Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Batesville Casket named IW Top 10 Plant 2007

It was officially announced today that our Vicksburg Plant located in Vicksburg, Mississippi was named one of Industry Weeks Top 10 Plants in North America for 2007. It is a nice honor for this hard working, dedicated team for their improvement efforts. You can read more about their lean journey at Batesville Casket IW Best Plants 2007.

For the Batesville Casket Company, this makes three of our five manufacturing plants recognized with this honor in the last four years. You can read about our Batesville Plant IW Top 10 Plant 2006 and our Manchester Plant IW Top 10 Plant 2004 at these Industry Week links. Don’t be surprised if our two remaining plants step up to the challenge, both are well run plants on the lean journey.

Although I am not a big fan of these types of awards because it can cause complacency on the improvement journey, it does reflect the improvements realized on the lean journey to date. One of my responsibilities as the Lean Sensei for Batesville Casket is to prevent this complacency from taking root. Continuous improvement is forever regardless of how many awards, achievements or remarkable improvements you accomplish.

In the words of Henry Ford, “Our own attitude is that we are charged with discovering the best way of doing everything, and that we must regard every process employed in manufacturing as purely experimental. If we reach a stage of production which seems remarkable as compared with what has gone before, than that is just a stage of production and nothing more. It is not and cannot be anything more than that. We know from changes that have already been brought about that far greater changes are to come, and that therefore we are not performing a single operation as well as it ought to be performed.”

With this said, I know from leading two kaizen teams last month in Vicksburg that we still have opportunities for improvement and that the Vicksburg Team is not satisfied with the status quo. Congratulations to the Batesville Casket Vicksburg Plant and to all the other winners.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Go Big Green and Red

Let’s hear it for the big green and red! A powerhouse team that is unbeatable.

No, this is not to cheer on a particular college or pro team. If I was yelling out team colors it would be green and gold for the Green Bay Packers. A dominate (and surprising) 10-1 record to date in the NFL season with a big game coming up against a worthy Dallas Cowboy team (also 10-1). It should prove to be a great game on Thursday night. Enough locker room talk and back to business.

No, this is not to celebrate the holiday season typically represented by the colors of green and red. Some could even argue that these colors represent the money (green) and debt (red) with the commercialization of Christmas and the hyped shopping season. Again, I digress.

No, it’s not to support a healthier lifestyle by eating more fruits and vegetables by colors (as in more greens and reds in our diet). Although this is a good message for the holiday season, we are faced with increased temptation of holiday snacking and desserts during the festive season.

What I am cheering for is the powerhouse team of green and red in our visual management system. How many times have you looked at a chart, graph or dashboard metric in typical black and white, needing a few minutes to determine the numbers to figure out the status? Sometimes it takes more than a few minutes. With the low cost of color printers, color markers and color tape, there is no reason not to use the power of green and red.

For example, the basic metrics of quality, cost, delivery and safety in most policy deployment charts could be highlighted in a green box (for good) or a red box (for needs improvement). Or you could use a dial gage indicator with green and red zones for the same effect. Take a look at your metric chart. Is it visual? Is it simple? Is it clear?

Another chart that I see typically in black and white is the work cell hour by hour chart. It is difficult to quickly determine the status on most hour by hour charts that use just a black marker. How about adding the power of green and red? Use the black marker for the target numbers and either green (made target) or red (missed target) for the actual numbers depending on the actual results. With the power of green and red, anyone one quickly see the production status.

Can you think of any other visual management areas that can be improved with the power of green and red? How about 5S audit sheets or project status charts?

So this holiday season, I wish everyone peace and joy. And remember to cheer for the Packers, reflect this holiday season on good will towards all man over gift giving, eat healthy with more fruits and vegetables and most importantly, may the power of green and red be with you.

Monday, November 19, 2007

One Kaizen Goal + Safety

A kaizen event should be focused on only one goal plus any safety improvements you can make to the process. Many times I have worked on kaizen events with multiple goals only to see the team lose focus in the middle of the event or the team splitting up to work on them individually.

This is not to say that multiple accomplishments can not be achieved during an event, only that a single focus is better to keep the efforts of the team on track. In my experience, a simple productivity goal works best for a kaizen event. This can be measured in time and/or distance.

It is not uncommon to see a WIP reduction goal on a kaizen event. Any WIP reduction should be a result of kaizen and not specified as a targeted goal to prevent teams from simply removing this inventory without process improvements. With actual process improvements, the need for excess WIP will be removed and the reduction will occur with better, sustainable results.

With one focused goal, many of the brainstorming activities will be improved by increasing the quantity of ideas on one topic area versus multiple ideas across a wide topic range. It forces that team to think deeper into ways to achieve a focused objective.

As for safety improvements, I recommend a small target of 3 to 5 safety improvements per team. This helps emphasize the importance of safety in conjunction with kaizen and may prove challenging in some processes. We should always work at making our workplace safer at every possible opportunity including kaizen events.

Lean Sensei

As you may have noticed, my posting activity has slowed down a bit over the past couple of months. It was not my intent to limit my posts lately, just a result of completing work for a few clients and starting my new role as Lean Sensei for the Batesville Casket Company.

It is an honor to be worthy of such a title and with this honor, a deep sense of responsibility to help guide a lean journey. Even though I will be the corporate lean teacher, I will always remain a student.

My consulting company will continue to operate with the help of others however my involvement will be limited as I focus my full time efforts with Batesville. I will continue blogging about my experiences and lean lessons learned.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Anyone who describes the lean journey as a well defined, narrow, straight line path, filled with do’s and don’ts or absolute right’s and wrong’s, ending up with a completely waste free organization has not traveled very far down this road. In my opinion, the lean journey is more like two steps forward and one step back with plenty of winding curves, wrong turns, pot holes and other road hazards to make life interesting.

How many companies, including Toyota, can honestly say that their lean journey is smooth sailing and trouble free?

The lean journey is difficult, messy, and even uncertain at times. That is why we do not see many organizations as examples of long term lean success. Some just give up or rationalize that we are lean enough. Can anyone really be lean enough? For others, the risk in trying something new is just too high of a price so the status quo wins out as the safe bet. For many, there is simply no interest in the lean journey.

I must admit, part of the allure of the lean journey for me is the challenge. It’s not about the challenge to master the lean tools. It’s not even about the challenge to eliminate waste. For me, the challenge is helping create a learning culture that drives continuous improvement forever, even as we go two steps forward and one step back.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Think Milk

While teaching the concept of 5S and visual management with lean thinking, I have successful used a simple technique I call “Think Milk”.

Ask the participants to close their eyes for a moment, and then ask them to visualize themselves back in their homes. Ask them to see themselves standing at the entrance of their kitchen. Ask them to look at their refrigerator and began walking towards it. Have them reach out and open the refrigerator door. Then ask them to pick up their milk. Finally, ask them to now open their eyes.

At this point, open the discussion by asking a series of questions. First question, “Where was the milk found in their refrigerator?”. Ask several individuals, expecting to hear answers like the right hand door, or top shelf left hand side, etc. Make the point that although each person my have different locations, each of us has a designated spot for our milk. This is associated the 5S principle of “A place for everything, and everything in its place”.

Ask the group, “Do you put your milk in other locations, like a cabinet, a pantry or cupboard?” followed by “Why not?”or “What if you did?”. This opens up points like spoilage, not finding it when needed or purchasing more milk when not need, etc. This leads to the principle of standardization.

Ask the group, “Do they put milk into their refrigerator dirty, i.e. milk running down the sides, or maybe food particles on the sides, or even without the cap securely fastened on top?”. Of course not and discuss why. This point to the clean step of 5S.

The next question, “What type of milk container do you have?”. It is possible to have several answers however the most popular is the gallon jug. Ask the group, “What do you notice about the container that is useful?”. Here you want to get the group to identify several features including the ergonomic handle, the clear plastic to see the milk level, the expiration date, the label with the type of milk (skim, 1%, 2%) and the color code for the type of milk (pink, blue, red). These features improve the visual management of buying and using the milk.

Ask the group, “What happens if the milk is not consumed oldest date first?”. Expect to hear that it goes bad, gets lumpy, smells bad, etc. Then ask “What do you do with this milk?”. It is thrown out which follows that you want to use the FIFO principle to minimize wasted milk.

