Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kaizen Focus

The focus of kaizen is not on the work we do, it is on all the things that get in the way of the work we do.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dantotsu - Best of the Best!

After a long, exciting and particular successful kaizen event at one of our plants, I returned to my home office to find a simple wooden plaque sitting on my desk with the words “Dantotsu” engraved on the front. On the back was a small post it note with a short message that read “Japanese word that means striving to be the “Best of the Best” – This is for you.”

After checking around the office, no one knows who left it on my desk and I still don’t know the reason behind this gift. It is possible this is a simple thank you gift. It is also possible there is no reason except someone found it on a 5S Sort and thought to drop it off on my desk.

I look to this plaque as not recognition of some past effort or a 5S activity rather as a vision for the future. A vision to strive to be the Best of the Best in all that we do. It’s a challenge to rise above the status quo and set the bar higher than just good enough.

Whatever the origin of this simple plaque, it sparks my imagination, ignites my curiosity and flames my passion for excellence. All the things I try to do for others along the lean journey. Things we should all do as lean leaders. This simple plaque serves as my mission to guide others better than I have in the past, increase my awareness and accelerate my efforts for excellence. In my mind, it is not a question of if I can do it but how I can do it best.

To become best of the best will require discipline, hard work, determination, self-examination, experimentation and persistence. Even if I fail in this quest to become the best of the best, I will certainly be far better than I am today and the path of continuous improvement is certainly no failure.

Friday, December 26, 2008


The path on the lean journey is not an easy one as many of us have already discovered. Not only do we do battle with the defenders of the status quo, we are challenged by those that do not understand lean thinking, and struggle with others who simple fear change. But the challenge that I find the most difficult is one that I should have the most control over, that is my own thinking and actions.

All of us experience these moments of doubt, discouragement and defeat. At these moments, we can simply give in to our urges to cut corners, temptations to take the easy way or simple just give up.

It is also at these defining moments that we can become more resolute in our vision. It is our moment to decide our course of action, not just at critical moments but in our daily struggle. It is our choice to make. Do we continue on our path or do we give in to our urges?

Urge to slow down or give up because we encounter a difficult barrier

Urge to be complacent with the status quo

Urge to give a half hearted efforts and not giving it our all

Urge to think of all the ways something can’t be done before we think of all the ways how it could be done

Urge to decide on a solution before we grasp the situation

Urge to provide an answer when a question is a better approach to teach

Urge to just do it ourselves taking away the chance for others to discover it themselves

Urge to focus on the results and not the process

Urge to disrespect others and not take the time to treat others with respect and compassion.

Urge to think negative

Urge to be arrogant in our thinking

Urge to hear ourselves talk and not listen, really listen to others

Urge to run forward without bringing others with us

Urge to think of ourselves before the needs of others

Urge to soften or hide problems

Urge to seek blame

May we all learn from our mistakes along the journey and be mindful of the barriers on the path of continuous improvement, especially the barriers in our own mind and by our own actions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year filled with hope and harmony.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finance Kaizen Success

We completed our finance kaizen event today with a greater appreciation and understanding of the problems our finance associates had to endure monthly in one of financial processes. Working as a focused team, we implemented a new standard work process that made this process just a little bit easier and better.

Final results for our efforts include new documented standard work, 8% productivity improvement, 33% leadtime improvement, elimination of 4 unnecessary reports, and the elimination of one major barrier that prevented seamless monthly reconciliation in this process.

In addition to these immediate improvements, our team found additional opportunities that will require some longer term efforts not discovered until we spent the time to grasp the situation and understand the problem. Our hypothesis, with our proposed improvements, is that our productivity can be improved 50%. Our kaizen team already has developed a solid plan to go after it.

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that a solution was thought up by one of our kaizen team members within the first 8 minutes of our data collection. We did log this idea into our “Parking lot” list to be revisited after we completed our data collection and analysis. This reflected our respect for the person with the idea and our wish not to lose any ideas during our kaizen process. As it turned out, this idea was used as part of our initial countermeasure.

However, if we had jumped right to this idea and skipped our detailed data collection and analysis steps, we would have arrived at only part of our countermeasure and missed entirely the deeper problem. With the deeper problem revealed, we have the opportunity for greater improvement.

