Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Toyota Hits the Brakes

In today's Wall Street Journal, I read an interesting article - Toyota's New U.S. Plan: Stop Building Factories. You can read it online with a paid subscription or check out the AP version.

With the past push to add capacity to match sales, it makes sense to look at this expansion plan if your sales are slowing down. Not a real surprise that the older, wise leaders of Toyota are asking questions about the need for continued US manufacturing expansion. I am surprised that each new US plant was not designed for more flexibility to run more that just one model.

Plenty of lean leadership lessons can be discovered if you look closer at this strategic shift.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Clean Up Aisle 5

Here is a problem I discovered on my Gemba walk. After I noticed a damaged box with components spilled on the floor, I called the first employee I saw, a Warehouse Team Leader, to show him. He looked at me with mixed emotions that I took for a combination of mainly embarrassment (since I found something wrong in his area), a bit of grief (here’s another problem to deal with first thing in the morning) and a dose of frustration (this was not a planned action item on today’s To-Do list). More than likely, he was also little angry however he did not show any of it to me.

So can you guess his response?
a) “I didn’t do it, it must have happened on second shift.”
b) “I’ll find out who did it and fire the #^@%*$ !”
c) “I am so sorry, I’ll get it cleaned up immediately”
d) “It happens all the time, but it’s not a big problem.”
e) All of the above.

While I have heard all of these responses, in one form or another, many times before in my manufacturing experience, answer c is the most common response. Most employees will promptly get help to salvage the parts and clean up the mess as soon as possible. Once the mess gets straightened out, the problem is solved and we get back to manufacturing our products.

But was the problem really solved?

Well, that depends on your idea of the problem and your definition of solved. Yes, the mess was a problem and yes, the mess got cleaned up which is the proper initial action.

However, the true problem I discovered on my Gemba walk was not a damaged box in a warehouse. The true problem is that our response was only reactive and failed to include any real corrective or preventative actions not to mention failing to record the damaged box condition (for kaizen). We think that simply cleaning up the mess quickly and scraping out the parts is all that is needed. In effect, the problem of box damage remains hidden.

We did not ask the 5 Whys. We did not list the broken box on a kaizen newspaper. We did not look for other damaged conditions in the warehouse. We did not change a single process. There was no kaizen so we are doomed to repeat this cycle another day, over and over again.

How would employees in your company respond? Are you doomed to repeat the same cycle?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Look at handoffs in your process for waste and hidden opportunities for improvement. Most obvious of these wastes are piles of inventory easily seen just waiting their turn to move through the value stream. Handoffs can be found in the “IN” box at various desks around the office. Handoffs can be found waiting on an approval or sign-off. You can see handoffs at tollgates like receiving, inspection, packing, or shipping. Look closely between functional responsibilities (ie production, quality, purchasing, engineering, etc.) within a value stream, many times different functions have different or conflicting priorities.

Look at the value added work but focus on the activity (or non-activity if slow moving) in front of the work and what happens directly after the value added work.

Does work flow First In, First Out? What are the signals to move work? How do you handoff (the sender’s actions and the receiver’s actions)? Is there a middleman involved? Where does it go, exactly? How does the next person/process in line want it presented? What is the distance traveled? What problems occur at the handoff? Are you pushing or pulling? Do you control the amount of inventory in the gap (Standard WIP)? How does each person in the process communicate to one another? Do you measure or practice your handoffs?

Just like a relay team, the race can be won or lost in the handoff of the baton.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Don't Unload Luggage

While on the road last week, I discovered a cool visual management aid at the Holiday Inn Express in Dundee, Michigan. It certainly catches the eye and helps inform guests to check in first to see if their room is in the next building before unloading luggage. Why can't signs in manufacturing be effective and fun like this one?