Monday, November 27, 2006

Dynamite to Dry Rot

The world of work is filled with challenges, problems and obstacles ranging from minor irritations to major catastrophes. Some of these issues are truly beyond our control and we react to the best of our ability to overcome the difficulties and pain inflicted by them. But the problems within our control that we allow to exist, in my opinion, are the most wasteful and painful. One prime example is how we neglect our equipment in manufacturing and the effect of unplanned downtime, lost productivity and declining quality this neglected equipment causes our business.

It is sad to see manufacturing equipment that once was a dynamite piece of machinery turned to dry rot, all because it was not important to us to maintain this machine in top working condition. It’s sometimes hard to believe that, at one time, this piece of equipment was a brand new machine primed for productivity.

Some may believe this is just the nature of all machinery and not give it another thought. We simply go to the bank and borrow money for a new one. All things mechanical fall apart, wear out, or just plain die. It’s a scientific fact of life.

Yes, nothing lasts forever. But by neglecting our machines, we suffer with constant breakdowns that never occur at a good time and our machine suffers a shortened useful life by forced deterioration.

In my experience, the useful life of machinery can be maximized by proper care and attention. Even if we have neglected our machines in the past, we can still extend its useable life. Here are five simple ideas that can help.

  1. Clean up the machine and keep it clean.
  2. Have Operators take the lead in maintaining the machinery instead of the Maintenance Deptartment.
  3. Simply keep the bolts of your machines tightened.
  4. Perform daily machine inspection.
  5. Take the time to stop and fix the small problems.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kindergarten Lean

Last week I had the opportunity to join my son, Bret, for lunch at his school in honor of National School Lunch Week. It is not often that I get the chance with my work schedule to visit his school, so I did not hesitate when I had the chance. Bret is in kindergarten, his very first year in school. I even arrived a little early to see him in class before we had lunch together. It was amazing to see all the energy, enthusiasm and eagerness of a classroom full of kindergarten students.

As some of you know, 5 year olds sometimes have a short attention span, have bursts of raw energy and ask a lot of questions (like my favorite, why?). It's funny how you don't have to teach a 5 year old the concept of asking the 5 whys. Now imagine a room full of 5 year olds. Without a system to create an orderly learning environment, chaos would be unleashed. Of course, Bret's Kindergarten Teacher had a system but what surprised me was the lean principles (although not labeled as lean) I saw in action to keep things in order and flowing. I'll call it Kindergarten Lean, or lean basics for providing an efficient, organized learning environment for 5 year olds.

Before lining up for lunch, all the kindergarten students helped clean up the room from an active play period. Each toy had a designated place to store them, a home location that was clearly labeled. Since most 5 year olds are not able to read yet and have limited sight recognition of words, I assume the labels are for the teacher. Despite limited reading skills, these kindergarten students knew the proper home location for each toy. In a flash, they had the entire classroom back in order. Even the teacher and her aide joined the students in the clean up, working together. It certainly looked like a quite efficient 5S process with (management) leading by example to me.

In Bret's kindergarten class, there are 24 students. The classroom layout groups the desks in clusters of 5 desks with each student assigned a desk (labeled with their name). After cleaning up the classroom, each kindergarten student returned to their desk, or their home location. The teacher released the class by cluster (5 at a time) to go to the bathroom and wash up before lunch. As they returned, another set of 5 was released to the bathroom. This process reduced the congestion in the bathroom that would be created if the entire class went all at once. Likewise, the school staggers the lunch times for the different grade levels to eliminate the burden on the lunchroom. This kept the lunch line short and only requires a small lunchroom for the school. It certainly looked like level loading (Heijunka) for the bathroom, lunch staff and lunchroom resources to me.

Each kindergarten student has a lunch card used to purchase their lunch (color coded to distinguish it from their snack card) which is kept in a slot hanging on the classroom wall (labeled with their name). The students retrieved their card and returned to their desks, after washing up and before lining up to walk to the lunchroom. The path to their lunch cards is arranged for one-way traffic to the slots and a separate path to return to their desks. This method provided a smooth flow and eliminate bumping into each other. It certainly looked like visual management and FIFO lanes to me.

On the kindergarten chalkboard, the learning goals for the week were boldly written complete with activities to support it. Learning the letter, G g, was a top priority for the kindergarten class, both letter recognition and proper writing. Even the class show and tell for the week needed to be something starting with the letter G. It certainly looked like posted goals and targets (Hoshin) to me.

All these lean principles worked well in the kindergarten classroom not to mention the respect for others, listening skills, politeness, manners, teamwork, punctuality and personal responsibility emphasized by the teacher. It's funny how you can re-learn the basics just by going back to kindergarten. That is probably the most important lean lesson of all. Emphasis is placed on getting the basics right in kindergarten. Just like in kindergarten, we should have the same emphasis on getting the basics right on our lean journey.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How do you Measure the Growth of a Company?

By Market Share?
By Sales Revenue?
By Op Inc?
By Earnings Per Share?
By Quarter to Quarter Comparison?

All traditional measures that fail to change behavior but dominate the news. Lets look at a possible measurement that I believe is better.

How about measuring employee talent levels? Make it all about development of your employees. Add a cross training matrix to the corporate level (on the shop floor and in the office!). Focus on increasing the skills of all employees which is your future source for all creativity, innovation and improvement. Unless, of course, you are outsourcing that along with manufacturing.

Do you have any other measurements that are better indicators of improvement and growth?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Honda Breaking Ground in Greensburg

When I returned home from Japan, via I-74 from the Indianapolis Airport to Greensburg, I could not help but notice the huge array of earth moving equipment busy at work. What once was acres of corn fields ready for the harvest this time of year turned into piles of dirt, dust and temporary roads as the first physical signs of construction of the new Greensburg, Indiana Honda plant is well under way. In addition to the army of equipment in motion, you can not miss the towering lights set up to extend the working day past sundown. This is going to be fun to watch.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lean Manufacturing Epiphany

With my Japan Kaikaku Experience host by Gemba Research ending, I started to reflect upon all that I experienced during my week long lean study mission in Japan. My brain was on lean learning overload by this point, like a small sponge dropped into the Pacific Ocean trying to absorb every drop of water. The idea of soaking in a hot spring bath and enjoying a full 12 course Japanese dinner with a cold Asahi Super-Dry among new friends was certainly a welcome and much needed mental break.

After a fantastic dinner, in taste, artistic presentation and fellowship, I went to bed exhausted from my journey yet unable to sleep with my mind buzzing with lean images, ideas and thoughts. Staring at the traditional Japanese sliding walls made of wood slates and paper with the glow of moonlight shining through, my thoughts continued on their own journey in my head. As I lay on my Japanese mat, I started clarifying my thoughts onto a "new" lean thinking for me.

Although I have been a student of lean manufacturing principles and implemented many successful lean improvements over the past 24 years of my manufacturing career, my lean thinking was a black and white 2-D lean vision. With this trip, I started seeing lean manufacturing principles in techno-color 3-D. Combining my earlier lean lessons with this trip experience, new pieces began to all fit together and take shape. Call it lean insights or even reaching a lean manufacturing epiphany.

My lean manufacturing epiphany is quite simple, LEAN IS HARMONY. Culturally speaking in Japan, harmony is a treasured state of being for a person. With harmony, life is in balance and flowing in concert with its surroundings. The principles of lean are trying to put harmony into the workplace. This means harmony between man and machine, management and associates, company and customer, company and supplier, and even between company and society. The lean principles are helping us develop and promote harmony by removing barriers, rocks, and conflicts that disrupt flow in our business.

Yes, lean is about eliminating waste and using great lean tools to improve our business but that is all we seem to focus on in the US. Lean principles are much more than that. Reflecting on my harmony list, lean principles are really all about harmony among people.

How do we seek harmony in our relationships in business? With respect, development, communication, cooperation and service, we can achieve harmony. By providing training and supporting our employees in their work. By working with people instead of against them. By engaging with others, we promote harmony.

This path towards harmony was evident in the manufacturing companies I visited in Japan. I witnessed active upper management presence on the shop floor, robust training programs for all employees and kaizens coming from the shop floor instead of mandated from management along with constant efforts to make work easier and better on a daily basis.

This brings me to the definition of "continuous" improvement. We are all familiar with this term but how do you define continuous? Is it yearly, quarterly or weekly? Is it project to project? For those lean companies I visited in Japan, continuous improvement is daily by everyone. A simple and powerful dedication to improvement that will find these companies progressing a little further ahead of the rest of us, one day at a time.

Another point really hit me as I continued my lean reflection. We, as management, have not always been successful in applying lean in America. There have been plenty of reasons (more like excuses) for this failure. It has been said that the Japanese cultural difference can not be overcome in America (success by Toyota in America doesn't count, of course). Or that our business is really unique (especially used by non-automotive companies) so lean does not work here. Others just simply say that lean does work period. All these excuses are crap. (Sorry, it's the Asahi talking).