Then ask the group, “How many gallons of milk do they purchase and store at one time?”. Usually only a couple gallons at a time are bought depending on family size. Ask the group, “What if you bought 15 or 20 gallons at a time because it was on sale?”. This leads to the discussion points of holding excess inventory, buying a second refrigerator, excess consumption, risk of spoilage, etc. which you can relate to holding inventory in your workplace.

Wrap up the discussion by stating that milk is a simple example of lean principles we follow daily in each of our own lives. If you look close enough, all the 5S principles are present along with visual management. By thinking milk, it is easy to understand and teach some of the basic lean principles. Please try the “Think Milk” techniques next time you have a training session and have fun with it. It really can get the group thinking lean.

Evolution of Six Sigma

In the beginning, there were no colored belts and we focused only on the end customer, reducing warranty costs and getting it right the first time. It was named six sigma and it was good.

Over time, we added black belts and increased the use of advanced statistical tools. This called the six sigma way and it was better.

Soon we saw the need for more definition and including others to help the black belts in their quality quest so we added green belts. This made the black belts happy.

Eventually, the black belts grew numerous by order of the King. These black belts expanded their search for variation reduction to all corners of the kingdom including even processes in the Human Resources Department but still lacked direction. So we added Master Black Belts to lead them.

As we look across the kingdom today, we can now see yellow belts, gold belts, white belts, master black belts and even Grand Master Black Belts added to the royal order of belts. Everyone must have a colored belt to save the kingdom money regardless if it actually helps the end customer. And the only way to fix a problem is through a black belt project, green belt project or even a lime green project (in between a green belt level project and a yellow belt level project). I guess calling it a lime green project is better then calling it a pea green project.

But is this good? Maybe we should go back to the basics and focus on the customer, reduce warranty cost and getting it right the first time.

How Many People Did You Cut?

Believe it or not, at one of my recent kaizen events this past month, a plant production manager asked the team, “How many people did you cut?”. Our event focus was quality related in improving the process to make the product right the first time and we did not cut any associates from the process. If this was not bad enough, this production manager repeated the question two more times!

What kind of message do you think he was sending the team? How many company associates do you think want to volunteer for the next kaizen event? With his question, what do you think kaizen means to him?

Let’s make this crystal clear: Kaizen is not about cutting people!

As lean thinkers, we should focus on our growth strategy. With a growth strategy, we reassign people from kaizen to perform other tasks that add value to our customer. A better question to ask is “What value added tasks can we accomplish with labor available from kaizen?”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Picking a Kaizen Team

Over the past month, I have worked with four kaizen teams focused on shop floor improvements, quality issues and office processes. As always, despite our struggles, improvements are put into place at the end of the kaizen week long event. Everything seems normal however I noticed a recent trend that points us in the wrong direction on our lean journey.

The problem is the composition of the Kaizen Team. All of these teams were mainly comprised of management personnel with little representation from the shop floor level associates. One of the kaizen events was divided up into two teams made up of only 1 shop floor associate and 15 management representatives. This is a major mistake and is one of the factors contributing to failure on the lean journey.

When picking a kaizen team, the majority of the team members should be from the shop floor associate level. Depending on the circumstances, I would at least hold to a 50/50 ratio of shop floor associates to management level team members. This can present a challenge since we tend to easily free up management resources for kaizen events but want to keep the shop floor associates working in production. Don’t list all the reasons that you can’t have more participation from the shop floor associates and focus on how to get more shop associates involved. You can always find a way!

With the inclusion of more shop floor associates on the kaizen teams, we eliminate the problems of management only driven projects, increase buy-in and help employees improve their own work methods. More importantly, we follow the respect of people principle by developing all of our employees in the foundation of lean thinking.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lean Lessons from the Dalai Lama

Yesterday, I traveled with my family to campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana to listen to His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama speaking to a sold out crowd in Assembly Hall. Regardless of your religious or political backgrounds, the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion, peace, enlightenment, and personal development is universal. Even though I am not Buddhist, I found his simple words of wisdom to be profound both on a personal and professional level.

My point is not to promote, debate or defend his viewpoint of the world rather I would like to point out several interesting lessons that relate to the lean journey found in the words of the Dalai Lama. The first lesson has to do with problem solving. As the Dalai Lama told the crowd, most of our problems in the world today are man made and our entire world is all connected to each other so all things effect each of us. Looking at the lean journey, I believe that this simple statement applies to our workplace. Most of the problems we face are created by ourselves. The 4 M’s of method, machine, material and manpower are chosen, controlled and maintained by us therefore the problems resulting from the combination of these elements are due to our decisions and behavior. Knowing and understanding this leads us to the power to change these situations to resolve our problems.

The Dalai Lama talked about the importance of gaining a deeper understanding to resolve our problems. Without achieving the holistic understanding first, we will struggle to resolve the problem. As we know from the Toyota problem solving approach, a key first step is gaining greater understanding of the situation and going to gemba to see for ourselves the reality of the situation. In my experience, we do not invest the time or energy in our workplaces to gain a deeper understanding. We tend to jump directly to putting in solutions and wonder why we still have not solved the problem.

At one point, the Dalai Lama told the group to concentrate first on your internal attitude and thinking. Our mind has control over our behavior and when our mind is not properly disciplined, we have problems. As I see this related to lean thinking and the behaviors needed to make it stick, we must discipline our minds first before we can act in a lean way. It brings the importance of lean thinking into a new perspective.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Lessons from Toyota Industrial Equipment

The Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM) plant in Columbus, Indiana has more lessons for us as we continued our tour last Friday. Although you can never learn all that you want in just one day, a simple glimpse really, it was enough to spark my critical lean thinking into high gear.

One of the most striking things you see at this plant is what you don’t see. That is the almost complete absence of cardboard boxes and other dunnage typically found in manufacturing plants. All the parts are delivered to this plant in reusable/returnable containers. The same goes even for parts shipped in from Japan. It was interesting to see that the sides of the returnable containers from Japan were dual colored to visually display two difference orientations. The first orientation lets the totes stack, one atop the other. The second orientation allows the same totes to nest within each other to provide better density on the return trip.

Seeing this return container design makes the engineer in me imagine all kinds of possibilities that I may have not though possible before. It also makes me wonder if we should aggressively pursue the use of returnable containers, even to China. Everybody tells us it is too expensive and not logistically practical so we just ignore the possibility. Does anybody use returnable containers with their China suppliers?

The leaders of this plant are extremely proud, and rightly so, of their contribution to conservation of resources and their stewardship of the environment by becoming a landfill free facility. With the universal use of returnable container and a strong recycling program, TIEM does not send any waste to landfills. How many of our plants can say the same?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing

I spend today, touring the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM), facility located in Columbus, Indiana. Although this facility has been open since 1990 and within an hour drive of my home, I never had the opportunity to take an inside look at their operation before now. Thank you Toyota for opening your doors so we can learn.

Some of you may wonder if this company is part of the Toyota Motor Company or just a company using the Toyota name in a licensing agreement. Although they don’t build cars, they actually are part of the Toyota organization and follow the Toyota Way.

A few facts first:
99% of all the Toyota lift trucks sold in North America are manufactured in Columbus, Indiana.
Over 800 employees work to produce almost 30,000 trucks per year.
Over 60 different models are produced of electric lifts, 3,000 – 12,000 lbs and internal combustion lifts 3,000 – 17,000 lbs.
The facility covers 880,000 sq ft on about 101 acres of land.
The operations within this facility include metal fabrication, welding, powder coating, assembly and distribution.
Three main lines assembly lines currently run at various Takt times from 4.5 minutes to 33 minutes, adjusted monthly.

Now the lean lessons:
Each area holds a morning meeting (called “Asaichi Meeting”) for about 8 minutes to discuss the day’s schedule, safety issues, quality concerns, improvement ideas, company news and take attendance.

Right after this meeting, all the Team Leaders gather together to help each other face the challenges of achieving the daily production requirements. This meeting goes for about 6-8 minutes with attendance being the primary topic. Depending on who’s missing, the team leaders quickly agree on shifting associates to fill the gaps. A skill matrix chart helps them determine which associates have the required skills to fill the needs.

