Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Words of Samuel Beckett

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
Samuel Beckett. Irish author, poet, Nobel Prize in Literature (1969).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Value in Value Stream Mapping

When we first embarked on the continuous improvement path, we called it JIT (Just in Time). As the term lean became popular with the book Lean Thinking, we expanded our focus to eliminating waste in our process. We jumped right to massive kaizen mode with literally hundreds of kaizen events across the corporation completed each year.

The little mistake we made was skipping the identification and mapping of our value streams. Even as it was pointed out by our lean sensei that we should do a value stream map, we did not see the value in value stream maps.

Our typical mindset was: What’s the big deal in doing a value stream map anyway, why can’t we just make improvements? We know what the problems are and don’t need to waste our time doing maps. We see waste now, just let us attack it. Aren’t we making improvements without needing these maps? Maps?..We don’t need any stinking maps.

Sure, you can make some improvements without value stream maps however we learned that not all our improvement activity led to bottom line results. What was worse, our improvements did not always add value to our customer. After a little humble reflection, we realized our lean efforts were nothing more than cost reduction and we were starting the stray off the path. What happened to reducing lead time and increasing customer value?

We were faced with another change in our thinking and took step back to learn about value stream maps. After several training sessions and just doing it, we began adding value stream mapping to our “way of doing” things. We still are not experts at value stream mapping but have experienced a nice boost to our continuous improvement efforts.

Where we found the most value in value stream mapping was being able to see and understand the whole process (value stream) where previously no one person ever did. We only knew our little sections of the process. This helped us look at optimizing the whole value stream instead of improving our sections, usually at the expense of the whole. We also started focusing on lead times as opposed to cost reduction. The maps also helped us prioritize our kaizen efforts aimed at making a bigger impact for our customer instead of just a shotgun approach. We now see our kaizen events as “Strategic Kaizen”. Finally, value stream maps helped us all agree on our current state and what our future state vision looks like. With this shared vision, our team began to move forward as a team.

If you have not begun using value stream maps yet on your lean journey, don’t just dismiss them as an optional step. There is value in value stream mapping.

Inventory has a Purpose

Inventory has a purpose, it's to hide problems.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AME Conference Promo

Here is a short 9 minute 18 second promo video on the 2008 AME Conference in Toronto. I have the honor and privilege of presenting at this conference on our lean journey at Batesville Casket focusing on Total Associate Involvement, Relentless Kaizen and Lean Leadership. I hope you can join us.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Air Kaizen

Are you in the air business? I’m not referring to filling up tires, the airline industry, the medical gas industry or Michael Jordan Shoes. My question is about the plain, simple air around us. To put it another way, do you press, push, drill, turn, paint, move or ship air?

For example, at one of our recent kaizen events, we found that we are pushing air at one of our presses. In this process, parts are loaded onto a feed table to the side of the press while the machine is cycling. Once the press finishes its cycle, the completed parts are automatically pushed out of the press by the new parts being pushed in from a pusher. The only problem is the distance or gap between the staged parts going into the press and the press opening is over 24 inches. That’s a lot of air being pushed as the parts travel across the feed table before they actual enter the press.

The countermeasure for air muda at this machine is really pretty simple. With a little help from our talented maintenance staff, we made a new mounting bar and repositioned a limit switch for the pusher to close the gap to under 4 inches. The result is a 4% productivity improvement without purchasing a new machine or radically changing the method.

This machine was a bottleneck station and we were having a difficult time meeting our takt time causing an overtime situation. This simple kaizen along with some other improvements got us back to meeting takt time.

We found similar opportunities on other pieces of equipment throughout our operations resulting in 5-10% productivity improvements each time we did a little air kaizen. Take a critical look at your processes to see if you are in the air business. How many of your machines are set up to cycle through air before touching the actual material? Apply simple kaizen to the process and work yourself out of the air business.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Emergency Cost Cutting Mode

It appears that 2008 is going to be a tough financial year for many companies due to economic woes, housing bubble busts, rising prices (oil and metal to just name a couple) and rapid consumer/market swings. When we go through these business cycles, it can be rough going as companies jump into their emergency cost cutting mode.

As a lean thinker, I try to learn from these cycles and try to act in a manner that is consistent with the lean philosophy. I also scan across the news reports to see what other business leaders are doing to add to my knowledge both the good and the bad strategies.

My first thought is that we should not be surprised by downturns in the economy. The economy is a cycle and we will always experience ups and downs. I find it mildly amusing and a little discouraging when I read about company leaders that publicly admit to be surprised by this downturn. Like a deer in the headlights, they proclaim that they didn’t see it coming.

Second thought, we face major business challenges every year, although they can and do change year to year. No big news here.

Third thought, we are expected to improve year over year to be successful or even just to survive. Continuous improvement should be a given. Again, no surprise for most of us.

So what actions should we take?

Looking across the business community, we can read plenty of announcements from company CEO’s declaring their action plans to deal with the economic crisis. Here is a list of what seems to be the most popular actions from mainly American companies.

1. Layoffs
2. Plant closings
3. Selloffs
4. Mergers (Under the theory that two poorly operating companies combine to make one better performing company)
5. Outsourcing
6. Re-organize
7. File bankruptcy

We can add to this list with more internal actions that don’t always make the headlines like:
8. Cutting travel
9. Cutting capital spending
10. Delay paying invoices
11. Hiring freeze
12. Cutting or eliminating bonus
13. Wage freeze
14. Cutting R&D budget and projects
15. Increase marketing
16. Cutting the IT budget
17. Across the board budget cuts (the lazy management choice disguised as sharing the pain)

The sad part in the last several decades of my business life is that many of these popular actions do not require an economic crisis to execute them. Even during the upswings in our business cycle, many of the same items list above are regularly used to increase profits.

But do they work? Are there other options?

According to the Daily Yomiuri, when asked “What will Toyota do to cut costs?” Toyota Motor President, Katsuaki Watanabe answered, “We’ve started what we call “Emergency Value Analysis Activities”. We’ve formed teams to review every single part and component over the next six months to determine how to improve design to reduce production costs further.” He also added,”Some employees still lack awareness of these activities, but we plan to develop our human resources in tandem with this effort.”

Hummm…Dramatically increase kaizen activities through design and develop people.

Which actions are short term thinking and which are long term thinking? Which emergency cost cutting mode do you think is the best choice? Would some combination of both short term and long term actions be better?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Kaizen Cycle Continues

As I stated in my last post on the barriers that block kaizen, get past them and find a way to kaizen. But sometimes, despite all our efforts like in our recent Vicksburg kaizen event, the results fall short of expectations. So what do lean thinkers do in cases like this?

We just start the kaizen cycle again…in the same area …even before the 30 day follow up.

In our kaizen event report out, the team shared a typical 30 day homework list that we limited to key items to be completed in only two weeks. We ended the homework list by adding the request to run another kaizen event with the same team to continue our kaizen efforts to reach the targeted goals.

The cool thing about this team request was why the kaizen team wanted to do another event so quickly. It was not just to hit the goal that we fell short but rather that the team had several great ideas to make improvements and didn’t have time to try them all out in the first event. They wanted more time to experiment with these ideas and make it work. This kaizen team “SEES” the opportunities and has the “PASSION” to act. So what do lean leaders do in cases like this?

We let them kaizen!

As lean leaders, one of our main responsibilities is to provide the environment and support for kaizen which is exactly what we did in this case. Our kaizen team will get another chance to experiment with their improvement ideas in two weeks. The kaizen cycle continues.