What we need to do is look closely at ourselves (management). Look at our people and our management approach. First, make sure everyone understands and actively embraces the lean approach. This will take upfront training and coaching. However, plan on firing those that don't get on board after ample opportunity to do so. Harsh and ruthless, maybe but they will kill any lean improvement efforts in your company if they don't believe in it. Even if they are star performers in a particular function or skill, it should be embrace lean or out. Note: Great employees really embrace continuous improvement.

On our lean journey, we need to change our management approach. Instead of managing by numbers, we should manage behaviors! Forget asking for reports on the metrics or reviewing the charts. Instead, ask the questions like what countermeasures did we out into action today? Show me! Did we do a complete 5S session today? How did we solve a customer complaint today? Tell me the names of the employees that have added a new skill set or learned a new process task. This approach also promotes the bias for action. By managing the behavior, the numbers will be achieved.

Finally, as I fast approach falling asleep, I come to terms with the fact that achieving harmony is not easy. It takes effort, dedication, wisdom, patience, persistence along with a whole host of other noble attributes that I struggle with maintaining favor over my human shortcomings. I may even fail and never achieve harmony in my lifetime. Despite these realizations, I am not going to let it stop me from trying as I walk down the path towards harmony.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Japan Day 5 - Samurai

For our last full day in Japan, we left the modern manufacturing world to catch a glimpse into Japanese history and explore their rich traditions. This included a visit to a samurai house and spending the night at a traditional Japanese Inn. Although this experience, along with touring a Japanese castle, did not seem to directly relate to learning about lean manufacturing in Japan, it did end up providing some extremely valuable insights into the Japanese culture that I believe greatly influences the thinking found behind the principles of lean manufacturing.

For example, our tour of the samurai house was like stepping back in time. The overwhelming sense of honor, loyalty, protection and service for the good of the people and county was deeply felt as our tour guide revealed the details of the life of a samurai. This life was a simple one, centered on service above all else. To imagine that I was now walking across the same floor as this noble warrior and his family was an incredible feeling. By the way, samurai houses were located next door to the lord of the region for instant service and close communication.

I also learned a great deal about the samurai sword and how it was made. This caught my attention as I enjoy learning about history and basically, I am a manufacturing geek at heart. The making of a samurai sword is really a manufacturing marvel of perfection. To manufacture a light weight and extremely flexible sword to tolerances of .00001" without the aid of modern CNC equipment, computers or even basic temperature control devices is completely amazing to me.

From what I learned, this traditional manufacturing process dates back over 1000 years, performed by the skilled hands and knowledge of a master sword craftsman. The steel to construct the blade was heated, folded and beaten by hand with a hammer to a thickness of .00001". This steel layer was forge welded to another layer of steel, repeating the process of heating, folding and forming by hand. This process was repeated over 30,000 times with each layer .00001" thick. This successful method required to make a samurai sword involved ritual and most of all repetition. Sounds a lot like the power of standard work to me.

I was told, to insure consistent quality, that the sword maker used the color of the morning sun as his guide to the exact color needed when heat treating the steel. This visual guide helped establish an extremely accurate heat treat process. The end result was a willow-like, lethal weapon weighting less than 3 lbs, a weapon made by hand to high quality standards even compared to modern manufacturing standards.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Japan Day 4 - HOKS Part 2

After the intense 3S morning session followed by stretching exercises, I walked through the plant to see the lean transformation at HOKS. Everywhere I turned, there were examples of employee driven kaizen. I rapidly took notes, snapped pictures and scribbled out crude drawings to spark my memory. Of all the companies we visited, HOKS was probably the most open with information and access to their shop floor operation to allow us the opportunity to really understand their lean manufacturing culture.

The one area that sparked my imagination the most at HOKS was their lean transformation in the office. Many companies have made significant improvements on the shop floor yet the office areas remain insulated from any significant lean changes. At HOKS, they broke through the office barrier with some extremely interesting lean applications.

Right off the bat, you could instantly see that the HOKS office operation was special. The entire staff, from President on down, was standing. Their desks were elevated using kaizen pipe or custom made out of kaizen pipe to accommodate the height of each employee and there were no chairs in sight. According to Mr. Manabe, HOKS President, it is healthier to stand and 30% more efficient. For the office staff that may have difficulty with standing all day, bar stools were provided. I saw several staff members using the bar stool however the clear majority were standing.

As an Industrial Engineer, I always promoted standing on the shop floor for the majority of operations to increase cell efficiency yet never thought to push the concept to the office. To me, this was a major shift in how to view the office. Do you think this will catch on in the United States? After talking with several staff members and their positive reflections on changing to a standing office, I am going to convert my office for standing.

The second lean change was the physical location of the office staff. It was no surprise to see support staff like production management and engineers' desks (work spaces) located on the shop floor in their respective areas of responsibility. But so were production/scheduling, customer service, and sales staffs. In another common sense move, HOKS located their purchasing staff next to their receiving area. One note: HOKS does have some areas in the plant set up for sitting at a computer and away for the group setting for those work tasks/occasions needing intense concentration.

In each case, the lean goals driving these office improvements were to streamline communication and strive for rapid responsiveness to the shop floor operation, From what I observed at HOKS, they are definitely on target.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Japan Day 4 - HOKS Part I

On day 4 of the Japan Kaikaku Experience, our group traveled to the northeast coast of Kyushu Island. We arrived bright and earlier at HOKS, a $50 million printed circuit board manufacturer, just in time for their daily 3S self-action. It is called self-action because it is voluntary and unpaid, relying on your self motivation and a little peer pressure to contribute.

Everyday, the entire management team at HOKS arrives 30 minutes before the start of the shift to engage in exhaustive 3S (Seiri - Sort, Seiton - Straighten, and Seiso - Shine). The shop floor employees come 10 minutes early to clean their areas. All of this is done outside of company time. Not all the 3S activities are limited to this daily ritual, every 2 weeks the plant production is shutdown for 1 hours for more 3S which is on the company clock with full pay.

The entire plant is cleaned top to bottom with some tasks completed daily while others have a rotational schedule. The 3S activities include cleaning floors, windows, desks, racks, lights, hallways, toilets, company cars and the outside grounds. Even the public street in front of their building is cleaned by the HOKS employees as a sign of good will in their neighborhood.

At HOKS, they believe that 3S is the key to their success. It instills discipline in their employees and helps sell their company to potential customers. The reason it's a 3S activity versus 5S is that HOKS believes if you vigorously attack the first 3S daily, by default, you have achieved all 5S. (Simple.) They do have a 5S goal but concentrate on improving the behaviors needed to be successful versus driven by the target goal or numbers. If the correct behaviors are solidly in place, the numbers will improve.

To really embrace this focused 3S culture, our group was invited to join in on the fun. Each of us were paired up with a HOKS employee and given a 3S cleaning assignment. My assignment was to trim the front hedges and clean up the clippings as seen in the picture. I definitely worked up a sweat by the time I finished but there was still time for more 3S. I quickly moved inside the plant and wiped down all the desks in the production control department with a little time left to sweep the floor. You certainly can accomplish a lot in 30 minutes when you put your mind (and muscle) to it.

Even the president of the company, Mr. Manabe, participated in the morning 3S period. On that day, his job was to clean the administration office floor by getting on his hands and knees with washrags in each hand. Talk about "Leading by Example"!

This is no ordinary 5S program and is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. When they first started this radical 3S regime, there was resistance and it was mandatory, driven down by management. After the routine was established, it moved to a self managed effort but constantly supported by management and a sense of pride in their company. And I love their company slogan on self-change, "If I change, our company will change!". Great words of wisdom on organizational change.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Japan Trip Continues

I apologize for the delay in posting on my week long lean manufacturing study mission in Japan. For the last half of the week, I had virtually no access to the web with our action packed schedule and a stay at a traditional Japanese hotel with a hot spring (a tough life!). I did make it back safely to Indiana last night about midnight after over 30 hours without much sleep. At least we made it back before the typhoon hit Southern Japan earlier today. Watch for the highlights of the rest of my lean study mission this week and my lean manufacturing epiphany.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Japan Day 3 - TOTO Kokura

On our third day in Japan, we studied the lean manufacturing process at the TOTO facility in Kokura, Japan. TOTO is a hugely dominate manufacturer in Japan (and growing worldwide) of faucets, metal fittings and bathtubs. Check out the TOTO website to see the variety of their product offerings and learn more about this company. After my visit, I would definitely consider TOTO to be a strong competitor to companies like Kohler and Delta faucet. TOTO is doing some amazing things in lean manufacturing. And after using their product this week, I have to say I loved the heated seat.

