Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Kaizen for the Holiday Season

As I enjoyed the warmth of holiday time with my family, several ideas came to mind that could help improve the holiday season from the customer point of view. Although these ideas do not reflect upon the true meaning of the celebration of Christmas, they do provide a kaizen approach to the more commercial side of the holidays. I readily admit that these areas of improvement are purely self-centered in nature and, compared to world peace, are not all together important yet would go a long way to make our holidays just a little bit better. With that said, let me share my number one area of holiday improvement.

Improvement Ideas Number 1: Make all toys easy to open by kids.
Listen up Toy Manufacturers! Please get rid of those pain in the bottom twisted wires that hold many toys in their packages.

My nine year old daughter and soon-to-be five year old son are fiercely independent kids who want to open up their presents without adult assistance. Despite all the potential reasons by the toy manufactures for including these barriers to the true end customer (kids) to quickly get at their toy, the dreaded wires are hated by all.

I am not a toy manufacturing expert so the reasons of security, presentation and protection of these bound up toys may have some merit. But from my lean manufacturing experience and more importantly, my consumer experience, I believe that there must be a better way.

The manufacturing process to apply those twisted ties must be a labor intensive process not to mention extra material cost. Despite the fact that overall labor costs are low with a majority of these toys manufactured in China, the margins are tight in the competitive toy market. In addition, retail pressures from the big box retailers like Walmart, a big player in retail toy sales, will continue to squeeze out every penny in cost. Bottom line, there is an opportunity here to make customers happy and save costs.

While manufactures are looking at kid friendly packaging, lets look at replacing thick wires ties, not sewing Barbie's hair to the cardboard backing, pre-applying the tons of stickers that require adult application, and getting rid of the hard to remove security tapes on DVD cases. Each of these packaging methods are barriers for kids to getting straight to the action of playing with their new toys.

Christmas Holiday Wish

Christmas is a glorious season of renewed hope and joy for all mankind. May this spirit of peace and goodwill continue to burn bright within each of us throughout the New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Keep Footprints Square

Placing footprints on the floor outlines the home of an item. This item could be equipment, tools, benches, boards, etc. Using simple floor tape and adding a name label makes it easy to identify the item belonging in the footprint.

A common mistake is to make a detailed outline the conforms to the item shape where the footprint ends up looking like a jigsaw puzzle piece. Don't spend excessive time and energy with this approach. A simple square or rectangle works best.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Door Arc

At first, it may sound a little silly. However, adding the footprint to a door arc makes perfect 5-S sense. With the aid of the visual door arc, everyone can see the area required for the free swing of the door. The area stays clear of obstructions and reduces the opportunity of accidents. Windows in doors help with visibility too.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Call in the Experts, Ask your Employees

In the middle of a product comparison this morning, our management team quickly came to the conclusion that our product was second. The reaction of management seeing that a competing product was better than ours included disbelief, disappointment, surprise and fear. The fear probably motivated us the most. We did not waste any time arguing if we had a problem or not but unanimously agreed that we needed help. We needed experts so we decided to asked our employees.

The distinguishing feature that made our product lose out was our paint finish. There was some discussion by the team to call our paint supplier (expanding the team) but we did not want to delay a week in order to get them to the plant. Including your suppliers is an excellent idea and we will set that up however we wanted to start improving today.

Employees are the best sources of collective knowledge of your processes. Our painters are the in-house experts best able to improve our paint finish. A few hours later, we called a 1/2 hour meeting of the entire paint department. After seeing for themselves the side by side comparison of the products, a group discussion on the issue led to creating a fish bone diagram on the challenge. A simple statement, "What do you need to improve our paint finish?" focused the painters on improvement ideas.

Within 15 minutes, we had list of 23 outstanding improvements based on their knowledge of our processes. The painters decided which of their ideas are the top 3 that could help them the most to achieve a better paint finish. With management in the room, giving the nod of approval on the improvements, our direction was set.

The coolest part was seeing employees and management working together to solve a problem. The excitement and energy was intense as we openly talked together without reservations or animosity. This is what American business should be like everyday!

Monday, December 12, 2005

SME Article on Visual Work Instructions

I just received my copy of the SME e-Newsletter of Lean Manufacturing called Lean Directions which had an outstanding article on Visual Work Instructions. Most of the time, articles I read on lean are long on fluff and short on substance. This article has some excellent detailed points aimed at the lean practitioner.

Check out Dr. Steven Blackwell's article "Shorter Text for Visual Work Instructions". It follows the same concepts I have written about on making documents shorter, concise and to the point to improve use and understanding (ref posts "Visual Work Instructions Basics" and "When it Comes to Standard Work Instruction Computer Files, Size Matters" and "Make Every Word Count in Quality").

Great guidelines to create better visual work instructions like sentence structure and making it simple!

While at this site, just sign up for a free subscription to SME's Lean Directions. It's a great Lean Resource.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Information Supply Chain Kaizen

Did you ever play this communication game in school or maybe at some training session? The game is where one person whispers a message in another person's ear then that person passes it on to the next person. This message continues to be passed one by one until it reaches the last person. The last person would say out loud the message which turns out to be very different from the original message. Hearing the final version of the message is usually humorous, entertaining and unnerving for the group. It is amazing how a simple message becomes radically altered as it gets passed through the chain.

Even though it is just a game, it does reflects the real challenges that businesses face in their information supply chain. When the term supply chain is used in business, we normally think of material flow. Material is passed on from supplier to supplier in what becomes a linked chain. Information can follow a similar path, from person to person in a linked supply chain. This information supply chain, like any other process in manufacturing, can be and should be an area for kaizen.

Many businesses on their lean journey have started with value stream mapping of their current state and go on to create their future state. In their value stream map, the operational process flow is detailed including inventory levels at each step. Beyond just the material flow, properly created value stream maps will include the flow of information.

Accurate and timely information is critical to the success of all businesses. All our decisions are based on the quality of our information. Ignoring the information supply chain can quickly erode any improvement gains in the physical processes. How many physical processes are improved but end up waiting on the information supply chain to catch up? I wonder if GM or Delphi in their lean activities ever looked at their information supply chain?

The same goes for working in a project environment where information is a primary driver of the activities within team. By improving the flow of information, many wastes can be eliminated and the timeline from project start to finish can be shortened. How many times have you worked on a project where team members or management did not keep pace with current events and valuable time was spent on getting everybody back up to speed?

Bottom line, information flow is critical in business yet not usually considered an area for kaizen. I consider it a hidden area of opportunity that when improved will create dramatic results for your business. Just like in the communication game, information passed through your organization can be radically altered. By applying the principles of Kaizen to your information supply chain, your information will be more accurate and timely.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Do you Read Instructions Carefully Before Assembly?

I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of people in this world, ones that open a box and read the instructions carefully before assembly and the others that assemble first without looking at the instructions unless a major problem occurs. Even though I am a pretty good engineer, I always read the instructions first. My wife happens to fall in with the other crowd.

During this holiday season, many parents will be purchasing gifts that have in small print "some assembly required"on the box. Without exception, many of us will be burning the midnight oil in a frantic attempt to complete the task of assembly before Christmas morning. In those late night sessions, assembly problems can quickly add frustration regardless if you read instructions first or not. Although I really believe that reading the instructions first significantly lowers the chance of an assembly error.

Do you read instructions carefully before assembly? Good manufacturers will recognize that there exists in our world this great divide between the instruction readers and the intuitive assemblers. Great manufacturers will put a system in place to prevent operator errors for both groups.

