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.