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.