The Team leaders will reconvene every two hours during the entire shift to make sure everybody stays on the same page throughout the day.

The area will meet as a group at the end of the shift to review issues of the day. This meeting was called the “Yuichi Meeting” or pm meeting.

The meetings were conducted in front of the respective area’s measurement boards, called “Team Leader Control Boards” listing all the metrics like attendance, 5S, Kaizen newspapers, Defect lists, etc. The kaizen newspaper lists problems, the temporary countermeasure, the permanent countermeasure, who identified it, the planned date of completion and the actual date of completion. They also use the PDCA circle to visually show the four phases (investigation, find root cause, implement countermeasure, and standardize).

Each line has a master andon board that displays the daily production target, the actual number of units produced, lights for each workstation, the anticipated overtime for that day and a running time of any line stoppages. The workstation lights are yellow and red. When the yellow light flashes, it is a signal for needing help within a Takt Time. The red light signifies the line is stopped. In addition to the flashing lights, music is played. The line I observed played “It’s a small world” which I listened to several times today.

A cool idea was the formation of a kaizen group. This kaizen group consisted of 10 shop floor associates on a 6 month rotational assignment, all on a voluntary basis, to focus solely on helping implement kaizen ideas. They build carts, make labels, work on fixtures or work aids, etc. Really, they do whatever they can to get these ideas implemented.

Where do the kaizen ideas come from? They come from all the associates who are asked to come up with 3 ideas per associate per month (Think quick and easy kaizen). While Toyota encourages associates to implement their own improvement ideas, sometimes they need help. That’s where this kaizen group steps in.

There were more lessons that I will share in follow up posts but this will give you enough to think about for now.

This facility was not as organized or spotless as the Toyota Lexus plant I visited in Japan but none the less, a great plant to see the Toyota Way in action without having to go all the way to Japan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Push versus Pull

"Under a push system, there is little opportunity for workers to gain wisdom because they just produce according to the instructions they are given. In contrast, a pull system asks the worker to use his or her head to come up with a manufacturing process where he or she alone must decide what needs to be made and how quickly it needs to be made. An environment where people have to think brings with it wisdom, and this wisdom brings with it kaizen (continuous improvement)." - Teruyuki Minoura, Senior Managing Director, Toyota Motor Company.


"Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before." -Shigeo Shingo

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Prepare your Mind

“A relentless barrage of “why’s” is the best way to prepare your mind to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo. Use it often”
-Shigeo Shingo

Very early in our process improvement training, we are taught about the 5 why technique in problem solving. I have learned in my kaizen efforts, by simply asking why, numerous opportunities for process improvement can be found, potential root causes identified and countermeasures created.

In this quote from Shigeo Shingo’s book “Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking”, we hear about asking why again but for a different purpose. We can use the why questioning to prepare our minds. Think about that for a moment. By preparing our minds first, we break our mental barriers with the status quo. Until we do, we are not ready to realize, implement or accept any improvements.

What better way to prepare our minds than by asking why. Isn’t the process of asking why, the core essence of human development? Throughout human history, most of our progress can be linked to someone asking why (or why not, in some cases). Even as children, asking why is a central part of our mental development process. Asking a relentless barrage of why’s is a great way to open our mind, just ask any 3-6 year old.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Work in Progress Virus

As I take my Gemba Walk at a client site, I see a virus spreading at epidemic speeds in the offices and shopfloor. The virus is a simple “Work in Progress” sign posted above a work area, usually above a pile of material or individual workstation. What once started as a plea for fairness during 5S audits in one area has now spread across the entire organization.

Apparently, someone did not like getting a poor score on their 5S audit. Instead of using kaizen to improve it, they argued that the designated area should not be counted because it was in a constant state of disarray as a result of doing work. When a 5S auditor went along with the scheme, the “Work in Progress” sign was born as a free pass to overlook this area in a 5S Audit. Just like a virus, the “Work in Progress” signs started showing up everywhere. It is not a surprise to see the popularity of the signs. This approach is certainly easier than making an actual improvement but the wrong approach. (I did like the turtle to describe the flow).

Isn’t every square inch of our facility a place to do work with some stuff just moving faster than other stuff? Why don’t we put a sign over our front door declaring the whole building as work in progress and skip the 5S audit entirely? Don’t laugh. This was actually done over an entire department work area as a joke and the Auditor accepted it!

On our lean journey, it is easy to fall into traps like the immune “Work in Progress” designated areas and even boldly call the signs a visual management tool. Don’t be fooled. The lean principles are to be applied in every process, every function, and every square inch of our organization. There are no free passes, my friends.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lean and Six Sigma's Effect on Complex Organizations

Last Wednesday night, I attend the APICS Chicago Chapter Monthly Professional Development Meeting to listen to Praveen Gupta, President of Accelper Consulting and author of many books including Six Sigma Business Scorecard and Virtually Stat Free Six Sigma, on his topic, Lean and Six Sigma’s effects on complex organizations.

Praveen’s insights on the applying improvement strategies in our increasingly complex organizations were thought provoking. From his point of view, our limited success in getting results from our improvement activities rests mainly on our approach (which has also gotten more complex) and not understanding the purpose behind our activities.

In his presentation, Praveen expanded on the book, The Goal, in modifying the goal of business from making money to the goal of business is to sustain profitable growth. In order to sustain profitable growth we need three things.

1. Any process improvement approach like Lean, six sigma, Lean/Sigma, etc.
2. A business scorecard to measure what we value.
3. Growth not dependant on Mergers and Acquisitions, but driven on innovation.

Praveen challenged us to avoid some of the traps of our current improvement approaches like:

1. Corporations not measuring sigma levels.
2. Leaders avoiding accountability of improvements activities to the bottom line.
3. Too much statistics entering into Six Sigma at the cost of product/process knowledge.

Praveen Gupta’s message for success:

“Standardize intent, customize methodology, utilize the right mix of tools and reduce the number of measurements.”

For more thoughts from Praveen Gupta, check out his long list of books, and look in Quality Digest Magazine for numerous articles he has published.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking

I just finished reading a truly great “new” book that explores the thinking process of making improvements, “Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking” written by Shigeo Shingo, published by Norman Bodek (PCS, Inc) and Collin McLoughlin (Enna Products Corporation). Actually, this is not really a new book since it was first written by Shigeo Shingo in 1958 but has never been translated in English before now. The official release date of this newly published English translation is set for October 15, 2007 and you can pre-order your copy here.

Knowing that the book was written back in 1958 caused me to wonder if any of the information would be relevant to today’s lean journey but after reading this book, I was not disappointed. Unlike the other great Shingo books which were more lean tool driven, “Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking” focuses on the thinking portion of problem solving, making improvements and meeting opposition to the guardians of the status quo. There are a great number of improvement examples in this book to clearly explain Shingo’s points which I found extremely helpful and entertaining. Some of the information has been written about before but there are plenty of new insights to make this book a must read for those of us on our lean journey.

The book confirms what I already knew to be true from my early days in lean when Shigeo Shingo taught me the SMED system. Shigeo Shingo is a genius and has a gift for teaching.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What can I do Today?

Being overwhelmed is a common feeling on the lean journey, especially as we become better at seeing all the wastes. When faced with long kaizen newspapers and seemingly endless kaizen opportunities, we ask the wrong questions like “How am I going to get this all done?”. We might think we don’t have the manpower or time to work on all these kaizen projects and employee suggestions with our current workload.

As a lean thinker, we change the way we look at those same kaizen opportunities. Ask the right question, “What can I do today?.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Emotional Side of Lean

As we navigate our way in applying the lean principles within our own company cultures, value streams and business processes, it can sometimes feel like we are strapped in backwards on a roller coaster with a blindfold over our eyes. We experience a huge range of emotions and feelings in a short period of time including fear, panic, pain, excitement, hopefulness, uneasiness, pride, adrenaline rushes and frustration. Taking the path on a lean journey can be an extremely overwhelming experience.

There is plenty of technical information on the tools and concepts of lean but very little on the emotional side of lean. We tend to brush over the emotional issues associated with a lean transformation as nonexistent because this lean stuff is simple to understand so how hard can it be to just do it.