So what is a manufacturer to do in order to prevent operator errors? An excellent lean tool quickly comes to mind called Poka-Yoke. Poka-Yoke is a system or device that prevents errors before they become problems. It is also known as error proofing or mistake proofing.

I came across an excellent example of a simple poka-yoke recently when I purchased a wireless card for my laptop. Yes, I am just now moving to wireless. Following the Toyota way of only going to proven technology, I have resisted earlier temptations to go wireless.

I purchased a wireless card from Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems. In bold letters, the first instruction on the instruction sheet clearly points out to run the CD first before connecting the device to your PC. The poka-yoke system Cisco Systems used to prevent an operator error in this step is a simple label. Knowing that some people never read the instructions first, they placed this label with the same warning to run the CD first on both the CD and the wireless card. As a result, no matter what I picked up first, I see this important instruction. I bet this simple poka-yoke has dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, the error of not running the CD first. Outstanding job Cisco!

Look at your processes and products. How can operator errors occur? Think how a simple poka-yoke can eliminate the error and make it mistake proof like Cisco Systems.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eye Plugs Required

Nobody is perfect in this world and that goes for me too. Even in my quest for perfection based on the Toyota way, things sometimes get off track. I was reviewing and updating some quality inspection work instructions recently when I noticed something odd.

In our work instructions, we include safety notes and required PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to perform the job safely. I even found some cool icons to add to give it a visual boost. After the edit was complete, a quick spell check was ran to double check for errors. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

Then I saw it, plain as day. Under the icon I used for ear plugs, I accidentally typed in eye plugs. So much for spell check. To make matters worse, this work instruction was for the inspection process. (I bet if you asked some of our customers, they would agree that eye plugs were used in the past and on more than one occasion).

We had a good laugh over this mistake and made some fast corrections before it was released. Spell check works great in many cases. However, a second set of eyes would have probably seen the error because I obviously was wearing my eye plugs.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Principle of Lean Genchi Genbutsu Can Go Beyond your Plant Walls

A key principle of lean manufacturing is genchi genbutsu which means to go and see at the actual place. Only by going to the actual place or source can we begin to understand the real facts of any situation. With this clear understanding, real improvement can be implemented.

Sometimes, the actual place is not within the four corners of your plant and you must look beyond your plant walls. I am talking about going to your supplier's location or even going to your supplier's supplier location.

This goes hand in hand with another key principle of lean which is to extend help to your partners and suppliers to improve. This extension of your continuous improvement efforts beyond your plant walls to your supplier helps everybody get better.

We applied both of these principles last week when faced with a quality issue from one of our suppliers. Instead of sending a typically SCAR (Supplier Corrective Action Request) for our supplier to respond with their fix or calling them to the carpet and pounding on them to get it right or else, we decided to extend our helping hand. There were no threats or heavy handed tactics that are common in American business today in our supplier relationships especially when problems hit the fan. Just a road trip to genchi genbutsu.

Most suppliers are apprehensive about a visit under these circumstances because of a basic lack of trust. How can you blame them? They expect the customer to jump all over them and in some case it is not without cause. But does this help solve the problem or follow the Toyota Way?

In our quest to solve the problem, we included visits to both our suppliers site and our supplier's supplier site to drill down to the root cause. With all parties working as one cooperative group, we were able to isolate the potential root cause and set up verification process plans to confirm the cause. In addition, quality procedures were strengthened to improve corrective and preventive actions. This including sharing our best practices, forms and procedures with our suppliers.

It was amazing to see the results. Next time you have a supplier problem, try the genchi genbutsu approach beyond your plant walls. Build trust and extend your helping hand.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Go Inch Wide and Mile Deep

The lean journey is not a short easy trip. It takes years of effort in the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement. One of the best pieces of advice given to me was to approach the lean journey by going inch wide and mile deep.

As you learn all the different kaizen tools and see the vast opportunities to eliminate waste, it can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. You may be tempted to jump into the water and start swimming as fast as you can only to find the you are just treading water.

Don't try to apply all the different techniques across the entire company all at once. Pick one critical area and focus your teams effort on a single goal. It could be 5S, quick die change or production smoothing. Just pick one and put all your efforts behind it. Don't settle for good enough, take it as far as you can and then push yourself to go deeper. Go inch wide and mile deep!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Creativity Before Capital, Lost Principle of Lean

From my earliest lean lessons, I was directed to be creative in applying continuous improvement in manufacturing. Dr. Shigeo Shingo preached to me and my fellow engineers not to become a "Catalog Engineer". Catalog Engineers spent all of their time looking for solutions in a catalog and buying a quick fix. He would tell us to throw out the catalog and go to gemba. Our motto on the shop floor was Creativity Before Capital.

Since those days, lean has definitely grown in popularity (more interest than implementation)and received plenty of press time over the last decade. Most of the time, the lean articles deal with tools and case studies. Despite this increase in lean information, not much has been written about the principle of Creativity Before Capital.

Creativity before capital is the lost principle of lean in America. Simply put, this principle demands that we think more about making our improvements by utilizing what is nearby without spending capital dollars. This sounds great to the company accountants and upper management however the thinking part scares most people. Most give up at the first road block and before you know it, the checks start pouring out.

A great way to support the Creativity Before Capital principle is with 5S. Break out the red tags and collect up all the unneeded items around your plant. Move your red tag items to a segregated storage area (hint-make sure you have a listing of these items). But before getting rid of them, these red tag items are now the "nearby resource" for your creative solutions.

Consider it the MacGyver challenge. (Note: MacGyver was a TV character in the 1980s noted for using simple, handy items to get him out of tight jam.) By getting in touch with the MacGyver deep inside all of us, we can think of a creative solution to any problem without spending money.

When it comes to Standard Work Instruction Computer Files, Size Matters

When creating computer files of your standard work instructions (charts), especially with the addition of pictures and movie clips, the size of the file matters. To make the files easier to view and update, the smaller the file the better.

I did a little experiment on a few of my standard work documents in relation to file size and access time. In my documents I could speed up access by the same percentage that I reduced the file size. For example, if I cut the file size by 75%, the time to access it was also cut by 75%.

As I create and update my standard work documents, I try to keep the files to the smallest size possible yet include ALL the details needed. (See my earlier post- How much Details goes in Standard Work Charts). Some of the ways to do this is to resize pictures and use small clips without fluff. Keep your instructions clear and concise (get rid of extra, nonvalue added words). I talked about this concept in one of my earlier posts- Make Every Word Count in Quality.

Another great way to improve file size is to convert from a work document to a html document. Our work instructions are currently accessible on our company intranet site and html documents work great in our system. So far, the conversion to a html file format has reduced our files by an average of 80% without the elimination of any details in our documents. It may work for you too!

Waste can be found in all processes and systems including computer files. Keep all things to the smallest size possible that gets the job done.

Improve Standard Work Instructions with Hyperlinks

One of the best ways to speed up access to your standard work instructions with related supporting documents on a computer is to utilize the hyperlink function. All standard software packages have this tool that can link documents to each other eliminating the time and frustration that goes along with searching for the documents. A principle of the Toyota way is to take advantage of proven technology. Hyperlinks fit this description. If you are not using it yet, you need to start.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dangers in Lean Manufacturing Awards

Our American culture is full of competition, awards, and status in our need to be recognized as the best, second to none. Just look at the number of award shows on TV in the entertainment fields. Another example are the quality product awards like J.D. Powers, well known in the automotive industry. (Trivia quiz: How many different J.D. Powers quality awards are there for the automotive industry?) I wonder if any other cultures have the same obsession for awards as Americans? With our culture, it makes perfect sense that we would have manufacturing awards (ie Shingo Prize, Malcolm Baldridge, IW Best Plants of the year, etc).

