Monday, March 30, 2009

Upcoming Continuous Improvement Conference 2009

Next week, I’ll be traveling to Lexington, Kentucky to attend the Continuous Improvement Conference 2009 hosted by the Printing Industries of America to speak about Batesville Casket’s lean journey. This conference dates are April 5th - April 8th at the Lexington Downtown hotel and Conference Center by Hilton.

As a general observation, the printing industry has just started looking to lean manufacturing to raise performance however the case studies should prove extremely educational in their adaptation of lean. One of the highlights at this conference is Mike Hoseus, co-author of Toyota Culture, teaching how to build and sustain a lean culture the Toyota way. Attendees will also have the opportunity to take a plant tour of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK) in nearby Georgetown, Kentucky.

I will certainly pass on lessons that I learn from my experience at the conference next week. If you are looking for another opportunity to learn and network with fellow lean practitioners, please join us in Lexington.

Added Bonus: If you click on the Printing Industries of America link above and have about 65 minutes to listen, there is access to a pre-recorded webinar with Scott Redelman from Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM), forklift manufacturing facility in Columbus, Indiana (or click here). The webinar is in a Q&A session called Talk with Toyota. Some of the questions cover the basics for those new to lean and there are a few select points that can help those of us further down the lean path.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick

One of the lessons I have learned while on the lean journey is that there is not a single, clear path to success. Each company must struggle to find the best path for them. We can’t just copy Toyota and expect it to work. In most instances, there are no wrong paths on the lean journey as long as we stay true to the principles, only perhaps just better paths than the one we have chosen.

Yet, in my experience, how we choose to go about trying to implement a lean manufacturing business system is critical and some ways are clearly wrong and dangerous. One such way is not so much a path rather the means of traveling down the path. We may focus on the right goals, using the right tools and understand the right principles yet we chose a steam roller as the means of travel.

This is the top-down, drive the change, my-way-or-the-highway, Leader-is-the-Law, autocratic style of management. A tell-tale sign of this Management By Intimidation (MBI) mode on the lean journey is the “Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick” approach where we use fear, manipulation or threats to get results or force change. It is a favorite approach used by many consultants and so called change agents.

Here are just a few examples of this autocratic style in action to drive change:

“Do as I say or else…”

“Do it my way because I am the boss.” (Parent-Child relationship)

“Do it my way because I know more about lean than you (Classic my lean experience stick is bigger that yours!)

“You have no choice; I already cleared it with your boss” (The go-over-the-head move)

“I have the blessing of (insert the name of our company President, Owner, VP, Big Cheese, Big Kohuna, Top Dog, etc) to do whatever it takes.” (Organizational Trump Card move)

“You are doing it all wrong, you don’t know anything about lean” (Public ridicule is an especially powerful tool)

“With your understanding of lean, I bet you think a prime fishing spot can be found on a value stream map?” (Ridicule with sarcastic wit)

“I learned from ex-Toyota Leaders, so I know what’s best.” (Show me your Toyota lineage papers)

“Get on the bus or …..” (Jim Collins fan)

“You did a good job but…” (Insincere praise followed by criticism)

“That is a horrific cell, no material flow. Either you are incompetent or stupid, which is it?” (Forget using insincere praise followed by criticism, get right down to it, baby)

“I may be harsh but at least I have the guts to say it” (Tactless Truth Trap usually used to justify harsh criticism)

“We don’t have time for nice, we need results NOW!” (It’s not my fault, blame the clock or calendar)

“We have material flow issues, I want you to put in a Kanban system here” (Make the decisions and give the solutions)

Have you heard any of these on the lean journey? Have you caught yourself saying any of them yourself?

Back in my first days of learning the lean approach, our Japanese sensei was persistent in getting us to change and came across quite rude and obnoxious in his manner. This did not help us see the waste any better and caused immediate friction. One of my fellow engineers became very vocal in challenging our Japanese sensei and his new ‘lean” ways. The next day our team, minus one vocal engineer, had a meeting with our Senior VP to tell us to we must get on board with lean or suffer the same fate. No doubt, this was a powerful message (big stick) to all of us at an early stage of our lean transformation. It certainly set the tone however at what price?

We may argue that the Theory X approach is efficient. Just look at the great results gained especially in a short period of time. The end justify the means right?

In my opinion, we can rationalize this type of management style to get to sleep at night however it will still be wrong when we wake up in the morning. Before rationalizing that I am perhaps too soft or not demanding enough, I only ask that you please consider a few questions first.

Is this “Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick” approach inline with respect for people?

Which approach works better long term?

What happens when the autocratic leader leaves the company?