There is also a tendency to look down on anyone caught up in these emotions as wimps. In my earlier days on the lean journey, if we questioned any of the lean changes in our company we were called concrete heads or barriers. And anyone who did not get on board quickly found themselves looking for a new job.

In reflection, it was good to push us on the lean path because some of us would have never taken the first steps. We over came our emotions, struggled to get it right and eventually found ways to make it work. But I think it would have been a far better journey if the emotional side of lean was recognized.

By recognizing the emotional side of a lean transformation, we take the time to help employees mentally and emotionally embrace the lean approach. Some people easily embrace the lean approach while others struggle to accept it. When you have employees who hesitate making some of the lean changes, don’t tell them to trust you or just have faith. Unlike religion which is faith based, the lean approach is better accepted based on experience, experimentation and education.

Tell them, show them and let them learn by doing. Be a coach, providing endless encouragement and even a little pushing, to build confidence to go forward. Just like when our child first learns to walk, as parents, we cheer, encourage and praise our child’s attempts to take a single step. Even as our child stumbles and falls, we continue to cheer and extend our hands out to support them. Before long our child is taking several steps. We celebrate the success, taking pictures and videos. With more confidence and experience, our child learns to walk. Helping others on the lean journey should be no different, one step at a time.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lean Tools for Maintenance & Reliability Conference 2007

There are several great lean conferences scheduled this fall including the Lean Tools for Maintenance & Reliability Conference set for October 1-3, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio. Some of the great speakers lined up are from companies like Harley Davidson, Honda, Toyota and BMW to present case studies focusing on TPM, OEE and other lean maintenance topics. This is a great opportunity to learn more about lean and network with people who are currently on the lean journey. As a bonus, I am honored to have the opportunity to present some of my lean insights and experiences in one of the sessions. I hope you can join us.

Friday, August 31, 2007

We're Only as Good as Our Supply Chain

The best winning strategy for the future does not stop at our plant walls. Even if we are the most efficient manufacturer in our industry with the hottest products, our business will fail if we have a weak supply chain. We must extend our improvement efforts to include our supply chain.

Just look at the recently reported problems at Dell with their supply chain problems namely part shortages. Or just look at all the recent quality issues with products coming from China.

As labor costs decline as a percentage of product costs, we naturally start to focus on material costs for opportunities for improvement. Most companies up to now, play the games of “Beat up our Supplier” and “Chase the Globe for Lower Labor Cost” along with “Outsource it All”. Many companies have rightly earned a bad reputation with these strategies that aim solely at cost reductions at the expense of building a stronger supply chain. These companies will drop any of their suppliers to save a dime or less on piece part costs.

This method certainly has proven successful at pocketing some financial gains in the short run but will quickly cause deterioration in the supply chain. If we start to calculate the true cost of these methods over time, we may find out that our actual savings is much smaller than reported or even non-existent.

A better approach begins with completely changing our thinking of our supply chain. Our supply chain is the backbone of our value stream and everyone in the supply chain is linked together as partners. We are stronger when our suppliers are stronger. Toyota knows this lesson well.

As a valued partner, we should open our doors to our suppliers. We must share best practices, teach lean principles, coach and encourage continuous improvements. How many of our suppliers visit our facility? (I am not talking about sales reps) How about production, quality, engineering and even shop floor associates?

Do we invite our suppliers to join a kaizen event? Do we send our people to a supplier kaizen event? Do we communicate problems on a daily basis? Do we team together to solve problems or do we just send out formal corrective action requests? Do we listen to our suppliers?

It’s no longer good enough to just improve our internal processes. Our future success will not be based on how good we perform rather on how well our supply chain performs.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My First Toyota Sales Experience

There is no doubt that I am big fan of the Toyota Production System and the resulting Toyota vehicle product line. Despite these positive feelings, I have never owned a Toyota. Each time I am in the market for a new vehicle, I ended up buying a domestic brand including Buick, Chevy, Ford, and Dodge.

Yesterday, I went down to a Toyota Dealership in Indiana (name withheld) with a serious interest in buying a Toyota this time around. This was my first official Toyota sales contact although my wife visited Toyota dealerships before. All the vehicles were outstanding (I especially liked the newly redesigned Tundra). In direct contrast to the Toyota vehicles, my first time Toyota Sales Experience was not impressive.

Understanding that Toyota Motor Company does not own the dealerships and has no direct control over their operation, I suggest Toyota take a closer look at the dealership experience for kaizen. If Toyota can influence improvements in this experience, they can make a huge impact on continuing their growth. Otherwise, they may lose customers, not on the basis of the products but on the poor dealership experience.

The first major mistake was the arrogance of the Toyota Salesman. He hyped the Toyota products for features and engineering while slammed every domestic car manufacturing company and their products. We told him of our comparison shopping of other brands and he made us feel we were stupid to even consider them. Not a good sales technique! I was always taught NEVER to say bad things about any of your competitors. We even told him that we bought one of those terrible domestic vehicles in the past and it performed great. I guess we were just lucky?

The Toyota Salesman continued on his ego trip when we told him of another Toyota dealership my wife visited earlier in the week. He promptly pulled out some regional sales data sheet proudly showing his dealership ranking was extremely higher in number of vehicle sales than this other Toyota dealership. He continued his error by telling us that all he cares about is increasing the number of units sold to increase their ranking. I was a little stunned. Talk about results based management! What about us, the customer? Are we only a number to add to his tally sheet? Another poor sales method!

After working through the numbers (which did not change much from the list price), he tried the old “What will it take to get us to buy this vehicle today?” routine. We told him that we were going to look around and do comparison shopping before we made any decision. Yet, he pressed on with the pressure for a decision today.

The next poor experience was when we offered to trade in our vehicle. He did the routine vehicle check and asked us what we wanted for it. When we told him our expectation for the trade value, he laughed and stated that there was no way. We have a newer model, low miles, domestic vehicle with great options that we rated using both Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds. He offered us 35% less that the book value for our vehicle which was more of an insult to our intelligence than a good opening sales technique.

As we departed, we thanked him for his time. Before we even made it out of the showroom door, this salesman was off helping the next potential tally sheet addition in the sales lot.

Despite this poor sales experience, I will give other Toyota dealerships another chance. It would be unfair to judge all Toyota salesmen on this sample size of one but many other potential customers might not give them a second chance.

Do your meetings start and end on time?

On our lean journey, we sometimes overlook the simple and obvious wastes. Take meetings for example. How many of your meetings start and end on time? For the past several months, I recorded the FPY (First Pass Yield) rate of meetings starting on time that I attended ending up with a poor 0% FPY rate. Not one meeting started on time and very few ended on time.

How much muda (waste) is accepted in your companies on a daily basis just because we can not start and end meetings on time. Is this problem just too complex to solve or do we just accept this waste as a by product of doing business today?

Of course, we should eliminate all unnecessary meetings as a first step. Then demand, encourage, reward, promote and expect all meetings to start on time and end on time.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


"If your want one year of prosperity, grow seeds.

If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees.

If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people."

Chinese Proverb

Opportunity Calls

As I pulled into the company parking lot, a steady rain fell from the morning clouds. I made my way down the hall, turned on the office lights and fired up my laptop. After a quick email scan, it’s time for my gemba walk. Before I could make it out the door, my phone rings. It was the company VP of Operations and he was not happy.

Apparently, the President of the company went out on the shop floor late yesterday afternoon and found a couple of issues related to our lean efforts. The President naturally passed these concerns to the VP and now to me.

“Mike, we have some problems.” said the VP with a serious tone. I quickly answered.” That’s great news!”

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

We Need Human Andons

With my last post on andon lights, I pointed out the seemingly widespread misuse of this simple visual tool. More importantly, we don’t stop to fix the problems and problems remain hidden. Andon lights are just tools. The real mission is the quick identification of all the interruptions to process flow and the speedy countermeasures to prevent the problems from occurring in the future. What we really need is human andons.

How many times do you or your employees see a problem and quietly fix it?

Is this the right thing to do?

Did you really fix the problem so it does not appear again or just fixed it this time?