One problem facing many manufacturing plants in the US is the limited resources available like engineering to make improvements, At TOTO, they have addressed this problem by have the engineers only work on the big stuff ( major equipment selection, designs and major projects) and have all the shop floor employees do the smaller stuff (like build their own workstations, fixtures and work aids). This frees up a tremendously amount of burden from the Engineers responsibilities to work on the big bang stuff yet still allows the little stuff to get done by the process owners. Works great.

There were all kinds of simple workstation and visual improvements put into place. There were small pinwheels placed on the fans of CNC mills as a visual indicator that the fan was operational, all the workbenches, carts, racks, etc were made out of various types of Kaizen Pipe, the measurement boards were shortened to be able to see across the department, all the assembly power tools were inline and electric models to reduce noise, etc. A repeating theme in Japan - make it simple!

The coolest thing was seeing the casting operation, plating operation and pre-assembly operations lined up side by side. Typically a casting and plating operation would be separated to prevent contamination in the process. At TOTO, great care and process design was given to look at the point (or source) of this contamination and prevent it. This was accomplished using large (powerful) vacuum hoods along with guards and shields. The operators are also constantly wiping their areas down throughout the day. Extremely clean operations.

The new employee training program was excellent. All new employees were trained in basics of company info/philosophy and safety followed by working in a training lab on some basic assembly skills. This even includes lessons in manners and how to greet visitors, all conducted in a training area separate from production. Then the employee is assigned a mentor to train in multiple areas, rotating over a 2 month period, with actual product units.

After this rotation, the new employee is teamed up with a couple of other new employees for a 2 day education session conducted in the training lab. The first day, the team is given parts and told to make up a cell to produce this product and run parts. Later in the day, this team is given an opportunity to make improvements. On the second day, they run more production with their new process. At the end of the second day, the team is sent to the production floor to see the method preferred to build that product (the current standard method/layout). Great lean learning experience with most lean improvements coming from the shop floor employees.

The manufacturing work cells at TOTO were dominated by single operator cells. The controlling factor of the cells was not work content, it was determined by space and expense of equipment needed.

There is much to learn from this outstanding company. Oh, by the way, TOTO has only been into the lean approach for 5 years yet they have rapidly learned and implemented these great improvements on their lean journey.

We are off again in the morning to another company further along the lean journey

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Japan Day 2 - Matsumoto Kogyo

After a couple of days in Japan, my body is just now catching up to the radical time change shift and ready for the next lesson in lean from Japan. On day two of our tour, we visited Matsumoto Kogyo which is Tier 2 automotive supplier to Nissan and Toyota making seat frames. Our group took a Japanese Sonic train from the train station followed by a short taxi ride to this 200 person plant. I still have not adjusted to riding on the left side of the road which caused some moments of fear as we turned into traffic.

Matsumoto is a 40 year old company with extremely diverse lines of business from automotive parts, construction industry, architecture design and even supermarkets (60% of their business is currently automotive). Even being a smaller firm by US standards, they are a powerhouse when it comes to innovation and creativity!

Some of the lean lessons seen here include applying standard work outside of the manufacturing shop floor. One example is in building innovative, custom machines, where standard work is applied to the Engineers time. Yes, an Engineer.

Typically, we plan (if at all) the Engineers time by the larger task like design a machine. It would be estimated for 1 week. Even though we plan 1 week, it may not take 40 hours or it may take 100 hours. We don't know until it's done. So we don't rush the engineer because this work is part science and part art form and we can not measure it.

At Matsumoto, that is not how it works. The Engineers tasks are broken into the standard tasks required to design a machine (in 12 minutes blocks). The key is to break down the tasks into these finite, standard tasks and making sure you have properly listed all of them. Then it's easy to plot them on a time line and allocate resources to ensure meeting the target completion date.
It's only the combination of tasks that is custom. With each time reduced to 12 minute increments, the tasks can be well organized, planned and accurate.

Not only are the Engineering tasks measured here, even the Sales department had standard work. (I'll save that one for a later blog).

The most amazing lean lesson at Matsumoto is found in their special machine building talent. I have never seen so many cool mechanical ideas put into cells and automatic assembly machines all in one place. All these fixtures and machines were designed and built inhouse using basic ingenuity. One very cool example is the use of a milled slot in a spotwelding fixture to guide the fixture over a specified path ensuring 100% repeatable location each and every time. The fixture glided on rails as the part passed under the spot welder and included spot location to designate a required weld.

A cool poke-yoke example at one of the workstations is the use of sensors across part bin openings. As the operator passed the beam to retrieve a part, this information was collected. When the operator moved the completed part to the next operation and if all the sensors were not properly activated, the next machine would not cycle preventing a possible failure to continue through the process.

Bottomline, none of these were expensive ideas to implement. All were designed and built inhouse using scrap material or low cost components. The only requirements were ingenuity, creativity and determination to find a way to make it work.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Japan Day 1 - Nanjo Sobi Kogyo

After the tour of the Toyota Motor Kyushu plant, our group headed to another factory in Southern Japan while there was still daylight to burn. We arrive later in the afternoon to the Nanjo Sobi Kogyo plant as the first foreign (Westerner) visitors every allowed to visit this extremely well run manufacturing facility.

Our host, Mr Yoshio Kaneko, Plant Manager, was extremely gracious to us for allowing this unique opportunity to see his operation. Prior to the official tour and Q/A period, the most honorable Mr Kaneko expressed his deepest sympathies to our group in remembrance of 9/11 on this 5th anniversary and sorrow for this tragedy against humanity. Arigato-Gozimas!

The Nanjo Sobi Kogyo plant, built in 1991, produces Seat Trim and covers for the automotive market. The operations include mainly fabric/leather cutting and sewing with a small group of 99 employees. The have outstanding kaizen spirit throughout their company from top to bottom with plenty of visual management and tremendous employee participation. The walls are filled with celebrated kaizen successes!

The biggest eye opener is the fact that all the operators sewing are standing up instead of the traditional sitting down. Standing up while performing work is more efficient yet some tasks like sewing are not considered suitable for standing. Mr Kaneko proves us wrong. Watching the operators move the fabric around with precision and ease while standing is a sight to behold. A typical cell is set up with one operator surrounded by 3 sewing machines set up for a specific model. The foot pedals are even fixed into position by a simple cutout in a board on the floor. Extremely cool to see in action!

The next thing that caught my attention is that the air and electric drops were missing from above. Typically, most manufacturing plants in the US drop air and electric lines from the ceiling to the workstations. Not at Nanjo Sobi Kogyo where the air and electric access come from the floor! A well designed trench system keeps the workstations supplied with power which really opens up the view of the shop floor. Outstanding!

These were just two of many improvements that surrounded us as we walked this very impressive plant. In parting, Mr Kaneko expressed some of his continuous improvement philosophy in that "Kaizen is part of work and not a program to be managed" and that "Kaizen should be embraced and not forced on to employees ". Certainly words of lean wisdom spoken from experience.

Japan Day 1 - Toyota Car of the Future

Here is a picture of Toyota's i-unit, car of the future, that was on display at the Kyushu automoble showroom . REALLY cool!

Japan Day 1 - Toyota Motor Kyushu

On our first manufacturing tour day in Japan, we wasted little time and proceeded directly to the pinnacle of lean manufacturing in the world, the Toyota Motor Company. After many years of reading, hearing and studying about Toyota with their successful Toyota Production System, I find myself standing today in the newest Toyota plant in Japan. My first impression is "WOW, these guys are REALLY good and they make manufacturing look easy."

The Toyota Motor Kyushu plant was built in 1991 and is one of 15 Toyota plant in Japan. This plant makes several different models including the Lexus IS 350, Lexus ES 350, Lexus RX 350, Harrier Hybrid and the Kluger (Highlander). Approximately 1,784 vehicles are produced per day for a Takt time of 60 seconds per vehicle with planned overtime currently in the schedule. The workforce is about 6,500 employees (almost double from a year ago!) . The percentage full time permanent employees to temporary employees is split even at 50%-50%.

The operations on site, performed in several buildings, include pressroom, welding, paint, assembly and inspection. The welding building contains 480 computerized robots hitting over 5,000 hit points (spot welds) on average per vehicle. All the doors, lids, hoods, etc are removed after the paint process, then re-fastened in assembly for easier access during assembly. The entire plant is air-conditioned for climate control. A total of over 2,800 different components are assembled on the painted bodies.

The assembly operation is divided between two buildings, the Lexus line in one and the Harrier/Kluger models in the other. The Lexus building was not open for tours for some "top secret" reason so our access was limited to the Harrier/Kluger line. In this building, all the models were run across a single assembly line with the line woven back and forth 11 times. Each of the 11 sections of assembly line is about 100 meters long and run independent of each other with a 5 car buffer between them. This buffer was a employee suggestion to keep portions of the assembly line running when one section was having a problem. A key example of Standard Work in Process.