When we don’t involve people in making decisions, do we get buy in?

What about employee empowerment?

By establishing our command and control style, how can we expect people to have local ownership?

Are our associates following us because we built trust, understanding and teamwork or are they just more fearful?

Are we making people think and grow?

What kind of culture do we want to build in our company?

Do results matter more than people?

Each of us must decide what works best for us and our company, just choose wisely.


I found a profoundly simple excerpt in Taiichi Ohno’s book “JIT for Today and Tomorrow” that was part of an essay called “What are Techniques?” written by Soichiro Honda.

“Life comes from three types of wisdom: seeing, hearing, and trying. I think that among these three, the most important on is trying. Yet most technicians emphasize seeing and hearing and neglect trying. Of course, I, too, see and hear, but try even more. It may seem obvious, but failure and success are opposites. As happiness and sorrow coexist, so do failure and success. We seem to succeed more often than we fail. Everyone detests failure, so there are fewer opportunities to succeed. People seem surprised with Honda’s success, but the only secret is that we know what we are doing. My intention is stronger than that of other technicians because I try harder. There is a big difference between reading a book and giving instructions, and attempting something first and then giving instructions. In the latter case, we feel confident. That is why I think trying is the most important factor.”

How often do we try things? Do we limit our success by avoiding failure? Do we promote and reward failure avoidance over error recovery? How can we influence more trying? When we talk with our fellow associates, do we ask them “What did you try today?”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Blame Thinking

It's not who's wrong, it's what's wrong. It's not who's right, it's what's right. All other thinking leads to hiding the truth, distorting the information and covering up the problem. Our focus should be on solving the problem as a team.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interesting Lean Thought of the Day

I heard this one today at the conference, "Sometimes you have the lock the team in a room and not let them out until they get past the denial stage."

Sounds a lot like an intervention program step to me.

Lean Lessons at Autoliv

After arriving at the AM Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina today, I made a point to attend the afternoon presentation by Mark Newton, Plant Manager of the Autoliv Tremonton, Utah Facility. Mark certainly packed a lot of information in a short 2 hours all about their lean journey.

Autoliv is a global automotive supplier that designs and manufactures automotive safety systems like airbags and seat belts. The Autoliv Tremonton facility (known as the ITO plant within the Autoliv family) manufactures the automotive airbag initiators.

They have had some great success on their lean journey along with some top recognition by achieving the 2005 Shingo Prize and the 2007 Industry Week Top 10 Plant. Here are a few gems that I am taking back with me to Batesville Casket.

The first point clearly shown in Mark’s presentation was the emphasis on teams at Autoliv. They have a functional organization structure in the plant with a Plant Manager, Controller, Quality Manager, HR Manager, Production Control Manger, etc called the AMO (Autonomous Manufacturing Organization). Under the AMO are three AMC (Autonomous Manufacturing Centers) which are cross-functional product line teams with an AMC Leader, Supervisors, Engineers, Quality, Maintenance, Logistics. Under the AMC are several AMT (Autonomous Manufacturing Teams) which are line/work cells. Although a quality engineer reports to the quality manager, he/she is also part of the AMC. The AMC team all share one conference room as a group office. This is to promote open and rapid communication within the AMC team. All the kaizen activity is done through all these teams.

The philosophy of the APS (Autoliv Production System) can be described by the 5 hows:

How to exist continuously?
“Must make profit”
How to make a profit?
“Reduce cost”
How do we reduce cost?
“Eliminate waste”
How do we eliminate waste?
“Make waste visible”
How to make waste visible?
“Visibly Managed worksites”

Which is another strong message, make the workplace visible in that we can see at a glance abnormal from normal and focus your time on the abnormal issues. As part of Mark’s daily standard work, he walks the entire shopfloor and can see the status (abnormal from normal) all in 12 minutes. Can we walk our entire shopfloor and see the abnormal from normal in only 12 minutes?

Can we see how effective internal material deliveries are at the moment? Can we see the status of problem solving? Can we see the equipment failures and status of the countermeasures? Can we see the rate of production by hour?

Another interesting point was the lack of tradition 5 day kaizen events at Autoliv. They conduct something called kaizen workshops with big goals that run anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks. The kaizen workshop is still team focused but on a part time basis until completion much like a work project. The goals are typically double digit like lead time reduction 50%, reduce part handling 25%, or cut set ups by 85%. They had zero workshops in 2003 which has grown to 188 kaizen workshops in 2008. Many of their kaizen implemented come from these workshops.