As an American, I love competition, the thrill of victory and a shot at glory. When hardware (a trophy) is up for grabs and the title of "Number 1", my heart pounds as the adrenaline races through my body. Ready, set, go!

But is this the right frame of mind for our lean journey? Bill Waddell at Evolving Excellence has several great posts on this subject including Help Me Out, Please that challenge the pursuit of lean manufacturing awards like the Shingo Prize which include past multi-winners like Delphi.

From my lean training and following the Toyota way, the answer is no. My simple understanding of lean principles is to focus on the pursuit of company survival for eternity with the elimination of waste while adding value for customers, enhancing quality of life for employees and contributing to society. The pursuit of lean manufacturing awards is not on the list of objectives.

Even with this clearly stated, doesn't a little competition help push us (Americans) on the lean journey? Maybe it does helps some companies however there is danger in this approach.

One danger is focusing all our energies on winning the award and neglecting other objectives like new product development. Without constant innovation our future product lifeline is threatened. Threats from global competition could easily send any American company into extinction if innovation dies.

Another danger is cutting corners and fudging the numbers to win. Unfortunately, some American companies have the capacity to bend and twist facts to paint an image that is not a true indication of their business performance. Call it positive spin or creative accounting but I call it cheating.

Then there is the danger of actually winning the award. We could easily start believing that our company is lean. Once we buy into that mindset, the lean journey ends because we think we are done. Winning would lull us into a false sense of security. Toyota has been on their lean journey for over 50 years and publicly states that they still need to improve. Remember-continuous improvement is ongoing..Forever!

Any American company that believes that there are benefits in winning this type of award, despite any potential dangers, they should pursue it. I wish each and everyone the best of luck! My recommendation would be to following the Toyota way, pursue the lean journey and not seek prestigious awards. Your award should be returning customers.

(Answer to Trivia question: I counted 90 separate J.D. Powers quality awards in the automotive category, according to their website. There could be more.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

You do not Delegate Kaizen, Everybody Participates

One misconception of lean manufacturing is the belief that it is just another program. Upper management perpetuates this belief by delegating Kaizen (continuous improvement) activities to the lower levels within the organization. This is not a principle of lean manufacturing. The culture of a company on the lean journey is one where everybody participates in Kaizen.

Regardless of your position within the organization, everybody should be actively involved in continuous improvements actions on a regular basis. Better yet, because of your position, you must actively participate in Kaizen to successfully transform the culture of your company. Walking the talk and leading by example are powerful actions that promote a lean culture throughout the organization.

I have participated in continuous improvement events where CEO's of billion dollar corporations drive fork lifts, clean equipment and change layouts in the spirit of Kaizen. The power of this level of participation seen on the shop floor does more to strengthen and promote the culture of lean than years worth of motivating speeches.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Linking 5S with Standard Work Instructions by Adding Home Information

A place for everything and everything in its place is a central theme of 5S. Designating a home for all items makes it easy to find them. But what if you are looking for an item and don't know where to find it's home?

This happened to me just last week while on working on a project at one of our plants. In addition to the project work, I was covering for a vacationing Quality Manager. By the middle of the week, a purchased part problem hit the shop floor. To quickly sort the good parts from the bad ones, we needed the test fixture.

Several of us searched all the "normal" spots where it most likely could be stored but the test fixture was no where to be found. Asking around, not one single person in this plant knew where it find it. This lost fixture caused a delay in testing, wasted time searching and created plenty of frustration for all involved.

This muda (waste) could have been avoided if the test fixture had a designated home and this home was clearly identified. In my example, it seems that only one persons knows this information and he was on vacation. Put this valuable home information in the standard work instructions where it could be found. A place for everything and everything in its place only works if everybody knows where to find the designated home!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps

To my dad, Major Edwin A. Wroblewski, (retired USMC) and to all Marines, unselfishly defending our country and it's people at all costs. Thank you!

Happy 230th Birthday Marines, Semper Fidelis.

May God bless you!

ooo rah

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dysfunctional Lean Manufacturing in America - Cutting Costs instead of Reducing Waste

The majority of efforts in American manufacturing to implement lean manufacturing principles are dysfunctional because management does not understand the basic difference between cutting cost and reducing waste. Just closely look at all the case studies, articles, shareholder reports, executive interviews and official news releases to see what corporate actions are described as lean. A review will quickly tell you which companies understand lean principles and which companies think they understand them.

Dysfunctional lean results from the misguided actions caused by misunderstanding lean manufacturing principles. In America, we take a twisted view of applying lean principles by cutting costs with massive layoffs, bullying suppliers, reducing service, blind outsourcing, and de-contenting products. In this view, our management decisions are based only on the dollar impact and not terms of what is value or non-value added. Costs may be quickly reduced in this approach but at a price of value deterioration.

On the other hand, waste reduction is the systematic approach to eliminate process activities that add no value to our customers and maintain all the value added elements. Only elements of waste are targeted for elimination. Management decisions are focused on value and non-value added measures. This simple approach follows the belief that you do not focus on costs because you already know that eliminating waste will always result in a cost reduction benefit.

Another way to look at it is from the customer point of view. Cost cutting takes things away from the customer while waste reduction gives things to the customer.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Add Visual Quality Guides to your Standard Work Sheets

On my project to revamp standard work sheets on the shop floor, adding visual quality guides provided an excellent way to display common quality nonconformances and recommended corrective actions. The standard work sheet details the current best method necessary to correctly perform an operation. But not all processes are perfect on our lean journey. That's where the visual quality guides can help.

The visual quality guide displays any potential defects found at a particular workstation. Examples are clearly pictured based on customer complaints and quality specifications. By properly defining the acceptance criteria along with what is unacceptable, many debates can be avoided and judgment improved. It is a management responsibility to clearly define quality expectations. Smart management will adhere to customer defined quality expectations.

Before the posting of visual quality guides, it was almost a daily activity to constantly address this issue somewhere in the plant. A supervisor or operator calls the quality manager to "make the call" if the product was good. After the quality manager looks over the part, an issued disposition declares the "goodness" of the part in addition to any actions to get the part in conformance to standard. Delays in dispositions are common and quarantine areas were created. All Muda!

With visual quality guides, all customer quality expectations are documented and displayed at gemba. Soon after posting them, a supervisor called me to the floor to make another "quality call". When looking over the part, I asked the supervisor, "What do you think?". He said, "You're Quality, you tell me.". Quickly, I asked him, "What does the visual quality guide say about this?". He began to read the appropriate section back to me. I just repeated my question, "Now, what do you think?". I did not have to provide a disposition and it took only a few weeks for everyone to follow the guides.

In the event a nonconformance is detected, the recommended corrective actions is included on the visual quality guide. Following this guide, not only was the quality standard clearly defined, any operator can now initiate corrective actions without delay. Less Muda!

Visual quality guides provide an outstanding quality communication tool that goes well with the standard work charts. That leaves the future challenges of preventive actions and keeping the quality standards in line with the "raising of the bar" by our customers.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hidden Benefits to Proper Posting of Standard Work Charts

When properly posting standard work charts over the last few days, several hidden benefits of improved visibility and air flow emerged. By auditing standard work instructions posted throughout one of our manufacturing plants, I expected just to improve accessibility and functionality. Sometimes hidden benefits come out after making an improvement with lean manufacturing principles.