More importantly, during this transactional kaizen event, we have helped develop the problem solving skills of several of our financial associates in our quest to improve the process to improve the people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finance Kaizen

This week we are working outside the traditional lean domain of manufacturing to apply the lean principles in our finance area on a small process improvement. Transactional work processes are different from manufacturing processes however the lean principles and problem solving approach remain constant.

After our initial kaizen training session, our team started talking solutions within 8 minutes of collecting data on the current state. Some human tendencies are hard to change. It took a little redirecting to get the team to focus only on understanding the current state before jumping to solutions. And it came as no surprise either that we learned many new aspects and details about our problem to consider before we think in terms of countermeasures.

Some of the discoveries so far include:
Incomplete information
Information is inconsistent in format
Information passes through several hands
We have to hunt and search for information
Information spends more time idle than actual processing time
Batch processes are firmly entrenched in the finance world

But probably the most enlightened discovery by our kaizen team is the fact this particular finance process should be thought of as non-valued added from our paying customer’s point of view.

Our lean journey in the corporate office has begun.

Toyota Culture

“Moving machines takes minutes, but changing the way people think and act takes many years. What we call culture is the way we automatically think and act every day.”

Pete Gritton, Vice President of HR, Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing of North America, as taken from Toyota Culture by Jeffrey Liker and Michael Hoseus

Friday, December 12, 2008

Are you a Floor Sweeper?

Why do we prefer to sweep the floor every day rather than find the source of the dirt?

Journey to Greatness

My personal lean journey began in July 1985 when a former Toyota Industrial Engineer from Japan visited my plant to teach us how to improve. At the time, the term lean manufacturing had yet to exist and we only talked in Industrial Engineering terms of methods improvements. I was just a 25 year-old Junior Industrial Engineer at a Hospital Bed Manufacturing company named Hill-Rom, just three years out of college and not much experience in the manufacturing world. Little did I know that this chance encounter with my first Japanese Sensei would forever change my thinking and alter my professional career before it really started.

I listened intently on the words of this Japanese Industrial Engineer through the help of an interpreter. He talked about strange words like muda, muri and mura. In the middle of his lesson, he showed us a banana and talked about the necessary evil of the banana skin. Why must we buy a banana based on weight with the skin still attached, he asked? We can’t eat the skin, it has no value. What strange thoughts on things I never thought twice about before.

After our brief lesson, he picked three of us to work with him on a special project to show our management what is possible. Our team consisted of our new Japanese Sensei, a tool technician, a setup operator and myself. Our mission if we choose to accept it, perform a complete die changeover in under 10 minutes.

Is he kidding? Our die change took every bit of 1 hour to complete. This is crazy and unsafe.

Without flinching, our firm but patient Sensei told us it could be done. He has done it many, many times before and he would show us. We just had to open our minds and try it.

So with a team not all sure if it was really possible, we began the first steps in our lean journey. Our Japanese Sensei quickly took his pen and made several drawings to help show us what he had in mind. We took measurements, modified the dies, simplified and standardized the attachments and eliminated adjustments. After several attempts, his pen came out and additional drawings were created. Before long we made major improvements in our changeover time.

Our Japanese Sensei seemed satisfied with new quick changeover time but told us to do it again, please. He continued saying we must always practice. So all we heard after that was, “do it again, please”, “do it again, please” and “do it again, please”. By now, we were certainly sick and tired of changing the dies but quickly saw that we were making greater improvements.

Now we were ready to show our management the results. Our die change process went from 1 hour to just over 4 minutes. It was amazing! We didn’t think it was possible yet here it is. We did it. WE actually did it.

In this experience, our Japanese Sensei made us feel that we did it ourselves and he just pointed the way. It was the greatest feeling in the world to me that day to accomplish what was thought to be the impossible. My world of possibility and improvement became endless.

As you may have guessed by now, my Japanese Lean Sensei was Shigeo Shingo. After the successful die change demonstration that day, he handed me his personal pen that he used to sketch out his drawings. It was a simple blue ball point pen with S. SHINGO stamped on it. He told me I was a good engineer and to teach others what I learned. To this day, I still have his pen and try to teach others as a Lean Sensei myself. To Shigeo Shingo, I am forever grateful. He opened my mind to the impossible which makes all the difference to go from good to great.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Missed Opportunity

During our kaizen event last week, I was walking up and down the assembly line, practicing my observation skills when I noticed a small hesitation in work by one of our hardware bar assemblers. It appears that he stopped for a couple of seconds to examine an end bar with decals and rub his thumb over one of the decals. No sooner did this catch my attention, when he jumped right back into his assembly groove and fastened the side bar to the casket.