Another implemented employee suggestion was a seat for the assembler working inside the vehicle called a "Rakuraku Seat". This seat moved with the conveyor line, with some stock bins attached, allowing the operator to swing inside the interior of the vehicle to perform their tasks then swing out while seated. It reminded me of those baby walkers as the operator propelled themselves down the line with their feet while sitting on the seat.

During our tour, assembly operators on several occasions pulled the stop cord on the assembly line due to a problem. In a matter of seconds, the floater for that area rushed over to the problem site. If the problem could be resolved in the remaining takt time, the line was started up again. Otherwise, the team leader was called in to help. If the problem could not be solved in 2 Takt Time cycles, the Line Leader was called in to help. At each level, the question was a simple matter of what degree was the problem, promoting quick response.

An interesting point is that the assembly line had a goal of only 97% uptime. They did not want 100%. It was believed that a goal of 97% was better (more realistic) and prevented quality problems from being slipped through. If the goal is 100%, the employees would say that something was not really a problem and let it go to keep at a target of 100%. With a target of 97%, the employees would not be pressured to let things go and stop the line to correct the problem!

The floater was the pivital position on the assembly line. This person's span covered about 4-5 line operators and performed tasks ranging from filling up bins (waterspider role), quick quality double checks, first responder to line problems from pulling the stop, absentee coverage, relief for line operators, etc. From my observation, this is a key role in the successful flow of Toyota's assembly line.

Another observation is the general material flow. I saw operators performing ONLY assembly tasks while the material handlers moved parts. With the Kanban card system and material coming in on multiple carts, it was like a well choreographed dance. Toyota made it look simple using only about a 1/2 day of inventory on the line. Except for the receiving and between buildings, there were no fork trucks handling material in the assembly plant. Electric carts pulled the material around the assembly line on flat bed carts. I saw as many as 5 material carts hooked together and pulled by one electric cart.

Overall, the flow of operations appeared well planned, very organized and made to look simple. For visual management, there were plenty of floor marks, small signs and other signals mainly dealing with material. Even the visual mangement was simple and did not clutter the walls or overtake the plant floor. With the number of line stops I saw today, it was apparient that Toyota is not perfectly run. I did not expect to see perfection today but Toyota comes very close.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Japan Kaikaku Experience

I landed in Japan last night after a 27 hours journey but only 16 hours in the air. Here is the cool view from my 21st floor hotel room of the city of Kitakyushu, Japan. This trip is not a vacation but a learning experience hosted by Gemba Research called the Japan Kaikaku Experience. It is more of a lean learning mission in the heart of Japanese manufacturing. If you want to really see Japanese manufacturing first hand, there is no better way than joining the first class run tour experience that Gemba provides. So this week, I'll report my first experiences visiting Japan and most of all, my lean learning.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lean Insider, a New Lean Blog

I just discovered a new lean blog called Lean Insider. The Lean Insider is written by Ralph Bernstein at Productivity Press and blogs about the latest news, research and trends on all things lean. Welcome Ralph to the lean blogging world!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lean Blog Podcast Interview with Dr Jeffrey Liker

On our lean journey, we must continuously improve and continuously learn. Check out the podcast interview with Dr Jeffrey Liker, author of The Toyota Way, conducted by Mark Graban at Lean Blog. Mark continues to provide excellent lean lessons on his blog and check out his other podcasts featuring Norm Bodek.

Team Leaders Resource Library

Check out Karl McCracken's cool lean articles at Team Leaders Resource Library. Excellent work by a fellow lean guy from the UK including a closer look at shadow boards, etc. Karl helps companies improve using lean tools though his company, sevenrings. . He also has a site listing all the latest lean news from the web. Keep up the great work Karl!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Stop Bumping Your Head

"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump. bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it."

A. A. Milne, from Winnie-the Pooh, Chapter 1.
Art imitates life, so I am told. Based on what I see repeatedly at manufacturing facilities in America, it seems that a lot of us keep bumping our heads. It amazes me that, very much like Winnie-the-Pooh, we don't take a moment to think. We are too busy with the chaos of running (surviving) the day-to-day challenges of work that we never stop to find another way (a better way!).
For example, how many of us take the time to collect data on our plant efficiencies like First Pass Yield (FPY) and go so far as record the reasons for the non-conformance (putting them in fancy Pareto charts). The next day we repeat the same data collection and chart making activities only to repeat the whole data collect process the following day. (Bump, Bump, Bump!) Yet we never take the time to really go after the root causes of these recurring problems and put in the proper countermeasures (our moment to think).
What about when we collect data like downtime on our assembly lines or equipment complete with stratification by shift, by day of the week, by product? What about our safety audits and injury reports? What about our quality complaints from our customers, returned products and warranty claims? What about our scrap reports? What about our on-time delivery and delivery in-full reports?
Wherever I go, all this information is collected, organized, charted, reported and reviewed yet many times the reports you see on Monday will look strangely similar to the reports from last week, or the week before. Same old problems, different week. (BUMP, BUMP, BUMP).
There really is a better way, if only we can stop bumping for a moment and think of it!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Kaizen Hot-Wash

This afternoon, we completed another successful Kaizen 5-day event at an aerospace company in Indiana. The team was outstanding, the results were excellent and the kaizen event process was far from perfect, really meaning our kaizen implementation. Taking a page out of the military handbook, let's look at this kaizen event for lessons learned. Our military has long utilized the process of debriefing, or a "hot-wash" from what I have been told, to examine the lessons learned on the battlefield or training session for improvement and evaluation, providing a critical review of one's action. Here's what I learned from this kaizen event.

Lesson 1. Keep the kaizen training to what is actually needed for the event.
I learned this lesson long ago, abandoning the idea of packing as much training into the event as possible to increase value to the participants. It makes absolutely zero sense to go into the details of a SMED system (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) if your event has no change-overs as an obstacle to improvement. Yet, I have attended kaizen events where the training package was a canned program for the full day regardless of the scope of the kaizen event. Our kaizen event this week concentrated on throughput to the customer so the training was only a 1/2 day focusing on seeing waste, standard work and process flow. I spent too much time on some of the tools, time observation for one, which could have shortened the training time by 30 minutes.

Lesson 2. Provide the kaizen training at the right time.
Many kaizen event training programs spend valuable training time the first day teaching how to complete a report out on Friday. By the time Friday rolls around, they end up teaching this portion of the training all over again because everybody has forgotten the lesson during the week. Sounds like muda (waste) to me. I only mention the report out on Monday morning, leaving the details for Friday morning prior to the report out. When Friday arrives, I bring the team together for the quick "How-to-do-a-report-out" session and then the team goes to work without many questions. Did a good job on this one.

Lesson 3. Properly scale the scope of the kaizen event.
How many kaizen events bring an elephant to the table for a small team of five people to try to eat in one week? Although we love a challenge and admire a team that tries to tackle a huge project, the size of the scope matters. Keep the scope in line with the resources at hand. Our project was huge, covering over 30 process steps that encompassed over 10 days of well documented cycle time to complete one unit. It would have been impossible to cover all this work so we focused only on the waste in between these steps, walking and waiting. This scale could have been examined in more detail prior to the event.

Lesson 4. Measure twice, cut once.
After training on Monday at 12:30 pm , our kaizen team was ready for action. Time to go to gemba. With data collection activities through Tuesday afternoon, the team had a workable layout ready for maintenance support by 2:30 pm. A flurry of activity with equipment moves and scouring the area for our needs lead us to a transformed work area by 6:30 that night. Maintenance started without haste hooking up the new air and electric drops. The new layout was a tremendous improvement. Hurray!

But wait, the team started coming up with more ideas to try out. We asked the maintenance crew to hold up a bit while the team discovered the process of conducting multiple experiments to find the optimal layout. Only 5 layouts later, the team was satisfied with the results. Each of the 5 layouts shortened the distance traveled in the process, gaining an extra 5% improvement. Luckily, only a few of drops had any significant changes so we did not completely tick off our wonderful maintenance support crew. Do not become satisfied with idea A without trying multiple solutions (idea b, c, d, etc), you just might find a better way. Then call in the maintenance troops to action.

Lesson 5. Do not tick off your maintenance support crew.
Please see above.

Lesson 6. Pick the right lean tool for the job and use it well.
There are plenty of lean tools to choose for kaizen activities so your MUST determine the right tool and use it well. In our case, the spaghetti diagram was the best tool. It was simple to use although extremely time consuming for the large amount of travel in our process. The spaghetti diagram quickly showed the team the best areas for opportunity and was a great visual for comparison of layout options. Some of our time observations the first day did not end up providing much help with our focus on the in-between process wastes.