The standard work charts were posted on boards above the workstation with several requiring ladders to reach. These high ones were outdated due to the difficulty to reach them and not readable from the shop floor. (A lean reminder-If the maintenance department is required to post standard work, you are not properly posting them!).

After removing them, the first hidden benefit of improved visibility across the department quickly could been seen (no pun intended). Keeping structures below head level allows improved visibility of process flow and communication between operators. In addition, this clear line of sight improves safety.

Improving air flow earned quick approval on the shop floor. As most manufacturing plants in America, ours is not air conditioned. Fans primarily push air across the department providing minimal relief during the hot summer months. Without the boards above, the air flow circulates freely. Improvements like this go a long way to gaining support on the shop floor.

How much Detail goes in Standard Work Charts?

The measure of meaningful standard work charts comes down to the level of details. Details spell out exactly "How" to perform the process method without question. Any operator should be able to follow the instructions and successfully perform the work steps.

According to author Jeffrey Liker in his book The Toyota Way, standard work at Toyota is detailed to the footstep. His example was 28 steps for a 44.7 second job. That's one documented step for every 1.6 seconds of work including the number of footsteps for each element. With this level of meticulous documentation, I can see how Toyota can effectively establish a consistent standard work process.

Based on this comparison, our standard work charts have plenty of room for continuous improvement.

Standard Work Establishes Stable Process and Quality

The principle of standard work is part of the foundation of the Toyota Production System. Performing work steps in exactly the same method from one unit to the next results in stability and reduces process variability. The quality output from a standard method will be consistent from piece to piece.

When a problem does occurs, comparing the documented standard work to the observed process method can quickly identifies opportunities for errors. The supervisor, team leader or quality auditor should be able to access the standard work documentation at each workstation for every process throughout the plant. Observing several cycles will confirm if the method is constant. Emphasis on strict adherence to the established standard work is mandatory.

Lean challenge for today. Go to gemba and observe the process at a random workstation. Does this workstation have a current copy of the standard work method? Is the operator following the steps exactly as described? Is the process steps repeated exactly the same from piece to piece?

If you answered no to any of these questions, fix it. Fix it right now. Do not add it to your to-do-list. Do not delegate it. Roll up your sleeve and work with the operator to fix it today.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Forget the Conference Room, Gather Around Gemba

Whenever a problem arises in any organization, one of the first action items by management is call a meeting. Typically, this meeting is held in a company conference room. With the miracles of modern technology, a conference call takes place to include distant members with the everyone gathering around the phone.

In many cases, some information is collected and souvenirs are dragged into the conference room for show and tell during the meeting. In my experience, most meetings create more questions and multiple directions then establishing a solution. At best, additional assignments are handed out to gather more information prior to making a decision. In the worst case, snap decisions are made with little information.

The kaizen approach is different. Forget the conference room, gather around gemba (meaning actual location/work place). If the issue is a broken machine, gather around this machine. If the issue is on the assembly line, go to that work station. The employees that are closest to the issue are at gemba. Utilize their experience and wisdom which is not always included in traditional American business problem solving.

By seeing for yourself at gemba, you will better understand the process, arrive at the root cause and formulate a solution. Next time a crises occurs in your facility, try calling the meeting at gemba.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Waste Transfer is not a Lean Manufacturing Principle

In kaizen, a common goal is to optimize an assembly line or departmental process by streamlining value added tasks and eliminating wasteful tasks. Sometime we end up transferring the wasteful activities to other departments, suppliers, employees off the line and, in some cases, even customers.

This is not a principle of lean manufacturing. The waste still exists within the value chain therefore a cost still exists. Somebody still pays. Yes, throughput may be improved and cost lowered yet it still exists.

Focus on eliminating the waste and not passing the burden to others.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Quality Testing of Caskets on Halloween

Happy Halloween!

What better way to spend Halloween then performing quality tests on caskets. Working under tight deadlines and the demise of an old design, a group of us gathered together to validate several alternatives in a new casket design. Yes, even caskets have rigid quality criteria to satisfy our customers.

Prior to testing, several different opinions were strongly expressed as to which specific design would be best. When facing a deadlock, the best approach is to go to gemba and test all alternatives. Let the data guide you! The actual test results changed many perceptions which will determine the final outcome. (The approach was expressed in The Game of Rock-Paper-Scissors post).

It worked for us today!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Visual Management in Lean Manufacturing Means Seeing the Problems

Visual management brings many things to mind when applied to lean manufacturing principles. We think of plastering charts, graphs, pictures, color coding, labels and work instructions all over our plant like wall paper. Just as in the case of work instructions, (see posting visual work instructions), this is just a partial truth. In the lean approach, visual management is more than just charts and pictures.

Based on what I was taught about the Toyota Production System, visual management is about seeing. Seeing the waste, seeing the problems, seeing the things needing improvement in addition to seeing the improvements from the eyes of the customer.

In American business, we have an extremely difficult challenge in seeing. We do not like to see problems and we overlook waste as just a cost of doing business. We get defensive when problems are brought to the attention of management (The higher up the organization, the more defensive). In the shuffle to deflect blame, we stumble through the improvement process hoping it will get better. Unwritten policies are followed like "never shut down the production lines" or "we need the parts now so write an UAI (Us As Is) disposition".

To move forward on your lean journey, you must first recognized this weakness in American business. Open your eyes in Gemba. You can not improve what you do not see.

Friday, October 28, 2005

What does my Blog title "Got Boondoggle?" mean?

Several people have told me that they don't quite understand the meaning of "Got Boondoggle?" for my blog title. Well, I picked this title for several reasons.

First, "Boondoggle" is a word meaning waste. Boondoggle is more commonly used to describe a waste found in politics/government, specifically a waste of taxpayer money. More broadly, by asking "Got Boondoggle?", I am just asking if you have waste in your operations/processes. If you answer, "yes", then this blog for you. I just extended the connection to the lean manufacturing principle of waste elimination.

Second, the term boondoggle is unique and stands out from the crowd. This should make it easier to find.

Finally, and more importantly, both of my kids laugh every time I say boondoggle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Katrina Scare Sparks Anti-Lean Direction

I ran across a couple of frightening articles today. (Must be a Halloween prank, please wake me up from my nightmare!). In the October issue of Logistics Management, they published two pieces that, in my opinion, are promoting anti-lean principles for America's future in our growing complex supply chain. I could not believe what I was reading.

The first piece is an editorial "Are you ready for the next Katrina?" by Executive Editor James Aaron Cooke. In this piece, Mr. Cooke says,"The lean-inventory, just-in-time-delivery supply chain model does not make sense today". All stemming from the supply chain interruption caused by Hurricane Katrina. He goes on to include other Just in Case situations as terrorist attacks and shortages in transportation as reason to go anti-lean. He also states, "stockpiling inventory is only the first step," pertaining to needed actions of disaster-preparedness plans. The scariest part is that I can visualize many American executives nodding their heads in agreement to these scare tactics.

The second article is "Shippers see inventory rising," by Susan K. Lacefield. This article is not as scary and just presents the argument that we should be questioning our lean approach. It is based on current events linking to a survey indicating an increase in inventory by 61% of the respondents. Several statements by people interviewed in this article confirm my opinion that many still do not understand or embrace lean manufacturing principles. What a shame! I loved the quote,"That allows [the suppliers] to improve their manufacturing efficiencies by running larger lots." OUCH!

After reading these articles I predict this is just the beginning. The Anti-Lean approach will become wildly popular in the future, based simply on supply-chain interruption fears. Please wake me up!

