Monday, November 28, 2005

Go Inch Wide and Mile Deep

The lean journey is not a short easy trip. It takes years of effort in the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement. One of the best pieces of advice given to me was to approach the lean journey by going inch wide and mile deep.

As you learn all the different kaizen tools and see the vast opportunities to eliminate waste, it can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. You may be tempted to jump into the water and start swimming as fast as you can only to find the you are just treading water.

Don't try to apply all the different techniques across the entire company all at once. Pick one critical area and focus your teams effort on a single goal. It could be 5S, quick die change or production smoothing. Just pick one and put all your efforts behind it. Don't settle for good enough, take it as far as you can and then push yourself to go deeper. Go inch wide and mile deep!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Creativity Before Capital, Lost Principle of Lean

From my earliest lean lessons, I was directed to be creative in applying continuous improvement in manufacturing. Dr. Shigeo Shingo preached to me and my fellow engineers not to become a "Catalog Engineer". Catalog Engineers spent all of their time looking for solutions in a catalog and buying a quick fix. He would tell us to throw out the catalog and go to gemba. Our motto on the shop floor was Creativity Before Capital.

Since those days, lean has definitely grown in popularity (more interest than implementation)and received plenty of press time over the last decade. Most of the time, the lean articles deal with tools and case studies. Despite this increase in lean information, not much has been written about the principle of Creativity Before Capital.

Creativity before capital is the lost principle of lean in America. Simply put, this principle demands that we think more about making our improvements by utilizing what is nearby without spending capital dollars. This sounds great to the company accountants and upper management however the thinking part scares most people. Most give up at the first road block and before you know it, the checks start pouring out.

A great way to support the Creativity Before Capital principle is with 5S. Break out the red tags and collect up all the unneeded items around your plant. Move your red tag items to a segregated storage area (hint-make sure you have a listing of these items). But before getting rid of them, these red tag items are now the "nearby resource" for your creative solutions.

Consider it the MacGyver challenge. (Note: MacGyver was a TV character in the 1980s noted for using simple, handy items to get him out of tight jam.) By getting in touch with the MacGyver deep inside all of us, we can think of a creative solution to any problem without spending money.

When it comes to Standard Work Instruction Computer Files, Size Matters

When creating computer files of your standard work instructions (charts), especially with the addition of pictures and movie clips, the size of the file matters. To make the files easier to view and update, the smaller the file the better.

I did a little experiment on a few of my standard work documents in relation to file size and access time. In my documents I could speed up access by the same percentage that I reduced the file size. For example, if I cut the file size by 75%, the time to access it was also cut by 75%.

As I create and update my standard work documents, I try to keep the files to the smallest size possible yet include ALL the details needed. (See my earlier post- How much Details goes in Standard Work Charts). Some of the ways to do this is to resize pictures and use small clips without fluff. Keep your instructions clear and concise (get rid of extra, nonvalue added words). I talked about this concept in one of my earlier posts- Make Every Word Count in Quality.

Another great way to improve file size is to convert from a work document to a html document. Our work instructions are currently accessible on our company intranet site and html documents work great in our system. So far, the conversion to a html file format has reduced our files by an average of 80% without the elimination of any details in our documents. It may work for you too!

Waste can be found in all processes and systems including computer files. Keep all things to the smallest size possible that gets the job done.

Improve Standard Work Instructions with Hyperlinks

One of the best ways to speed up access to your standard work instructions with related supporting documents on a computer is to utilize the hyperlink function. All standard software packages have this tool that can link documents to each other eliminating the time and frustration that goes along with searching for the documents. A principle of the Toyota way is to take advantage of proven technology. Hyperlinks fit this description. If you are not using it yet, you need to start.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dangers in Lean Manufacturing Awards

Our American culture is full of competition, awards, and status in our need to be recognized as the best, second to none. Just look at the number of award shows on TV in the entertainment fields. Another example are the quality product awards like J.D. Powers, well known in the automotive industry. (Trivia quiz: How many different J.D. Powers quality awards are there for the automotive industry?) I wonder if any other cultures have the same obsession for awards as Americans? With our culture, it makes perfect sense that we would have manufacturing awards (ie Shingo Prize, Malcolm Baldridge, IW Best Plants of the year, etc).

As an American, I love competition, the thrill of victory and a shot at glory. When hardware (a trophy) is up for grabs and the title of "Number 1", my heart pounds as the adrenaline races through my body. Ready, set, go!

But is this the right frame of mind for our lean journey? Bill Waddell at Evolving Excellence has several great posts on this subject including Help Me Out, Please that challenge the pursuit of lean manufacturing awards like the Shingo Prize which include past multi-winners like Delphi.

From my lean training and following the Toyota way, the answer is no. My simple understanding of lean principles is to focus on the pursuit of company survival for eternity with the elimination of waste while adding value for customers, enhancing quality of life for employees and contributing to society. The pursuit of lean manufacturing awards is not on the list of objectives.

Even with this clearly stated, doesn't a little competition help push us (Americans) on the lean journey? Maybe it does helps some companies however there is danger in this approach.