Lesson 7. Buy-in, Buy-in, Buy-in.
Without buy-in of the operators in a new process, the improvements of the week will not last past the Friday report-out. It is critical to get the process owners to buy-in to the new process. Of the five team members, we had one operator and one team leader of the process. All the other operators were asked for input and involved in the process of determining the layout each step of the way. Even with this high level of involvement, we had some unhappy campers. It took plenty of "please try it" and "what do you think?" before all the concerns were addressed. Several changes were not completely understood by those it affected and several detailed changes were not discussed outside of the team before we made them. It may take patience and effort on the part of the team to get buy-in. To be successful, you have no other choice!

Lesson 8. Watch out for collateral damage.
Our new layout had a ripple effect. We took over an area belonging to another process and ended up swapping areas with them. We had a layout for our area but not one for the ousted department. We moved our equipment around our plan with precision and piled up the other department's workbenches into our recently vacated area with reckless abandonment. Although we did provide air and electric to keep them running production the next day, they were not too happy with our thrown together layout. We ended up spending time the next day fixing the mess we left behind. The end results was a much improved process flow for both areas however we should have spent some quality time on the layout of the other area upfront.

Lesson 9. Keep your kaizen goals simple.
Many times a kaizen event will put a long list of targets or goals on the team to accomplish, productivity, cycle time, 5-S, floor space, quality, etc. All these goals are noble and beneficial however they may leave a team running in too many directions. Pick one goal to focus your kaizen team. Our kaizen goal was to improve the throughput of the process to the customer. We measured this goal with 1) time and 2) distance. Clear, simple and measurable. Good Job!

Lesson 10. Go to gemba and stay there the entire week.
With the exception of our Monday morning training and eating lunch, our kaizen team remained in our kaizen area the entire week. We had a meeting table, a few chairs and a flip chart placed in our kaizen area sharing information with the area (along with all those that passed by) throughout the kaizen process. Not only did this remove the muda of walking back and forth to an offsite meeting room, it also limited the team debates on the actual process. We shared information on display with our kaizen newspaper for all to see. No secrets, nothing to hide. Even the daily team leader meeting and the final report out were conducted at gemba. In fact, our Friday report out was attended by the owner of the company and his entire staff along with interested management from other departments seeing the actual improvements at gemba instead of relying on just descriptions of the changes in a stale conference room. Have the final report out at gemba, it will have a huge impact!

As stated earlier, the kaizen event results were excellent. We reduced the customer leadtime in days by 36% and shortened the distance traveled by 68% (from over 6, 800 feet to 2,199 feet). The spirit of kaizen was ignited at this company and they are ready for more!

Can the kaizen process be improved? Absolutely!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why do your Machines Leak?

Or more importantly, why do you allow your machines to continue leaking?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Signs that You Might Need a 5S Program #2

If you constantly drop oil dry or some other fluid absorbent supplies around your leaking equipment and it is starting to attract all the cats in the neighborhood, you might need a 5S program.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Signs that You Might Need a 5S Program #1

If you can't make out the red emergency stop button from the other buttons on a machine because it's colored dirt brown like the machine, you might need a 5S program.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bringing Work In-House

A week ago, I worked on a kaizen event at a client site in Indiana. This kaizen event was not only successful but it had the best target goal of all, to bring work in-house that was currently being outsourced.

It seems lately that the current corporate direction is to chase the low labor dollars abroad to turn a quick improvement to the bottom line that will satisfy the Wall Street crowd. This kaizen project took the lean approach of increasing product velocity in-house first.

In one week, we opened up over 25% of the floor space (over 3,000 sq feet) by reducing and standardizing the work in process along with re-aligning the machines in the department to match the product flow. The product velocity in the department went from 5 days to 1-2 days depending on product complexity. Finally, the existing MRP system has tweaked to respond daily to the changing requirements. Yes, we are still going with a MRP based system (Got to learn to walk before we run). A few kaizen newspaper items were recorded as homework items that required additional work before the new process is 100% on-line however the team has a great action plan to succeed. All done without adding a single new employee. For the customer, our turnaround time went from a 3 week leadtime with the outsourced product to under 1 week with the work in-house.

What a great reason to form a kaizen team, bring the work in-house!

Time Waste

"Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no salvage. The easiest of all wastes, and the hardest to correct, is the waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material." Henry Ford, Today and Tomorrow, 1926.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

5S Footprints on the Manufacturing Floor

I spent yesterday at a client's manufacturing plant conducting a 5S Day. The 5S stands for Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain to create an organized, clean and productive workspace. This 5S day was held on a Saturday when normal production was not scheduled to run allowing the team to focus on the target area and not disrupt daily production. We started the day with a quick 1 hour 5S training session followed by working in the target area on the first 3 S of Sort, Straighten and Shine. Our 5S team included members of their management, associates and even temporary help working side-by-side to transform our target area from one of typical chaos to organized flow.

One of the dilemmas facing the team was how to improve the manufacturing floor. As shown in the picture above, this area has falling into a multiple footprint trap. Since this company began their lean journey just last fall, they eagerly jumped into it with both feet. Over the course of about eight months, They have already completing over 20 kaizens throughout the plant. Our target area changed several times from previous kaizen activities causing footprints to change and increase in numbers. The problem is that the majority of the footprints were painted on the floor and old ones were never eliminated.

The purpose of footprints is to designate a home location. As you kaizen an area, if outdated footprints remain on the floor and new ones go in, all you get is confusion. I was told that it too much trouble to remove the old footprints.

Not to let a little paint create further confusion, I took a small group aside to tackle the issue. The shop floor was a typical concrete floor, unpainted but sealed. The painted lines criss-crossed the floor with several coats of paint. Our first attempts to scrap up the paint were painfully slow and not very effective. I quickly realized why they previously gave up. Our second attempt called for stronger action. We pouring a combination heavy duty paint thinner on the lines plus aggressive hand scraping. It worked however it still was not the fastest job of the day. After lots of elbow grease, the old footprints were eliminated.

The team members discussed the line issue trying to decide if paint or tape was the best solution for the future. Paint is more durable but more difficult to change for future kaizens. Tape is very flexible for change but wears out quicker. With some debating, the team arrived at a unified solution to go with floor tape. With the certainty of future kaizens, tape is the most flexible option. To help us sustain the improvements, monitoring and replacing the floor tape as needed was added to the walk through 5S evaluation form as a special item.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Welcome Honda to Greensburg, Indiana!

I learned earlier today that Honda Motor Company has set a press conference for 10:30 am tomorrow in my hometown of Greensburg, Indiana to officially announce that Greensburg will be the new site for their latest North American car plant. It has been estimated that 1,500 jobs will be added to my community to build 200,000 cars annually by 2008. The investment of $400 million to open this plant will be a great shot in the arm locally. Honda is a world class operation with a strong lean manufacturing background that may help improve our quest to improve manufacturing in Indiana. Welcome Honda to Greensburg, Indiana!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Big Band-Aid

I read an interesting article recently on the Study of Emergency Room (ER) Wait Times in the United States. Apparently, my home state of Indiana ranked 16th out of 49 states in the study so we are a little better than average. According to the article, the national average wait time is 3 hours, 42 minutes. Iowa was the nation's best with an average wait time of 2 hours 18 minutes while those seeking emergency help in Arizona waited a painful 4 hours and 57 minutes on average. This is just the average in each state, not the range from high to low. Makes me wonder what the variation was in the wait time. This measurement is not comforting especially if you are one of the unlucky patients on the upper end of the bell curve! Yet, there is more to this story.

The focus of the article centered on the need for hospitals to start seeing patients as customers and the patient satisfaction level linked to long waits. First of all, I have the highest level of respect for all the doctors, nurses and the entire ER staff for their skill and dedication in saving lives. I always assumed as a patient that we were already thought of as a customer by the ER staff. Well, at least the very few times in my life I experienced the services at an ER, the staff displayed extreme compassion and outstanding responsiveness to the medical emergency surrounding my family. I guess from the medical side of the equation that may be a false assumption across our nation.

I do not consider the ER environment your typical model of a service provider and customer. Can you imagine a patient (customer) shopping around for an ER while needing emergency medical attention? Or a patient (customer) leaves an ER due to the long wait as if we were at a restaurant waiting for a table? The biggest factor in my opinion is that in typical service models, it is a first come, first serve system and the ER service model is based on severity of the medical emergency determining the priority. As a result, some people who use the emergency room may have to wait longer if their "emergency" is not life threatening to allow other patients with urgent medical needs to be treated first. Yes, some patients will cut in line ahead of others to save a life increasing the wait time for some of us. I would not want it any other way!

However, from my lean manufacturing point of view, I see the need for improvement in our healthcare system including the ER setting. The lean healthcare focus is beginning to spread across our nation to address some of the wastes without compromising the health and welfare of patients. Since time is one of the major factors that may help save lives, the velocity of the value stream to treat a patient should be constantly improved. With healthcare cost soaring, the entire healthcare system merits observation, study and analysis to determine improvement opportunities.