Is the company in a better position by this approach?

Do these problems show up again later in the day? Tomorrow? Next week?

What if, starting immediately, every single employee in your company with every single task and every single process, takes on the additional role of human andon by identifying every single occurrence of interruption to the flow?

Would you be surprised by the results? A little overwhelming to think about the potential staggering number of flow interruptions our employees deal with every single day.

But think of all the opportunities for improvement? Call it kaizen heaven.

For some lingering reasons from the traditional management school of thinking, we do not welcome the news of problems. We prefer to hear only good news. We glorify news of some miraculous feats of managerial leadership that “pulled out all the stops, to muscle the order through the shop” but don’t talk about the problems encountered and countermeasures to prevent them. We still are caught up in placing blame for problems.

Until we removed the current equation (Problems = Blame) from our mindset and replace it with the lean thinkers equation (Problems = Opportunities), we can not go forward on our journey.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Andon Lights Make Us Look Lean

After visiting and working at numerous manufacturing plants across the United States this past year, I have come to the conclusion that we really don’t know how to use an andon light properly much less know why we should use them. In most cases, the lights are pointed out as one of the indicators that the plant does know about lean and practices lean principles. In these same plants, I see other things.

I have seen andon lights turned on and stay green all shift long regardless of multiple problems occurring. (Could it be possible the management yelled about the line stops and flashing lights so much that everybody is now afraid to pull the cord?)

I have seen andon lights turn on but all the bulbs were burned out rendering the light useless. (Maybe we should also work on our 5S audit program, lack of gemba walks and poor TPM program?).

I have seen andon lights flash and blink for hours but not one person comes running. (Why does the signal for help go unanswered and why don’t we look into the causes for the long delays?)

I have seen huge multi-stacked andon lights that nobody seems to remember why each color was needed. (How can we make the andon light system simpler?)

I have even seen andon lights used in shop floor pranks just to watch people frantically run around for the humor of the guilty light switch pullers. (Maybe we should read the story about the boy that cried wolf at our next shift meeting?)

Here is a simple visual signal that could improve awareness and responsiveness on the shop floor yet we don’t take the time to properly train and use this tool for its intended function. Just having andon lights is not an indication of being lean; it only helps make problems visible along with promoting the goal of FAST response.

I guess we have taken to heart what my old junior high football coach would regularly say to us on game day, “Boys, keep your jerseys tucked in and your socks pulled up. If you can’t play well, at least you are going to look like you can play well.”

New Lean Survey 5 Why Style

Thanks to the lean thinking approach of Mark Graban from the Lean Blog, there is a new 5 Why type lean survey under experimentation to address the limits of typical surveys. This all started from the results of the Lean Enterprise Institute 2007 State of Lean Survey. Please give it a try-link to survey.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Middle Managers are Biggest Obstacle to Lean Enterprise

According to the 2007 State of Lean Survey conducted by the Lean Enterprise Institute, the number one ranked obstacle to implementing lean is middle management resistance to change, jumping up from number three in last years survey.

Last years number one reported obstacle was backsliding which dropped all the way down to sixth place in this year’s survey.

It seems to be an interesting shift in just one year that it appears most respondents now can sustain gains better but must deal with the “concrete heads” of middle management to progress on their lean journey.

As a lean practitioner in the field working closely with several major clients, I have my own opinion on barriers to the lean journey. What about your obstacles to progress on your lean journey? Do you agree with these finding?

This survey was completed by 2,444 managers and executives within the base of LEI’s monthly e-letter subscribers. I wonder what the mix of senior level executives to lower level lean practitioners is within the 2,444 respondents. I see middle management resistance, employee resistance and supervisor resistance all making three of the top four obstacles to lean. Do you find that odd? Notice anyone missing from the list? Make me say, ummmmmmm!

From a senior executive point of view, I would say we could be a great lean company if it wasn’t for all our middle managers, supervisors and employees resisting change. Looks like the bus needs to makes a bus stop to let some (a lot of) people off. To make it more complete, how about adding supplier resistance and unreasonable customer demands to the list?

As a lean thinker, I find this difficult to believe. First, I would ask five whys to get deeper at the root cause of the obstacles to lean. It is not the five-who process to find the root blame. Until we stop trying to pin blame on someone else, we will not make progress on our lean journey. It is better that we should reflect on our own thinking and actions to see what obstacles we create and fix them first.

Despite my issues with the survey findings, LEI does an outstanding job promoting and teaching lean thinking along with helping organization on their lean journey. For more information, visit LEI at

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Visual 5S Scores

As I pointed out in a previous post, lean grade inflation has found its way into plant assessments like 5S Audits. To address this issue, try converting from the common point scoring system (as seen above) to a green/red or pass/fail system (as seen below). For an added punch, supplement the green/red rating visual signal with a happy/sad face. At several plants where we made the switch, the change has proven successful and fun.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What's Next for Toyota?

I just read an outstanding piece in the latest Harvard Business Review (July/August 2007), “Lessons From Toyota’s Long Drive”, an interview of Toyota’s President Katsuaki Watanabe. If you want to learn more about the Toyota Way and the future direction of Toyota, it’s absolutely worth getting a copy. If you don’t want to spend the high cover price for the magazine, just run down to your local library to read it.

President Watanabe provides great insight to the Toyota Way in many of his comments.
In regards to Toyota’s vision for their factory of the future:

“The new manufacturing process at Takaota will completely change the way Toyota makes cars. We call them the “simple, slim, and speedy” production system. Right now our processes are complicated, so when a problem occurs, it is difficult to identify the cause. We’ve tried to make the processes at Takaota simple, keep the facility slim, and have people close by observe the process.

When the first line at Takaota opens, this summer, it be Toyota’s fastest production line, and it will cut lead times, logistics, and assembly time in half.

Instead of transfer bar, we will use robots. That will allow the line to move 1.7 times faster than it used to. We have cut the length of the line by half. A new painting process allows us to apply three coats at the same time, without having to wait for each coat to dry. This will shorten painting times by 40%. To build in quality, we will go beyond visual inspection and use high-precision instruments to measure several parameters.”

As for manufacturing flexibility, President Watanabe goes on to say:

“We will have more flexibility than ever before: Each line at Takaota will be able to produce eight different models, so the plant will produce 16 models on two lines compared with the four or five it used to produce on three lines. In the old plan we used to make 220,000 vehicles a year on each line; now we will be able to make 250,000 units on each line. Toyota needs such radical changes today.”

I was taught that inventory is one of the seven deadly wastes. In the United States, we view inventory as a necessary evil or a cost of doing business. The Toyota Way viewpoint is that inventory is an absolute evil. With this in mind, I found President Watanbe’s comments on material movement and number of parts very interesting:

“Take the movement of parts in a factory, for example. Moving components doesn’t add to their value; on the contrary, it destroys value, because parts may be dropped or scratched. So the movement of components should be limited as much as possible. I want our production engineers to take on the challenge of ensuring that things move as little as possible-close to the theoretical limit of zero-on the shop floor.”

“Our goal is to shrink the number of components we use by half.”

So how is Toyota achieving their vision of the future?

“Toyota must keep growing even as it builds a stronger foundation for the future; it has to do both for the company’s long-term health. There are three keys to building a stronger foundation: We must improve product quality, keep reducing costs, and, in order to attain those two objectives, develop human resources.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Toyota Hits the Brakes

In today's Wall Street Journal, I read an interesting article - Toyota's New U.S. Plan: Stop Building Factories. You can read it online with a paid subscription or check out the AP version.

With the past push to add capacity to match sales, it makes sense to look at this expansion plan if your sales are slowing down. Not a real surprise that the older, wise leaders of Toyota are asking questions about the need for continued US manufacturing expansion. I am surprised that each new US plant was not designed for more flexibility to run more that just one model.

Plenty of lean leadership lessons can be discovered if you look closer at this strategic shift.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Clean Up Aisle 5

Here is a problem I discovered on my Gemba walk. After I noticed a damaged box with components spilled on the floor, I called the first employee I saw, a Warehouse Team Leader, to show him. He looked at me with mixed emotions that I took for a combination of mainly embarrassment (since I found something wrong in his area), a bit of grief (here’s another problem to deal with first thing in the morning) and a dose of frustration (this was not a planned action item on today’s To-Do list). More than likely, he was also little angry however he did not show any of it to me.

