Monday, January 29, 2007

Excellent Six Sigma Blog

There is a "newer" six sigma blog in the blogging world that is an excellent site for news and information on our improvement journey. Six Sigma blog written by Ma. Merdekah "Meikah" Ybanez-Delid brings a fresh and genuine quality interest for us to learn. Please check out Meikah's blog for a great new voice for six sigma improvement. Thanks Meikah for a creating a wonderful blog site and keep up the good work!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Training Within Industry

The Paradigm Network of Central Indiana had the privilege of hosting a Training Within Industry (TWI) presentation by Jim Huntzinger at our monthly meeting held in Indianapolis yesterday morning. Jim did an excellent job of covering the basics of TWI and its link with standard work. In listening to Jim’s discussion points, if you have experienced problems with backsliding or maintaining kaizen gains, TWI may be worth a closer look.

If you have not heard about TWI yet, I highly recommend you learn a little more about the historic program and how it is making its way back to into our understanding of the Toyota way. I say historic with regard that TWI originated in the United States during WWII to address the need of rapidly training our new manufacturing workforce that replaced the men sent off to war. By all accounts, it was a huge success. After the war, TWI was adopted in Japan during their reconstruction effort. Toyota modified TWI into their approach and considers it the foundation in developing standard operations used today.

Briefly, the TWI program is divided into three areas, Job Relations (JI), Job Instructions (JI), and Job Methods (JM). All three are important to maintaining our gains but the job instruction segment hit closer to home for me. In my experience, we do an extremely poor job of training our people in standard work. How many of you use this approach at work? Once an employee reads the work instructions and signs the training log that he has read it, he is now considered trained. This is the same as telling someone to read a book on swimming and then saying they know how to swim. In both cases, true learning is only achieved by doing. You have to actually get in the water and repetitively practice before you can learn to swim well. The TWI program for Job Instruction emphasizes learning by doing with guidance, exactly how Toyota does it today.

Another great point in Jim’s presentation is that “no matter how much knowledge or skill a person has about the work itself, if they do not have the skill in instructing, it will not be possible to pass that knowledge and skill to others.” Amen. We assume a person is properly trained just because someone with the skill taught him. How many times on the shop floor do we tell a new employee to follow an experienced (skilled) employee around to learn the job? Have we every trained our “skilled employee” on how to instruct? Probably not. We need to insure that anyone designated as a trainer gets proper training on how to train.

For more information on TWI you can check out the newly formed TWI Institute or plan on attended the TWI Summit scheduled for June 5-6, 2007. To hear Jim talk about TWI, please go the Lean Blog and listen to Mark Graban's podcast #15 with Jim Huntzinger.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Measuring Success

I recently attended the project presentations by my latest group of six sigma green belt candidates. Their reports were all well prepared and the improvement results for their company were very good. As their course instructor, I felt proud of their accomplishments as each candidate told their project story.

With a six sigma project, we typically focus our attention on the accomplishments in reductions in variation, reduced PPM rates, elimination of a cause for failure, or customer satisfaction improvements. Similarly, kaizen events focus on accomplishments in reductions in floor space, reductions in inventory, productivity gains, or improved throughput flow. Just read any article on a lean success story or the stories from companies as winners of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, Industry Weeks Top 10 Plants, or the Shingo Prize and all focus primarily on the same metrics of success. All of these accomplishments are great and I could go in great detail on what my students reported but I won’t.

When I say “proud of their accomplishments”, it is not these typical accomplishments that are my primary interest. All these accomplishments are secondary to what should be the primary measure of success. What I am talking about is the personal development of each student. How did each candidate develop and grow? How each student was challenged? In other words, it is the “Respect for People” pillar found in the Toyota Way.

To hear each candidate share how they thought through their approach, why they used certain improvement tools, and figured out how to overcome barriers was exciting. To see each candidate energized by their project, stronger in their self confidence and excited to use their new skills on future opportunities for improvement made me proud.

It is not about the one time results of a six sigma project or kaizen event that should get our attention. It is how people are better skilled and better motivated for the future that should get us excited. It should be all about the quality and development of our people that we measure our success.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Confessions of a Recovering Concrete Head

Hi, my name is Mike and it has been 5,840 days since I was a concrete head.

My initial introduction to kaizen was the 5 day kaizen event. On the surface, the idea of kaizen seemed so simple to me however I was skeptical of all the new manufacturing approaches with the promise of amazing results as it was presented to me. It just sounded too good (and too easy) to be true.

We had a Top Tier Japanese consultant acting as our sensei for the event with a huge scoped project, impossible target goals and a looming Friday deadline. The week was filled with a flurry of activities and constant motivating (yelling) guidance from our never-gives-a-compliment consultant. Getting yelled at in Japanese is a unique cultural experience all to its own plus you get the English version from a translator, only without the emotion. My bet was that the translation was probably kinder in word than the actually Japanese meaning. It was almost funny if it wasn’t for the public pronouncement to my team members that I was a concrete head.

Me? A Concrete Head? I have been called a lot of names before but never a concrete head. For those of you new to lean, a concrete head is someone who is hard headed and not open minded. It is a term given to those of us that questioned these new approaches to manufacturing.

From my viewpoint, I was acting as a critical thinker and as a responsible Industrial Engineer. It was my duty to act and think in the best interests of my companies operation. I did not take this responsibility lightly and held the belief that there was nothing wrong with putting any and all ideas under the microscope. If the idea held water, it was a good one. If the idea was full of holes, then don’t expect it to float.