One point in the article that really jumped out at me was the "solution" to the long ER wait suggested by one consulting firm. They suggest that by regularly communicating with the patient their status in queue while they waited, the patient level satisfaction level will be higher compared to patients left in the dark waiting for medical treatment. Although the data may support some increased level of satisfaction, this recommendation is just a big band-aid. It accepts that status quo of long waits instead of seeking out the root causes and setting in place the proper counter measures.

But upon reflection, I see that we have this same mindset in manufacturing. How many of us guilty of looking for "trick" ways to improve the measurement and ignore addressing the root cause of the problem? How many of us have added secondary operations like reaming, repairing, trimming, wiping, cleaning, touch-up, grinding, etc, to compensate for a problem to keep our lines running and never address the root cause of the problem? When our manufacturing emergency hits, we put in the band-aid fix at break-neck speed to get our lines back up and running or make the parts pass. We are manufacturing heroes! Hurray!

We all agree that this band-aid fix is just temporary until we get a chance to fix the real problem. How long do we define temporary? Is it one shift? Is it just until the next day. Is it next week? Is it just until our plant shutdown? Maybe never?

Do we as manufacturers manage our resources like in the ER where the severity of the problem determines the priority of our response? Sure we do. However, unlike the ER where every medical case is addressed, many problems in manufacturing are never fixed. Our band-aid becomes the permanent fix and we accept the waste created as just the cost of doing business. How many band-aids exist in your manufacturing process today?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Shadow Board?

I came across this example of a prototype shadow board at a Kaizen Report out I was invited to recently. This shadow board is extremely well done, professionally crafted and looks down right impressive. All items are veay easy to identify on the board. All that is needed are some hooks/holders for the items and then it will be ready to hang up. You may think this shadow board was an expensive endeavor or overkill however it was designed and manufacturing internally at little actual cost. So what is the problem from a lean manufacturing point of view?

It's too good! The photos were so well done that at first glance you would think that all items are present and accounted for. The principle of a shadow board to show a shadow of an item for quick and easy identification of a missing item. That is why a black spot outlined in the profile of the item along with a written label works best.

Old Japanese Proverb

"Fall seven times. Stand up eight."
Old Japanese Proverb.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

White Board Muda

While conducting six sigma training last week, I noticed that both large white boards in the training room were filled with value stream maps and other information developed by improvement teams. Pretty cool to see evidence of lean improvements in progress. However, I also noticed white board muda.

On each white board, written notes of "Do not Erase" and "Save" were strategically placed to prevent anyone from removing the previous work on the board. It seems like a good idea to save the work and poka-yoke (mistake proof) the information to prevent being accidentally erased. But during my training course, or any other future training in this room, the white boards could not be used while this information was saved. Despite the request to "Save", it's no guarantee that the information will not be erased.

Next to the "Do not Erase" was no additional information like who wants it saved or for how long. It could be weeks or months that the white boards remain frozen in time holding this information and preventing its use during this time.

As a lean tip: Do not practice the habit of writing "Do not erase" on important information conceived on the white board. It could be erased anyway and the white boards can not be put back into action for others. Quickly transfer this information to save it and wipe the white boards clean.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It's Back to the Real World

Remember back to any of your training sessions or seminars, at least the good ones that sparked your imagination or helped you see the light with a mental clarity never before experienced. You know that feeling of absolute, crystal clear, laser beam focus, sense of higher purpose type motivation that you felt. Do you recall those feelings as you left the session armed with your new insights and skills ready to put them in action? Then what happened? In many cases, that wonderful, burning passion is doused with the icy, cold water of reality. The reality back at your plant, your office, your company. It's back to the real world!

What is waiting for you is simple chaos. Your email inbox is filled with tons of new messages, most of which are not all that important and many requiring some sort of response upon your immediate return. Depending on the email culture within your company, it may take you the better part of the morning, if not all day to clean up the email aftermath of a prolonged absence. Not to mention, notes posted on your door to add to your "To Do List Upon Return". Then you have the line of people waiting days to talk with you about some problem, decision or assignment.

Speaking of assignments, a few of your project tasks got moved up and these tasks needed to be completed yesterday. Didn't you get the email? In addition, the priorities have changed on a couple of projects, all moving up naturally. Oh, we also have a new vision from corporate that needs to be incorporated into our overall strategic planning because we didn't hit our quarterly numbers. It's top, top priority.

On top of emails, you have a string of voice mails needing your attention. Some are extremely urgent among the marketing messages for renewing your free magazine subscription to Global Manufacturing World. Hurry, it's due to expire if you do not respond immediately. Buried in all the messages, several customer need you to contact them ASAP. Your new top priority.

Did I mention the snail mail piled on your desk or mail slot? But most of that can wait because the majority of it consists of junk mail anyway. For the most part, it's more free technical publications or some other form of direct attack marketing messages.

Of course your boss will need to speak with you immediately because something hot just hit the fan...and it's been smelling up the place for the past few days. You rush around trying to cover all the bases and before you know it, it's time to wrap up for the end of the day. You scramble to organize your revised "To Do List" for first thing in the morning. Just a few more quick messages to send out before you can shut down your computer.

As you slowly drag yourself to your car to head home for the day, you vaguely remember something. It seemed important. You can't quite put your finger on it. Oh well, tomorrow's going to be another busy day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lessons Learned

After a long blogging break this past month, I am back to the blogging world. Thank you for all the emails asking if I am still here and I apologize for my lack of posts. Over the past few weeks, I have plunged into the lean consulting world full time after 24 years of corporate life. My initial reaction, to quote Neo in The Matrix, "Whoa!"

This week, I am wrapping up a six sigma green belt course attended by individuals from four companies in Indianapolis. The students are excellent and highly motivated, ready to apply their newly acquired skills to reduce variation in their processes. This brings me to my topic of lessons learned.

Many times I have seen the eyes of motivation following a training session like this one, regardless if the training is six sigma, lean, from a kaizen event or any other management training session. But soon, this motivation wears out, lessons forgotten and the problems remain unsolved. Why?

I do not profess to hold the key to all the answers to this long standing problem. If I did, I guess I would not have a shortage of future consulting work would I. But I do have some initial thoughts on this barrier to success in training.

My first thought is that maybe we have not taught the lessons well enough in the first place. Just by attending a high energy, content rich course like a six sigma green belt course does not mean that this knowledge has been passed on. Sure, the students nod their heads in a display of understanding or they ask pointed questions as if they are fine tuning their brains on this information. It's not enough!

My course was heavily laced with "learning by doing". I did not accept the nod of the head as my signal of acquired knowledge. I made my students try it out, give it a test drive and figure out how it really works by doing. Although the practice of learning by doing has been a part of my training style for years, I am always amazed by how little I see this approach used in corporate training. What seemed so easy to grasp in lecture proves not so easy in practice. More questions were generated through each learning by doing activity than the previous "lecture" portion and my students connected the dots.

Examine your training practices for the amount of hands on time your students receive then double it. Find creative ways to allow your students to explore and discover this new knowledge along with practice time. This learning by doing eliminates the initial frustration of trying it out back at their own companies. Maybe this is one way to keep the motivation fires burning. More on this topic will follow.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Lean Failures

We all experience failures on our lean journeys. Most of the time, all you hear about are the success stories with dramatic results in leadtime, inventory and floor space. Very little is spoken of the failures and actions taken to overcome them. During my lean journey, I have learned more about lean and myself when faced with these failures. Every company on a lean journey has faced failures. If you are struggling on your lean journey, you are not alone and there are many ways to overcome failure.

1) Keep Trying. The first lesson is to understand and accept failures as you move forward with applying lean principles. Use these failures as powerful learning experiences. If you keep trying, you will overcome the problems. Countless times, leaders of companies have told me that they are on their third or fourth attempt at lean due to past failures. It would easy for any one of these companies to give up but they are persistent in their quest of lean. Real failure does not occur until you give up.

2) Fully Engage. Some companies start their lean journey as a part-time project. They may make a formal announcement and assign the lean project to one of the executives to oversee. Initial improvements are made but within a few months the lean initiative falls by the wayside. To succeed, they company should not dip their toes in the water but jump in the shallow end and start learning to swim. Become fully engaged in the pursuit of lean from the CEO/Owner to the temp workers. Lean is not delegated to just the manufacturing shop floor, its a philosophy of continuous improvement for the entire organization. Don't battle waste in your company, declare war on waste.

3) Seek Help. In American culture today, we are driven by the self-help mentality. We have self service at the gas pumps, self serve drinks in many restaurants, self-help books, do-it-yourself home repair/remodeling, self-serve airline ticket kiosks and self serve banking with ATM machines. For the most part, we like the freedom and independence to do it ourselves for personal satisfaction or to save money. This go-it-alone approach may work in some cases but not succeed in all. Look at any championship team, did they win by individuals working alone without seeking help? No. Even professional athletes who are top in their game have coaches and trainers plus countless other support personnel to continuously improve their game. These coaches and trainers provide value in helping improve the performance of any athlete. The same goes for your golf game. Golf is a simple game to understand but difficult to achieve a great performance without seeking help. A coach or teacher can help you improve your golf game beyond what you are capable by yourself. Lean is the just the same and seeking help is the best way to succeed.