So can you guess his response?
a) “I didn’t do it, it must have happened on second shift.”
b) “I’ll find out who did it and fire the #^@%*$ !”
c) “I am so sorry, I’ll get it cleaned up immediately”
d) “It happens all the time, but it’s not a big problem.”
e) All of the above.

While I have heard all of these responses, in one form or another, many times before in my manufacturing experience, answer c is the most common response. Most employees will promptly get help to salvage the parts and clean up the mess as soon as possible. Once the mess gets straightened out, the problem is solved and we get back to manufacturing our products.

But was the problem really solved?

Well, that depends on your idea of the problem and your definition of solved. Yes, the mess was a problem and yes, the mess got cleaned up which is the proper initial action.

However, the true problem I discovered on my Gemba walk was not a damaged box in a warehouse. The true problem is that our response was only reactive and failed to include any real corrective or preventative actions not to mention failing to record the damaged box condition (for kaizen). We think that simply cleaning up the mess quickly and scraping out the parts is all that is needed. In effect, the problem of box damage remains hidden.

We did not ask the 5 Whys. We did not list the broken box on a kaizen newspaper. We did not look for other damaged conditions in the warehouse. We did not change a single process. There was no kaizen so we are doomed to repeat this cycle another day, over and over again.

How would employees in your company respond? Are you doomed to repeat the same cycle?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Look at handoffs in your process for waste and hidden opportunities for improvement. Most obvious of these wastes are piles of inventory easily seen just waiting their turn to move through the value stream. Handoffs can be found in the “IN” box at various desks around the office. Handoffs can be found waiting on an approval or sign-off. You can see handoffs at tollgates like receiving, inspection, packing, or shipping. Look closely between functional responsibilities (ie production, quality, purchasing, engineering, etc.) within a value stream, many times different functions have different or conflicting priorities.

Look at the value added work but focus on the activity (or non-activity if slow moving) in front of the work and what happens directly after the value added work.

Does work flow First In, First Out? What are the signals to move work? How do you handoff (the sender’s actions and the receiver’s actions)? Is there a middleman involved? Where does it go, exactly? How does the next person/process in line want it presented? What is the distance traveled? What problems occur at the handoff? Are you pushing or pulling? Do you control the amount of inventory in the gap (Standard WIP)? How does each person in the process communicate to one another? Do you measure or practice your handoffs?

Just like a relay team, the race can be won or lost in the handoff of the baton.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Don't Unload Luggage

While on the road last week, I discovered a cool visual management aid at the Holiday Inn Express in Dundee, Michigan. It certainly catches the eye and helps inform guests to check in first to see if their room is in the next building before unloading luggage. Why can't signs in manufacturing be effective and fun like this one?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lost in Translation

No matter how well you plan, prepare and perform, sometimes things just happen that you do not expect. Sometimes these things are painful and sometimes they are magical. And sometimes, things just get lost in translation. Kaizen events are certainly a great playground for the unexpected. More times than not, the priceless moments on a lean journey for me originate on kaizen events.

Last week, I led an office kaizen event focused on a key customer related process that proved to be a great challenge to improve. The team was diverse in both functional responsibility and heritage. We had one team member from the Ukraine, another from Columbia and one from the Philippines. It turns out to be a great mix of talent and only one member had any previous kaizen event experience.

The first morning we drill through some lean basics to introduce the kaizen approach. We cover a fair bit of information which included seeing muda (waste) to eliminate it. Of course, I stressed that the true learning will be at gemba (the actual place) with discovery and learn-by-doing.

At first, the kaizen team members were a bit on the shy side but by the end of the morning, they were a quite lively group. I love the raw energy that a kaizen event stirs deep within us, along with large bits of anticipation and nervousness. By far, the best feeling is the huge rush of “anything is possible” as the team embarks.

This entire team was extremely eager to start. I ended the morning session and asked if they had any more questions at this point and if they understood the next steps. After a few questions, I asked again, “Where are we going and what are we looking for?” One team member yelled back with high energy and in complete sincerity, “We are going the gumbo and we looking for Buddha!” A hush of silence. Then everyone burst out in laughter. It was a priceless moment. After wiping the tears from my eyes, the translation confusion was politely straightened out.

By no means is this story meant to offend anyone of the Buddhist faith or to make light of religion. To be perfectly clear, lean principles are not focused on looking for Buddha in our process and eliminating it. It is muda we want to eliminate.

Upon reflection on this event, maybe we are looking for Buddha after all; only in the sense that Buddha can refer to “anyone who becomes enlightened”. Isn’t the best place for enlightenment of our process found in gemba? Are we not seeking understanding before we can improve?

Epilogue: This team worked fantastic together during the rest of the week long kaizen event with over 13 aha moments. They reduced the process lead time 70% by Friday without open kaizen homework lists. Even with this huge reduction, the team sees more room for improvement which will continue the kaizen process.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lean Grade Inflation

Past headlines have brought to light a suspected phenomenon in our High Schools and Colleges in the United States where it is believed that the grading is too easy resulting in grade inflation. As a results, a higher percentage of students graduate with honors. Just having more honor students is not a cause for alarm but the implication that students are not grasping the subjects yet are giving passing grades is a cause for concern. It is also a great concern that our students may not be fully prepared to meet the challenges to compete in a global economy. From my recent experiences, this same phenomenon is evident in lean transformations.

Several facilities that I have worked on lean implementation along with many visits to numerous plants across the country this past year seem to all have the same grade inflation. For example, the scores for zone areas in 5S are all rated high regardless of what scale system is used yet when I take a gemba walk through the same area, the area is NG (translated as No Good). Could it be an issue calibration of different auditors? Sure. Could it be that waste or problems are not seen? Absolutely. Is it possible that we think something is good enough and not seek the more difficult path to perfection? Yes.

The same could be seen in lean assessments, judging our leanness on a scale. What or who determines the correct measure of leanness? This adds a whole new avenue for debate on if we are lean, lame, limp or lost. (LAME – Lean As Misguidedly Executed as coined by Mark Graban at Lean Blog) (adding to the list: LIMP – Lean, It’s a Manufacturing Program and LOST – Lean, Only Sees Tools).

It is said that “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” which is only true if you create a reliable and consistent measurement system. With grade inflation, I suspect that our measurement system is both unreliable and inconsistent.

In addition, the grade inflation phenomenon occurs in self evaluations and survey data. That is one reason that I tend to take all survey data with a grain of salt. Our self image is usually thought to be greater than what is seen by others. We tend to grade ourselves too high. Just as in the case of school grades, it is not really an issue of high scores as much as it is in grasping the subject or ability to compete. With higher scores we convince ourselves that we are not really that bad. We become comfortable and secure in the higher scores and everyone feels better. In reality, we miss the point.

On a lean journey, we should never be satisfied, never become comfortable, and never feel secure in the status quo. The grade matters less than gaining understanding and the constant effort to improve forever.


The kaizen formula of Aha! + Eureka! =Wow! is just part of larger pattern, or a continuous improvement cycle, discovered on my lean improvement journey. At least this holds true from my lean journey experience. It’s the Confused-Aha-Nirvana-Darn-Eureka-Wow Cycle, or otherwise known in the back hills as the CANDEW cycle for short. It appears that we, both as an individual or as a team, pass through these varies stages before achieving actual improvement.

Stage 1: Confused
The confused stage is the beginning point of all continuous improvement where we are actually lost, clueless, and oblivious to the current state. We may think we know the facts but in reality we are blinded by assumption, opinion and arrogance. As we humbly open our eyes and minds by going to gemba, listening to our employees and using data, we start down the path of discovery.

Stage 2: Aha
Eventually, our path of discovery leads to Aha moments. Aha moments are where we see the light, everything clicks and we become one with our current state. We reach a point of genuine understanding. What was once hidden is now in plain sight. Often times, we wonder why we never saw it before now. This Aha Moment could be the view of whole picture or just an element of the current state. In either case, it is found most often in the seams or gaps of the process or between the traditional function silos of a business.