Point Kaizen #2 Designated Deadline

As explained in Point Kaizen, a process improvement can be accomplished by one person quickly (usually within 1 day). This past week we had a material issue with our metal supplier, rejecting steel coils for nonconformance to standard.

After our Purchasing Manager made a phone call to our supplier, I formally sent them a Supplier Corrective Action Request (SCAR) per our quality procedures. When completing the form I noticed that it contained a deadline for returning it. The designated deadline for the SCAR was "to be returned in 30 days from issue date".

Here we have a material problem needing immediate correction yet our formal document states a 30 day wait to provide corrective action is OK. What mixed messages are we sending out? What "sense of urgency" is conveyed? This designated deadline created a 30 day muda.

Before sending the SCAR out, I changed the completion deadline on the form to "ASAP". Simple, urgent and to the point. For all future SCARs, we expect a quick response. (The form was officially changed in one afternoon).

Some of you may think that "ASAP" is not exact enough of a deadline (for example, making it 3 days would be better). Maybe not, by saying ASAP we expect quick action so it does not sit on a desk waiting for the deadline date for even 1 day. Remember - Sense of Urgency, then follow up!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Simple Follow-up gets Results

In our eagerness to increase our multitasking we never allow enough time to follow-up. It is more important to successfully complete tasks not to undertake more of them.

Posting Visual Work Instructions

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, we hung our visual work instructions above the work station for each operator resulting in no improvement to our process. The only positive impact was with our customers and some of our management on plant tours thinking they looked great. (another example of looking lean versus being lean).

Save yourself some time and effort, any standard work documentation does not need to be posted above the work station for lean manufacturing. Instead, keep a copy of your documentation accessible at the work station (at ground level). It could be placed in a binder, on a ring, or whatever works in your particular operation. The important thing is to keeping it handy not displayed.

Thanks to Mark Graban at the Lean Manufacturing Blog for stating this point in his comments to my earlier posting.

Stamping out Quality Administrative Muda

The most frustrating element that followed our quality management system was the added administrative activities. In controlling documents, one of these wasteful activities was hand stamping each document by color code ("master", "controlled", "uncontrolled" or "obsolete"). The administrative tasks in this effort is classic muda although some people think of it as a necessary waste.

To eliminate this muda and allow us to focus on more value added activities, we used a kaizen approach. As a result, we moved all the quality documents to a web based intranet. The web file became the master file, complete with administrative rights and controls. On each document we stated (in red letters) that "All hard copies are considered uncontrolled". We also included in our system that you needed to check the web to see the most current revision. When you printed out a document it was already "stamped" as uncontrolled. No more hand stamping required!

Not so Secret Way to Successfully Implement Lean Manufacturing

Training, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice and Practice. Repeat Cycle Forever.

Monday, October 24, 2005

True Purpose of Visual Work Instructions

I noticed something interesting when we posted visual work instructions all over our plant. The operators who helped write the content looked them over, made corrections and never looked at them again. The work instructions were posted above each work station yet nobody looked at them after the first week.

Almost every operator believed that they knew their jobs well enough not to rely on the work instructions. So if the visual work instructions are not for the operators, what is their true purpose?

The first purpose is to document (standardize) the current best way to perform a task or complete a process. Many of our processes in the past were considered tribal knowledge. Only a few people carried that specific knowledge in their heads and passed it on to others as required. Over time, some important information was lost which was either lost forever or forced us to re-learn it. Not a very productive use of resources.

The second purpose is for training or teaching new employees the correct method or process. Depending on word of mouth training from experienced operators leaves opportunities of missing information or compromises in quality. The visual work instruction should contain the proper information and improve the learning curve.

Finally, the visual work instructions provide the basis to audit the process. Using the visual work instruction as the standard work method, any person could check the actual operation against the documented method to ensure adherence to standard. In addition, the standard documented process becomes the baseline for improvement efforts.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Visual Work Instructions Basics

A few years ago, we had a consultant join us to improve our operation. One of the first areas that he focused on was placing large visual work instructions all around the plant. This was not a completely new idea to us. Previously, we had targeted visual work instructions at key areas however he wanted more of them.

Based on his advise, we needed larger (11" x 17") visual work instruction posted high above every work station. He also stressed that the work instructions should be on photo paper and laminated. This meant special paper and new color printers. With these work instruction posted at each work station, he predicted a huge increase in quality first pass yield.

Like most consultants, he had some great ideas but his plan was flawed. In addition, he missed the purpose of the improvement as in the case of the visual work instructions. Regardless, we went ahead with his recommendations for all the obvious reasons. Not surprising, the workstations looked great with all the visuals yet we did not see amazing improvements in our quality when we completed this task. Was this project a boondoggle (waste)?

Not a complete waste just implemented poorly. A few practical work instruction improvements were learned in the process:

Visual Work Instruction Basics:

1. Use regular 8 1/2" x 11" copy paper (Its cheaper, standard and only regular printer needed).
2. Post at each work station at the operator level and make it accessible (Posting high up presents a barrier to updating and requires maintenance help).
3. Have the operators write their own work instruction (Keeps ownership and accuracy high)
4. Use plenty of pictures with brief steps. (If it is too wordy, people will not read them).
5. Update them regularly (Out of date information is worse than no information at all).

Start with these basics to make visual work instructions a better tool in your operation. I will add more about what we learned on visual work instructions in the next few posts. Next topic, what is the true purpose of the visual work instructions?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Make Every Word Count in Quality

The Lord's Prayer has 50 words.

The Ten Commandments have 297 words.

The Constitution of the United States of America has 4,500 words.

Our Company Quality Manual has 10, 572 words.

It took just a little effort to read the entire 55 page quality manual front to back. Then I was told that was there was still more to read. Each of the 20 elements (based on the old 1994 ISO Standard) were additional documents to this core quality manual, totaling about 300 extra pages (which I did not bother to word count!).

WOW! What a large, complex description of our Quality Business System. I asked around the plant to see if anyone else had read the entire set of quality documents. Only 1 out of 100 employees had confessed to actually reading it. I bet this is a common occurrence at more than just one company across America.

I started to realized that this was just another reason why our quality system was not understood within the company. Why was our quality manual was so huge? Could it be simpler? Would the company benefit if we could improve this manual to the point that it would be read by every employee? Would our customers benefit if every employee understood the quality system (processes)? I thought "Yes" and we began to kaizen our quality manual.

It took just a couple of weeks and several revisions later, we had successfully simplified our quality manual to a clear and simple description of our quality system. The final version was now just 1,851 words across 7 pages! We made every word count taking out all the "Extra Noise" we think must be added yet adds no value. Next step, getting every employee to read it. I think its quite possible now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Boy Scouts know Checklists can make All the Difference

It was the middle of the afternoon on a sunny autumn day in the southern Georgia woodlands outside Albany. We were examining our compass readings, determining our next move on the compass course. Being a young tenderfoot scout in the Boy Scouts at the time, I was eager to prove that I could master the skills of wilderness survival.

We were running around the compass course for over an hour when it hit me. I had the sudden need to do what bears do in the woods. Our camp was nowhere in sight so I looked for the most appropriate spot. Fear quickly raced through my head. I forgot to bring my mountain money! To make matters worse, my fellow patrol members were already out of yelling range.

For those of you not familiar with the outdoor ways, mountain money is valuable paper at moments like these. Despite my failure to "Be Prepared", I looked to mother nature to provide a substitute. Needless to say, it was not the same.

