Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kindergarten Lean

Last week I had the opportunity to join my son, Bret, for lunch at his school in honor of National School Lunch Week. It is not often that I get the chance with my work schedule to visit his school, so I did not hesitate when I had the chance. Bret is in kindergarten, his very first year in school. I even arrived a little early to see him in class before we had lunch together. It was amazing to see all the energy, enthusiasm and eagerness of a classroom full of kindergarten students.

As some of you know, 5 year olds sometimes have a short attention span, have bursts of raw energy and ask a lot of questions (like my favorite, why?). It's funny how you don't have to teach a 5 year old the concept of asking the 5 whys. Now imagine a room full of 5 year olds. Without a system to create an orderly learning environment, chaos would be unleashed. Of course, Bret's Kindergarten Teacher had a system but what surprised me was the lean principles (although not labeled as lean) I saw in action to keep things in order and flowing. I'll call it Kindergarten Lean, or lean basics for providing an efficient, organized learning environment for 5 year olds.

Before lining up for lunch, all the kindergarten students helped clean up the room from an active play period. Each toy had a designated place to store them, a home location that was clearly labeled. Since most 5 year olds are not able to read yet and have limited sight recognition of words, I assume the labels are for the teacher. Despite limited reading skills, these kindergarten students knew the proper home location for each toy. In a flash, they had the entire classroom back in order. Even the teacher and her aide joined the students in the clean up, working together. It certainly looked like a quite efficient 5S process with (management) leading by example to me.

In Bret's kindergarten class, there are 24 students. The classroom layout groups the desks in clusters of 5 desks with each student assigned a desk (labeled with their name). After cleaning up the classroom, each kindergarten student returned to their desk, or their home location. The teacher released the class by cluster (5 at a time) to go to the bathroom and wash up before lunch. As they returned, another set of 5 was released to the bathroom. This process reduced the congestion in the bathroom that would be created if the entire class went all at once. Likewise, the school staggers the lunch times for the different grade levels to eliminate the burden on the lunchroom. This kept the lunch line short and only requires a small lunchroom for the school. It certainly looked like level loading (Heijunka) for the bathroom, lunch staff and lunchroom resources to me.

Each kindergarten student has a lunch card used to purchase their lunch (color coded to distinguish it from their snack card) which is kept in a slot hanging on the classroom wall (labeled with their name). The students retrieved their card and returned to their desks, after washing up and before lining up to walk to the lunchroom. The path to their lunch cards is arranged for one-way traffic to the slots and a separate path to return to their desks. This method provided a smooth flow and eliminate bumping into each other. It certainly looked like visual management and FIFO lanes to me.

On the kindergarten chalkboard, the learning goals for the week were boldly written complete with activities to support it. Learning the letter, G g, was a top priority for the kindergarten class, both letter recognition and proper writing. Even the class show and tell for the week needed to be something starting with the letter G. It certainly looked like posted goals and targets (Hoshin) to me.

All these lean principles worked well in the kindergarten classroom not to mention the respect for others, listening skills, politeness, manners, teamwork, punctuality and personal responsibility emphasized by the teacher. It's funny how you can re-learn the basics just by going back to kindergarten. That is probably the most important lean lesson of all. Emphasis is placed on getting the basics right in kindergarten. Just like in kindergarten, we should have the same emphasis on getting the basics right on our lean journey.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How do you Measure the Growth of a Company?

By Market Share?
By Sales Revenue?
By Op Inc?
By Earnings Per Share?
By Quarter to Quarter Comparison?

All traditional measures that fail to change behavior but dominate the news. Lets look at a possible measurement that I believe is better.

How about measuring employee talent levels? Make it all about development of your employees. Add a cross training matrix to the corporate level (on the shop floor and in the office!). Focus on increasing the skills of all employees which is your future source for all creativity, innovation and improvement. Unless, of course, you are outsourcing that along with manufacturing.

Do you have any other measurements that are better indicators of improvement and growth?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Honda Breaking Ground in Greensburg

When I returned home from Japan, via I-74 from the Indianapolis Airport to Greensburg, I could not help but notice the huge array of earth moving equipment busy at work. What once was acres of corn fields ready for the harvest this time of year turned into piles of dirt, dust and temporary roads as the first physical signs of construction of the new Greensburg, Indiana Honda plant is well under way. In addition to the army of equipment in motion, you can not miss the towering lights set up to extend the working day past sundown. This is going to be fun to watch.