Stage 3 Nirvana
The Aha moment creates the flash of an idea, a vision of paradise or heaven as we clearly see what is possible and how to make it better. This vision is nirvana. A rush of excitement takes over our entire being and it is possible to actually jump for joy. Care must be taken to hold on to this fragile idea for this stage of nirvana is short lived. We will be challenged in the next stage of Darn where our idea or visions of paradise can quickly turn into just an illusion or fantasy.

Stage 4: Darn
The Darn stage is where we stumble and make mistakes. After walking blindly for so long in the Confused Stage, and finally seeing the light in the Aha Stage, we naturally try to run as fast as possible to the light. Since we are not used to running to the light, we can easily fall. In fact, it is not unusual to fall several times in the Darn Stage which makes this the most critical stage. Failure is often a result in the Darn stage and rarely do things go according to original plans. It is at this point most people give up and even question their Aha Moment and Nirvana vision as a neurotic mind trick. In the Darn Stage we may face many difficulties, road blocks and barriers in our path. It takes persistence to continue on the path.

Stage 5: Eureka
As we navigate through the treacherous Darn Stage, we will find it. It being the solution, the way to make our idea work. We find success.

Stage 6: Wow
The Wow stage is where we reflect on our success and share our joy. We share so others may learn and join us on our path of continuous improvement. Many times we discover the total impact of our Eureka moment at this stage. In the Wow stage, we reap the reward of our efforts.

Just as I stated at the beginning, this process is a cycle. If we stay too long in the Wow stage, we quickly find ourselves in the dark again. Everything changes so we must constantly seek improvement. The path of continuous improvement promises no certainty but only opportunity.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Kaizen Formula

Aha! + Eureka! = Wow!

Contempt for 5S

There seems to be a swell of support against 5S activities which is certainly not a new phenomenon. The backlash against any attempts to organize areas like a person’s desk or workstation can be powerful, passionate and personal. This 5S backlash easily grows into contempt as we hear about extreme examples of 5S-Gone-Wild. This includes stories of companies that place footprints on desks for everything (computer, keyboards, phones, papers, etc) without regard of actual benefit, stupid rules that limit the number of personal items on a desk to an arbitrary number like 3, or label crazy consultants that have us labeling every possible object on site under the principle of visual management like in this Far Side Cartoon.

With the release of the new book, “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder-How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-The-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place” written by Eric Abrahamson and David H, Freeman, many supporters of the messy desk lifestyle are united against any and all actions to “fix” what they believe is not broken.

Maybe guilt over not being better organized is a factor that causes people to rationalize the mess and clutter. As pointed out in Mark Graban’s post Not Neatness for Neatness Sake at Lean Blog, it seems that the authors of the book are glorifying messiness.

To get a better insight to their supportive argument that messy is better, read Tom Peter’s Cool Friends interview with David Freeman about his findings. I find it curious that many of the findings in support of disorder are based on surveys which I tend believe are not all together scientific and most likely bias. I do admit that I have not read this book or verified the details on his research so I only present my opinion on the use of survey data as fact.

Take for instant Mr. Freeman’s theory that “People who keep messy desks actually spend less time looking for things then people with neat desks”. And what is the scientific proof cited by the author that supports his theory, “We did a survey for the book that backed this up” along with his comment, “Common sense backs this up.” For me, common sense tells me the direct opposite. I guess even what is considered common sense is up for debate.

My thoughts are that organization and 5S principles are critical to continuous improvement success. As I have learned on my lean journey, we should question all assumptions and actions to eliminate waste. Even activities thought to be lean requirements like 5S should be constantly monitored like any other process for the value of performing the activity. Remember, any activity that adds cost or time without adding value as defined by the paying customer is waste.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Seven More Ideas Towards a Healing Workplace Plus One

I liked Jon Miller’s post yesterday Seven Ideas Towards a Healing Workplace and it sparked some of my own ideas on the subject. I think the topic is quite important since we could spend over 11,000 days of our lives at work. I thought I would hitchhike on Jon’s list and add seven more ideas plus one. Side note: Adding one more idea than Jon’s list is not a case of list envy or my list is bigger than your list. I am always challenging myself to do just a little more in the spirit of continuous improvement. I highly respect Jon’s thoughts and insights in making things better!

So here are seven more ideas plus one.

Add some rocking chairs. This is not an early effort to look forward to retirement. Some believe that the rocking motion can be therapeutic. I have even seen rocking chairs at airports and have enjoyed it as I waited to board my flight.

Provide a public puzzle table. Puzzles can relax and re-energize your brain by focusing on a simple challenging task to put the pieces together. You would be surprised to learn that the brain still can solve other problems in the background when you are not thinking about them. Have you ever solved a problem while sleeping, in the shower or driving to work? Same principle applies.

Eliminate or reduce harsh noises. How many facilities use annoying intercoms, buzzers, loud machines, rattling conveyors, etc.? Try standing in the middle of your facility when everyone is gone, the lights are out and all the machinery is shut down. Big difference! Buy a sound meter to measure your noise levels and start the kaizen process to lower the levels.

Play comedies on a big screen TV at lunch. Making people laugh and smile does have a positive affect. Just make sure that you don’t show any comedy that would offend anyone.

Provide a healing atmosphere. Installing a fountain or two can help. The sound of running water is thought to be beneficial to your spirit. You can also green it up. Add plants, fresh flowers around the facility and not just in the office. Put the plants in staircases and the shop floor. Yes, even the shop floor! And you can play classical or relaxing music. Music can lift the spirit, soothe the soul and spark creativity. Even though you could considered this section as three separate ideas (and they are), I lumped them together under the disguise of a single idea.

Get rid of the vending machines. This idea will make me an enemy within this industry and these product companies but most of the items are not healthy including the soda. Replace them with healthy alternatives like water (Add fresh lemon slices!), fruit, etc. Another replacement could be to provide a healthy salad bar cafeteria. Not all companies provide a food service but you should try it. It also keeps people from fighting traffic to go out at lunch.

Wear visible name tags. Some people may not know everyone’s name including visitors, new employees, temporary employees, etc. Nametags help encourage open, friendly communication and people like to hear you call them by name.

And for my bonus idea…

Just ask your employees for their ideas! In the spirit of total employee involvement, open up the topic to your employees. They will certainly add to the list and help implement improvements while feeling positive for being part of the improvement process. Remember, change is best done with people and not to them!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Simple Kaizen 1

Before Kaizen: What was my problem? My laptop cords and mouse cords gets tangled up in my computer bag.

After Kaizen: What is my simple idea? Attach velcro strips to each cord, wrap and secure.

Result: What is the benefit? Eliminates frustration and time to untangle the cords.

Be Careful What You Measure

I was reminded this week of the important lesson to be careful what you measure, measurements drive action and behavior.

The productivity numbers have dropped slightly at the first of the year and not rebounded despite all the continuous improvement efforts. Needless to say, this was not the expected result. Management wanted to know what caused the drop and take the proper countermeasures to reverse the trend.

To add to the complexity, several changes occurred during this time frame regarding the usual suspects of volume, mix, lot size, manpower, new products, methods, etc. There did not appear to be an easy answer to the simple question, “What changed?”

When I observed the processes at gemba, the process flow appeared to be improved yet the numbers told a different story. As one that likes to use data to drive decisions, I dug a little deeper. With a little investigation, I started to analysis the historical data to see if I could determine any patterns or potential causes. Unfortunately, only summary reports were available and the details behind the summary were thrown out every month. Not a bad policy since I was the first to ever request to see this data. The good news is the 5S for this area looks great.

Turning my attention to the spreadsheet used to create the productivity charts, looking for anything abnormal, I noticed that several of the formulas did not make sense to me. Looking closer, I saw that one of the formulas in this year’s spreadsheet pointed to cell in last year’s spreadsheet which turned out to be a blank cell. Apparently, in the process of creating the new 2007 spreadsheet from the old 2006 spreadsheet, the formula did not get properly translated.

A couple of keystrokes later, the formula was corrected. Followed by a weeks worth of clerical effort to restate the year, the productivity measures displayed a more accurate and improved operation.