I made it home from that weekend campout with a greater appreciation for planning. My Boy Scout training stressed a simple little tool called a checklist that I did not use at that time. If I had used one, I would have remembered to pack with me that precious paper.

Even to this day, I always make out checklists and double check it!

The same simple tool is used extensively in many other areas with outstanding results. Checklists are used in operating rooms to make sure all things are in order before a surgery and all things are accounted for after the procedure. Pilots use checklists in their pre-takeoff procedures, making sure the plane is in good working order prior to flight.

Checklists are also an excellent tool for lean manufacturing. Set ups, office procedures, quality activities, kaizens and even meetings, can all benefit by using a checklist. It is a simple way to insure that you do not forget important items which can make all the difference.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Link to What's Holding Back Lean?

Interesting article in the latest issue of Managing Automation - "What's Holding Back Lean?"

Do you see the same barriers to implementing lean in your company?

Priority in Lean Manufacturing Goals

"There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster, and cheaper. These four goals appear in the order of priority." Dr. Shigeo Shingo

How often in our pursuit of implementing lean manufacturing principles do we go in the reverse order?

Monday, October 17, 2005

To Set a Goal or Not Set a Goal, That is the Question

With the year coming to an end, tis the season to start establishing goals for the next year. Everybody gets together on the task and struggles over what to set for the goals . Regardless if its for plant goals, lean improvement goals, kaizen goals or safety goals, this goal setting process always seems the same to me.

It never fails to come up in our discussion as to why we need a goal? So the group debates the question is it better is to set a goal or not set a goal.

Great quality minds have different viewpoints on this topic. As you may know, W. Edward Deming was not a big fan of goals. His famous 14 points of management specifically calls for the elimination of numerical goals. In his book, Out of the Crisis, he states, "Focus on outcome is not an effective way to improve a process or an activity". On the other side, another great quality mind, Philip B. Crosby supports goal setting. In Mr Crosby's book, Quality is Free, he details the importance of goal setting. He further states that, "All (goals) should be specific and capable of being measured". So which is it?

If you read the details of Dr. Deming's works, his viewpoint is based on the idea that in setting goals we do not have a plan or means to make an improvement to the process. Without this plan, goals are meaningless. This is true.

However, with a plan, the process can be improved towards a goal. According to another expert in the improvement field, Dr, Shigeo Shingo, "Improvement goals serve as the foundation for improvement activities".

Since we had some ideas for improvement, we concluded that goals would be effective. Now the debate really begins, what should we set as the goals?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Improve your Problem Solving by Improving your Cause and Effect Diagram

The Cause and Effect Diagram has been around for over 50 years as a tool to help us organize potential root causes in our problem solving. Also called the fishbone diagram or Ishikawa Diagram, this tool is simple and effective when used properly. This is were I commonly find mistakes, this tool is not always used properly.

But creating this diagram is so easy, how could anybody possibly get it wrong? Well, not so much wrong as misguided in use that limits the effectiveness of the tool.

The most popular mistake is with the Manpower branch. Because we see a main branch dedicated to manpower, our problem solving mentality starts searching for "Who" to blame for the problem. Many times, we seek to blame someone for the problem due to lack of training, lack of experience or even worse lack of good sense.

Don't fall in this easy trap. Improve your diagram by digging deeper to link this manpower branch to the other branches-method, machine and material. If you stop at "Who", you are not at a potential root cause!

The second most popular mistake I have seen is limiting the manpower branch to just the employee. Why not include management in the manpower branch? Management plays a bigger role than the employee in practically all processes. It would make more sense to look at the role of management in relation to the problem.

In fact, to improve your diagram just add a management branch. Boy, won't that get some attention! NOTE: Even with a management branch, remember this is not a blame game so don't stop at "Who".

The other common misuse is not to add layered sub-branches. You must go beyond the surface questions to see the potential root causes. Without adding additional sub-branches to make us drill down, we just end up looking at symptoms of the problem.

Try these improvements on your Cause and Effect diagram to see if it helps in your next problem solving session.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

There is Only One Way to Identify the Root Cause

Quality Quiz:
What is the best way to identify the root cause (major cause) of variation in the process creating a defined problem? You must choose only one answer.

a. The Cause-and-Effect Diagram (also known as Fishbone or Ishikawa Diagram)
b. The Pareto Diagram
c. The 5 Ws and 2Hs
d. The 5 Whys
e. Brainstorming
f. Voting
g. Just blame your supplier and let them figure it out
h. None of the above

The correct answer is (h) none of the above. Why? Because all these methods are widely used to help identify or organize potential root causes or the most likely cause. However, none of them actually can identify the root cause.

The only way and best way is by testing and verifying. Without data to prove that it is a root cause, you only have a list of possible root causes. The root cause will be verified when you can pull it in and out of the process resulting in the problem appearing and disappearing. Think of it as a light switch that can turn the light on and off on command.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Game of Rock-Paper-Scissors

Did you ever play Rock-Paper-Scissors as a kid?

When I was a kid, this was the ultimate decision maker. Whenever we faced an important decision, like who goes first or who gets to decide what we are going to play next, we played rock-paper-scissors.

Normally, after a count of three, you threw out your hand in the form of either a fist, flat hand or extending two fingers. The paper covered the rock, the scissors cut the paper and the rock smashes the scissors. Each had an equal chance of coming out on top, making the decision.

In the grownup business world, we play a similar game when it comes to making most of our decisions. I call this game opinion-data-perception.

Traditionally, we gather around a table for a meeting and instead of throwing out our hands, we throw our our opinions, data and perceptions. The data covers the opinion, the perceptions cut the data and the opinions smashes the perceptions. Each has an equal chance of coming out on top, making the decision.

So how do you win at this game? Better stated, how can we make better decisions?

Well, if you added people to the meeting, you would get more opinions. You know the saying....everyone has one. But this would complicate the issue and pull us away from making a better decision.

If you provided more data, data would be king. Personally, as an ex-Industrial Engineer, I like this one. Data Rules! However, I have learned the hard way that perception is too powerful of a force for data alone. Especially if the perception is formed at the top of the organizational chart. Besides, adding more data just confuses most people to the point that their eyes start to glaze over and their minds become numb.

So what is the answer?

Perception by gemba. To make better decisions, go beyond the data by going to the gemba!

Go to where the work takes place yourself. See the issues with your own eyes, not just what it says on paper in a report or chart. Touch the problem, hear what the people next to the problem have to say. Use all your senses to develop an improved perception of the problem.

With this knowledge, only then can we make better decisions in our grownup game of rock-paper-scissors.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Serious 5S - The White Glove Test

As you begin your lean journey, use 5s as your springboard. The steps to clean and organize the workplace are easy, simple and extremely visible. Benefits are immediate and more importantly, the change process starts off in a positive direction.

Looking only at the cleaning step of 5S, most companies do a good job. However, doing only a good job does not set the standard high enough. Set your 5S program apart from a simple housekeeping exercise, get serious and use the white glove test.

Break out a pair of white gloves and start wiping everywhere. Don't limit yourself to just equipment and tools. Run your white glove across walls, on posts, over beams. Wipe high, wipe low, get on a ladder and wipe higher.

Setting a high standard on a simple process like cleaning will raise the expectations on all the improvement activities that follow.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Simple Work Aid Solves Packing Problem

At a local manufacturing company, one of their packing lines had a history of customer complaints regarding missing components. Customers were threatening to drop them while return and sorting costs keep growing. This company tried audits, 100% inspection, intensive training, incentives and even disciplinary action yet components still ended up missing from the boxes.