4) Share the Wealth. A few companies that attempt to use the lean approach are motivated purely by self interests. I am not referring to companies that are trying to compete in the global market or trying to turn things around. The self-interest I am talking about is greed to feed their seemingly never ending appetite for earnings usually at the expense of customers, employees and suppliers all in the name of just doing business. From my point of view, this short sighted business approach will mark the decline and ultimate demise of these companies. Just like dinosaurs that once roamed this planet, their days will end. To succeed on your lean journey, take the opposite approach and share the wealth. Pass on a portion of the savings to your customers, improve pay or perks to employees and partner with your suppliers. If you focus on solely internal savings, there will only be small gains. Take the viewpoint to improve things directly for your customer. Make tasks easier and better for employees. Help your suppliers improve their operation and share the savings. By sharing the wealth, everyone benefits and additional gains are created. There is strength in numbers so don't create a culture of us (the corporate inner circle of trust) against them (your management, employees, customers and suppliers). Expand your circle of trust and share the wealth.

5) Listen to Others. Some management believe that they know better than others, especially employees, on what to do or how to run the business. The best source of expert knowledge is found with your employees. Instead of telling them what to do all the time, ask them how we can make your job easier or better. Listen carefully to them and then take action to improve their jobs! Ask them to help solve other problems like declining sales or capacity issues. You will be surprized at the improvement ideas that they can come up with that you would not have discovered. Don't just listen to your employees, take the time to really listen to your customers and suppliers. Engage them to find out how you can improve, then fix it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Most Meetings are Muda (Waste)

When it comes to meetings, most are excellent forums in providing direction, information and focus. However, I also find that many of them are wasteful (Muda). In the spirit of kaizen (continuous improvement) and lean principles, we can improve the way we conduct meetings. I will not waste your time and regurgitate all the expert based meeting protocols like following an established agenda, having a meeting plan, taking meeting notes, etc. All these ideas are great and work well. Instead, I have a list of a few meeting musts that may guide you to more productive meeting time.

Your Meetings:

Must have a Real Purpose. I think it would be safe to say that some meetings are unnecessary in the first place. Try other means of communication instead of automatically calling a meeting. If you need to be kept in the loop on what is going on, just leave the comforts of your office and go to gemba (the actual place and see for yourself). Eliminate all meetings that are not needed. If you must have a meeting, share the purpose and detailed objectives upfront.

Must be Short. I have attend my fair share of all day meetings that could have been conducted in a fraction of the time. This seems especially true when outside management or consultants drop by and fill everybody's day with "meeting time". If your meetings tend to last over 1 hour, your meeting scope is too large. Educational experts tell us that most adults have about a 20 minute attention span for lectures/meetings. That means that while their bodies are still in the meeting, their minds have already wondered off by the 20 minute mark. At your next long meeting, after about 20 minutes, just look around the room at all the doodlers, the daydreamers and the disconnected. Keep it short and keep everyone engaged.

Must Avoid the History Lessons. How many meetings have you attended that a history dissertation about the problem, project or people is repeated. On top of that, this history lesson has been replayed more times then NBC shows reruns. Enough with the history lessons, that's why we should have meaningful meeting notes/minutes, Right? If you need to catch up, look it up ahead of time or ask someone outside of the meeting!

Must Avoid the Recap. This one is similar to the history lesson. How many meetings have you attended that someone shows up considerable late and the meeting leaders stops the current discussion to go back and recap what has happen so far in this meeting for that person? Usually this person is someone higher up the organizational chart so everybody patiently waits (and zones out) on the recap. Regardless if you are the VP, CEO or Owner, it is rude to subject everybody to this recap and wasteful. It is far better to keep the flow of the meeting going and catching up later. At the very least, call a short break to allow everyone to check their messages, etc, and allow the meeting leader to recap the newcomer one-on-one.

Must Limit the Attendees. I think it's great to want to include everybody but for most meetings only a core group of people is really necessary depending on the purpose. It is a waste for people to sit through long meetings for only one agenda item. Have the other support people or members concerned with smaller portions just pop in and out for their parts. After the meeting, share with the entire group (core members and other interested parties) the detailed meeting minutes.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Innovation, Leadership, Sales and Lean Manufacturing

This past week, as I was visiting a few manufacturing companies in Cincinnati, I found a few hours of free time in my schedule. Nearby was a popular bookstore chain so I popped in to catch up on the new publications.

Although it came as no surprised to me, the business section was filled with only a limited number of topics. What I found most interesting was how many different books were available on these select few "Hot Topics" . Based on these hot topics, it appears that the only things important in business today is to learn how to innovate, learn how be a leader, and just sell more.

In my unscientific survey, the hottest topic/trend in business today is innovation. Just check out the latest BusinessWeek, Fast Company or Business 2.0. and the fast selling books on the subject. It seems that the answer top business people are looking for to "grow" their companies is to improve their innovation. Innovation is the last hope for American business, if you believed everything you read. All we need is a better mousetrap to compete in the global marketplace.

The second most popular topic is probably leadership. The leadership books come in all shapes, sizes and forms. New leaders, political leaders, CEOs, famous people, and even fictional characters (leadership by Winnie-the-Pooh), all have important lessons for management on how to lead. I wonder who is actually buying these types of books and which CEOs have read what books to help formulate their management foundation. It just a little bit scary to think that based on the popularity of the leadership topic that many executives really don't know how to lead. By just reading the business headlines an any given day, I guess it is not a stretch to see that strong leadership qualities are hard to find in many companies.

Finally, I found a hoard of sales/marketing books on the shelves. Once we have our new mousetrap, we need to sell it. Make every man, woman and child believe that they need whatever we are selling and that can be done through marketing. You know what they say, increased sales solves all the business problems in world.

What was lacking in my search were lean manufacturing related books. I only found 2 books out of the hundreds across several shelves. What does this tell you about lean in mainstream American business today. Lean is not a hot topic. I'm sure if you compare lean blogs to blogs on innovation, leadership and sales/marketing, the same holds true. That's really a shame since those of us that have witnesses the power of lean principles know the positive impact lean principles can have on a company.

If you want to be a best selling business author, you should make the title of your next book "Innovative Sales Leadership". It is sure to hit number 1 on the bestseller lists.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Don't Ignore your Water Spider

A few years back, I learned a valuable lean lesson- "Don't ignore your water spider." A water spider is the name given by our Japanese sensei (teacher) for a material handler or stock person. While I was working with the stretcher assembly line at Hill-Rom, the world's leader in manufacturing hospital beds, we faced tremendous growth and change. The stretcher production was scheduled for six new model releases, one every six to eight months, to run down the same final assembly line. Our sales were steadily climbing. The line balances/standard work content along with the department layout was in constant "change" mode to keep up the dynamic conditions caused by the new product introductions and growing production requirements.

Several lean techniques were used to meet these challenges like conducting multiple kaizen events, running 3P events (Production Preparation Process), right-sizing assembly stations, kiting of component delivery, production smoothing, using supermarkets and point of use locations, etc. For the most part, the improvements to the manufacturing process kept pace with the rapid changes.

In the midst of all this change, I focused mainly on the "waste elimination" of the direct labor piece and gave little attention to any indirect labor activities. The line was set up for the water spider to present the material to each line operator to maximize the direct labor work content on building the stretchers and not on getting their own stock. The component stock levels for each workstation ranged from 5 pieces to daily replenishment while the main line was one piece flow with mixed models. As the line grew in size and complexity, so did the work load of our water spider.

It didn't take too long for our water spider to start complaining that she couldn't keep up and was completely wore out by the end of the shift. The operators on the assembly line also complained that the water spider wasn't doing her job, so many times they ended up getting their own stock. The frustration on the line was growing as fast as our sales.

That week, I worked with our water spider to clearly define her standard work load. For every workstation on the assembly line, I created a spaghetti diagram of the stock replenishment path to the supermarket location. It was a mess! Our water spider even wore a pedometer to log the typical distance she traveled. She clocked over 18 miles on one shift! No wonder she was wore out at the end of each day.

Her frustration with the job was so high that she was not willing to offer any suggestions for improvement and just wanted to bid out to another department. Our water spider told me that fancy charts and spaghetti diagrams could never show how difficult it was to do her job and that I should walk a day in her shoes to really understand her problems. So I did. Since she was scheduled for vacation the following week, I decided to assume her duties for the week pending approval by the union and my boss. With a little persuasion, both the union and my boss gave me the green light.