Although this recalculation of productivity had a positive affect, it is not what I would consider a triumph. Ongoing efforts are still required to truly increase productivity, so it’s back to gemba. However, I am modifying the lesson to “Be careful what and how you measure, measurements drive action and behavior”.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Toyota Releases Temp Workers

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (TMMI) officially announced last week, April 25, 2007, their plans to eliminate its “variable workforce” by the end the year, citing low demand for the Toyota Sequoia. The news release added “About 350 temp workers will be affected by the decision” which is a more pleasant way of saying that 350 workers will lose their jobs. The TMMI is located in Princetown, Indiana.

This news flash did not make the major headlines like the recent quarter sales announcements that Toyota passes up GM as the Number one (in sales) worldwide automotive manufacturer. I guess the hype of the Toyota race to unseat ex-goliath GM and the potential effect on the future of GM is more news-worthy. In my opinion, this little news headline tells a bigger story about Toyota.

Although I feel saddened for the 350 families affected by the pain of losing of a job, I also feel hopeful. For one, the announcement stated a timeline “by the end of the year” for the elimination. That is a seven month horizon to ease the burden. From my manufacturing experience, temp workers are typically given little notice that their services were no longer needed. This meant same day or next day notice with the “Thanks for your work, here is your last check and don’t come back tomorrow” speech.

Also noted in the news release, Toyota is working with PMI, the company that provides TMMI with variable work force team members, to find them other assignments. This includes transferring workers to the Subaru of Indiana Automotive plant in Lafayette, Indiana where Toyota has recently begun building the Camry. So far, 17 workers have accepted the move.

All are steps to ease the burden of a job loss, while following the “respect for people” principle of lean which extends to even the I-get-no-respect temp workers. I don’t know all the details on how Toyota is actively working to ease the job loss pain yet I get the impression it would be more than most companies.

Other lean lessons point to the workforce strategies of Toyota in a variable demand market. Despite all the news of Toyota’s popularity and sales growth, some Toyota models decline in sales as with the Toyota Sequoia in this case. How does Toyota balance their workforce in a cyclical industry?

One strategy is the variable (temporary) workforce. The role of the variable workforce is a huge strategic difference from typical Western Manufacturers. This is not to say using temporary employees is uncommon in America, just that we use a lower percentage of temporary employees by comparison. This was a surprising fact I learned on my trip to Japan where temporary employees made up 40-50% of the workforce at companies I toured. With the exception of highly seasonal industries, I’ll bet that most American manufacturing companies that have temporary employees have a much lower percentage.

Does this high proportion of temporary employees strategy work? It appears so, but not without creating other issues. Healthcare coverage, employee benefits, pay structure, training, re-staffing to name just a few. A closer investigation into the pros and cons beyond replacing the term “layoff” with “release” would help determine if this is a better approach. Given the added flexibility, a larger variable workforce is more likely a growing strategy for the future beyond even typical cyclical industries.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Just Hide It

While on a Gemba walk, I saw a section of the warehouse that was neat, clean, organized and free from the piles of inventory awaiting disposition that typically would be stacked up in this location. After seeking out the team leader of the area, I complemented him on the organization and improvement to the flow of these parts. Of course, he was happy I noticed.

I asked him what were the countermeasures used to make the improvement. He said that a special tour was coming through today and he had all the parts moved outside into several empty trailers. Yes, it took several semi truck trailers. By hiding the parts outside, the tour path was quickly cleared and the results were impressive looking.

I am sure his manager passed on the message that the tour was forthcoming and to make sure the area was tour ready. This team leader naturally did what he thought was the best and quickest action, just hide it.

Although I find that the “just hide it” countermeasure is an extremely popular one, it is one method that I strongly argue against! The entire activity is muda (waste) from buying, renting, securing trailers to loading, stacking, unloading items in and out of the trailers. Not to mention that we may need some of these parts for production during the hiding process. This creates additional muda to search for the parts and retrieve them including moving other parts around to get to the parts we need. What about potential damage to these parts causing us to delay customer orders, scrap or rework parts, reorder parts, expedite parts, air ship them in and out to the customer? What about missing parts as a result of doing a fantastic job of hiding them? Of course, our burden of paperwork, tracking and reporting just increased. All for what? Just to make our plant look good for a tour.

It is also a clear indicator that we have a long way to go on our lean journey. By hiding our problems, we create muda and more importantly we ignore the real problems. It is better to make the problems more visible and deal with it even at the expense of “looking good” for a tour.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kaizen Wall of Fame

Celebrate your employee’s kaizen improvements by creating your company’s own Kaizen Wall of Fame. While I visited Japan, I noticed several of the companies proudly displayed all the small improvement ideas from their employees. It’s easy to do and can greatly benefit your lean journey.

First, implement a small, simple kaizen. These are the small, common, ordinary improvements that we tend to overlook as insignificant or not important. An example would be where an employee added a recycle bin by the copy machine. Or another employee thought to eliminate a report that is no longer needed. To get a better understanding of the small, simple kaizen approach, I highly recommend that you read “The Idea Generator, Quick and Easy Kaizen” by Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek. This book does an excellent job of explaining the quick and easy kaizen approach.

Second, have the employee who created the improvement answer these three simple questions (just a short, single sentence answer per question is needed):
What was the problem?
What is your idea?
What was the result or benefit?

Third, take before and after pictures to better explain the simple kaizen idea along with a picture of the employee. Make it personal.

Finally, hang a laminated, color copy of the idea on the wall in your facility where everybody can see it!

By posting the idea on the wall, you give instant recognition to your employees for making the improvement. You also encourage the small, frequent kaizen approach. Another benefit, you create a company wide communication board to share all these ideas. Finally, it helps motivate everyone to join in the fun of kaizen.

Aside note, one Japanese company (only 200 employees) I toured last fall will try to implement 50,000 of these kaizens this year. Your company may not produce quite that many but I would still plan on using a BIG wall.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kaizen in the Dark

The windy city, Chicago, turned into a blowing, wet, snowy mess today. It was quite a shock to my body after spending last week working in sunny, warm Mexico. Towards the end of my morning lean training session, the power went out. Luckily, I just finished the PowerPoint part of the session but that left us in the dark to continue our lesson.

As we continued working with just a small amount of light from the hallway windows, all the office employees began to congregate in the hallway. Without power for their computers or light to see in their windowless cubicles, they could not work. The same went for the shop floor employees. It is amazing to see the power of technology abruptly halted by the simple lack of electricity.

But this post is not about the impact electricity has on our productivity. It is about the hidden opportunity this power outage provided us for kaizen. We learned which emergency exit signs failed to light along with a couple of failed emergency flood lights. It was easy to see (or not see) where new emergency lights would be helpful. Several employees suggested having rechargeable flashlights strategically placed in the facility. Another employee questioned our procedure for testing the emergency lights and how we might have prevented the problem. Before we knew it, we were starting a kaizen list with our new point of view! Even in the dark, or in this case because of the dark, we found ideas for improvement and an opportunity to learn.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Visual Management Confusion

While waiting in the drive thru line at my local bank, I looked up and noticed these conflicting signs. One sign clearly stated the roof clearance as 8'10" while the other sign informed me that the same roof clearance is 9'2". Huh?

While my car would have no problem at either height, this visual management conflict may cause a problem for others. I asked the teller about the conflicted message and she was not aware of the problem. To be fair to my bank, there was some obvious renovation work in process that most likely caused the problem and it was corrected a couple of weeks later.

These signs did get me thinking about all the signs we use at work as part of our visual management process. How many signs or other visual labels do we have at work that only adds to our confusion instead of helping us? How many are no longer valid or required? How many are incorrect? What about signs that are so worn that they can't be read? What about the bar coded tags on our stock racks that can't be scanned anymore?

We assume all the signs in our plants were put up for a reason. We also assume that the signs are accurate and needed by someone to perform their value added activities. I started asking the experts on the shop floor and found out that many signs were actually obsolete yet we never removed them. As a result, we started removing all the useless signs and improving the signs that actually were needed. Not only did our plant look better, it reduced the confusion and errors caused by poor visual management.

On your next gemba walk, take notice of all your signs and ask your experts if they help or just add to the confusion? Then work together to improve it.