Thursday, September 25, 2008


I finally found a copy of the book 40 Years, 20 Million Ideas: The Toyota Suggestion System by Yuzo Yasuda and I did have not pay the going rate at Amazon (starting at $198 used) to read it. One of our new production managers owns a copy and he graciously lent me his copy to read. (Thanks Gene!) It is a very good book and I’d love to have my own copy but not at the current price range. It’s good but not that good.

As pointed out in Mark Graban’s recent post on his Lean Blog, The 20 Things a Supervisor Should Not Say, there are plenty of interesting points found in this book.

One of the more interesting pieces I read is a part talking about Toyotaism. According to the book, the original Toyotaism was written in 1935 as the “spiritual foundation of the entire company”. As written in this book, Toyotaism is…

With harmony between supervisors and workers, with sincere devotion to work, strive to help your industry and your country reap the fruits of progress.

By studying and developing your creativity, always anticipate the treads of the times.

Be on your guard against showing luxury, while making effort to be more frugal and courageous.

While maintaining a warm and friendly attitude, improve the atmosphere in your own home.

Have respect for the Gods and the Buddhas, always repay a kindness, and show gratitude.”

According to the author, this version of Toyotaism lasted until 1989 when it was revised to the following:

“Always think of the customer first; considering the basics of manufacturing, always making products that are outstanding for their high quality, low cost and technical excellence.

With a foundation of mutual trust between labor and management, cheerfully make progress as a company highly valuing creativity.

Stimulate Toyota activities everywhere, inside and outside the company, while cooperating to expand business.

Contribute to expanding our economy and building up a better living environment for our society by doing business actively all over the world.

Strive to improve yourself through self enlightenment, constantly on the alert for any new social or market trends.”

After reading and re-reading these points, I continue to be fascinated by the depth and scope found in these points of Toyotaism. Very interesting, indeed!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My CI Wall Runneth Over

It just took a few months and we filled up our Kaizen Wall of Fame with implemented ideas from our associates at the Batesville Indiana plant. So far, our simple kaizen process is becoming another brick in our lean foundation. Although we may consider extending our wall, we are currently taking down the oldest ones and replacing them with the newest ideas. Fantastic job by our Indiana associates!

Since the beginning of our initiative in April to improve our Total Employee Involvement at Batesville Casket, we have introduced the “My CI” process to all 5 manufacturing plants in North America. Each plant now has a Kaizen Wall of Fame to recognize the ideas of our associates and share their ideas.

For those of us on the lean journey, we know this is not just a manufacturing thing. Next stop for joining the “My CI” process is our corporate office!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Dreaded Stopwatch

In the middle of a value stream mapping kaizen event, the team was stopped dead in its tracks. Our first-time team leader approached me in a semi-panic state. She quickly informed me that the union rep told the kaizen team that they could not take time studies in their production area because we did not official notify the union ahead of time. He was standing firm by this contract rule.

“Mike, what should we do?” she asked with stress in her voice. “We really need these times to complete our value stream map. You told us we should not rely on computer times and go to gemba for our data.” she pointed out.

“Yes, that is the better way.” I answered.

For a typical value stream map kaizen event, we plan to complete the current state map, the future state map and the implementation plan to get to the future state in only 3 days. Throw in a half day of training and the report out, this leaves us with only 2 actual work days. There is no time to waste to meet our objectives.

“Let’s go back to gemba and talk with the union rep. Can you introduce me to him?” I asked.

Since I have only been with the company less than a year, I have not learned who all the 550 associates are in this plant although I have already conducted lean training sessions for the entire plant. I certainly did not know all the plant rules either so this was an additional learning moment.

As we walked together to the department, our team leader provided additional information, “Dave is the department union rep. He is a long time veteran of the plant and a stickler for details.”

As we walked up to Dave, the kaizen team leader introduced me to him. I reached out to shake his hand. “Hi Dave, it’s great to meet you. How are you this morning?

“Yes, I remember you from our training session. I’m doing fine,” he answered back.

I started by saying, “I hear that we did not follow the respect for people principle by not telling you ahead of time about timing some jobs in the department. I apologize for not letting you know. Can you teach me about this union rule?”

“You bet I will!” he stated with a slight air of boldness. He began by saying, “Our union contract clearly states that before anyone can take time studies to set job rates and change our job instructions, the union must be officially notified 24 hours in advance. Since you did not tell us, you can’t take the time studies, period!” At this point, Dave looked like he was not about to budge one inch. Rules are rules.

I went on to explain that we were not there to time study the jobs to set rates or change job methods. We just wanted to take some basic time observation for our value stream map. I took the time to provide a few details on the purpose for the value stream map. After about 15 minutes of open, honest discussion between the two of us, Dave agreed to let us take our time observation data. The event was back on track and went on with great success.

