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?