Autoliv has an exceptional employee suggestions system that promotes getting ALL members of their team involved in improving their processes. Are you starting to see a common theme? Each cell has a suggestion board where you can see all the new suggestions, in process suggestions, completed suggestions and not accepted suggestions. In their first year (2002) of the employee suggestion program, they implemented 227 ideas. In 2007, it was 15,078 ideas implemented!

The Autoliv story is full of great lean lessons beyond just the few I highlighted. Check out the Autoliv Industry Week Top 10 Plant profile for additional information. Thanks to Mark Newton for sharing Autoliv’s lean success story.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Joe and Dave Herbert with Free Doritos!

By chance, I stopped by the Batesville Kroger store last Saturday for a few items before heading home where I found Joe and Dave Herbert signing “free bags of Doritos” as a promo. And I didn’t even need a crystal ball! (In picture: Dave Herbert, myself, Joe Herbert)

For those of us that did not see the last Super Bowl, Joe and Dave Herbert won the Doritos commercial contest and won big! Their commercial titled “Free Doritos” ended up being voted #1 on the USA Today Ad Meter, knocking off Anheuser-Busch’s 10 year reign of Super Bowl Ad Meter top commercials, and taking home the $1,000,000 grand prize. Two brothers from Batesville, Indiana (population a little over 6,000 people) rocked the world of advertising with this win, reminding us all that creativity can be found anywhere. The rest of the world may not be aware of all the talent and creativity found in Batesville, but locally it is common knowledge.

Despite living in this area all my adult life, I have not been fortunate enough to meet Joe and Dave until last Saturday. As I expected, both were extremely grounded, easy going and enjoying their moment of success. They are, as you can imagine, a bit busy with all that goes with their recent success however we plan on getting together again so I can ask them a few questions on creativity. I hope to share more on what I learn from Joe and Dave in a follow up post.

From a lean perspective, we teach creativity before capital and the importance of engaging all our associates (and others in our supply chain) to work together in kaizen. Why?

Joe and Dave are great examples of creativity before capital. A great commercial using eBay bought props and equipment, local actors and comedians and lots of creative brainstorming. They even make it a habit to keep notes on all their ideas even if they don’t end up using them right away.

We see a great 30 second commercial however what we don’t see are the months of work that were put into creating this commercial. As in kaizen, much of the hard work required for success is not readily seen by others.

Finally, creativity is not found exclusively with just a few key players, top executives or large companies. Creativity can be found everywhere, we just need to learn to see it and let it free. Look within our own companies for the Joe’s and Dave’s. If we really take a good look, we will find that everyone has creativity. Like the bags of Doritos, how are we going free our creativity? Please try this without using a crystal ball!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mutual Prosperity

Is it kaizen, change for the better, if the company benefits but another party (employees, suppliers, customers or society) is negatively affected? Even if it was unintended? Does it have to be a game of winner take all or a win/lose situation? Wouldn't a path of mutual prosperity be a better path long term?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Giving ERP Systems the Finger

Anyone of us in business today that has to deal with ERP systems knows that while these systems are meant to make life simple for us, it more times than not works in the opposite direction. We are constantly battling to schedule our work to match our customer requirements based on the output of our computer system. To borrow a quote by Japanese NUMMI leaders as reported on Curious Cat blog, “computerized inventory systems lie”. Regardless of all our efforts to keep current and accurate information fed into the mouth of the computer ERP system beast, our computer system never matches the dynamic, real (physical) world. In my experience, it’s true that computerized inventory systems lie.

This is a visible problem. What are our choices?

We could run through the PDCA cycle and put as many countermeasures into place as required until the problem is fixed. We could improve the training of all our associates to insure that we follow the system as designed. We could buy another ERP computerized system that is more adaptable, flexible or customizable to fit our needs. Or we can just give our ERP system the finger and try a different approach.

The latter approach is exactly what we are trying to do as seen in the picture above from our lumber fabrication facility. Of course, by finger I mean just a visual indicator of our FIFO flow. Not the other finger as I may have intentional led you to believe. It is just part of our lean focus in making our parts flow using simple visual means instead of using ERP solutions within the plant.We even have started using the whiteboard scheduling approach in our dry lumber storage before cutting. The whiteboard approach has been recommended many times in the past by Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence. (Hey Kevin, so far, so good!) The goal is to make it simple and visual. It is still early so I’ll wait to share the results until after we stabilize and sustain our new process.

Although we have been dabbling with Kanban systems and other visual management techniques for many years, we have never really committed to pushing ourselves to making this visual management system of material scheduling and inventory control a major part of our culture. No excuses, we just had other improvement opportunities to go after that we thought were simply more important.