In reflection, the stopwatch has earned a dreaded reputation on our shop floor. Most people do not like to be timed and over the years, many people associate a stopwatch with someone getting let go or working harder. It is no wonder that stopwatches are not a welcome sight. A stopwatch is just a tool and its how we use it that matters most.

We also see opportunities to improve our communication with all our associates as we go to gemba to make improvements. This situation could be seen as just another example of union roadblocks or management steamrolling, but we should simply look at this example as a moment to engage our entire team, to better align our team focus and to practice respect for people. Take the time that these moments present to us each day to live the principle of respect for people. Each time we do, our team becomes stronger.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Beware the Slippery Slope along the Lean Manufacturing Path

In Lean 101, the lean approach is concisely stated as the elimination of waste in our processes. While waste elimination gets to the core of the lean approach, it is just one key aspect within the lean journey. The most notably result of waste elimination is cost reduction. If asked, cost reduction easily jumps to the top of any upper management’s list of major benefits in following the lean approach.

But somewhere on the lean path, we can start to slide down the slippery slope and fall off the path. Our cost reductions turns to cost cutting and we quickly fall into the mode of cutting corners. Delay a machine repair. Reduce or eliminate our Total Productive Maintenance program. Cut back on building maintenance. Let racks and fixture degrade. Forget the daily 5S, just make more products. Cut a little more and cut a little deeper, why not…we are still pushing out our products, right?

At first everything looks great at the bottom line but that is just a short term benefit. It doesn’t take much time until the destructive nature of cutting corners starts to make its presence known.

All our previous gains suddenly evaporate. Overtime goes up, machine breakdowns increase, deliveries are missed and quality problems are popping up all over the place. Chaos reins. We must regain control. Time to drop this lean approach and we jump into our past-proven, all-hands-on-deck firefighting mode.

Here is a simple example of cutting corners. Most of us drive cars and it is recommended that we change our oil every 3,000 miles. At a cost of about $35 to get our oil change and estimating our typical annual mileage at 20,000 miles, it costs us $210 a year.

But what if we only change our oil every 6,000 miles? Our costs are cut in half. But what if we go 12,000 miles before we change our oil? We can save 75% of our annual oil change cost!

But are we really saving anything in the long run? Factor in the reduced life of our car, increased downtime and repair bills to come and we learn first hand what is meant by the old saying “pay me now or pay me later”. And the “pay me later” ends up costing us more, sometimes a lot more. We now can begin to see that our cutting corners approach is not a good approach from a total cost standpoint in the long run.

As we look to our own lean journey and at the “improvements” within our own organizations, are we focused on reducing wastes or are we really just cutting corners?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How Many Kaizen Team Members does it take to Change a Conveyor?

At one of Batesville Casket’s kaizen events last week, we found out the answer to this question. It took the whole team of eleven members in pit crew style just under 29 minutes to change a conveyor track. Our event was focused on adding different casket models on to our main assembly line and attempted to make the changes without a disruption to production, hence the 29 minute goal which was completed during the assembly department 30 minute lunch period.

With the planning and precision of a professional pit crew team, our kaizen team planned out all the elements of the change and staged all the material along with tools using basic SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) principles. Once the buzzer blared signaling the start of the lunch break, the kaizen team jumped into action. Despite the close quarters and a couple of uncooperative fasteners, the kaizen team successfully completed the conveyor change as the line associates returned from lunch to start the line back up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Glory Days

“Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
and I’m going to drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit
around thinking about it but I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days.

Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days.”

A popular song lyric from the 1980’s written and preformed by Bruce Springsteen.

How many of us fall into the trap of living on past glory as described by Bruce Springsteen? Can we see this same mistake in our company? How long can you or your company sustain growth by feeding off the past?

At Batesville Casket, we have been extremely successful on our lean journey and have received a few national awards along the way. A few weeks ago, if you drove by the entrance of our Batesville Indiana plant, you would have seen a huge banner above the main entrance of the plant proclaiming “Industry Week 2006 Best Plants Winner”. A great accomplishment indeed and it is something to certainly be proud of and celebrated.

However, if you drive by our plant today you may notice that our banner has been removed. It is so easy to live off our glory days and before you realize it, we find ourselves getting comfortable with the status quo again. That is the main reason we have taken our banner down.

Imagine feasting on Thanksgiving dinner and living off the leftovers. In most cases, we would say it was wonderful meal with good cheer, even the leftovers taste good. Despite the fantastic feast we once enjoyed, how long can we survive off that one wonderful meal? It was meal to be remembered but it can not sustain our strength or provide endless nourishment and growth for the future. We must rely on other meals or we will grow weak and die.

The same is true on the lean journey. We must rely on future improvements for our survival or we will grow weak and die. Celebrate our past success but do feed off past feasts. The lean journey is about moving forward and not living in the glow of past success. We can not grow our companies on yesterday’s achievements.