My Japanese sensei held a different point of view. He was the “wax on, wax off” type of sensei that expected me to “just do and don’t ask”. At first, that was extremely difficult for me. It was not that I didn’t see the merit in his teachings; heck, most of it was basic Industrial Engineering. It’s just that I had unanswered questions how it all fit together. I still was not convinced it would work. Besides, this guy had no experience in my industry, never put my product together, and did not realize just how different we were from his manufacturing experience. We had to deal with unique issues and problems.

Eventually, I was persuaded to just try it. I realized that we were not going to move forward unless I at least tried. So, putting my concerns aside, I followed the direction pointed out by my sensei. As you might have guesses, these wild improvement ideas worked and it actually worked better. This got my attention.

In thinking back, I see that it was pretty easy to come up with all the reasons why something won’t work and it was a greater challenge to think of the ways how to make it work. Stepping up to this challenge with determination and creativity, I found a greater sense of accomplishment by making it work. It opened up a whole new reality of possibilities.

My first lean lesson was beginning to take hold, be humble to gain understanding.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What is Kaizen?

I created a treasure hunt for my daughter's birthday party a few years ago. With a small army of first graders running around our yard for an afternoon, we had planned several games to keep it fun. I divided them up into small teams to follow simple clues to find the next clue hidden somewhere in the yard. This leads to additional clues until it eventually leads them to the location of the hidden treasure. They all had a great time in pursuit of the hidden treasure.

It was actually very funny to see groups of seven year olds, bursting with excitement, read the simple clue and start running as fast as they could. I had no idea where they were running to and neither did they most of the time. As soon as they read the clue, they just started running without trying to understand the meaning of the clue. In their excitement to act, they did not think first. With a little help from the parents, we focused their thinking on the meaning of the clue. Then they were off running again.

Kaizen is one of the keys to success at Toyota. We have attempted to bring kaizen into our businesses with limited success mainly because we did not take the time to understand what kaizen really means, just like my daughter and her friends did on their treasure hunt.

In the most basic definition, we took kaizen to simply mean “continuous improvement”. Easy enough to understand and off we ran to make improvements. But where are we running to? Are we going in the right direction? How do we know?

With greater understanding, kaizen means more than just continuous improvement. Kaizen means gradual, small and frequent steps towards improvements in all things. It is a way of thinking to constantly do little things better. It is a life-long path to set and achieve higher, lasting success. The reason kaizen is lasting is because it is done in small, comfortable steps. The reason kaizen is powerful is that it is done every day.

Let’s find our hidden treasure by taking one small step forward everyday.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New Lean Six Sigma Blog

I just read a new blog called Lean Six Sigma Academy written by Ron Pereira. It is great to hear another voice in the Continuous Improvement world for us to learn from and Ron has many years of practical experience to draw from. Welcome to blogging, Ron. I look forward to reading your posts.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lean Manufacturing at Boeing

The last couple of months have been tremedously busy for me. That's great from a working point of view however the lack of blogging has been a negative side effect. I will attempt to get back on track and share some of the great things I have seen and learned as I continue on my lean journey.

For the first week of 2007, I am working in Seattle, Washington. Fortunately, I made some free time to visit the Boeing Assembly plant in Everett. I specifically wanted to see for myself some of the lean improvements at Boeing that I have been reading about, like the moving 777 assembly line.

What an amazing manufacturing operation! First off, this plant is by far the largest manufacturing plant I have ever seen. That makes sense for a company with 23,000 employees on site making products like jumbo jets but once you stand in this plant, the huge size simply stuns you. This factory is over 98 acres under one roof, totaling 4.3 million square feet. Just image 911 basketball courts! The ceiling stands 9 stories tall and even the hanger doors are huge-almost the size of a football field!

More amazing for me than the sheer physical size of the plant, is seeing the manufacturing operation of a jumbo jet in person. Even though I just got to see a glimpse of the assembly process, I can appreciate the complexity of the task. The 747 has over 6 million parts and the 777 has 3 million parts. I was told it takes over four months once the parts arrive to build one jumbo jet with a takt time of about one jet every 3 days off the line.

The 777 assembly line was set up as a moving line in September 2006 however for some reason it was not in operation this week. That was a disappointment for me. My tour guide could not provide any details why it was not working. At the end of the line, a huge takt time clock was on display that could be easily seen across the 1/3rd of a mile long assembly line. The best that I could see, everything was on casters from the platforms to the material handling carts. Most of the carts, racks and assorted stations were built with Kaizen pipe. Very little material was stored on the line and all the parts seemed placed in specific floor locations. It also appeared that engineers and other management personal had workstations on the assembly platforms right next to the jets.

Although you could definitely see the progress of a company on a lean journey, like most of us, Boeing still has a long way to go. The work pace appeared downright calm for what I am accustom to seeing in other manufacturing operations. It also appeared that a terrific amount of walking back and forth by employees took place. Boeing has a tough task of pacing work within a 3 day takt time and I did not see any visual indication if that was being monitored or established as standard work.

Unlike what I saw at Toyota, I did not see any problem solving process systems in place for quick reaction at Boeing. Some of you may think that with a 3 day takt time, an andon type rapid response system is not needed. First and foremost, problems need to be seen and not hidden so they can be fixed. The point is to improve the process to fix the problem instead of repeatedly dealing with a problem. It would be way too easy to hide a problem in a 3 day takt time.

Despite what I observed as areas for improvement, the Boeing operation was very cool to see in action. To be fair and accurate to Boeing's lean initiative, if any of you know more about these particular issues and can provide additional insight on how these issues are addressed, I would love to hear about them.

In addition to the 777 line, I looked over the assembly area being set up for the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner set for production in 2008. It was easy to see that the lean lessons learned on the 777 and 747 lines will be incorporated into the new 787 assembly line. I can't wait to revisit Boeing in 2008 to see the Dreamliner in operation.