  What is non-value added?  How does the process work?  Understand these things about your current situation and you will learn a lot about the process.

Identify Ideal State: I see some people want to identify the future state instead of the ideal state.  That can work, but I prefer the further sighted ideal state.  You won’t necessarily get to the ideal state by solving just this one problem, but you want to make sure you are heading in the direction of the ideal state.  You don’t want to create a countermeasure to a problem that is heading in a different direction than your ideal state.  Have you ever had a future state that isn’t aligned with your ideal state?  Do you want to start working in one direction only to be redirected later?  Define the ideal state, even if it is just bullet points, so you know that any countermeasure you put in place is directionally correct.

Analyze the Gap between Current and Ideal States: Now you must understand what it will take to get from where you are at to where you want to get.  How do we close the gap?  It may not fully close the gap but we are making progress towards the ideal state.  Sometimes you may find that you have to do a major process redesign or a big project.  Sometimes you may need to do smaller more manageable tasks to get there.  It is OK to not close the entire gap in one jump.  Just make progress.  If you make progress and have a plan, my experience has shown that you will get a lot of understanding.

Attack!: Now it is time to implement.  By implementation, I mean try out the countermeasures, verify the results, and make adjustments base on what was learned or make the new countermeasure part of the standards.  Basically, the Check and Act of PDCA.

This approach can work for simple problems like needing to reduce walking in a process.

1. Identify Current State – I walk 10 steps between my desk and the fax machine, 20 times per day = 200 steps.

2. Identify Ideal State – I don’t want to walk at all to the fax machine

3. Analyze the Gap – 200 steps per day is the gap, I can’t get a fax machine for my desk (not in the budget), but I can move the fax machine closer but I need to talk with others to make sure I’m not making more work on them.

4. Attack – Others are OK with me moving the fax machine.  I move it.  I am now walking 5 steps per trip, 20 times per day = 100 steps.  50% reduction.  That is the new standard now.

It also works for complex problems like creating single piece flow

1. Identify Current State –  A common tool used here is a Value Stream Map

2. Identify Future State – Create a future state Value Stream Map

3. Analyze the Gap – What projects and kaizen events do I need to do to reach my future state.  Develop an action plan.

4. Attack – Implement action plan.  Reflect on results and process of implementing and make adjustments as necessary.

I know this boils it down very simply, but there is a lot of work that has to happen in each step.  There are many tools/concepts that can be used to complete these steps, but remembering these four steps is a great start.