Our water spider agreed that I could make any improvements to her current standard work while she was out, anything would be better. Upon her return, we would modify any of the changes if needed. She left on vacation laughing and wished me "Good luck, you'll need it!"

My first day as a water spider, I felt like I had a target on my back. None of the assembly line operators stocked any of their components that day and yelled at me, with great joy I might add, to hurry up, they were out of this part or that part! Even the line supervisor took particular pleasure in yelling at me to do my job and not hold up the line. I was running around as fast as I could just to keep up with no thoughts of following any standard work. It was pure survival mode. I could not wait for the shift to end! By the time the shift did end, my entire body ached and I really understood the material handling problems. It was going to gemba (actual place) to the extreme. I also became a true believer of the lean thinking to make it easier, better, faster and cheaper (in that order).

After the first day, no matter what, I was not going to give up or suffer through another day like this one. During the breaks and lunch, I did manage to organize my ideas on what needed changed first. With all the previous line changes, the supermarkets for many of the components were now located too far from the point of use. Also, many of the drop stock location were not placed correctly. The spaghetti diagrams showed it but after working as the water spider, I now felt it. I stayed late that first night making several improvements.

The second night was little better and I quickly evaluated the improvements from the night before. Later that second night, I made more improvements. Each day, I continued the cycle of experimenting with the improvements and making adjustments to see what worked best. By the end of the week, my pedometer reading hit only 10,000 steps or five miles and not one line operator had to get their own parts or screamed for me the entire shift.

When our water spider returned, I spent the day with her demonstrating all the improvements. Although she did not like all the changes, she greatly appreciated the overall improvements in her new standard work. The best change was that she started freely expressing her ideas for additional improvements. By improving her standard work to the point that she could manage it, the dread for her job shifted to one of greater satisfaction.

My mistake was that I did not pay enough attention to the standard work of our water spider and concentrated on the direct labor work. Yes, even indirect work activities should have standard work. Based on lean teachings, we should eliminate waste everywhere and remove burdens of ALL employees. The support functions of material handling should not be ignored. The same can be said for maintenance, tooling, etc. Strong, efficient support functions go a long way to improving the flow of the value stream.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Acronym Answers

Before I list the answers to the acronym quiz in Avoid Acronyms, what did you answer for NOPP? If we have the same point of reference, you would say NOPP stands for Normal Probability Paper. But what if you said NOPP stood for National Oceanographic Partnership Program? Would you be wrong? No, that answer is just as correct as my interpretation. The same is true if you thought NOPP stood for National Office of Pollution Prevention, or National Office Products and Printing or even Notice of Privacy Practices.

Your understanding depends on your point of view and knowledge base. If we must tackle the cultural shift required to successfully implement lean principles, don't let simple things like acronyms (or even Japanese terms used in lean) create roadblock to understanding. I am not saying to eliminate all acronyms or even the Japanese terms. Just realize that their use can be a major roadblock to gaining understanding. So if you can't avoid acronyms, put in some countermeasures.

1. Educate
Assume people around you don't know what any of the acronyms or words mean. Spend time teaching them so that everyone is on the same level of understanding.

2. Spell it out
Make it your responsibility to spell it out for them. Regardless if it is spoken or written, add the long version or meaning with the acronym (or potentially unfamiliar terms like the Japanese lean terms). I try to do this in all my training programs and even on this blog site, but sometimes I can easily forget to include the meanings. I apologize to everyone if I have not made it clear or made it difficult to easily understand when I slip in acronyms and Japanese lean terms.

3. Create an Acronym Dictionary and Glossary of Terms
In some easily accessible format (web page, section in your quality manual, your employee handbook, etc) that will be used by everyone, create an acronym dictionary and glossary of terms. This reference document will help everybody understand what is meant by these acronyms and terms.

For examples and references:

The Free Dictionary is a cool site on the web to get information on acronyms and terms.

Several lean sites have acronym and definitions like:

iSix Sigma online dictionary

Curious Cat online dictionary

Glossarist for listing of different industry related dictionaries

Also, check out the Johnson Controls Automotive Group Supplier Handbook online for their listing of acronyms and glossary of terms. The Johnson Controls Automotive Group Supplier Handbook is full of other great examples for quality and continuous improvement ideas/formats. Side quality note: Johnson Controls supplier expectation is 0 PPM (zero defects)! Cool Expectations!

Acronym Answers: *(From my point of view)

FOB Free on Board
COGS Cost of Goods Sold
MRP Material Requirements Planning
FAX Facsimile
QFD Quality Function Deployment
DPMO Defects Per Million Opportunities
KPOV Key Process Output Variable
NOPP Normal Probability Paper*
COPQ Cost Of Poor Quality
HIKE High Impact Kaizen Event
SMED Single Minute Exchange of Dies
OTED One Touch Exchange of Dies
JIT Just in Time

Monday, April 03, 2006

Avoid Acronyms

Do you know what these acronyms stand for?

You may know what each and everyone stands for however does everybody around you know what you are talking about?

Clear and effective communication is one of the universal "must haves" for any successful approach in business and in life. The best strategies in the world fall short when barriers to communication prevent understanding. So why do we allow barriers to sneak into our everyday life like using acronyms?

Do we want to sound more intelligent than everyone else around us? Do we want to create an exclusive membership to a selective base of knowledge ( industry, approach, field)? Or is it that other groups have their special acronyms so we want some too?

By avoiding acronyms, you will greatly improve your success rate in any approach, including lean manufacturing.

One of the ways to help break this poor communication habit is to always ask someone who is using an acronym- "Excuse me, what does that stand for? I have done this at many meetings, even when I knew what it stood for. You would be surprised at how many people came up to me after the meeting to say that they did not know what that particular acronym meant either. They just did not have the courage to ask. How many people in your company are afraid to ask?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sayings of Shigeo Shingo

"Get a grip on the status quo. The most magnificent improvement scheme would be worthless if your perception of the current situation is in error. We tend to think that fictitious facts are real. By this we do not grasp the real facts or simply hypothesize facts using guess work, or we ignore changes over time and assume things are the same as they used to be." - Shigeo Shingo

In other words, go to gemba often!

Monday, March 27, 2006

We have Quality Checks, but are they being done???

A recent quality issue occurred with one of our suppliers of pre-coated steel. This steel material has a designated specification for paint thickness with a typical +/- allowable tolerance. In our application, the coating needed to be just thick enough to deter rust yet thin enough to allow proper welding.

On a recent shipment, our welders were having a difficult time welding the steel. With our positector, a devise used to measure coating thickness, we quickly measured several samples and found that the coating thickness was all over the map. In some cases, the measured thickness was well over the tolerance range by 3 times the specification causing the welding problem.

We contacted our supplier on this problem. In response, our supplier provided their quality check data from this lot showing everything measuring within tolerance. They suggested that we change the specification if this was not working for us. Our supplier believed that their process was in control even though what we measured on the actual parts did not match their data. To help our supplier in their investigation, we returned several pieces of the nonconforming material.

A few days later, our supplier humbly apologized for the inconvenience caused by these nonconforming parts that were clearly out of spec. When they dug a little deeper in their investigation, they discovered that the quality check procedures were not being followed. The first shift operation was only making 2 checks instead of 10 checks while the second and third shifts were not doing any of the 10 quality checks. All the shifts just filled out the quality check sheet with random numbers to show that 10 checks were completed and within acceptable limits. When management reviewed the reports, everything looked good.

Our supplier assures us that the supervisor has been informed of the problem and that the quality checks are now being performed according to the proper procedures. To their credit, the next shipment was acceptable.

With clearly defined procedures in place, we assume people are doing their quality checks, but are they??? Maybe not! Worse yet, do you find out on your own or when your customer complains?

As a lean thinker, would you accept this suppliers corrective action? How confident would you be that these parts will remain within acceptable tolerance? What course of action would you take if you were this supplier?

Using lean manufacturing principles as our guide, here are several suggestions that may improve our suppliers quality checks.

The first course of action is to verify that the quality checks are being correctly conducted. Regular process audits and a solid verification process will provide the frame work of monitoring your "real" process output.

#2 Genchi Genbutsu
Follow the principle of genchi genbutsu which means "going to the place to see the actual situation for understanding". Management should not rely on reports to understand the process or determine how things are running in their operation. Go out to the shop floor and see for yourself.

#3 Poka-Yoke
Quality checks are fine however preventing the problems in the first place is a better course of action. Put poka-yoke or mistake proofing devices into place. Yes, the more poka-yoke devices the better. Make the process error proof and put countermeasures in place to improve the process.

#4 Keep it Simple
Increasing inspection and adding complex quality procedures will not solve the problem. Why did the employees not follow the original quality plan of 10 quality checks? Ask the 5 whys to get at the root cause. Maybe the quality check process was too complex. Work with the operators to develop a simple, easy quality check plan.