Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Be Prepared

Be Prepared is the motto of the Boy Scouts and most likely the simplest method for productivity improvement. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement, coined the motto for all scouts to be prepared in mind and be prepared in body. Scouts who do their best at living by this motto would be in position to do the right thing at the right time. In other words, when the moment arrives, a scout is ready for anything.

How does this relate to productivity and the lean approach?

On a tactical level, take machine changeovers or set ups for example. In my experience, the single biggest element that takes time in a typical changeover is collecting everything you need like tools, fixtures, dies, clamps, sheet up sheets, materials, gages, etc. I would certainly not be surprised if 50% of current set up time is consumed in just this activity.

If we want to make a significant impact in reducing set up time, work on designing a system or process that ensures everything we need to change over is at hand prior to the set up change, every time! A person or persons performing the changeover should never have to leave the machine or wait on any item.

No capital spending required, just planning, practice and discipline to “Be Prepared” when the set up time moment arrives. Discipline is the key ingredient which can be harder to find than this year’s hot Christmas toy on December 24th.

Go to gemba and watch any machine changeover. How prepared are we when the machine is stopped?

Using this same “Be Prepared” motto, are we prepared for meetings, kaizen events, daily production, material delivery, customer requests, etc? How much smoother and efficient would all our activities be if we spent time on being prepared?

Here is another simple example, getting ready for work in the morning. How much time do we spend? How about bathroom time, dressing time, eating time, etc? If we were to select, iron and layout out our clothes the night before, would we save time the next morning? What about shoes, car keys, laptop, or those notes needed for this morning’s meeting? If we had all our grooming items, towels, etc ready to go the night before, would we save time? What if we filled up our car with gas the night before? What are all the things we can do the night before to “be prepared” for getting ready for work in the morning?

But being prepared is more than just having things ready ahead of time, it means to “be prepared” for anything. To be mentally ready, knowing what we should do in case different events should occur and be ready to face difficulties and challenges.

Going back to the morning work routine example, what do we do if the power goes out in the night? What do we do if we have no power in the morning? What do we do if we break a shoe lace? What if bad weather hits? We could prepare for all these events ahead of time and be ready when the time arrives. (Sounds like the beginnings of a FMEA – Failure Mode and Effects Analysis).

As lean thinkers, we might consider adopting the same motto, Be Prepared. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do our Customers Really Benefit from our Lean Effort?

One of the principles of the lean approach is long term thinking with focus on adding value to our customers and society. We are taught to eliminate waste, things that don’t add value to the customer.

We improve flow, reduce set up time, improve productivity, eliminate waste and reduce cost. Kaizen events successful hit targets and employees are trained. 5-S activities are done daily, audits are conducted and our facilities look better. We create value stream maps and work hard to transform our company to our future state.

Somewhere in all this lean activity, our customer focus can be lost. We do all the things that we believe will make us leaner. But have we truly adding value to our customer? If not, why not?

Do our lean efforts hit the bottom line and stop there? Is our lean effort all about improving our margins? Is our lean effort all about head count reduction?

It is not enough to just eliminate waste and reduce cost. Our customers don’t care about our 5-S audit scores, the number of kaizen events we conduct, if we use ERP or Kanban, or the number of our inventory turns. Our lean efforts must add value to the customer. It must be seen and felt by our customers.

Bottom line: Are we giving our customers what they want, when they want it, at the highest quality and affordable cost? Is our lean system effort supporting this mission?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank You God for Giving Me Problems

I just finished reading an inspirational book “Play to Win, The Make a Difference Gameplan” by Tom Karbowski , a co-worker from Southern Indiana. In his book, he wrote the follow prayer, reprinted with his permission:

Thank you God for giving me problems.
When I am at work and get frustrated, thank you for giving me a job. There are many people who need employment and would welcome the opportunity to confront the challenges I face.

When my customers complain about problems, thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet the needs of others. My competitors would love to be in my shoes.

When I am frustrated with my career, thank you for allowing me to live in a country that has a vibrant economic system. I can always do something else or start my own company.

When I am unhappy about the pace of change in the world, thank you for allowing me to live during such incredibly exciting times. The possibilities for improvement are endless.

When I am exhausted because I have too many things to do, thank you for giving me such an interesting and full life.

And when I am annoyed with my spouse or children, thank you for giving me a loving family and for all the happy times when they make me laugh with joy.