One danger is focusing all our energies on winning the award and neglecting other objectives like new product development. Without constant innovation our future product lifeline is threatened. Threats from global competition could easily send any American company into extinction if innovation dies.

Another danger is cutting corners and fudging the numbers to win. Unfortunately, some American companies have the capacity to bend and twist facts to paint an image that is not a true indication of their business performance. Call it positive spin or creative accounting but I call it cheating.

Then there is the danger of actually winning the award. We could easily start believing that our company is lean. Once we buy into that mindset, the lean journey ends because we think we are done. Winning would lull us into a false sense of security. Toyota has been on their lean journey for over 50 years and publicly states that they still need to improve. Remember-continuous improvement is ongoing..Forever!

Any American company that believes that there are benefits in winning this type of award, despite any potential dangers, they should pursue it. I wish each and everyone the best of luck! My recommendation would be to following the Toyota way, pursue the lean journey and not seek prestigious awards. Your award should be returning customers.

(Answer to Trivia question: I counted 90 separate J.D. Powers quality awards in the automotive category, according to their website. There could be more.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

You do not Delegate Kaizen, Everybody Participates

One misconception of lean manufacturing is the belief that it is just another program. Upper management perpetuates this belief by delegating Kaizen (continuous improvement) activities to the lower levels within the organization. This is not a principle of lean manufacturing. The culture of a company on the lean journey is one where everybody participates in Kaizen.

Regardless of your position within the organization, everybody should be actively involved in continuous improvements actions on a regular basis. Better yet, because of your position, you must actively participate in Kaizen to successfully transform the culture of your company. Walking the talk and leading by example are powerful actions that promote a lean culture throughout the organization.

I have participated in continuous improvement events where CEO's of billion dollar corporations drive fork lifts, clean equipment and change layouts in the spirit of Kaizen. The power of this level of participation seen on the shop floor does more to strengthen and promote the culture of lean than years worth of motivating speeches.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Linking 5S with Standard Work Instructions by Adding Home Information

A place for everything and everything in its place is a central theme of 5S. Designating a home for all items makes it easy to find them. But what if you are looking for an item and don't know where to find it's home?

This happened to me just last week while on working on a project at one of our plants. In addition to the project work, I was covering for a vacationing Quality Manager. By the middle of the week, a purchased part problem hit the shop floor. To quickly sort the good parts from the bad ones, we needed the test fixture.

Several of us searched all the "normal" spots where it most likely could be stored but the test fixture was no where to be found. Asking around, not one single person in this plant knew where it find it. This lost fixture caused a delay in testing, wasted time searching and created plenty of frustration for all involved.

This muda (waste) could have been avoided if the test fixture had a designated home and this home was clearly identified. In my example, it seems that only one persons knows this information and he was on vacation. Put this valuable home information in the standard work instructions where it could be found. A place for everything and everything in its place only works if everybody knows where to find the designated home!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps

To my dad, Major Edwin A. Wroblewski, (retired USMC) and to all Marines, unselfishly defending our country and it's people at all costs. Thank you!

Happy 230th Birthday Marines, Semper Fidelis.

May God bless you!

ooo rah

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dysfunctional Lean Manufacturing in America - Cutting Costs instead of Reducing Waste

The majority of efforts in American manufacturing to implement lean manufacturing principles are dysfunctional because management does not understand the basic difference between cutting cost and reducing waste. Just closely look at all the case studies, articles, shareholder reports, executive interviews and official news releases to see what corporate actions are described as lean. A review will quickly tell you which companies understand lean principles and which companies think they understand them.

Dysfunctional lean results from the misguided actions caused by misunderstanding lean manufacturing principles. In America, we take a twisted view of applying lean principles by cutting costs with massive layoffs, bullying suppliers, reducing service, blind outsourcing, and de-contenting products. In this view, our management decisions are based only on the dollar impact and not terms of what is value or non-value added. Costs may be quickly reduced in this approach but at a price of value deterioration.

On the other hand, waste reduction is the systematic approach to eliminate process activities that add no value to our customers and maintain all the value added elements. Only elements of waste are targeted for elimination. Management decisions are focused on value and non-value added measures. This simple approach follows the belief that you do not focus on costs because you already know that eliminating waste will always result in a cost reduction benefit.

Another way to look at it is from the customer point of view. Cost cutting takes things away from the customer while waste reduction gives things to the customer.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Add Visual Quality Guides to your Standard Work Sheets

On my project to revamp standard work sheets on the shop floor, adding visual quality guides provided an excellent way to display common quality nonconformances and recommended corrective actions. The standard work sheet details the current best method necessary to correctly perform an operation. But not all processes are perfect on our lean journey. That's where the visual quality guides can help.

The visual quality guide displays any potential defects found at a particular workstation. Examples are clearly pictured based on customer complaints and quality specifications. By properly defining the acceptance criteria along with what is unacceptable, many debates can be avoided and judgment improved. It is a management responsibility to clearly define quality expectations. Smart management will adhere to customer defined quality expectations.

