Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Welcome Honda to Greensburg, Indiana!

I learned earlier today that Honda Motor Company has set a press conference for 10:30 am tomorrow in my hometown of Greensburg, Indiana to officially announce that Greensburg will be the new site for their latest North American car plant. It has been estimated that 1,500 jobs will be added to my community to build 200,000 cars annually by 2008. The investment of $400 million to open this plant will be a great shot in the arm locally. Honda is a world class operation with a strong lean manufacturing background that may help improve our quest to improve manufacturing in Indiana. Welcome Honda to Greensburg, Indiana!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Big Band-Aid

I read an interesting article recently on the Study of Emergency Room (ER) Wait Times in the United States. Apparently, my home state of Indiana ranked 16th out of 49 states in the study so we are a little better than average. According to the article, the national average wait time is 3 hours, 42 minutes. Iowa was the nation's best with an average wait time of 2 hours 18 minutes while those seeking emergency help in Arizona waited a painful 4 hours and 57 minutes on average. This is just the average in each state, not the range from high to low. Makes me wonder what the variation was in the wait time. This measurement is not comforting especially if you are one of the unlucky patients on the upper end of the bell curve! Yet, there is more to this story.

The focus of the article centered on the need for hospitals to start seeing patients as customers and the patient satisfaction level linked to long waits. First of all, I have the highest level of respect for all the doctors, nurses and the entire ER staff for their skill and dedication in saving lives. I always assumed as a patient that we were already thought of as a customer by the ER staff. Well, at least the very few times in my life I experienced the services at an ER, the staff displayed extreme compassion and outstanding responsiveness to the medical emergency surrounding my family. I guess from the medical side of the equation that may be a false assumption across our nation.

I do not consider the ER environment your typical model of a service provider and customer. Can you imagine a patient (customer) shopping around for an ER while needing emergency medical attention? Or a patient (customer) leaves an ER due to the long wait as if we were at a restaurant waiting for a table? The biggest factor in my opinion is that in typical service models, it is a first come, first serve system and the ER service model is based on severity of the medical emergency determining the priority. As a result, some people who use the emergency room may have to wait longer if their "emergency" is not life threatening to allow other patients with urgent medical needs to be treated first. Yes, some patients will cut in line ahead of others to save a life increasing the wait time for some of us. I would not want it any other way!

However, from my lean manufacturing point of view, I see the need for improvement in our healthcare system including the ER setting. The lean healthcare focus is beginning to spread across our nation to address some of the wastes without compromising the health and welfare of patients. Since time is one of the major factors that may help save lives, the velocity of the value stream to treat a patient should be constantly improved. With healthcare cost soaring, the entire healthcare system merits observation, study and analysis to determine improvement opportunities.

One point in the article that really jumped out at me was the "solution" to the long ER wait suggested by one consulting firm. They suggest that by regularly communicating with the patient their status in queue while they waited, the patient level satisfaction level will be higher compared to patients left in the dark waiting for medical treatment. Although the data may support some increased level of satisfaction, this recommendation is just a big band-aid. It accepts that status quo of long waits instead of seeking out the root causes and setting in place the proper counter measures.

But upon reflection, I see that we have this same mindset in manufacturing. How many of us guilty of looking for "trick" ways to improve the measurement and ignore addressing the root cause of the problem? How many of us have added secondary operations like reaming, repairing, trimming, wiping, cleaning, touch-up, grinding, etc, to compensate for a problem to keep our lines running and never address the root cause of the problem? When our manufacturing emergency hits, we put in the band-aid fix at break-neck speed to get our lines back up and running or make the parts pass. We are manufacturing heroes! Hurray!

We all agree that this band-aid fix is just temporary until we get a chance to fix the real problem. How long do we define temporary? Is it one shift? Is it just until the next day. Is it next week? Is it just until our plant shutdown? Maybe never?

Do we as manufacturers manage our resources like in the ER where the severity of the problem determines the priority of our response? Sure we do. However, unlike the ER where every medical case is addressed, many problems in manufacturing are never fixed. Our band-aid becomes the permanent fix and we accept the waste created as just the cost of doing business. How many band-aids exist in your manufacturing process today?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Shadow Board?

I came across this example of a prototype shadow board at a Kaizen Report out I was invited to recently. This shadow board is extremely well done, professionally crafted and looks down right impressive. All items are veay easy to identify on the board. All that is needed are some hooks/holders for the items and then it will be ready to hang up. You may think this shadow board was an expensive endeavor or overkill however it was designed and manufacturing internally at little actual cost. So what is the problem from a lean manufacturing point of view?

It's too good! The photos were so well done that at first glance you would think that all items are present and accounted for. The principle of a shadow board to show a shadow of an item for quick and easy identification of a missing item. That is why a black spot outlined in the profile of the item along with a written label works best.

Old Japanese Proverb

"Fall seven times. Stand up eight."
Old Japanese Proverb.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

White Board Muda

While conducting six sigma training last week, I noticed that both large white boards in the training room were filled with value stream maps and other information developed by improvement teams. Pretty cool to see evidence of lean improvements in progress. However, I also noticed white board muda.

On each white board, written notes of "Do not Erase" and "Save" were strategically placed to prevent anyone from removing the previous work on the board. It seems like a good idea to save the work and poka-yoke (mistake proof) the information to prevent being accidentally erased. But during my training course, or any other future training in this room, the white boards could not be used while this information was saved. Despite the request to "Save", it's no guarantee that the information will not be erased.

Next to the "Do not Erase" was no additional information like who wants it saved or for how long. It could be weeks or months that the white boards remain frozen in time holding this information and preventing its use during this time.

As a lean tip: Do not practice the habit of writing "Do not erase" on important information conceived on the white board. It could be erased anyway and the white boards can not be put back into action for others. Quickly transfer this information to save it and wipe the white boards clean.