By no means is this examination of parts completely foreign to our associates. After all, we do specify as part of everyone’s standard work to check the quality of our products throughout the process. Quality is number, don’t you know.

However, from my vantage point at about 20 feet away, I could clearly see what caught his eye. The label had a small scratch resulting in a small torn hole. A defect that would most certainly disappoint our customer and clearly not pass our quality standards.

At this point, my thoughts zoomed in on this single unit and my curiosity kicked into high gear. Would he stop the line to signal a problem? Where was our team leader? Would the unit be fixed on the spot or sent down the line? Would the defect be tagged? What was our lean thinking on the line and what behaviors will I see in response to this defect?

Well, I didn’t have to wait long for my answer with our short takt time. After completing the assembly, the associate rushed to the next unit in line. This casket with a small torn label kept moving down the paced assembly line. No andon lights flashing, no buzzers blaring, no quick support help running to our aid, no red tags, nothing. If you didn’t see it just happen, it was like it never happened. Not even a little tick mark on a data sheet to record the problem.

How utterly disappointing it was to see this happen from one perspective and extremely exciting from another perspective. Realizing we have this problem is our opportunity for improvement. It is a chance for us to learn and kaizen.

With my new found understanding of our process behavior, I followed this casket down the line with added curiosity. Would someone else notice the defect? Anyone? How far down the process will this casket go before this defect is seen? Would it get all the way through to final inspection without detection? Would it even be caught by our inspector?

This casket moved along the conveyor matched to takt time, station by station, without a single associate taking notice to the small scratch with a small, torn hole on the bar label. Finally, the unit arrives at final inspection. I figure we have an 80% chance that this defect would be noticed in our human inspection process. The small scratch goes unnoticed and the units is passed, ready to be packed for delivery. I guess this unit fell on the 20% side of the equation.

Before the unit had a chance to continue on to our customer, I pointed out the defect to our inspector. It was subsequently tagged and repaired, a simple repair was all that was required.

Does things like this happen in your operation? If you were part of the leadership at this site, what lessons would you learn from this? What is the true problem or problems? Can you see all the missed opportunities?

Friday, December 05, 2008


“The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.” Huang Po

Lean Civil Disobedience

After a full day of kaizen yesterday, I made it just in time to watch my son play in his soccer double headed last night. It is always exciting to watch these games as these young athletes, in this case it was the 10 year old and under league, learn the game, practice their skills and have fun playing the game. It also made it very pleasant to watch the game in the comfort of an indoor soccer field while a light snow flurry dusted our cars in the parking lot.

The games were fun to watch even though my son’s team ended up on the low end of the scoreboard in both matches. The games were fairly typical except for one particular incident that caught my attention.

It seems that one of the team members on the opposing team was not happy with the coach’s decision to put him in as goalie. He reluctantly walked to the goal and stood there with his arms folded across his chest. I don’t know exactly why he disliked being the goalie except for maybe the idea that most of the kids say it’s boring to be the goalie or it’s not important. It seems the kids would much rather score goals than block them.

The coach yelled from the sideline for him to put his arms out and be ready. In return, the boy yelled back that he didn’t want to be goalie. The coach answered back that he had no choice and he better get with the program. In an open display of civil disobedience, the boy yelled back that he would play goalie but he was not going to use his hands. When we scored the next goal against this goalie that only half heartedly used only his legs and body to block the ball, he yelled back to his coach, “See I told you not put me in as goalie.” His coached yelled back that he would be the goalie until he started using his hands.

This struggle went back and forth as the game progressed without much change in position between coach and player. Maybe it was the fact that the player was the coach’s son that made it worse. Maybe it was the lack of subs that prevented the coach from pulling his son out of the game.

If you were the coach, how would you have handled this situation?

What would happen if the coach pulled his son out of the game and the team played without a goalie? Would the importance of having a goalie become readily apparent? What kind of message would the coach send?

Can you see similar situations where civil disobedience occurs in our workplace as we progress on our lean journey? Do any of our employees refuse to lift their arms to make a point and wait for a change to fail only to shout “See I told you it wouldn’t work!” How well do we explain the importance of the positions or changes to gain buy-in? Do we respond like this coach on our lean journey?

How often do we place greater importance on winning the game over taking action to teach valuable lessons?