Before the posting of visual quality guides, it was almost a daily activity to constantly address this issue somewhere in the plant. A supervisor or operator calls the quality manager to "make the call" if the product was good. After the quality manager looks over the part, an issued disposition declares the "goodness" of the part in addition to any actions to get the part in conformance to standard. Delays in dispositions are common and quarantine areas were created. All Muda!

With visual quality guides, all customer quality expectations are documented and displayed at gemba. Soon after posting them, a supervisor called me to the floor to make another "quality call". When looking over the part, I asked the supervisor, "What do you think?". He said, "You're Quality, you tell me.". Quickly, I asked him, "What does the visual quality guide say about this?". He began to read the appropriate section back to me. I just repeated my question, "Now, what do you think?". I did not have to provide a disposition and it took only a few weeks for everyone to follow the guides.

In the event a nonconformance is detected, the recommended corrective actions is included on the visual quality guide. Following this guide, not only was the quality standard clearly defined, any operator can now initiate corrective actions without delay. Less Muda!

Visual quality guides provide an outstanding quality communication tool that goes well with the standard work charts. That leaves the future challenges of preventive actions and keeping the quality standards in line with the "raising of the bar" by our customers.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hidden Benefits to Proper Posting of Standard Work Charts

When properly posting standard work charts over the last few days, several hidden benefits of improved visibility and air flow emerged. By auditing standard work instructions posted throughout one of our manufacturing plants, I expected just to improve accessibility and functionality. Sometimes hidden benefits come out after making an improvement with lean manufacturing principles.

The standard work charts were posted on boards above the workstation with several requiring ladders to reach. These high ones were outdated due to the difficulty to reach them and not readable from the shop floor. (A lean reminder-If the maintenance department is required to post standard work, you are not properly posting them!).

After removing them, the first hidden benefit of improved visibility across the department quickly could been seen (no pun intended). Keeping structures below head level allows improved visibility of process flow and communication between operators. In addition, this clear line of sight improves safety.

Improving air flow earned quick approval on the shop floor. As most manufacturing plants in America, ours is not air conditioned. Fans primarily push air across the department providing minimal relief during the hot summer months. Without the boards above, the air flow circulates freely. Improvements like this go a long way to gaining support on the shop floor.

How much Detail goes in Standard Work Charts?

The measure of meaningful standard work charts comes down to the level of details. Details spell out exactly "How" to perform the process method without question. Any operator should be able to follow the instructions and successfully perform the work steps.

According to author Jeffrey Liker in his book The Toyota Way, standard work at Toyota is detailed to the footstep. His example was 28 steps for a 44.7 second job. That's one documented step for every 1.6 seconds of work including the number of footsteps for each element. With this level of meticulous documentation, I can see how Toyota can effectively establish a consistent standard work process.

Based on this comparison, our standard work charts have plenty of room for continuous improvement.

Standard Work Establishes Stable Process and Quality

The principle of standard work is part of the foundation of the Toyota Production System. Performing work steps in exactly the same method from one unit to the next results in stability and reduces process variability. The quality output from a standard method will be consistent from piece to piece.

When a problem does occurs, comparing the documented standard work to the observed process method can quickly identifies opportunities for errors. The supervisor, team leader or quality auditor should be able to access the standard work documentation at each workstation for every process throughout the plant. Observing several cycles will confirm if the method is constant. Emphasis on strict adherence to the established standard work is mandatory.

Lean challenge for today. Go to gemba and observe the process at a random workstation. Does this workstation have a current copy of the standard work method? Is the operator following the steps exactly as described? Is the process steps repeated exactly the same from piece to piece?

If you answered no to any of these questions, fix it. Fix it right now. Do not add it to your to-do-list. Do not delegate it. Roll up your sleeve and work with the operator to fix it today.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Forget the Conference Room, Gather Around Gemba

Whenever a problem arises in any organization, one of the first action items by management is call a meeting. Typically, this meeting is held in a company conference room. With the miracles of modern technology, a conference call takes place to include distant members with the everyone gathering around the phone.

In many cases, some information is collected and souvenirs are dragged into the conference room for show and tell during the meeting. In my experience, most meetings create more questions and multiple directions then establishing a solution. At best, additional assignments are handed out to gather more information prior to making a decision. In the worst case, snap decisions are made with little information.

The kaizen approach is different. Forget the conference room, gather around gemba (meaning actual location/work place). If the issue is a broken machine, gather around this machine. If the issue is on the assembly line, go to that work station. The employees that are closest to the issue are at gemba. Utilize their experience and wisdom which is not always included in traditional American business problem solving.

By seeing for yourself at gemba, you will better understand the process, arrive at the root cause and formulate a solution. Next time a crises occurs in your facility, try calling the meeting at gemba.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Waste Transfer is not a Lean Manufacturing Principle

In kaizen, a common goal is to optimize an assembly line or departmental process by streamlining value added tasks and eliminating wasteful tasks. Sometime we end up transferring the wasteful activities to other departments, suppliers, employees off the line and, in some cases, even customers.

This is not a principle of lean manufacturing. The waste still exists within the value chain therefore a cost still exists. Somebody still pays. Yes, throughput may be improved and cost lowered yet it still exists.

Focus on eliminating the waste and not passing the burden to others.