After a series of problem solving sessions along with some experimentation, they added a simple visual work aid that solved the problem. By placing digital pictures of the components with quantities on a large, laminated sheet of paper, they constructed a standard template for each packaged assembly. Using a tray with the template, operators on the assembly line placed components on top of the corresponding picture in the quantities specified. The last operator in line visually checked the tray for completeness than placed the components in the box.

This simple solution only added a slight amount of double handling to the process and eliminated the more expensive audits, inspections, returns and sorting activities.

Watching this work aid in action, several opportunities quickly came to mind where I could implement the same concept. Try it out, modifying it to fit your application, and see if it makes an improvement.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

New Orleans City with Nonessential Workers

On his Lean Manufacturing Blog, Mark's post on "Nonessential Workers" links to an interesting Boston Globe article. The mayor of New Orleans plans on cutting 3,000 nonessential workers from the city payroll. I agree with Mark, it is insulting to be called nonessential but what do you expect in dealing with the government.

But what about Former President Bill Clinton's suggestion to move relief specialist out of Washington DC and into the storm area to speed things up. I salute you, Mr President, for your Go to the GEMBA approach!

Inspection is never a Root Cause

As I wrap up my monthly quality reports for corporate, I had the opportunity to review a quality report from another division. Everything looked in good order except for one section.

In this section, the quality report listed two units found with defects in their finished goods audit. The resulting corrective action was to show the defects to the inspectors and they were "told to be on the lookout". No other actions were listed.

Statistically, I estimate the probability that these defects will be found again in a future audit or found by the customer is 100%. I agree that training and quality awareness are important. However, this action does not solve the problem. The root cause of any defect is never the inspection process.

To improve your process, look for the root causes that created the defects in the first place. Focus efforts on preventing the problem, not improving your ability to catch the problems through inspection.

Monday, October 03, 2005

How much Inventory is too Much?

Inventory is recognized as one of the seven types of wastes mainly due to the fact that it ties up cash. Following lean manufacturing principles , one can easily see the value of a reduction in high dollar items to a minimum inventory level. But what about low dollar or cheap items?

Does it make sense to expend effort on these items to move to a one piece flow?

How much inventory is too much?

Some of you would say its not worth the effort while others would argue that we should eliminate all waste. Where should we draw the line?

One way to help answer these questions is to look at inventory from a different point of view. Instead of dollars, let's look at inventory in time or days of supply. While working for a company a while back, I complied an inventory listing of all active part numbers and sorted by days of supply. The results were eye opening and I recommend you doing the same thing at your company.

Guess what the longest days of supply for an active part number was found at this company?

It was 46 years. Yes, 46 years. I could hardly believe it myself especially with the company being only 20 years old. To make matters worse, it was a metal part. I wondered how long it would be before it starts to rust. Of course, there is a high degree of probability that a design change would make the part obsolete sometime within 46 years. In this case the part was purchased in volume, at a discount, and considered low dollar at this company (less then $3,000 total value) .

From this perspective, now how much inventory is too much?

You may think this is an obvious point, but you would be surprised at the number of companies that overlook it. When on the lean journey, it is not enough to just point everybody in the same direction, you must have measurements/goals that point in the same direction. This includes the Purchasing Department.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Three Sins in Quality

It's the end of the month. For most of us that means time to work on our monthly quality reports. As I tally up the defects (sorry, nonconformances) against production, by category, by plant, by month; my mind starts thinking about something I learned at church.

In the Catholic faith, we are taught that sins are divided into two categories: mortal and venial. Mortal sins are serious offenses against God. Venial sins are pardonable, lesser offenses. Mortal sins are split into two degrees of seriousness, spiritual sins and carnal sins. Of course, as this topic was being discussed, guess what the first thing that came to my mind was?

"Hey, this is just like quality defects (nonconformances) at work: Critical, Major and Minor defects. We track them in great detail on the monthly quality reports."

Imagine God reviewing our sins on a monthly basis like a quality report.

"Ok Mike, let's go over your sin charts for last month. Looks like under Mortal-Spiritual sins (Criticals) your are at 0 PPM...Very Good. It says here that your Mortal-Carnal sins (Majors) are also at 0 PPM, excellent month to month trend for the fiscal year. Keep up the good work."

What in MY name is going on with your venial (minor) sins? You are posting a 13,568 PPM for the month. Just look on Friday the 16th. Good ME, you had a big spike on that night."

"Can you explain what were the root causes attributing to this spike?"

"What are your countermeasures?"

"I expect you to fill out this Corrective/Preventative Action Form out completely and return it directly to me within 10 glory days."

"Overall, Mike, I am pleased with your progress however you have to focus on your venial sin PPM. Thank ME that I possess infinite forgiveness for all sins that your soul is saved."

Funny as it may seem, I just don't believe it works out that way. As humans, we are granted the gifts of reason and free-will. Therefore, we can choose. We also can easily rationalize our thoughts and actions, putting things into degrees so they don't seem so bad. For our mortal minds, I guess that helps us sleep at night.

According to the Bible (NAB John 8:11), "Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you, Go and from now on do not sin anymore." Jesus did not say, go and do not commit any spiritual sins, keep your mortal sins down and try to stay below "xx" number of venial sins. Based on this passage, all sins are the same in that all sins are undesirable and we are directed to simply sin no more.

Looking at the quality world on earth, we should have the same belief in that, just like with sin, all defects (nonconformances) are undesirable. Breaking defects into categories is a waste of effort.

For business products and services, instead of judgment day before God, we answer to our customers. Unlike God, our customers are not so forgiving. They do not possess infinite capacity to forgive us for our nonconformances (sins). They will abandon us for others and we will no longer have a relationship with them. In other words, our business will go to hell.

With this in mind, we should not worry so much about what constitutes a major or minor nonconformance. We should not waste time and effort putting a spin on degrees of our quality performance.

To repeat the words of Jesus, we should "Go and from now on do not sin anymore."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How do I start on the Lean Journey?

This question is by far the most popular in any discussion on the implementation of lean manufacturing. If you are thinking about starting out on your quest towards becoming lean, seek knowledge first.

Knowledge about lean can come from talking with others about their lean experiences, reading lean books (I highly recommend "The Toyota Way" by Jeffrey Liker), examining company case studies on their lean journey and visiting other companies using the lean approach. Other opportunities to gain knowledge include using consultants, exploring the internet, joining a lean group like The Paradigm Network (reference earlier post) or even participating in a kaizen event hosted by another company. With this knowledge, you can make a determination if the lean approach is the right direction for you.

The next step is to plan and prepare your best course of action that makes sense for your company and matches your lean vision. All companies have unique situations, products, markets, resources, talents, etc. Your plans should fit your particular needs and capabilities. It really does not matter if you pick 5S or value stream mapping (or any other area) to start. It really does not matter which department or plant to start. Go with a lean plan based on what you have learned and what feels right. Now pick a date to start, the time for action must begin!

Knowledge is power.
Action gets results.
Knowledge + Action = Powerful Results

One additional note: Regardless of how you begin, everybody that pursues lean makes mistakes, hits roadblocks, experiences some failures and achieves some successes. What is important is that you have begun the quest!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Who owns the bulletin boards?

Whenever I visit a plant, I can not help but wander over to one of the bulletin boards. What do you think I see most of the time? Most bulletin boards are filled with out of date information and cluttered beyond belief. As a result, most people just ignore the boards all together.

One factor is that there is no ownership. In the transformation to become lean, ownership and responsibility are required elements. Without ownership, things like bulletin boards are neglected. Unfortunately, neglect is not just limited to bulletin boards in many manufacturing plants across America.

