Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Flows Collide

Originally, I was not going to post about this issue but the more I thought about it, the more we can learn from it. The issue deals with lack of communication, poor customer service and colliding flows.

I recently rented a car at the Jackson, Mississippi airport from a well recognized, national rental car company. The experience was typical up until the point of returning the car at the end of the week. Normally, I just pull up to the proper return lane, get scanned in by the attendant, mileage and fuel levels checked, receipt is printed and off I go to catch my flight. Not this time.

I pull into the proper return lane and no attendant is in sight. I patiently wait and look around but no attendant showed up. Strange, I never had to wait before at this airport.

Finally, I see an employee from this car rental company pull up in one of their rental cars. He tells me that they got rid of the attendants in the return area as part of cost cutting and I need to go inside to their airport counter to return my car.

As most frequent travelers do, I plan some time for delays and problems but not too much since I dislike sitting around the airport any longer than I need to. In this case, I had a few minutes to spare however the clock is ticking. Stress levels start to elevate.

As I swiftly walk to the airport entrance, I happen to notice a small sign that states we need to return the car keys at the rental car counter inside the airport. The sign is small and located near the walking exit to the airport.

I rush to the counter only to find a line of customers waiting for service by only one attendant. This is the point where flows collide. Both customer picking up cars and returning cars are in the same line. Aghhh!

I feel the stress rising higher and try to push it back down. If worse comes to worse, I will just drop the keys on the counter and head quickly to the security line. I can always get a receipt online later.

After what seemed like forever, in reality just 15 minutes, I get to the counter to return my car. I got through security and made it on-time for my flight home.

Does it have to be this way?

Where was the customer communication when I first rented the car to tell me to allow time to return the car at this counter instead of the usual return attendant?

What about the sign? Could it be placed closer to the entrance instead of the exit? Could multiple sign be placed in several spots? Could the sign be larger and easier to see?

Could the colliding flows be separated at the counter? Should return customers get priority over pick up customers? Can a drop off box be used with an offer to email the receipt directly to you-no effort on the customer’s part?

Based on this situation, where in our processes do we fail to communicate properly and create colliding flows?

What about shipping and receiving? What about loading and unloading trucks? What about picking and putting away material on racks or shelves? What about work flow in cells?

What about patients checking in and checking out? What about receiving and dispensing supplies? Are there colliding flows in the ER?

Go to gemba and see the flow (or lack of flow). What colliding flows can we see and improve?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Lean Thinking

What is our standard?
What is our current?
What is our gap?
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
What is our current state?
What is our future state?
How will we get there?
Are we ahead or behind?
What are the countermeasures?
Please try.
What if we fail?
Please try again.
What if we succeed?
Please try again.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

AME Kentucky 2009

It’s just around the corner, in a couple of weeks the “Journey to Greatness” begins. The AME Kentucky 2009 Conference runs from October 19 thru October 23 in Covington, Kentucky. This world class event is a great opportunity to learn, network and understand more about the lean journey. Listen and learn from 8 keynote speakers, 60 practitioner-to-practitioner presentations, 30 workshops and 40 plant tours.

Our Batesville Plant is on the tour list and I will be speaking on our Kaizen approach on Wednesday, Oct 21 at 10:00 AM. I hope you can make it and welcome the opportunity to meet face-to-face with fellow lean practitioners to share and learn.

The Lean Manager Book Review

I have just finished reading the newly published book from the Lean Enterprise Institute, The Lean Manager, written by Michael Balle and Freddy Balle. The Lean Manager is a business novel about a lean transformation and a sequel to their international bestseller, The Gold Mine.

The format of a business novel has been popular for several years with some done well and others not so well. In general, I am not especially fond of the novel format due to poor story lines, poor dialogue, extra noise in the story line, and poor pace that drags the story along or slaps together the ending. If done well, I love the novel format.

In the case of The Lean Manager, it is hands down the best business novel on lean transformation that has been written yet and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Michael and Freddy did an outstanding job on all accounts providing a strong story with outstanding dialogue and many, many powerful insights into the lean transformation.

I started highlighting and taking notes of many of the best points which ended up being too numerous to list but I will share just a couple with you. I will not reveal all the golden nuggets found in the book so you can explore it on your own.

“People are natural problem solvers. Once we understand the problem, our mind will follow seamlessly to adopting a solution.”

“When a solution is forced onto us where we do not see a problem, chance are we will fight tooth and nail against it, no matter how clever the new approach.”

“There are very few operational experiments which cannot be reversed quickly, and hence, a bias to action is perfectly reasonable in routine process.”

“Requires radical transformation of managerial behavior.”

1. Problems have to be solved one at a time.
2. Managers need to remain close to people as they conduct experiments.
3. Managers have to be maniacs about check.
4. Drawing the right conclusions from the experiment is often really tough.

“Improve Management Practices”

“Only way to be more competitive is to improve management practices continually.”

“Managing by problem solving”

“Develop people by kaizen so that they know more.”

The major themes in The Lean Manager include: Kaizen Spirit, Go and See, Teamwork, Mutual Trust, and Clear Direction. Each theme is strongly woven into the story line with added company politics, disappointments and frustrations as the fictional plant manager, Andy Ward, struggles to save his plant from pending closure.

Although The Lean Manger is an excellent book, there are a few points that I did not like. For starters, it uses the crisis of plant closure to create a sense of urgency and drama to the lean transformation. Why does it take always take crisis to drive the motivation for a lean transformation?

Second, I absolutely love the character Phil Jenkinson, CEO in this story. Where are all the Phil Jenkinson’s in this world!!!! I have never meet a super CEO like this that is a master coach, long term thinker, lean knowledgeable, shop floor comfortable, hands on leader yet keeps his ego in check and lets his people learn by doing. He is as close to perfect as a CEO can get for a lean transformation. This makes a great story and provides an outstanding example however this character is far from the norm.

In addition, there was just one mention of using six sigma in this story during a dialogue between Amy Woods (consultant) and Andy Ward (plant manager) which is less than positive. The story portrays the six sigma approach as “one guy working in a corner and looking for brilliant solutions”. In my experience, this is not a true application of six sigma. Those few paragraphs could have been eliminated to remove the negative swipe at six sigma and the lean transformation message would still remain powerful.

One important point to remember while reading this story is not to turn it into a roadmap in a lean transformation. It would be easy to pick up many points in the book and turn it into a roadmap which would not guarantee success. Look at the problems you are facing in your company and determine your own path. Use the story as a discussion platform with other leaders in your company on what it takes in a lean transformation and how are we going to head there.

Despite my few critical points of this story, I highly recommend this book to all of us working on lean transformations. It captures the true essence of a lean transformation in all its accomplishments and struggles with eloquent emphasis that we cannot force a lean transformation and we cannot do this alone.

Disclaimer: Thanks to my friends at The Lean Enterprise Institute for providing a review copy of The Lean Manager. This book review is my personal opinion and I was not compensated nor obligated to provide one.