When I am sick, thank you for allowing me to live in a country with such a wonderful health care system.

When I am unhappy with elected politicians, thank you for allowing me to live in a democratic society. I can change the future with the power of a vote.

When I do not understand something, thank you for giving me the ability to learn and the curiosity to search for a better way.

When my prayers go unanswered, thank you for providing me with patience until I understand your will.

And when I have a true problem, thank you for giving it to me. All problems present an opportunity for me to enhance my character and deepen my faith. When I resolve this problem, I will be a better person.

Becoming better problem solvers is part of the lean way. How we go about solving them is part method (scientific method) and part attitude (positive). Regardless of our opinions on politicians, our economic system, our health care system, our companies, our jobs, etc, even if we are currently facing money problems, loss of a job, family problems, etc, we all have the same choice that only we can make, are we going to face our problems with a positive attitude or a negative attitude?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lean is Good

I recently stumbled across a new lean blog called “Lean is Good” posted by Bruce Baker with added insights from Bryan Zeigler and Scott Maruna with recent posts like “5S Shadow Boards are Bad”. I hope to learn more from reading his lean insights. Check it out.

Thanks Bruce for sharing your lean thinking with us.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What is Lean?

What seems like an easy, simple question may turn out rather difficult and complex to answer. If we are to embrace the lean approach isn’t it critical that we understand what it is we are embracing? If we don’t agree on what is lean, how do we know what action to take in becoming lean, determine if we are making progress and align everyone in the same direction?

Wouldn’t our definition of lean be important in a lean transformation? Determining scope, objectives, metrics?

If we asked the lean experts, consultants, practitioners, the CEO’s or our shop floor associates, what would be their answer? I bet each person we ask would give us a different answer. It seems to me that our answer to this question is highly dependent on our experiences on the subject. Our understanding on lean is formed by many factors including the influence of others, what we are told, what we read, along with our personal hands on experiences. In our mind, we collect all these inputs to formulate our viewpoint of lean.

Some would answer that lean is a set of tools to identify and eliminate waste. Waste (muda) elimination is the prime focus to shorten the leadtime from customer order to receipt of cash. Head count reduction and cost cutting can become the face of lean for many.

Others would answer that lean is improving the flow or smoothing work by eliminating unevenness (mura). Value stream maps will lead us to the promised land of the perfect work flow.

Another answer would be to simply focus on making all jobs easier and better by eliminating overburden (muri). Perhaps we think automation is the key to making jobs easier and we get the added bonus of head count reduction.

Some may say that we need to focus on all three (waste elimination, unevenness and overburden) together.

Another prospective is the only making what the customer needs, when the customer needs it, in the quantity the customer needs using minimal resources of manpower, material and machinery. This is the classic just-in-time thinking.

Some would say that instead of describing lean as a production system, it is better to describe it as either a business system or enterprise system. This is the beginning thoughts of a whole system approach to becoming lean. From there we could expand our thoughts to the entire supply chain including our customers, our suppliers, our supplier’s suppliers, etc. along with all transactional processes included.

Added to the mix is the focus on people development (we build people), quality focus, safety focus, problem solving, scientific thinking, long term thinking, A3 thinking, morale, kaizen events, kaizen mindset, lean accounting, new product development, contribution to society, customer focus, being flexible, being agile, being nimble and so on.

Beyond this we still have the culture and leadership of the company to consider.

With all these difference prospectives on what is lean, is it any wonder why so many stumble, struggle and eventually fail in becoming “lean”?

And would this also affect our opinion on what is not lean? Would this indeed influence our opinion on an individual’s knowledge of lean and determine how we rate a company’s leanness?

Is leanness measured only in results or does it included how we achieve results? Does the speed of getting the results impact our measure of leanness? Do we measure leanness on the number of lean tools being used? Let’s see, 5-S check, Kanban check, Regular kaizen events check, A3 no, TPM no, VSM no, (add as many tools to your checklist as your experience tells you)….sorry you are not lean.

Maybe we make things too complex and the answer is really simple.

What’s your viewpoint on what is lean and does it affect your effort on becoming lean?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Poka Yoke The Office Style

From the popular comedy show, The Office, Dwight give us some potential poka yoke advice on mistake proofing, also known as idiot proofing from the early lean days. I wonder if anyone has practiced this thinking?