One easy way to solve this problem is to actually post the owners name on the board. Every piece of information on the board should have someone designated as the owner to keep it in order and current. Soon after this simple 5-S improvement, the boards will become a usable source of information again.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The 50/50 Approach to Finding a Root Cause

Recently, I was spending the day going to the gemba by being a guest inspector on the assembly line. It did not take very long to see what many of the problems were in the process. One particular nonconformance that caught my attention was a persistent scratch found in the same spot on nearly 50% of the metal units. Following the established methods, I oscillated the spot and pushed the unit to the next department.

The next day, I met with the regular inspector and shared what I observed. He confirmed that this scratch was pretty common. Since it was an easy 5 second fix, nobody paid it too much attention to it. (Does this sound familiar?)

I knew that I could locate the root cause of this scratch because it was somewhat consistent and easy to see. It became a new mission and I decided to use the 50/50 Approach. This technique is pretty simple to use. Starting at the front of the line, I checked for the scratch and found none. So I split the distance between the inspection station and the front of the line. Here, at the middle of the line, I found the scratch.

Then I split the distance again, between the front of the line and the middle. At this station I found the scratch again. I continued splitting the line and moving upstream or downstream depending if the scratch was present or not. After a few rounds, I narrowed the presence of the scratch to a single station.

Focusing on this station, I saw exactly what caused the scratch. Ironically, it was a quality check. A metal square was used to check for squareness and the metal to metal contact created the scratch. It is amazing to actually follow a process and see right before your eyes the cause of a defect. A simple, homemade plastic cover on the square eliminated the problem.

By using a 50/50 approach, in some cases like this one, its easy to whittle down to the root cause. Try it sometime.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Point Kaizen

One the most powerful and exciting Lean improvement techniques is a Kaizen event. Typically, only one week in duration, a kaizen event is where a team works feverishly through a targeted area implementing process improvements. In addition to a great sense of accomplishment, a highly energized team gets results and is motivated for more!

A variation of this common version of Kaizen is what I call a "Point Kaizen". Here is how it works. A point kaizen is focused on one small improvement to be implemented in a matter of a few hours by a team of one or two people already trained in using lean tools. Using all the same steps and techniques that occur in a week long Kaizen only highly condensed. The idea is to complete a single point improvement as quickly as possible.

An example of a recent point kaizen I completed occurred at a final inspection station. I saw that the inspector was placing a red nonconforming tag on a defective unit and pulling the unit off line for repair. The red tag was single sided printed card stock. The strange thing I noticed is the inspector was not using the printed side at all. He used the blank side to write the type of defect and taped the tag on the unit.

In addition, there were at least a dozen cards with various defects written on them taped all around the inspection station. I asked the inspector, "Why do you have all these tags here?". He said, "These tag are expensive so I try to reuse them". The tags had no dates, names or any other information.

In just a few minutes of asking why? five times and having different employees explain the problems with this system ( tags falling off, tags too complex, not sure if units are repaired, how long it has been sitting in repair, etc.) , I quickly evaluated the current process and potential improvement.

I replaced the red tag that was ordered from a printer at $0.06 to a simple word document formated tag printed on red paper at $0.005. The tag could be printed as needed in small quantities versus minimum lot size in the thousands from the printer. The simple form was easy to fill out with name, date and defect. It also had a sign off for completed repair. After use, it was trashed. Net results were an improved nonconformance identification process at about $1,000 annual savings all completed in under 2 hours. It also helped 5-S the inspection station.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Paradigm Network

Attended the monthly meeting of the Paradigm Network of Central Indiana this morning in Indianapolis. Paradigm is a group consortium of local manufacturers working together to improve their business through lean methods. Our group is led by Mark Ippolito and Bob Thompson, doing an excellent job of helping companies on their lean journey. We covered the topics of lean culture change and sustaining the lean effort. More on that later!

Lean IDEA: Find a local group or start one of your own in your area to share your lean knowledge and experiences. Together we can all gain in strength. If you are from the Indy area and interested in the group, send me an email.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Any Idiot Can Cut Costs

Everyday it seems that I read about another company cutting costs to regain profitability. This morning it was Sony. According the Associated Press article, Sony will implement a "bold turnaround plan" by cutting 10,000 jobs and slashing factories. This amounts to about a 6% cut in their workforce along with shutting down 11 factories. The article also includes part of the Sony official statement, "These reductions will help streamline our operations and enable us to operate more efficiently". My initial reaction was "Yea, right".

These cost cutting headlines, many times, gets thrown together with the Lean Manufacturing approach to improvement. First point, any headcount reduction as a result of any lean efforts will mean disaster. It will not work. Second point, to regain profitability you need to grow a business and cost cutting is not growth. Finally, any idiot can cut costs. It takes true leadership and teamwork to grow a business.

Another major mistake in trying to implement the lean approach in American business is to focus on the cost cutting tools and not the growth strategy. You MUST have a growth strategy to succeed.

The key is to free up resources through your lean efforts and let them loose to work on the growth opportunities. This can be any number of activities. For example, if you are losing customers, put a group together to help you get them back. Their only goal is to find out what your customers really want and give it to them. Other opportunity areas include PM programs, safety improvements, wellness programs, R&D projects, new products, Six sigma projects, or even process documentation. The focus should be on growth!

In the case of Sony, imagine losing 10,000 employees. From a bottom line standpoint, that could be considered a significant savings on operating expense. But when you lose 10,000 bodies, you also lose their brainpower. Now, just imagine what the brainpower of 10,000 can do when applied to growing the business!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lean Leadership

From the earliest steps of my lean journey, I was told that Upper Management Support was critical to the success of lean. Any lean initiative would be doomed to fail without it. I did not question this wisdom from the "Lean Experts". Lean leadership even sounded logical. How can any effort in business work without management support and approval?

Funny thing, what I learned on my lean journey is that Lean Leadership is not required! (Also, I learned that this is not a guarantee for success either!) The reality is...Management is only interested in RESULTS and not methods. This is especially true in the upper management layers of the organizations where visits to the shop floor are infrequent and rushed.

A common mistake in the lean journey is to first contract with a high paid consultant to teach "lean" to the upper management levels. Following this enlightenment phase, management will publicly state their devotion to lean principles at the "XYZ" company from this day forward, establish strategic lean metrics for year end and tell their managers to hit the goals. After a couple of projects and some inventory cuts, upper management will think that their company is now "lean".

A better approach to Lean Leadership is the bottom up approach. Select a target area within the company, teach the lean principles at the point where the work is done, follow the improvement methodology and GET RESULTS that match with company directions. Along the way, keep management informed of your targets and progress. With success, upper management will become supportive of any method that is working even Lean. Other areas within the company will start to ask "How about us?". Success will create believers and followers. People want to be on the winning team and around success.

Boondoggle Everywhere

Welcome to a new blog site dedicated to the elimination of waste in American Business. Using the principles of Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and a "just try it" attitude, many issues and topics will be examined, challenged, tried and shared. The end result is to help those who are interested to successfully improve their business or workplace.

One of the best improvement methods is to eliminate waste from the process. From my viewpoint, waste can be seen in just about every single business process. Boondoggle is Everywhere. What is most discouraging is that this waste is generally accepted!

For whatever the reasons (Don't see it, no money, no resources, no time, don't know how, lean is a fad, my company is unique, etc), waste is allowed to exist unchallenged. You can either continue to accept it or join the fight to eliminate it.